Newbies, clients will not knock on your door nor fall on your laps


I recently read an article on Forbes (in Spanish) about the mistakes recently graduated students make when looking for a job. It got me into thinking that the same old mistakes repeat themselves over and over again, and it is not something exclusive of the translation area. Is it a generation z issue?

Even though there are endless articles on the internet mentioning the Dos and Don’ts, newbies keep asking the same questions and making the same mistakes – what is even worse. Even this post is repetitive! I have already written here a few posts with advice to those who are starting out. To name but a few, only here in my blog (both in English and in Portuguese, as you can see):

Don’t wait for things to fall from the sky. Go and get it!
Conselhos aos tradutores iniciantes
How to establish rates
O começo
Some personal heartfelt tips for newbies
Dear beginner
Lidando com o início da carreira

I guess there is no need to question my availability and willingness to help newbies, right? And here I am again trying to put some sense into your heads.

However, people, for Jerome’s sake, research! There is absolutely no excuse nowadays for claiming you do not know something. We have Google! Not having experience is NOT an excuse for anything, especially in our profession. Every established professionals were newbies someday and they had to figure it out by themselves. I had to figure absolutely everything out by myself. I did not have a mentor, nor did I know anyone who was already an established translator. No client fell on my lap as by a divine miracle. I had to chase them like crazy! I learned things practically banging my head against a wall.

It is not easy. As it isn’t in any profession. Life is not easy. Deal with it. Whinning and blaming is not going to get you anywhere. Hard work will. And persistence. And willpower.

Please note that this is not me ranting against newbies who ask and want to learn, this is me ranting against newbies who ask before even researching and trying to find out by themselves. Research, first. Did not find it out? Research more. And again. And again. Then ask. People may already be busy with their own questions, so do not waste their time with questions you could really find the answers for by yourself.

As a dear colleague and friend just posted on Facebook, “The good translator is not the one who knows everything (there is no such a thing). The good translator is rather the one who knows where/how to research and who to ask.”

To sum it up and end this post with tips from established translators, I recently asked on my social media channels: “If you could give only one piece of advice to a recently graduated translation student about how to get into the freelance translation market, what would it be?” Here are the answers:

  • Provide your clients with high-quality translations.
  • Acquire experience through an in-house internship or a partnership with a more seasoned colleague.
  • Believe in yourself.
  • Learn how to use CAT tools.
  • Don’t settle for lower rates, ask to be paid what you deserve.
  • Find yourself a mentor.
  • Never stop learning.
  • Don’t listen to people on social media.
  • Be professional: deliver what was promised and, if possible, go beyond.
  • Chat with established professionals.
  • Read books on the area.
  • Always review your work: one bad job can ruin your reputation.
  • Study, study, study!
  • Pay attention to the world around you: What does it need? What do you need? How will you do it?
  • Study your target language.
  • Take some business classes: professional knowledge will lead to further learning; lack of business savvy will lead to failure.
  • Get on Twitter and start networking with other linguists from all over the world.

Guest post: How can I find translation clients?

Here we are with our first guest post after the new editorial calendar was launched. I won’t work tomorrow (today is a holiday here, so I decided to transfer the day off for tomorrow), so I’m anticipating it. As advertised, our guest today is Tess Whitty, from “Marketing Tips for Translators”.

Welcome, Tess!


Tips on where to find your ideal translation clients

When it comes to connecting with clients, the wonderful news for freelance translators is that potential clients are practically everywhere. It is simply a question of getting in front of them to be able to offer your translation services.

You are probably thinking that I make it sound easier than it actually is, as though you just jump in front of potential clients and they’ll drop everything and pull out their wallets to work with you.  Well, it’s not that easy, of course, but there are some reasonably simple steps you can take to make potential clients aware of your business and expertise.  That is, of course, the first step to attracting new business.

The easiest way to gain new business is to contact translation agencies and register yourself in their databases. In my experience, most translators are able to construct very successful careers by following this strategy.

You can also find translation buyers directly, forgoing agencies altogether. I know many translators that work solely with direct clients these days. Taking this route requires a much more active marketing campaign, but it can be very rewarding, since you get a personal relationship with the client.

In this article I will present some tips and steps for you to go out and find your ideal clients, whether you prefer working with direct clients or agencies.

Finding and contacting translation agencies

Thousands of translation agencies around the world are looking for freelance translators just like you. But, not all agencies are created equal. In fact, experience has taught me that agencies generally come in one of three varieties: smooth-operating professional agencies, price hagglers, and shady dealers. You want to focus on the first kind.

To do this, always research an agency before accepting work from them, and never be afraid to dump an agency if you find out that their working style does not align with your values. Simply bow out as professionally as possible and keep looking for partners who respect you and the work that you can contribute.

You can find lists of agencies in translation association directories, translation portals, databases for payment practices and by conducting a simple online search. After checking credibility, you should also check whether the agency works with your particular language pair and areas of specialization. At this stage, I recommend creating an Excel document with the agency name, location and a brief description about what makes that agency unique. This can help you streamline the process of contacting each one and tracking the results.

If you are asked to contact the agency by email, you can create an email template with the following information:

  • Subject line: Include your language combination and that you are a freelance translator looking for work/clients.
  • Email body: State that you would like to work for them as a freelance translator, highlight your accomplishments, experience, degrees and your field of specialization. Try to keep it brief, only two paragraphs.
  • Conclusion and Signature: Provide a link to your website, if you have one, and encourage the agency to visit to see what you can offer.  Also include your contact information and ask them to contact you for further information.

Most translation agencies these days have an application form on their websites that translators should use. Even if this method might seem impersonal, you must use it if this is their preferred method. Many agencies have these applications go directly to a database and you might just create more work for the agency or even get ignored if you apply by snail mail or email.

Keep track and follow up 

In your master Excel agency list, track the agencies you have contacted and follow up with an email in a week or so if you have not heard back. You can ask if they have received your email and if they have any questions or need further information.

Finding and contacting direct clients

As much as you may not like to hear it, the truth is that most direct clients are found through networking. Therefore, you have to be prepared to devote time and resources to put yourself in front of your prospective clients. If you’re going to start marketing directly to individuals or businesses, your first step will be to narrow down your target audience so you can bring focus to your communication efforts. Then, you can start researching potential clients online in your area of expertise.

Here are some steps to help structure this effort:

  • Decide on a niche and the type of companies in a specific industry that you want to target. Be specific. Include size, location, type of company, etc. What are the major companies? Are there any local companies in your area? I recommend writing this down or creating a database of potential clients so that you can use it for future reference.
  • Identify where these companies “hang out” online and in your community. Understand how you can make contact with them. This can be through LinkedIn, a local chamber of commerce, international industry events, and so on.
  • Check if you already have contacts in the industry that you can use to get in touch with your target clients.
  • Read or subscribe to trade journals in your area of expertise
  • Become a member in a relevant trade association.
  • Look for industry-specific events in your niche that you can attend.

Contacting direct clients can be tricky and perhaps uncomfortable at times, so it is important that you have done your research first. Only contact a direct client when you have the right person to contact. Make sure you have an angle to provide good solid value when you contact the client. The first contact can be done by email, sending out a brochure or meeting this client face-to-face at an event. Be prepared to research and contact many potential clients, and expect about a one percent return rate.

No matter whether you are targeting translation agencies or direct clients, there are some general tips and recommendations that can help you immensely along the way. Here are 10 tips:

  1. Don’t sit and wait for opportunities – create your own
  2. When you meet a good prospect, take action immediately, call and follow up
  3. Send thank you cards to clients
  4. Ask others to refer you and refer others back
  5. Help other translators and they will help you
  6. When you are not translating, make sure to work on your marketing strategy, brush up on your subject or translation technique through continuing education and keep up to date in your specialization and industry
  7. Living in a big city is a plus for networking, but you should also realize that you are not limited by geographic boundaries. Thanks to the Internet you can work with clients from anywhere
  8. That said, try to be available in your client’s time zones
  9. Keep track of your clients and congratulate them on accomplishments
  10. Send out reminders about your services to clients you have not heard from for a while

For more tips and in depth information, take a look at “The Marketing Cookbook – Foolproof Recipes for a Successful Freelance Career and Lifestyle” and for more free marketing tips, subscribe to the monthly newsletter at

Thanks a lot, Tess, for accepting my invitation and kindly taking the time to write something so useful for our blog! I loved the tips at the end and I completely agree with everything you said.

Comments, questions, doubts?

About the author
2013-09-24 12.29.09-2Tess Whitty has been a successful freelance translator and entrepreneur for over 10 years and owns the company Swedish Translation Services. Her educational and professional background is in marketing and she is passionate about sharing her knowledge with other freelancers in the form of presentations, training, mentoring and consulting. She is also the author of the book “Marketing Cookbook for Translators”, with easy to follow “recipes” for marketing your translation services and achieving a successful freelance lifestyle, and the award winning podcast “Marketing Tips for Translators”. For more information, and to connect, go to or