In August 2016, I ran an online survey amongst professional freelance translators. The aim was not just to satisfy my personal curiosity as a believer in social media for professional purposes, but to determine which online media and platforms professional freelance translators are using in 2016 in order to: a) attract clients and b) engage with their profession. 271 translators took the survey and the results will be fed into the module I teach as part of ITI’s Setting Up as a Freelance Translator course.
Part 1 of this two-part post was a question-by-question analysis of the results to determine what they tell us about the degree of success that translators have found in using online platforms and media on a professional level. Part 2 examines the comments left by respondents, firstly concerning specific platforms/media (with a summary of how many respondents use them for what purpose and the analysed success rate) and then an online presence (in combination with an offline) in general.
Engage with colleagues: 58%
Success rate: 82%
Attract clients: 15%
Success rate: 50%
The survey revealed Facebook is predominantly used by freelance translators to engage with colleagues rather than to attract clients. One respondent said being useful for and friendly to colleagues on Facebook can be beneficial in receiving work and making contacts. While many colleagues have a business page on Facebook, this does not seem to be a requirement in order to leverage the medium for business purposes, as another respondent reported having received several requests/referrals mainly from colleagues via Facebook and has now established successful long-term working relationships with those clients, without using Facebook actively to promote their business.
Another success story concerned a respondent who obtained their biggest direct client by chance when they helped a complete stranger with proofreading a document (relating to refugees) that he had posted on Facebook. It then transpired that the client was seeking an English translator for documents and books for his business.
It is important to remember that Facebook is predominantly a personal network, rather than a business one, so online marketing efforts on Facebook should be approached differently from those on LinkedIn, for example. While a Facebook business page may help holistically to reinforce a brand, online marketing on Facebook is not necessarily all about promoting your business or your services, sometimes it is just about demonstrating that you’re a real human being, as one respondent put it.
Engage with colleagues: 48%
Success rate: 72%
Attract clients: 21%
Success rate: 45%
The survey showed that Twitter was used slightly less by translators in order to engage with colleagues but more to attract clients, although the success rates for both factors were lower than those for Facebook. Why is this?
“Twitter is a great tool for the little and often approach, which gets your name out there without too much effort”, said one respondent. This is true; we tend to use Twitter less, merely due to its nature, than Facebook. Since we are limited to 140 characters on Twitter and therefore unable to develop discussions as we are elsewhere, it is harder to build relationships with colleagues and potential clients.
That said, as I have reported elsewhere, I can attribute a third of my income in 2015-16 to clients who found me through Twitter or were referred to me by someone I know on Twitter in a professional capacity. In my experience, there is a prevailing mentality that Twitter cannot be used to attract clients (the right kind at least), but there is no reason this should be the case for colleagues who use Twitter reasonably frequently. In the seminars I have given to various ITI regional groups on successful Twitter practices for translators, the ideas I share in order to attract clients on Twitter are:
- ● Share articles of interest (but unique ones, not the same ones that are ‘doing the rounds’)
- ● Share updates of your professional activity
- ● Share relevant ideas, insights and knowledge
- ● Share tips and information that draw on your expertise in your specialist fields
This content marketing approach results in an improved contribution to the profession, an enhanced awareness of you amongst your peers (and in turn an expanded potential for collaboration with colleagues) and, if targeting direct clients, an attractive Twitter feed that demonstrates your expertise in your specialist field and a high standing in your profession.
Engage with colleagues: 48%
Success rate: 37%
Attract clients: 58%
Success rate: 51%
LinkedIn is primarily used by respondents to attract clients, both agencies and direct clients, with an emphasis on the latter. Our respondents reported having been found through LinkedIn and that has then led to long-term, lucrative relationships. One survey respondent contrasted LinkedIn with Facebook and Twitter, which are “better for connecting with colleagues and agencies and getting advice, but don’t seem as useful for connecting with direct clients unless you make the effort to engage with the communities for your specialist industries”.
A complete LinkedIn profile is vital. Some points I share on the SUFT course regarding a LinkedIn profile are:
- ● A professional yet friendly photo, not one taken down the pub or featuring any additional people
- ● Strong professional headline that states your language pairs and specialist fields
- ● Succinct summary that is to the point, not an essay
- ● Detailed experience section
- ● Ditch the endorsements; there’s no credibility to them
- ● Order the sections according to what is most important to clients in your target market
Furthermore, LinkedIn is not a professional phonebook. It should not be used to collect contacts or show who you know, rather be discerning in requesting or accepting contacts. Have you met that person before? In the case of a colleague, do they share similar language pairs or specialist fields with you? If a potential client, does their profile suggest they require a translator with your language pairs and specialist fields?
Engage with colleagues: 5%
Success rate: 21%
Attract clients: 4%
Success rate: 33%
There’s not much to say about Google+, except that it’s the social network that never really took off, not least amongst freelance translators, as the survey confirmed. One respondent said they had tried Google+ several times and still haven’t seen or appreciated what it could offer them.
While there are some colleagues who use Google+ regularly, there is little, if any, material that can’t be found on the more established social media. Probably the only benefit of having a Google+ profile is the SEO factor, with Google naturally preferring to rank its own sites higher. For evidence of this, if you type my name into Google, two results that appear on the first page are articles that I shared on Google+, despite the fact that I rarely use it.
Engage with colleagues (paid): 25%
Success rate (paid): 71%
Engage with colleagues (free): 13%
Success rate (free): 58%
Attract clients (paid): 37%
Success rate (paid): 95%
Attract clients (free): 22%
Success rate (free): 50%
ProZ is the Marmite of the translation profession. For the non-Brits, that means you either love it or hate it. Yet, it showed by far the highest success rate for those who paid for the premium membership, meaning those respondents found it the most useful in both engaging with colleagues and attracting clients, though the survey did not measure the quality of the client, with ProZ generally being associated with low-paying clients.
In favour of ProZ, respondents said:
- ● “Proz.com has many faults, but my profile there has led most of my current clients to me”.
- ● “I write regularly in the online forum of ProZ.com and am a Moderator for ProZ.com, which I think attract clients’ attention as well”.
- ● “There might be a lot of low-paid jobs posted, but clients still look there. If you have a strong profile and some Kudoz, you will get contacted by sensible agencies (and some less so). Over ten years, for me it’s never been about job postings, rather a place for agencies to find me (and they still do – two new clients with good rates in the last two months)”.
- ● “90% of my work over the last 9 years has come through ProZ.com, including clients/peers met at in-person ProZ conferences, and direct clients who find ProZ then me”.
- ● “99% of jobs posted there are nonsensical, bottom-feeding crap, but the few times a serious client does place a job there, it usually ends up for me in finding a lovely new client”.
It seems the trick is knowing how to use the site well. The overall message suggests that a great deal of trawling through the site is required to find well-paying clients who value specialist knowledge. For translators who work exclusively with direct clients, ProZ is of course redundant.
Engage with colleagues: 7%
Success rate: 40%
Attract clients: 60%
Success rate: 51%
With more and more clients turning to the web to find a translator these days, a professional website is vital for a translator, it appears, with 60% of respondents reporting that they had one and the main or sole purpose being to attract clients. Yet the success rate is only 51%. It can be tricky to establish the impact that your website has had, though. A potential client could come across your LinkedIn profile, your ITI directory listing and your website before approaching you, while mentioning that they only found you through your directory listing, even though your website may have been a decisive factor in that client’s decision to pick you.
Our respondents shared their insights on having a professional website:
- ● “[I have] a useful, information-packed website. It ranks high on Google in spite of having made NO investment in SEO, though including adequate keywords”.
- ● “My website has not been successful in the sense of gaining direct inquiries, but those who are referred to me look at it first, and I’ve had much positive feedback”.
- ● “Don’t underestimate the value of a targeted website. Know your niche and target everything to your ideal client. Both agencies and direct clients have either found me through my website or checked my website out from links in my ProZ or ITI profile”.
- ● “Websites are valuable as online brochures but for a freelance translator they won’t actively attract clients. I’d advise people to concentrate on old-fashioned modes of personal contact for attracting new customers, and to use [a website] in a (nonetheless valuable) support role”.
- ● “I regard my website as a kind of “business card” but have never found a new client through it”.
- ● “[A website] shouldn’t be abandoned after being created”.
And design is paramount. Old-fashioned websites or those with an unfriendly layout can turn a potential client off straight away if they can’t find what they are looking for:
- ● “Don’t make an elaborate website. It should be simple, to the point, readable on all devices”.
- ● “Have a clear, easy-on-the-eye website that is easy to use and not too complicated. Then promote it”.
Engage with colleagues: 11%
Success rate: 23%
Attract clients: 11%
Success rate: 29%
The survey revealed that very few respondents maintained a blog for professional purposes, and those that did encountered little success in engaging with colleagues or attracting clients. However, much like for a website, it can be hard to measure the effect of a blog. A blog could be just one part of your online presence that convinces a client to approach you, for instance. Equally, it is also hard to know what effect a blog has had on your colleagues. You may receive a large number of hits, but few comments on whether your posts are useful or not.
The key is to bear your target audience in mind: “I see more and more blogs targeting other translators. They’re nice and I read some of them, but I don’t think they can help much to gain more clients”, said one respondent.
Some advice shared on blogging by other respondents included:
- ● “Think what you write. Good blogs are few and far between, and life is too short to read endless regurgitated pocket philosophies. Showcase yourself with short, relevant comments, and skip the rest! But do highlight YOUR specialities, the things you are passionate and really know about, whether they are work or hobbies and amateur interests”.
- ● “Some people recommend blogging every day but don’t be daunted by having to write reams and reams”.
- ● “Blogs are great for recording observations, methods, etc. and sharing these with colleagues. To work with potential clients, blogs have to be in the translator’s source language(s). Linguistically this is a tall order!”.
Networking in person is, without a doubt, a major factor in finding clients, particularly if you work in niche sectors. Many respondents were keen to stress that the role of an online presence should just be a supporting one:
- ● “[An online presence] helps but a lot of my work has also come from networking with colleagues (in person) and in the form of new end customers from existing agency clients – don’t be too busy trying to establish new connections while you fail to maintain existing ones”.
- ● “My business is in its early days but so far I have found enough – and good – business through phoning and emailing, then meeting with clients. My advice is to promote yourself in a way you’re comfortable”.
- ● “Personal recommendation and meeting face to face are far more important. Blue chip direct clients are a closed shop and internal contacts are the best way in”.
- ● “Tried various things, including a website, LinkedIn and ProZ, but person-to-person whether colleagues or customers, comes out top every time”.
- ● “It no doubt reflects my age and seniority in the profession, but my work comes from two sources: cold contacts from the CIOL and ITI online directories, and word of mouth/personal networking. And I really don’t think you can beat those. The rest are the icing on the cake, maybe, but are potentially hugely time-wasting for little return. Do good, solid work; be involved in the profession; raise your physical profile”.
- ● “If you work in very specialist fields, you don’t need much of an online presence. I find face-to-face networking and recommendations much more effective”.
- ● “It is all important BUT face to face and word of mouth recommendations have always brought me the best ‘high-quality’ clients and referrals”.
Many respondents spoke highly of national professional associations (see footnote) and geographical networks such as ITI regional groups:
- ● “It’s great to be able to discuss points of interest, terminology, events, current affairs, funnies with colleagues. I find that ITI networks are best for that”.
- ● “I have found ITI membership, networking and referrals more successful than any form of online activity”.
- ● “I think my ITI listing also counts as “online presence”, and this has probably brought me more worthwhile enquiries than any other source”.
- ● “Direct approaches to potential clients and directory listings such as ITI still work best for finding clients in my experience, so keep the online activity in perspective. It’s important to have a presence online but not the be-all and end-all”.
- ● “My client portfolio is based on my own marketing work and membership of the CIOL, through which a few clients have found me”.
Overall comments on online presence
It is worth noting that the survey focused on using individual networks and media. It did not (and could not) assess the cumulative effect of using several platforms, as some translators may attribute their success in engaging with colleagues and attracting clients to a presence across multiple online media.
A running theme to many comments was the importance of quality content in an online presence. It’s no good promoting yourself or your business without having the knowledge to back it up, as some respondents mentioned:
- ● “It has to have content behind it. However present you are across multiple platforms, people want the substance behind the style too”.
A coherent and consistent image that reflects who you are in a professional capacity is also essential to maintain a strong online presence:
- ● “Whatever you choose you need to post regularly, and keep profiles updated”.
- ● “Keep all online profiles consistent with the same information and style, and update them all periodically with any new CPD!”.
- ● “People are more likely to remember seeing the same photo as opposed to a range of different ones”.
- ● “Remain professional, add a photo, do as you would be done by, i.e. be helpful and courteous”.
- ● “Try to work out what your core values are and brand yourself accordingly (and in a striking way)”.
It also helps to think carefully about what you post and where, as some posts could be counterproductive to maintaining your image as a professional:
- ● “Managing your online presence is extremely important nowadays. It can be a good thing to be active and to be seen participating in things, but I think people should think more carefully what they post and where. I have seen lots of posts which could do more harm than good if they were seen by prospective/current employers or clients.”
At the end of the day, it’s important to know your target audience and use the appropriate means:
- ● “Younger clients may be more used to communicating via social media. Older clients may prefer more “traditional” means of communication. It’s important to know who your clients are and what their communication preferences are”.
- ● “I think it depends on the subject areas you work in. I am a legal translator and don’t think Snapchat or Instagram would be that useful”.
- ● “Try them all out, you never know what might work. Don’t think that one way is THE way. What works for one translator might not work for others”.
- ● “Find out what social media your target customers use and engage with them there. No need to spend huge sums of money on a website, LinkedIn and Facebook can be just as effective”.
And finally, a large proportion of the comments quite rightly stressed the fact that, for all an online presence is worth in promoting your business, it is useless without having something to sell, i.e. the skills and expertise required of a professional translator. No amount of online marketing can replace excellent quality translations by a specialist professional. Online media are merely one of several means to attract the right clients worthy of you:
- ● “It’s essential for new(er) translators to market themselves via online media. At the same time though I think they need to be reminded that this is only a means to an end, and that once they have passed the first test of finding clients, their long-term survival as a freelance translator will be dependent on them offering good-quality translations”.
- ● “Be very good at your job and network”.
- ● “Keep it simple. Specialise”.
Are you thinking of becoming a professional freelance translator? Or have you recently started out and want to learn how to manage your translation business? Setting Up as a Freelance Translator is an eight-week course of online tutorials, led by eight translation professionals and organised by the UK’s Institute of Translation and Interpreting. Get your business off on the right foot. Find out more here.
Footnote: Some respondents asked why an ITI (or other national professional association) directory wasn’t listed as a survey option. Good question. While it wasn’t a deliberate decision to omit it when putting the survey together, looking at it retrospectively, I have only included options relating to online media/networks that require a proactive presence, i.e. regular updates. The ITI directory listing, while a valuable source of good clients in my personal experience and clearly that of others, is a more of a passive online presence as it does not require frequent updates.