Boost your freelance translation business with a marketing plan
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I have been a freelance translator for over 10 years. I started out slowly since my children were small, and continually focused on growing my business. I considered myself a freelancer and not really a business and did not have a marketing plan. I still dislike spending time writing long business or marketing plans that usually end up forgotten in a drawer. They are of no use and creating them just takes up valuable time I could spend translating and making money. However, there are several benefits to having a business plan and putting your planning down in writing.
• You can use the plan to compare your progress to previous years and make appropriate changes
• The plan will create a greater focus and sense of direction
• It can help you make better business decisions
• It can work as a long-term to do list, with short term action steps
• It makes it easier to market your services and develop your business
If we do not market our services, we cannot grow our business and we cannot trust that the clients we have now will always have work for us. Therefore, a little planning goes a long way. With a written marketing plan we can focus on our translation work but still continue with our marketing efforts in a structured way, without having to spend too much time on it. Take an hour or so to think through the following steps. In the end you will have an easy to follow plan for your business development. It can even fit on one page that you can print out and put up in front of the computer. Then it is easy to see what marketing tasks you should do that week or month and you will have more time and peace of mind to focus on your craft, i.e. your translation work.
A business plan includes three major categories:
1. Your business foundation
2. Financial plan
3. Marketing plan
Your business foundation
This is a definition of your business, including what services you will offer. For example, will you offer translation, editing and proofreading only, or will you also include interpreting or desktop publishing? Or perhaps you only want to focus on translation and not offer any editing or proofreading?
What areas will you specialize in? Try to be as specific as possible and narrow it down to the areas you enjoy working with the most and have the most experience and expertise in.
Who are your clients? Will you market to agencies or direct clients, or a combination of both? Where are most of your clients located? How big are they? What industries are they in? Be as specific as possible to make it easier for you to create your marketing message for them.
Other factors to consider for a clear plan are: Who are your competitors and how can you differentiate yourself from them? What are your strengths and weaknesses? How can you use and market your strengths and what can you do about your weaknesses? For example, do you need to take courses in CAT-tools or technical writing, or perhaps improve your specialization through continuing education? Can you create partnerships with other translators to broaden your offerings or have backups for when you are on vacation?
It is important that you know how to differentiate from your competitors and that you know how you are unique. To find your unique selling points, you can use a traditional marketing tool called a SWOT-analysis. It will help you to find out how you are unique, what you can offer and what to focus on. The SWOT-analysis can also help you find your niche and target clients so it is easier to see where you should focus your marketing.
A SWOT-analysis involves analyzing your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
• Strengths: What are your strengths? What makes you unique? What are you good at?
• Weaknesses: What are you not so good at? What do you hate doing? Where do you struggle?
• Opportunities: Can I use some of my strengths to create a service that meets the needs in a new niche, or can I strengthen my position as a business partner among my clients? Can I partner up with other freelance translators in my field to create a strong team that will better meet my clients’ needs? Can I use social media to strengthen my profile and stand out among other translators?
• Threats: Am I spreading myself too thin across a myriad of services which make me look like a Jack of all trades rather than a professional with a specific offer? Is my knowledge in my fields of expertise or in translation tools up-to-date, or should I invest in continuing education to strengthen my skills, in order to provide a better service to my customers?
• What services do you offer?
• What areas do you specialize in?
• Who are your clients?
• Who are your competitors?
• What are your unique selling points?
This is the foundation of every business and determines its profitability and sustainability. You need to figure out your costs and how much you need to make to pay your bills and have money to live. You need to figure out your minimum income and your desired income.
Here it is good to use some of the rate calculator tools available, such as this free rate calculator on Proz.com, or CalPro (link to the US version but there is also a European version). Determine your expenses, how much you need to earn, how much you want to or can work and what your rates will be. Important aspects to consider are whether to charge per word, per hour or per project. Most other types of freelance businesses charge per project or per hour and if you can move towards charging per project or per hour, it will be easier for you to control your income and take into account other services you include in the offer. It is also easier to achieve a better profit using this type of rate than if you are still negotiating pennies with clients and are not able to consider the difficulty of the project, file type, research etc. Most direct clients do not have any notion of per word pricing either and understand a project fee or hourly fee much better.
Marketing plan, or the action plan
A marketing plan is fundamental for your business success. Even experienced and well established translators must look for new clients or they might risk losing income over time.
The best thing you can do is to make a list of marketing activities and set aside a fixed number of hours per week to work on them, even if you currently are very busy with work. When making the plan, try to answer the following questions:
What are the results you want to achieve? How many new clients or project do you want to get and in how much time? How will you find them and what kind of marketing methods do you want to use? Will you contact agencies online through their websites? Will you register on portals and in directories? Will you do e-mail prospecting or direct mailing? Will you use LinkedIn and referrals? Don’t forget to include your existing clients and colleagues in the equation. The best jobs and clients are usually achieved through referrals and recommendations these days and networking is an important part of the marketing strategy.
Even though word-of-mouth and referrals are invaluable, you must not ignore the importance of networking, both on social media and in person. What conferences will you attend? What client events can you attend? Do you exist online? Do you have a good website where potential clients can find more information about your services? Do you have a presence on social media and are you actively networking with other translators?
Summary of questions to ask:
• How many new clients or projects do you want and in how much time?
• How much more do you want to earn?
• Where will you find your new clients?
• What marketing methods will you use?
• How will you market and provide service to your existing clients?
• Can you offer additional services to your existing clients?
By now I hope you realize the importance of having a short written document with your current situation and where you would like to be in one year and perhaps in three years, or five. Whether you are new to the freelance translation business, or need to give your business a boost, you can set aside an hour today to start planning for future success. There are several templates available online and I have also created a one-page marketing plan template for freelance translators. For more information, please go to www.marketingtipsfortranslators.com or contact me directly. Best of luck!