My presentation at UTIC 2016 conference – marketing and payments from foreign customers for freelance translators

24 Aug

Direct clients over Internet? Why not?

15 Aug

(This was a comment to a blog post by Corinne McKay – Agencies won’t pay my rates, and I can’t find direct clients”: what to do?)

What about this kind of situation: rates acceptable in the country where I live (Ukraine) are sometime 8-10 times lower than the rates paid even by Indian and/or Chinese translation agencies. In order to be precise, I have just visited a web-site of one of numerous translation agencies in the city of Dnipropetrovsk (Ukraine). 70 UAH per page of EN-RU translation, which is about 0,009 USD per word (now imagine how much a translator will get in this case). Actually, the same situation is in almost any other country of the ex-USSR (it would take too much time to tell you why, and it is not only about GDP-per-capita indices of these countries).

Which means that direct clients here will never accept something as high as 0,1 USD per word (which is 11(!) times higher than the number above offered by a translation agency – a company with several project managers and dozens of freelancers ready to offer their help).

Which in its turn means that once you start working with translation agencies in Europe or the US (thanks to proz, or similar platforms), you will no longer accept those ridiculous rates local market offers you. In other words, you just don`t have both direct and “indirect” clients here ready to pay you the rates even the most, well, “greedy” Western agencies can offer you (ca. 0,06 USD).

In other words, there is no way back. In order to raise your rates, you have now to look for direct clients in the US, Western Europe, etc. Which is not an easy task. Some businesses (like IT startups, video game producers) are accustomed to working with people living thousands of miles away. But the general attitude is not very favorable. It is just too risky to hire a freelancer living in a country you heard about only a couple of times.

I have managed to come up with several marketing ideas – talking to my colleagues located in these countries (I now have several translators who outsource me their projects regularly). Another strategy I made use of was a direct mail campaign to some 100 companies abroad who cooperate heavily with Russians (no leads for now, but that was a nice try, I think). Google Ads – well, it is good for highly commoditized products, but it is almost useless for sophisticated services like translation.

BTW, that is exactly why I am shocked to hear translators living in, say, in Canada who “just can`t find (direct) clients”.

Well, I mean, as Corinne puts it, you have to change your mindset first. There is always a way out – just notice the pains one has to take in order to get some direct clients here.

How much is enough for a translator?

8 Aug

Have you ever thought about how much money do you need? What is the amount (per month, if you will) you will be satisfied with?

The thing is that this notion of “enough-ness” is quite important for any person, according to a lot of coaches, therapists, etc.

In 2012 I bought a book by Jean Clark et al. called “How much is enough?”. Although this book is about making children feel that enough is enough, I think that it is never late to start understanding the true meaning of this words – whether you are 20, 30, 40 or 60.

On my first publiс speaking event (UTIC 2016) I listened to a speech of one of the leading En-Ru translators of the community – Oleg Rudavin (BTW, author of “Internet Freelancing” – His “enough” equals the amount you need to cover your monthly spending PLUS “a little bit more” (his words). This equation seems perfect, but what seems enough today can become too little very fast. When I was 20 (when I started my freelance career as a 4th-year student at the university), my rates were ridiculously low, but the money I used to get that time was OK for me – I used to live with my parents, and I didn`t have neither a wife nor children. Once all this becomes a part of your life, you have to make more money. So, the meaning of “enough” is unstable, which means that you have to adjust your income according to new challenges. Moreover, given the nature of life (well, we can`t predict our future), it is only natural that any entrepreneur should always try to maximize her income.

Although the last sentence is generally true, this is a straight way to insomnia, stroke or cerebral hemorrhage (its not me who is saying it – it`s a widely accepted opinion of physicians). Instead, in order to have a cushion against “famine” periods, unexpected situations and/or challenges, you should have an emergency fund amounting to 3-6 months of your normal way of living. Plus, there should be certain milestones set for your income – actually, things you want to buy: a car, a house, a flat, etc. Without these things it`s much more difficult to identify the meaning of your “enough”.

I am still quite far away from what is enough for me and my wife. That`s why I have a couple of projects which have nothing to do with translation. But I hope that eventually my life will be a balance of both activities – translation and selling, because translation is a real passion of mine.

Once it`s your passion, you can`t let it go.

Your first public speaking event: coming out of your comfort zone

29 Jul


Coming out of your comfort zone is tough in the beginning, chaotic in the middle, and awesome in the end…because in the end, it shows you a whole new world !!
Make an attempt..”
Manoj Arora, From the Rat Race to Financial Freedom


When I was a student at my university, I remember I was thrilled about being asked to speak in public in front of my fellow students. Some years later, when I was a last year student trying to get my MA in linguistics and translation studies, I had to spend two weeks teaching second-year undergraduates the ins and outs of some English-Russian translation techniques. That was fun, and the feeling that you were seen to be a guru of translation was very exciting.

Strange enough, I never applied for any position at any university afterwards (although my MA was meant to be a starting point there). I became a freelance translator almost immediately, and since then this exciting feeling of controlling an audience has but vanished.

But in June 2016 I came across an ad on Twitter about Ukrainian Translators and Interpreters Conference (UTIC 2016 –, which was to be held in June this year. Speakers were invited to send their presentations, which first had to be approved by the conference committee. My first thought was “why not”? I had visited several industry-related conferences, and I listened to a lot of speakers there, so wasn`t that the time to remember this feeling of passing the knowledge to others? Well, I already had 50+ blog posts, so why not do it offline?

It took me an hour to compile a draft of my presentation. Frankly speaking, I was not very surprised when I received a positive answer, since the main subject I was going to talk about was about marketing, timely payments, etc.

When I came to the conference site (a small resorts in the woods some 50 km from the nearest big city), I was warmly welcomed by the moderator of the panel, Joseph Kovalov – (there were 3 panels, actually). Since the panel I was going to take part in was about marketing and payment issues (with some minor additions of literary translation ideas), it had the most attendees, with some of them being top translators and interpreters in Ukraine (one name says it all – Oleg Rudavin –

Well, my biggest challenge was to maintain an eye contact with the audience –  well , 10 years of freelance career can really change the way you speak with people, and that is exactly why I decided to become a speaker of UTIC 2016

On the last day of the conference I managed to get my family there – it was fun since there were a lot of kids there.

In other words, this is a very effective way to come out of your shell, or balcony cubicle (in my case). Needless to say, this is a perfect networking event, where you (among other things) can exchange business cards with other translators and (sometimes) direct clients.

So, don`t think twice – seize an opportunity instead!

Direct mail campaigns for translators

8 Jan

Winter holidays are over here, in Ukraine, which means that the time has come to fulfill every New Year resolution I (and, I hope, you) made last year.

I would like to share with you some info about a certain marketing technique which I have used recently to attract more clients. This is called direct mail.

A lot of authors emphasize the importance of this marketing method, along with tapping your network and going deeper with existing clients. It is not as time-consuming as blogging or cold calling, for example, but the effectiveness is almost the same.

The only thing that is quite difficult is to find companies and (which is much more important) contacts who can be interested in your expertise. Another problem is the letter itself. You can of course send it to every company in your area, or in your country, but that is, first, too expensive , and, second, is an absolute waste of your time. The secret here is to find people who most probably will be hooked by your letter.

When we speak about translation (and related areas like DTP, transcreation, etc.), the most obvious profile is a company which operates in countries of your target language, as well as specializing in your areas of expertise. Then, you will have to exclude companies which are headquartered in countries where translators get peanuts (in other words, why would they pay you your standard rates? They can easily find locals to do the job). Although that is not a kind of universal truth, the effectiveness of your direct mail campaign will be much higher. All in all, later on, If you think that the number of companies on your list is not enough, you can always include these low-paying countries as well.

In my case, these were companies from Russia, former CIS countries, India and China. I am paid 6-8 times more than an average local translator will ever get (BTW, I am a translator living in one of these countries).

In order to make up this list, you can use Google and LinkedIn. Try to use different search phrases. Just be creative! My favorite companies are those with less than 50-40 employees. Not too large to don`t even bother, and still large enough to have money to pay me my rates.

Once you have compiled your list, you have to visit web-sites of these companies and look for contacts who may be interested in the service you offer. In case of translation these can be marketing managers, international operations managers, etc. If nothing can be found, you can send your proposal to a CEO of the company (be cautious though!)

Here comes the most difficult part. NEVER ever use e-mail to reach contacts you have found. Instead, make up a letter, posing a problem they may face, as well as offering a solution you can have to the  problems they can face. This shouldn`t be a simple cover letter.

Print the letter out, sign it, and use ordinary mail to send them individually crafted letters. In this case you will be noticed. You will stand out.

In my further blog posts I will elaborate on the way your direct mail campaign can be successful.

Have a nice start of the year!

Can you find the best translator?

25 Aug

Have you ever noticed how unpopular is the concept of “the best product ever”?

Although some marketer and manufacturers are trying to make use of this slogan, it seems odd that this concept has never gained much popularity among advertisers. What can be more natural? You claim you are the best (or you product/service is the best), and people will instantly join the queue to get it.

But there must be some sort of explanation why such an obviously brilliant idea does not get the popularity it (certainly?) deserves.

The thing is that “the best” is an adjective. Like almost any other adjective, it has descriptive nature. In other words, people can`t measure the portion of “best-ness”, otherwise they would have already employed the concept long time ago. So, when someone says that something is the best, they always compare the thing they are talking about with other similar objects/products/etc. One-of-a-kind objects can`t be the best or the worst.

In other words, people tend to compare things, and, based on their requirements, they can find the best expert for the text they are going to translate. Quite often these requirements include price (budgets are tight, which is why clients have to screen out translators whom they can`t afford. Although some may claim that the best translators are the most expensive ones, for these clients they are obviously NOT the best ones). Or, a lot of people will only search for native speakers of the target language, filtering out those who claim they can do it both ways.

Many prefer experts with strong translation skills and will never let translators per se with some knowledge of the specialization touch the source text, etc.

My point is that clients can`t find the best translators for every project. Without clear requirements and criteria identified prior to the search it is more like chasing a mirage. In other words, it is quite ineffective to try to make prospects believe that you are the best one for them. Some of them will (of course) take the bite, but the probability that this relationship will last much long is minimal. It is far better to let clients match their requirements related to their specific project your expertise and experience, or, yes, to let them pass you by in case they don`t need your profile. This is the only way to let them “stay by” you if they choose you.

BTW the same goes for the concept of “the best translation” (to be elaborated in another post of mine).

Words are just words, and it is a very bad when clients (attracted by catchy slogans) don`t see the profile they were thinking about – not because you are a bad translator, but because you are not the best for THEM. Defeated expectancy.

Let you worst clients go. “The Pumpkin Plan” by Mike Michalowicz for translators.

19 Jun

I read a lot of marketing and business-related literature. And it is not that often that I come across strategies that can be applied to any business in any industry. The last book that has this universal nature was “The Pumpkin Plan” by Mike Michalowicz. As usual, I will try to highlight the most important thoughts that can (and should) be used by any freelance translator. And I am certain that many of us have applied the same methods to let your business grow – here and there.

The core principle, or catchword of the book, is “kill your clients!”. Not all of them of course, but those “who make you cringe when you hear their names”. 4 years ago for me these were i) agencies from certain countries (like India, China, former USSR countries), ii) anyone who pays NET 60, NET 90, etc., iii) clients who mostly send proofreading assignments, (iv) clients who are rude, (v) clients who lower the price at their own discretion when the project is over at the slightest excuses, etc. I believe we all have a black list of such clients. So, why not just let them go and concentrate on the best clients we have, and spend more time finding the type of clients which is the best for us?

The math is simple: now your best clients can tell you (both indirectly and directly) why they stay with you. It may be that you return their emails faster than others. It may be that you are a technical translator who specializes in the industry they represent. Or you may be the one who is able to do the translation and DTP at the same time. Which means that you will have to look for the same type of clients – like your best clients. And, by the way, you now have a lot of time to cater your best clients. Let now others wait for 60+ days to get their payment from that monstrous translation agency. Let now others fill out tons of documents required by another Fortune 500 translation agency with 20 offices worldwide.

You can also stop offering some services which attract your worst clients. Or, you can raise your rates to let your not-so-good clients go. You can also tell them that you are booked until the end of the year.

What next? You have more of your best clients. And you don`t have time to serve them all. The answer is: raise your rates 2 times, 3 times, 4 times or more. Needless to say, you have to treat your best clients like stars. Answer their calls first. Let others wait until you serve your best client.

To cut a long story short, people can`t juggle with 25 cups of different shapes and sizes without breaking at least one, which means that you will have to choose. “More is not better, people. Better is better”.

Shockingly surprising. And shockingly simple.

How many competitors do we actually have?

6 May

The main question is not the figure, which tells you nothing. Does it help you to know that you have 100 of them? It surely doesn`t. The fact that all these 100 people work in your language pair does not make them your competitors. As a result, the question of quantity becomes the question of quality of your competitors. Not all of them is your competition: (i) not all of them work in your area of specialization, and/or (ii) not all of them have the experience you have, and/or (iii) not all of these people have credentials you have, and/or (iv) not all of these translators have the clientele you have helping you reject “give-me-your-best-rate” projects, and/or (v) only some of them have a website/blog (i.e. stand out in the crowd), and/or (vi) only a tiny number of these service providers have marketing skills necessary for getting new clients, and/or (vii) not all of these translators will offer the price your clients want (sometimes this factor is the first one in terms of importance), etc. The list is virtually endless. Try to come up with your own characteristics, if you like.

By the way, this is why it is impossible to say who is the BEST translator in this language pair (some claim they are, which is an obviously absurd statement), since too many factors and characteristics should be taken into account (see above). If you take any other factor from the list (say, language pair + area of specialization), you still won`t be able to name this best expert, although your choice will be narrowed down to several dozens of specialists. Then you will take other factors – price, age (why not? A reflection of experience), etc.

In other words, it is completely wrong to try to size up your competition by simply running a directory search at, for example. First of all, a vast majority of people there are bottom-feeders (especially non-paying members). Do you want to consider them your competition? I don`t. Most of them will disappear within a year or less, or will be replaced by newcomers.

But do we have to reject the very notion of competition? Of course, not. But it is this unique mixture of your characteristics as a translation specialist that lets you stand out in the crowd. Don`t overestimate your competitors. Moreover, we don`t need 100 clients to be successful freelancers (that was a real revelation to me!). And, given the bursting effect of data volume virtually doubling every year on-line that can`t be processed by MT tools, you can (absolutely justifiably) take much less care about the competition.

Is there a single marketing strategy for every translator?

16 Apr

Is there any kind of one-for-all, one-for-every-business marketing strategy for each and every service provider in the translation industry? Moreover, is there one magic marketing “key” that will help open hearts and minds of every client we are pitching to?

Once I was convinced that there was. First, I thought that an MA degree in linguistics and translation studies would help me land a job in the industry locally. Soon I discovered that there wasn`t a single position in the city which would be connected with pure translation. I soon realized that I had to learn a lot of new skills and information. In turned out that MA was not this magic “key”.

The next step was to discover the world of freelancing. I compiled a CV (which now seems ridiculously heavy, with dozens of unnecessary details). Once again, I thought that what you needed was a “strong” CV (with as many details as possible). I thought I had finally found the “key”. Although I managed to find certain clients here and there, my marketing campaign lacked one thing – exposure, or visibility. A CV was (and still is) absolutely not enough. I thought once I post it in 5-10 places on-line, I will be flooded with phone calls and e-mails. No such thing ever happened, of course.

The last thing I did while still searching for this magic source of hordes of clients was to buy full membership at Very soon I discovered that I was not the only one out there. Each and every job post attracted dozens of potential translators. It was only natural that price had quickly become almost the only competition factor there.

Luckily enough, I came across some books about marketing. It turned out that there never was a single magic trick that you can use to find new clients. It is rather a combination of your mistakes and attempts made when searching for it. As Seth Godin said, all the creativity in the world won’t help if you’re unwilling to have lousy, lame, even bad ideas. Buying a account and just bidding in the hope that you will be selected from 60 other translators? Lame idea. But when you realize that it is a bad idea, you start searching for new one. That is the process of constant change, not of the core brand of your business, but of the methods you use to show your brand to your clients.

Old options become ineffective, while new methods emerge every year. It is exposure, or visibility, that matters. Your name, brand and business should be visible as much as possible, since THIS is this magic source of clients. But It is up to you to choose the best way to stay visible.

You don’t need 100 clients

15 Apr

Brilliant! Another thought: you can come across your perfect, generous client any moment. That is a huge plus of freelancing.

Thoughts On Translation

A quick but important piece of advice, especially if you’re in the trenches of your first few years of freelancing. Raise your hand if you’ve ever lamented a lack of progress in your freelance business by saying something like, “The problem is that most clients won’t pay my rates,” or “The problem is that most clients don’t need someone who does my language/specialization,” or “The problem is that most clients want someone who can do large projects on short notice.” If you’re honest, you’ve probably said or thought those things at some time: I certainly did during my first few years in business.

But here’s the thing: to build a viable freelance business, you don’t need 100 clients. You need, I’m going to say, four to seven regular clients and then some occasional clients to fill in the gaps. When I looked over my accounting for 2014, I earned about…

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