Methods for getting direct clients
Thread poster: Eric Stone

Eric Stone
Taiwan
Local time: 04:58
Member (2016)
Chinese to English
Jan 5, 2017

Recently I've been on the search for direct clients, as I would very much like to take control of my business and make a transition from agencies (which in the ZH-EN group tend to take about 35-65% off the top) to direct clients.

I want to ask my fellow translators here what successful methods they've employed in their own searches for direct clients, but not without first sharing, at the very least, a brief summary of what I've learned through my research reading articles, books, a
... See more
Recently I've been on the search for direct clients, as I would very much like to take control of my business and make a transition from agencies (which in the ZH-EN group tend to take about 35-65% off the top) to direct clients.

I want to ask my fellow translators here what successful methods they've employed in their own searches for direct clients, but not without first sharing, at the very least, a brief summary of what I've learned through my research reading articles, books, and blogs on the subject.


Summary:
Networking
-Join associations, organizations, etc.
-Ask for referrals and recommendations, etc.
-Write articles, books, a blog, etc.

Cold-calling (e-mailing, really)
-Seek out a mix of general local and specialized businesses
-Expect a 1% response rate
-Keep it short, respect client's time
-Personalize e-mails, be charming, don't sound like an essay, aka spam

Samples/mistake fishing
(A form of cold-calling)
-Look for mistakes on potential client's website or in other materials
--(Then send it to a cold-call contact with a friendly message)
-Proactively translate something from potential client's website or some other material
--(Then send it to a cold-call contact with a friendly message)

Newsletter
(A form of cold-calling)
-Write an article regarding translation that is relevant to potential client and send it to them


More than anything, I'm having trouble deciding who best to e-mail.
Basically what I've been doing is looking up lists of companies in my source country on wikipedia that would likely require my services (international hotels, IT companies, etc.), but as I've been focusing on proactive samples and cold-calling, I can only contact a few a day, and given the work I'm putting into doing these proactive samples coupled with the low response rate (though I would assume these techniques would garner a higher response rate than the 1% expected for cold-calling plain), I have to wonder if I'm wasting my time and efforts.

Perhaps there's a better, more precise way for deciding who to e-mail, so I don't feel like I'm shouting into a void?

Or maybe I should focus more on a mix of samples, mistake fishing, and plain cold-calling to increase the amount of potential clients I can contact per day?

No matter your language pair, I'd really like to hear your expert opinions!



[Edited at 2017-01-05 02:53 GMT]

[Edited at 2017-01-05 03:15 GMT]
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Maria Diaconu
 

Chris S  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Swedish to English
+ ...
Top question Jan 5, 2017

Sounds like you've got most bases covered.

Could there be a cultural aspect you're missing here? I wouldn't dream of cold-calling Scandi companies, for example.

One thought: Perhaps it's not so much which companies to contact, but which people at those companies?

Talking to people face to face always helps build relationships, so maybe go to trade fairs and schmooze? Anyone tried that?

Otherwise I can only speculate, as all my direct customers
... See more
Sounds like you've got most bases covered.

Could there be a cultural aspect you're missing here? I wouldn't dream of cold-calling Scandi companies, for example.

One thought: Perhaps it's not so much which companies to contact, but which people at those companies?

Talking to people face to face always helps build relationships, so maybe go to trade fairs and schmooze? Anyone tried that?

Otherwise I can only speculate, as all my direct customers have been referrals. Which is all very well, but it did take 15 years for word of my brilliance to begin to filter out into the world...
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David Winter
Maria Diaconu
 

Angela Rimmer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:58
Member (2014)
German to English
+ ...
Legal question Jan 5, 2017

Chris S wrote:

Could there be a cultural aspect you're missing here? I wouldn't dream of cold-calling Scandi companies, for example.


Same for companies in the DACH region (Germany, Austria, Switzerland), where unsolicited email is actually illegal. Be careful to ensure you aren't breaking any laws when you "cold call".


Talking to people face to face always helps build relationships, so maybe go to trade fairs and schmooze? Anyone tried that?


I've done that and had relative success. I found it was more productive to target small-to-medium-sized businesses at trade fairs because usually they don't have a dedicated translation team or translation solution (i.e. some other LSP they use already) and it is more likely that the right decision-makers are there at the fair for you to meet.

Word-of-mouth is really the best way forward. It might be worth asking any direct clients you already have to recommend you to their friends or give you a lead (a name or company they know that might be especially interested in your services). Then you can name-drop when you approach them and you are more likely to get a positive response.


 

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 21:58
Member (2009)
German to Serbian
+ ...
My experience. Jan 5, 2017

The direct clients I acquired were acquired accidentally (through second-degree contacts).

I never acquired any while purposefully putting an effort or developing a strategy, and I must tell you it's pretty hard to impossible, at least in my language pair.

But perhaps be proactive and it may happen through some other contacts.

I don't believe large corporations will engage in discussing big accounts and/or translation projects with a small individual trans
... See more
The direct clients I acquired were acquired accidentally (through second-degree contacts).

I never acquired any while purposefully putting an effort or developing a strategy, and I must tell you it's pretty hard to impossible, at least in my language pair.

But perhaps be proactive and it may happen through some other contacts.

I don't believe large corporations will engage in discussing big accounts and/or translation projects with a small individual translator. Other kinds, ie. small businesses, usually lack budget and/or interest (they are usually local, not international). And yes, the key decision makers in large corporations are not easy to approach, you will have to be recommended by someone else who is just as big.

Of course, bear in mind the situation varies in different language pairs, and this is just my experience.
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Angela Rimmer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:58
Member (2014)
German to English
+ ...
Yes, depends on language combination Jan 5, 2017

Lingua 5B wrote:

I don't believe large corporations will engage in discussing big accounts and/or translation projects with a small individual translator. Other kinds, ie. small businesses, usually lack budget and/or interest (they are usually local, not international). And yes, the key decision makers in large corporations are not easy to approach, you will have to be recommended by someone else who is just as big.

Of course, bear in mind the situation varies in different language pairs, and this is just my experience.


Yes, you're right, it greatly depends on the market. Germany, for example, has a huge export market and a huge portion of small to medium-sized companies there do export at least within the EU and do have need for translation services. In my experience, they often have one or two employees who can speak a second language (usually not to a native standard) translating for them in addition to the tasks they were actually hired to do (i.e. a member of their sales team or design team who has a full-time job doing their actual work and then also has to fit in translation of product descriptions, website blurbs or marketing flyers). These are ideal targets for an individual freelance translator because they are often well aware of the need for translation services but do not have the resources to go searching for a language service provider (or find the LSPs they've approached too expensive -- this is where an individual freelancer can compete) and do not really want to overload their existing staff with extra tasks that aren't actually part of their job description. At trade fairs these are exactly the companies to target.


 

jyuan_us  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:58
Member (2005)
English to Chinese
+ ...
You are right Jan 5, 2017

Lingua 5B wrote:
and I must tell you it's pretty hard to impossible, at least in my language pair.


It is a sound and valid advice not to make any effort of contacting potential direct clients but many linguists won't believe it until they have wasted an awful lot of their valuable time.


 

Ricki Farn
Germany
Local time: 21:58
Member (2005)
English to German
Look attractive and wait for prey Jan 5, 2017

... on networks such as LinkedIn or more country-specific equivalent (e.g. Xing for Germany) or industry-specific equivalent (e.g. I've heard that some translators even market themselves via Facebook, which for me as an IT translator sounds like trying to pick potatoes from an apple tree, but might be fine for other industries). Have a great website of your own with good SEO.

Jorge Payan
 

John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 15:58
Member (2008)
French to English
+ ...
Other translators Jan 5, 2017

The best luck I have had is by contacting translators who work in the opposite direction than I do and who are employees of large companies, not freelancers. The opportunity comes up from time to time when their company requires a translation in my direction - the company inevitably asks the employee to do it, but they are not comfortable translating out of their mother tongue and call on me to do it.

Lucien Rousseau
 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:58
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
That works Jan 5, 2017

Lingua 5B wrote:
The direct clients I acquired were acquired accidentally (through second-degree contacts).

I had limited success (i.e. next to no success) soliciting them directly. Nobody responded well to me pointing out the terrible English texts they were publishing, that's for sure.

But once I got a name for myself here they started crawling out of the woodwork. Some direct clients post jobs here or register and then contact members through their profiles. And once they are happy they recommend you to others. For instance, I'm currently editing a book for an author whose friend is a friend of a client who found me here. The original client is a small agency with a client in the education world, and the new client is in extreme skiing.

IOW, it's all about networking and being known for doing a good job.


 

Eric Stone
Taiwan
Local time: 04:58
Member (2016)
Chinese to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks Jan 6, 2017

Very thankful for everyone's replies, and I suppose it is unanimous that no one here has really had much success with getting direct clients through cold e-mails.

It is a sound and valid advice not to make any effort of contacting potential direct clients but many linguists won't believe it until they have wasted an awful lot of their valuable time.


I'm a little surprised, because there's really a lot of information about this method online - not necessarily cold emails plain and simple, but methods like proactive samples (sending samples to companies out of the blue), and the same with mistake fishing. Still, I wouldn't want to be one of the stubborn linguists who just doesn't listen to reason.

A side note, though I have made a website, set up a linked in account, etc., I haven't tried mingling or schmoozing, simply because I currently don't live in a place where that is possible (currently in rural China). I'll probably still try a little bit of cold contacting (mistake fishing and proactive samples, and all within CAN spam act regulations), I will explore more methods involving warm contacts, etc.

I'd really like to get a few good direct clients within the next 6 months, so that's why I'm taking the more proactive route.

Still welcome any additional advice, thanks!


 

Neil Kendall (X)
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:58
Spanish to English
Good answer Sep 11

John Fossey wrote:

The best luck I have had is by contacting translators who work in the opposite direction than I do and who are employees of large companies, not freelancers.


This sounds like a really good idea. How do you find these translators who are employees of large companies, then?


 

John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 15:58
Member (2008)
French to English
+ ...
Translators who are employees of large companies Sep 11

How do you find these translators who are employees of large companies, then?


Translator association membership lists and LinkedIn

[Edited at 2019-09-11 14:33 GMT]


 


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