*Please note that this article is now quite out of date. You might find things in here which do not reflect my current attitudes or strategies. Eventually I will get around to updating it.*
I would also like to apologise for the delay in submitting this post. As the length probably indicates, it took quite a while to put together – even in terms of how to illustrate it. As I detail below, it is hard to put down a single definition of what is a successful translator or the single way to achieve it. I hope you appreciate the personal approach.
What makes a successful translator
The word “successful” is somewhat harder to define than what makes a “good” translator. Some would consider it a success to get enough work to pay the bills. Others (myself included) set their sights (and rates!) a little higher – we have noticed the greater demand for our services as good translators, and we have responded accordingly. We work for those clients that treat us the best and compensate us most fairly.
The point I want to make here is that a good translator is not necessarily a successful one. I was a “good” translator long before I was a successful translator. So what changed? My clients – the number and quality of them. What was the result? A better work-life balance, more flexibility, better compensation. How did I change it? Well, what follows will not be a one-size-fits-all guide to being a successful translator, but it will tell you what worked for me. It will tell you how I gained success as I define it.
How do I define success?
Steady flow of work
I have collected a good number of reliable clients and established a good relationship with them.
I can turn down rush jobs, complicated jobs or uninteresting jobs. I do not have a “take what I can get” mentality. I know something better will come along.
Whilst my income fluctuates, the steady flow of work at similar, fair rates means my income is much more predictable than a translator with a variable flow of work or work at vastly differing rates.
I can budget properly for my outgoings and decide freely when I would like to take holiday – without woefully regretting whatever jobs I may have missed out on.
I charge a fair rate for the services I provide.
I can take my time to ensure a high-quality output. I appreciate my clients for paying me a fair wage that rewards my skills and experience, rather than resenting them for their exploitation and my own wilful submission.
What works for me
Passive (Online) Marketing
Website(s) and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), Content Marketing (blog and freebies), Directory Pages, Online Listings
This is where I am most, ahem, “active”. This is the kind of marketing where I put myself out on display, showing people my abilities to entice them in. The advantage of this sort of marketing is that it largely keeps going even when you are having an off-day. It has also got a very good ROI (Return-on-Investment) – since, if you do it well, it not only brings people in, but helps you to show your skills and command a fair rate.
The basics for success in passive (online) marketing
- At least one website is essential for translators. If you are not online, you will not be found. People rarely look in the phone book anymore. Even if they did, I doubt the localisation department at Deutsche Telekom in Bonn, Germany has a copy of the Nottingham Yellow Pages. One that you can personally take control of and update regularly is best. A lot of translators prefer to use self-hosted WordPress for this reason. Prettier themes can be downloaded from WordPress for free, or you can pay money to access a range or just one more suitable, elegant theme. I use Graphene.
- SEO skills, whilst complicated, can really serve you well. Try reading about the fine details of SEO on great sites such as Search Engine Journal (a blog) or SEOMoz.org (handy paid and free tools, blog and VERY useful free guide, which can be viewed online or downloaded). Master these through well-crafted, original content, meta descriptions, alt tags, links and appropriate link text. It might sound complicated, but it is worth learning: just look where I come for the phrase “German to English Technology Translator” (without quotes). THAT is SEO. DIY SEO in fact. A key fact to remember is that Google likes dynamic, often-changing content (like a blog), tweets and links. Write a good, popular blog and your ranking will start shooting upwards. Another fact to remember is that it is not a good idea to pay someone to up your ranking artificially – as Google are cracking down on these tactics (see my blog post on Plagiarism and SEO here). I never spent a penny. Think about it.
- Blog This is what has made my business. After the initial hit of The Ethics of Proofreading, which was linked to (and plagiarised!) everywhere, my rankings started to climb – not just for the blog on a subdomain – but my main site, too. This is another reason to host your own blog.
- Comments on other blogs Such links are usually “NoFollow”, i.e. less valuable to your search engine rankings, but they still count somewhat, and above all else, this is a great chance to get involved in the conversation and arouse interest in you and the services you offer. Keep things interesting, relevant and non-self-promotional though, of course.
- Freebies This is an area I have not yet fully explored. This basically involves giving away some “freebies” to clients – e.g. e-books. When I get time one of these days, I plan to finish one I have been working on.
- Directory Pages These can be varyingly helpful. My page at ProZ used to be helpful in presenting my skills to a wider audience. Nowadays, however, I just receive spammy ‘Dear Translator’ requests from there and so I ended my paid membership and rely on other methods to find work, mostly with direct clients. A ProZ profile is still a useful backlink to your own website, even if you don’t use ProZ for anything else.
- Online Listings Use Google Places to list your location on Google Maps, or simply use all of these possible sites to link back to your main site. Do not spam, of course, and try to use original content, as this will ensure Google does not apply a duplicate content filter.
Going to local events and generally striking up conversation – and never leaving the house without your business cards
This traditional method is great for meeting other businesspeople, making contacts and establishing connections. Even if the people you meet are not going to be your clients – their friend or business partner might be! You might even make such a great impression that you will make a friend, who can speak for your services in their own networking.
In an industry as dependent on our individual reputation and personal style as translation, it is no surprise that face-to-face networking works wonders. You might not reach as many people in one go as you may through an email marketing campaign, but you will be able to make a full, memorable and (hopefully!) positive impression on those that you do reach out to – and (hopefully) they will remember you when a time comes that they will need your services.
The basics for success in face-to-face networking
- Never leave the house without your business cards. You never know when you will meet a useful contact. I once made a business contact on a delayed Eurostar train, for example. Good business contacts can be anyone and be found anywhere in your daily life – at the gym, on the train, your neighbour’s friend, your mother-in-law’s accountant – you never know! I recommend not going for the cheapest business cards available – people recognise them and they are often a smaller size. Your business card says a lot about how you view yourself and, accordingly, how your clients will view you.
- Always keep an eye out for sponsored and free events in your local area and beyond. Your government or local authority may sponsor some events to support small and independent businesses, e.g. seminars on anything from self-employed tax regulations to email marketing. What a great chance to learn more and even figure out the other attendees before you get chatting at the buffet lunch!
- An expo, trade fair or conference on something in your specialisation may also be a good networking opportunity, as well as an excellent chance to keep your factual and linguistic knowledge of the area up-to-date.
- Others have recommended joining various paid networking groups and events. Some can be very expensive, but will offer you a chance to meet other businesspeople (with the money to attend such events) and introduce yourself and your business to a room of people. Some, such as the local Chambers of Commerce or BNI, seem pretty well-organised and I have heard positive things, though not explored these myself.
- Attend local powwows and informal translator meet-ups to network with colleagues face-to-face. You will not only gain valued counsel from informed colleagues, but you may also make handy contacts who could pass work your way, either directly in the form of outsourcing or through passing on one another’s details to others.
- You should always dress to impress for all such business events. A good first impression lasts even longer than a business card.
- Be friendly and engaging whenever you meet a potential contact (read: everyone!). Do not hesitate to tell another professional what it is you do and do not be afraid to enthuse about your work (as long as it is not a 10-minute monologue) – a lot of people are very curious about our profession and many have misconceptions, so why not take the chance to enlighten them (politely, in an educational and friendly manner)?
- Prepare a brief introduction in advance, and tailor it a little to fit the client as appropriate. Try to keep it brief and effective.
- Define your different selling points (i.e. experience and attributes that will interest a potential client) and how you might be able to slip these into conversation.
- Nobody has all day, so tailor your selling points to fit the specific person. Whilst listing all your achievements, memberships and clients may feel tempting, this simply represents poor social skills and will come across as boring at best and arrogant at worst. Make a good impression and they will happily read anything you wished to mention online later (assuming you have that website set up by now).
Getting to know clients, prospects, colleagues and contacts on social networking sites
Social networking offers a variety of advantages. Of course, it is a great way of spreading word about your business, but what is more, it is a great way of expanding your knowledge and exchanging ideas with colleagues. If you follow my advice on writing a blog, you will also find social networks to be a great way to spread word on your blog.
There are many different social networks, but I will focus on what I consider to be the big four for freelance translators – Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook pages and, in this context, ProZ.com. There are of course others – such as Google Plus, but, aside from link-building and an automatically high ranking on Google, I have yet to discover a truly social use that is not already served by Twitter or the other sites it connects to.
The basics for success in social networking
- Join Twitter immediately! This is a staple of social networking – it says something that ALL of the other sites I am focussing on link to it.
- When you have joined Twitter, follow some great translation tweeters – you could start with @LinguaGreca (Catherine), @atgtranslations (Silvina), @ACGtranslation (Aga), @transliteria (Ewa), and myself – @lingocode (there are lots of good ones – I suggest browsing who I follow for a more comprehensive list).
- I would also recommend following some great business, SEO, marketing, writing and copywriting tweeters, such as @FreelanceFolder, @sejournal, @JimConnolly, @HookedOnAds, @ShesSelfEmployed, @lorelleonwp, @sallyormond, or @brianwong.
- I also follow some of my favourite brands (like the less-unethical-than-most-plus-pretty-innovative-and-reliable Asus), since this also relates to my specialisation and keeps me informed.
- Get to grips with Twitter etiquette – follow interesting people, get involved in the conversation, tweet and be retweeted – but also get into the habit of sharing the love. If you see something you find interesting, retweet it. The people that are rated highly on Twitter, like my friend Catherine (@LinguaGreca), retweet the good work of others as well as anything they may personally be involved in. Twitter is a conversation – people quickly bore of someone who only ever talks about themselves, but the Twitter-breed of social butterflies who can introduce you to other interesting people and information through well-selected retweets quickly become very popular.
- Use hashtags on Twitter. A hashtag is simply a word or accepted shortening that people can search for to see what people are saying about that topic. Common ones used in translation include #xl8 or #t9n. I tend to just stick to #xl8. I also put #marketing or #seo on posts relating to those fields, of course.
- Next, you should make sure to join LinkedIn.
- Join relevant discussion groups on LinkedIn. Much like Twitter, it is a great idea to engage in the conversation and have a look at what others are posting. It is, of course, a great way to spread word about your business or your latest blog post (provided these are relevant and interesting, of course!). The Shareaholic and AddThis links at the bottom of this post (I include both… I guess I figure each will appeal to different people) enable quick and easy sharing of a post to multiple groups, individuals and your network at once. How handy!
- Connect your LinkedIn profile to your blog and/or Twitter to receive updates from these sites and keep your LinkedIn profile fresh and interesting without any additional work. I recommend you do not allow LinkedIn (or Facebook, or any other site) to update your Twitter, though, since this can lead to duplicate posts if Twitter is (as it should be) your primary networking site.
- Join local business networking groups on LinkedIn to receive information about events in your local area and make interesting contacts. Check out your fellow group members and consider getting in touch if you might be able to help one another.
- Now you might want to consider creating a Facebook page for your blog and/or business. Take a look at this wonderful post from Brian Wong’s blog for some tips on how to make it stand out. I also recommend people use two separate accounts on Facebook. I do not think it is a great idea for all my business contacts and clients to have instant access to all manner of holiday snaps (though some I really am proud of) or lists of people I went to school with. That is a bit “information overload”. For this reason, I have two Facebook accounts, one personal, one for business. The Facebook Page for my blog and business is then linked to that.
- If you do not have time to update both all the time, link your Facebook profile and page to your Twitter account. It will show up that it came from Twitter, but that is not so bad. Also consider using one of a variety of WordPress add-ons to post your blog posts automatically to your Facebook profile and page.
- Download and install Tweetdeck to ease your networking on all of the above, especially Twitter (it also does Buzz, Foursquare and MySpace). In fact, I could not get to grips with Twitter at all until I downloaded Tweetdeck. Best of all, you can customise what is displayed to your heart’s content, and it is FREE.
- Finally, you should join ProZ.com. Even with a free account you can attract prospects, use forums and access some of the wealth of useful articles, making it an absolute must if you wish to establish a presence in the translation industry. If you pay for full membership, however (keep an eye out for membership campaigns), you will get first access to all translation jobs posted on the site. Whilst many may be bottom-feeders (the lovely name for agencies that pay the lowest rates to their translators, competing on price and not quality), there are also some great clients on there. Somewhat incredibly, every single one-off job I have acquired via ProZ.com has led to further offers of work, to the point that now I never really need to look for it. Paid members will also show up higher in search results, and I certainly have received more enquiries since paying for membership.
- Make your ProZ profile stand out through some pretty html-coding. Take a look at mine for some inspiration. If that is a bit geeky for you, perhaps your web designer or a skilled friend can help?
- …There are further social networks I have not gone into. Mostly because I don’t really have a use for them. Some people highly recommend FourSquare, which allows you to “check in” to places (e.g. conferences). I have yet to discover a real use for this as a home-worker, since I doubt my office, sofa and bed really count as separate locations… All of these can be good for SEO, if you get a free, relevant link back to your own site though, of course.