Saturday, April 25, 2009

Marketing for translators: a report from the CTA seminar


Last Saturday, during the last heavy snowfall of the season, about 20 members of the Colorado Translators Association gathered for a one-day marketing seminar, graciously hosted by Beatriz Bonnet of Syntes Language Group, and ably organized by Corinne McKay

The seminar was divided in two parts. The morning was devoted to a detailed and very informative presentation by Judy Jenner of Twin Translations. The afternoon to a panel discussion with Judy Jenner, Beatriz Bonnet, Adam Asnes of Lingoport, and Japanese to English translator Chris Blakeslee.

Although the seminar was primarily aimed at translators wishing to market to direct customers, most of what was said is also useful for those of us who wish to market to translation companies.

I took some detailed notes, but the following outline and comments are my interpretation of what, as translators, we should do to market our services, so I'm responsible for any error and for my opinions in this material.

In particular, I've rearranged much of the material, and added links to other sites.

Knowledge of languages, of translation techniques, and of our subject areas is a prerequisite for our profession, but, alone, is not enough: whether we like it or not, we have to act as a business, just like other professionals.

As translators, we are selling our services and running a business.

1 - Marketing

Marketing, in a broad sense, at least, is any communication we have with a client or prospect: any e-mail, any phone call, any post that we make public on line, if we have a website or a blog. Marketing is also the communication we have with our customers when we send them an invoice or a payment reminder.

Golden rule: put yourself in your customer's shoes: What would you like or dislike about the service you offer? What could you do to make your customer's life easier? If your direct contact with your customer is an overworked and underpaid PM who has to deal with the translation she sent you and with the same translation sent to translators for 11 other language pairs, plus another five multilingual projects at the same time, what could you do to help her?

Examples (given at the seminar): pdf invoicing, accepting payment using the means of payment preferred by your customer (even if it may cost you some in transaction fees - PayPal)

1.1 - Communications with your customers and prospects

  • Use a contact management system (even just Google gmail, or the contacts in Outlook)

    • Write good out-of-office autoresponder messages
    • Send reminders of availability to all your customers and prospects at the beginning of the month
    • Write personal handwritten and hand-addressed notes: they stand out (a good suggestion by Beatriz)
    • Gather information on your prospects. For example, read what your prospects are doing to see what their needs may be (a good tool for use is Google alerts)
    • Network with prospects
      Not so much at networking events (where everybody is trying to sell and nobody wants to buy), but on other occasions as well: through LinkedIn groups or other on-line social networks, maybe, or by targeting a specific market, and then trying to see which of your friends or acquaintances could introduce you to it.

    • Network with people who could link us with prospects
      • Other translators
      • Satisfied customers
      • The power of word of mouth
      • Friends and acquaintances
      • Social media (for example, LinkedIn or Facebook)

1.2 - Where and how?

  • Blogging, writing and giving presentations to make yourself known and to raise your visibility on the net (but NOT as a means to directly attract sales)... even twittering (maybe?)
  • Press releases. There are sites, such as and where you can publish your press releases at no charge (but press releases should be about something newsworthy, at least in a specialized sense)
  • Google adwords. If you use Google adwords (expensive!), they should lead to a landing page (form), not to your home page

1.3 - When?

  • Frequency of marketing. Do not send a message just once, or twice and then give up, but eight, ten, or more times before getting a chance.

1.4 - What?

  • Collect written testimonials and organize them by similarity (to prospect)
  • Give references: 10 references from very satisfied customers to establish yourself as "the got-to person" in your niche (this was a good example given by Adam Asnes)
  • Post informational material on the Internet (blogs, white papers, wikis)
  • In your web material, don't advertise: try to help solve a problem. By providing information you show you expertise.

1.5 - Marketing materials

  • Should be:
    • Short and to the point
    • Easy to read even on mobile devices such as a Blackberry
    • Targeted and customized (no "Dear Sir or madam", no offers of Chinese translations to a company that specializes only in English to Italian and Spanish)
  • Should answer the questions:
    • Why would I hire you? (Important!)
    • How do you make your customer successful?
    • What is your value proposition? (What value do you add for your customer?)
    • What's the cost of not doing this? (That is, what's the cost, for your customer, or not giving the job to you, or of not translating some material?)
  • Should tell:
    • Who you are
    • What you do
    • Your competitive advantages, such as availability round the clock for people who have partners in different time zones (as we do for example, with one of our partners in Thailand), or the fact that partnering with other experienced professionals allows us to offer as a package translation + editing, or, for those that do use them, QA tools such as XBench)
    • Your specializations
    • Also the fields in which you do not specialize (as important as saying those in which you do specialize)
    • You should have a professional web site (with your own domain) and an e-mail address from your own domain. All your e-mails should use a good signature block
      • Example of signature block:

        John Doe, English to Italian translator
        Specialized in IT and legal translation
        Tel. +1 (303) 555-4444, Cell +1 (303) 555-1111

        (By the way, I would say that while including phone numbers and e-mail contact information is a must, a fax number is no longer so: I don't think we have received more than a couple of faxes in the past year)

    • You should get good and professional-looking marketing materials, including a good photo (mostly for your web site)

    • Should build your brand: logo (everywhere), design, business cards
      • A good piece of advice from Judy was to barter for services, if necessary. For example, provide your services in exchange for good DTP or for a professional photo, or (for those of us who need marketing materials in a language which is not our native tongue) for professionally written copy.

2 - Economics

3 - Pricing

  • Supply and demand. While there is much supply of cheap translators, the supply of good professionals is limited
  • Benchmark prices (see what the competition is doing), BUT:
    • Competing on price means becoming a commodity: There is always going to be someone cheaper. Solution: differenTiation (closely related to marketing)
  • Price vs. peripherals (give something extra, some lagniappe)
  • Start high (easier than trying to raising your rates later)
  • Stress value added
  • Direct clients are, as a rule, less price-sensitive than translation companies (but there are translation companies that do accept to pay high rates)

4 - Accounting

  • Income vs expenses (for tax purposes, and to know how you are doing)
  • Accounts Payable, invoicing
  • Tax deductions (for example, the price of a marketing seminar, or deducting all miles driven for business)
  • No co-mingling allowed. (Co-mingling means using business resources for personal purposes, or personal resources for business)

5 - Negotiating basics

  • Seller sets price, no haggling like fishmongers
  • Be firm
  • Don't justify yourself (no "my price is high because...")
  • The power of silence
  • Client education
  • Know your bottom line when you start negotiating
    • Know what you want out of the negotiation: the lowest rate you can live with, the shortest deadline, the longest payment terms. Put this in writing before you start negotiating.
  • Walk away (from bad customers)
  • NEVER sound desperate (especially when you are)

6 - Miscellaneous

  • Tests: To do or not to do free tests. Judy, and others, are against them, but please see: Myth and legends about translation tests (from About Translation)
    • Alternative to tests: provide good sample of your previous translations (after ensuring you have your customer's permission to do so!)

  • One way to differentiate yourself is guaranteeing availability when most others are not available (the "4th of July approach" according to Judy's definition)

7 - Recap: Judy's six main points

  1. Differentiate yourself
  2. Make yourself known and build a brand
  3. Build relationships with customers and colleagues
  4. Keep good records
  5. Don't compete on price
  6. Negotiate well


  1. Thank you for sharing - some of the points are indeed insightful.
    Personally, I believe differentiation is the key

  2. Thank you, this is a truly inspiring post. Vaclav

  3. Glad you liked the presentation, Riccardo. You did an excellent job at summarizing all the most important points -- wow! You must have taken really good notes. You also incorporated lots of good advice that others shared during my workshop.

    Thanks for posting this to share with others - the more colleagues I can share this information with, the better!

  4. Riccardo, I'm so glad you took these detailed notes to make up for the fact that I took none :) Seriously, this is so great, thanks very much!

  5. Great post, excellent ideas!

  6. This is a great post and it looks like it was a really insightful event, thanks for sharing. The more information like this is shared with translators, the better our working conditions will become!

  7. Thanks for these great notes! They are better than mine (I was also there) - I will bookmark this article for future reference!

  8. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend the seminar and am very grateful to you, Richardo, for your detailed write-up. Thanks!

  9. Some excellent marketing ideas. Because I wasn't able to attend the conference, I am grateful to have been able to read these notes. Thanks very much for doing this.

  10. Thank you, Riccardo, for your insightful notes. There's priceless for our translation community.

  11. All points are well noted. Riccardo, you did a great job for all of us.
    Also thank you for all speakers who came to the meeting on a snowy slushy day!
    Kacie C.-Thai-CTA

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  13. Thansk for the tips. Here's a related post. It can be useful as well. "Where to promote your translations and interpreting services for free"


  14. Thank you so much for these notes! This is honestly one of your best articles. It's like a to-do's list and it’s great for any starting translators (and for some professionals too!). Most of us feel lost on how and where to start our own business and this – this wonderfully useful and absolutely magnificent article (I think I’ll just print it and stick it somewhere on my desk where I can see it and stare at it in awe) – saves us, like, years of painful “trial and error” time. Thanks again!

  15. Your article provides a good starting point for those who are developing a new business in the market.


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