Colleague corner – client strategy

During last month’s Let’s Talk Clients live chat, I trialled a new approach. As well as having panellists share their experiences and answer my (rather nosy) questions, I decided to gather some anecdotes and stories from colleagues about their client strategy. Funnily enough, despite all the different approaches, one of the common themes was colleagues’ reluctance to even call their strategy a strategy, and in my chats with them prior to the session, words that often came up were “luck” and “contacts”.

It got me thinking about that old adage “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” and maybe, there’s a grain of truth in it after all, even in our modern day meritocracy. But, that does seem to suggest a somewhat passive strategy, not to mention one that’s a bit old-fashioned and Old Boys’ Club-y. Moreover, when you read through the stories and examples from colleagues, I think you’ll agree that although knowing people may open door-sized opportunities (or sometimes just cat flap-sized ones, but hey, we’ve got to start somewhere!) the most important element is getting to know these people in the first place, therefore cultivating these relationships and building our reputation is of utmost importance…and is far from passive!

colleague stories

Colleague stories

With all that in mind, I’ve put together a compilation of some of the colleague stories we enjoyed during the chat, to show the myriad ways to build your client base – and they’ve kindly included some of their recommendations (based on their own experiences):

“In the years BC (before children) I worked as a linguistic abstractor/translator/publisher for a management consultancy, and specialised in European Community Employment Law. The work was fun, but the subject matter didn’t really float my boat.
After my children were born and just as I was starting to think about work, a French friend approached me for a bit of help. She had just been appointed to the UK Head Office of a French food and wine company, and identified that the English in their promotional materials was not quite as it should be. She asked if I could possibly re-write a couple of leaflets for a very small fee, just to see if it made a difference. She was right – the English was barely comprehensible – and I took on the project.
A short time later, the company in question was contacted by the food buyer for a (very) famous London store, who said that now he could understand what the French company were actually talking about he would be pleased to do business with them. This effectively showed the wine and food company’s powers-that-be that a good translation/transcreation is worth paying for. And the rest is history! I swotted up on the food, drinks and luxury goods industry (plus a few related topics such as agrifoods, agriculture, environmental sustainability etc just to add rigour – a symptom of my convent-school upbringing?) and this has become my specialisation.
Most of my business now comes by word of mouth, often from employees who have left a company I’ve translated for to find the promotional literature/website/whatever in their new place of work sadly lacking. (Although there’s always room for more clients, hint, hint!)
So it takes an educated client to identify that a good translation is a commercial asset, plus a company that isn’t too proud to admit they may need to make changes – and a translator who knows how to implement those changes!”

Joanna Pawulska Saunders

Independent Translator – Food, Wine, Lifestyle, Environment
French, German, Polish and Norwegian into English

“Networking and human relations are key, this concept is central to my life, work and daily interactions.
With that in mind, and inspired by some threads on Standing Out, I set out to explore the concept of co-working in my own city, Kobe.
Lo and behold, I found a space 5 minutes from where I live, so a quick email later, I found myself strolling around and chatting with the owner.
A near-neighbour and a fluent English speaker made the whole experience a positive one. I also gave a card and mentioned my line of work, whereupon he said those magic words “We may need help with translation” and explained that part of his repertoire included organising local “Farmers’ Markets” in Kobe, after researching the concept in Portland, USA.
He was keen to see the event thrive and make it international, hence the wish to translate the explanation and overview behind the event into English, for the benefit of sellers and visitors who didn’t understand Japanese. The co-working spot remains pending, but the meeting has spawned work worth around 700 US$ so I would say that 30 minutes was very well spent.
To sum up other ways, off the top of my head, these have included chambers of commerce and my wife’s alumni group in our city. Having attended one of the best universities in Japan, the graduates tend to be white collar lawyers and doctors and it was indeed a local lawyer who gave us a fair amount of work. Again, networking, getting the face-to-face contact. In Japan, that is key, far more so than in Europe perhaps. Thinking outside the box can also work, but the target needs to be a somewhat less “stiff and traditional” company.
Examples of Japanese companies who would be more receptive to spontaneous approaches, for example, may include Rakuten (just announced new sponsorship of Barcelona, young CEO who insists in English in house) or Uniqlo (huge global presence, sponsor Djokovic and again, headed by an international-minded boss).”

Richard Mort

Freelance translator – Japanese & German to English

“Most of my direct translation clients have come via word of mouth. Some examples:
– I got my first freelance client when an intern I had briefly shared an office with as an in-house translator in Germany passed on my name to a friend, who was working for the CEO of a large company and needed a translator.
– I found six or seven university-based clients in several countries through recommendations from my BA and MA lecturers and via interpreter colleagues I worked with in Brussels.
– Another client – a Belgian company – came via someone I’d worked with in Berlin years before.
– A company I had worked for in Germany hired me as a freelancer years after I’d stopped working there.
– Several clients passed my name on to their friends or business, partners, who also offered me work.
– Some clients came via other translators I was friends with or had met at events and conferences.
– Several friends I had studied with asked me to translate documents for their employers.
– A close colleague from one of my previous in-house jobs passed on several clients when he was too busy to work for them anymore.
– Some clients contacted me via social media groups where I’d left helpful comments.
– Several people I’d worked with as an employee in Germany passed on my name to people they knew who needed English translations – either for personal use or for their company.
I used to feel almost as though I was ‘cheating’, or just very lucky, since there’s a myth that direct clients are really hard for translators to find. Of course, it definitely helps that my native language is English and that I specialise in marketing and corporate communications, among other things, as there is a lot of demand in this area. But I think there’s a knack to it as well. What helps is:
– living in your source-language country/countries for a while – and preferably working for an organisation where you’ll meet lots of people and forge strong friendships and contacts (not practical for everyone, I know…)
– socialising a lot while you’re there (but not necessarily schmoozing at networking events)
– always making a good impression so that people will trust you to provide their contacts with high-quality work – e.g. being conscientious and friendly
– staying in touch with ex-classmates and colleagues
– maintaining friendly relationships with existing clients
– recognising your limits: knowing when to pass on a job to someone else because it’s beyond the scope of what you can do, no matter how grateful you are for the recommendation
– realising that word-of-mouth recommendations alone won’t be enough, but they’re definitely very valuable
– most importantly, always trying to do the best job you can, so that people keep recommending you.”

Eleanor Toal
DE>EN / FR>EN translator,

Today’s post showcased three of the wonderful colleagues who kindly contributed their wisdom – I’ll be posting in Colleague Corner again soon, to share the wisdom of three more lovely translators who generously gave their time and their thoughts.

In the meantime, what’s your strategy? (Or non-strategy!) As ever, I’d love to hear your comments and insights! If you’d like to hear about new live chats and challenges, you can sign up to the newsletter.

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