By Jill Sommer, German to English translator
I have been a freelance German to English translator since earning my M.A. in translation from Kent State University in 1995. I moved to Germany and worked as a freelance terminologist and translator for a translation agency. It was fairly easy for me to find clients in Germany, because I was a rare commodity (English native speaker) and I also had colleagues from the translation agency who had scattered to work for other agencies when the agency was sold. I relied primarily on word of mouth.
When I moved back to the U.S. I managed to keep working for some of my existing German clients, but “out of sight, out of mind” is true. I worked part-time at Borders Books to pay the rent and lamented that I had no translation work to some colleagues. As they so aptly pointed out, it is difficult for translation agencies and direct clients to send you work if they are unaware that you are out there. As a result, I started an e-mail marketing campaign. I first got the names of my colleagues’ reliable/favorite translation agencies and sent my resume to them with the body of the e-mail acting as my cover letter. I also used the printed ATA Membership Directory and looked for any corporate members that specialized in German and applied to them as well. The next step was starting at A and going to each company’s website to see if I fit their qualifications (language pair, field of specialization, etc.). I highlighted the names of promising agencies as I went and kept notes in the margins. Most importantly, I did not apply to every single listed corporate member. That would have been a waste of my time and theirs.
The subject line of my e-mail was “German-English translator looking for new clients” or “German-English translator looking for freelance work” In the body of the e-mail I started off with “Is your company currently looking for a German-English translator?” and then highlighted my accomplishments, including my degrees and stressing my six years living and working abroad as a translator, in one or two paragraphs. I mentioned my fields of specialization and stated that “My rates are flexible and vary according to the turnaround time and amount of specialization involved.” I closed the e-mail by citing my website (where I have my Terms and Conditions listed in more detail) and encouraging them to check it out. I kept the e-mail brief but to the point.
I tried to send out 5 targeted e-mails a day. I addressed my e-mail to the agency’s contact person (either listed in the directory or specified on the website). I stopped at “Columbia,” because I simply got too busy. You might want to start in the middle or at the end and work backwards, because I have given this tip to a lot of beginning translators over the years.
Another source of translation agencies would be subscribing to one or more payment practice lists (Payment Practices, Proz Blueboard, TCR, Yahoo groups) and applying to the well-paying agencies that sound like a good fit. Naturally, you should avoid the agencies who do not have a good reputation like the plague. This is a good idea even if you aren’t conducting a marketing campaign. Why work for a client if you aren’t going to be paid in the end?
In addition to my e-mail marketing campaign, I became involved with my local chapter and at the national level with the American Translators Association. I am a frequent contributor to various translation newsgroups and listservs (including the ATA’s German Language Division listserv), which has resulted in recommendations from colleagues who recommend me to their clients when they are too busy simply because of the quality of my responses on the list. I also present at the conferences every year and regularly write articles for the ATA Chronicle.
Since I had successfully passed the FBI language exam and background check and been awarded clearance, I decided to attend the smaller ATA regional conference in DC on working for the federal government. The ATA President at the time, Marian Greenfield, called me to ask if I would write an article on the conference for the ATA Chronicle, and I jumped at the chance. Because I was writing an article, Marian invited me to attend the speakers’ dinner, where I met my favorite client. His agency was expanding and happened to be looking for German translators, and I gave him my card. His agency now makes up 45% of my annual income. All because I sat across from him at a dinner at a regional conference and we had an enjoyable conversation.
I also want to point out that I met another good client at that conference as well who had specifically attended the conference looking for just my qualifications (German-English translator with security clearance). I had not sent them my resume during my marketing campaign because I assumed from their name (referencing literary translations) that I was not a good fit. It turns out they had a big government contract and did not do literary translation at all.
Marketing should always be a two-tiered approach. Send out resumes via e-mail to potential clients and follow up on them (one good approach for this is described in “1/3/10/30/90” by John Shaklee). But don’t discount the power of a face-to-face meeting. Attend translation conferences and talk to people. Carry business cards with you wherever you go. I have met new clients at a Murder Mystery dinner theater and at a wine tasting. You never know when you will meet your future best client.
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Follow-up: email marketing tips