Five Reasons Why Freelance Translators Fail at Marketing and How to Fix it

I know the below may sound hard for you, but stay with me. During the last few days, I had direct one-to-one calls with 17 freelance translators. I wanted to know more about their issues and if I can help them.

Marketing to translation agencies or direct clients was a hot topic. After around 10 hours of talking with individual freelance translators, I figured out there are five main reasons why freelance translators are bad at marketing.

 So, here I will share the problems they face and how freelance translators can fix them. 

Let’s jump in.

Reason #1: Fear of Rejection

Freelance Translators Marketing

This was the most common reason among freelance translators when it comes to sales and marketing. Many translators do not contact new potential clients for fear that they may not be interested in their work or may decline to work with them. They are afraid the client may reject them, not their offer!

This is a human nature. We all like to hear others say nice things about us and treat us well, but we should expect the opposite most of the time in business.

I read about a sales person who used to call 30 potential prospects daily and only made an appointment with one of them. He was rejected 29 out of 30 times! However, this did not stop him from making calls and getting new clients.

This is not a personal issue. You are not being rejected, though your services may be. It could be that the client already works with another translator and they do not need to change, or maybe your offer does not suit them. Freelance translators should recognize the fact that not every client they email will reply, and not everyone that replies will work with them.

Solution:

Consider this question: What will happen if you never email or call new potential clients? You definitely will not work with them. But, what will happen if you email or call them? You will have a 50% chance of working with them. It is as simple as that. Not making your offer means you will lose an opportunity, but you could be working with them if you email or call them. Also remember, it is not you they are rejecting, it is your offer, or they may not be ready to work with you now.

Reason #2: Inconsistencies in marketing

Freelance Translator box

How many emails or calls do you make weekly to win more clients? Only one freelance translator gave a good answer: "I contact five clients per week."

Some reasons for the inconsistencies in sending emails or making calls to new clients was the high work volume received from current clients or not having a big enough database of potential clients to contact.

Freelance translators will always be busy with translation assignments or resting after these assignments, but they should not forget about marketing their services while doing actual translation work.

What if, for any reason, you lose a client you are currently working with? How will you make up for the lost revenue? Will you boost your marketing efforts? Why not start marketing your translation services now instead of waiting for a disaster to push you?

Solution:

You need consistent actions to generate consistent results. Allocate just 30-60 minutes daily to your marketing activities. As a freelance translator, you do not need to do much to attract new clients to your services. You may just need to contact five new clients per day, send five LinkedIn messages, or do something similar.

Reason #3: Not knowing Who Their Customer Is 

Translators jobs online

Many translators do not have a clear picture of their client. When I asked freelance translators what their specialization is or what kind of client they are targeting, most cannot give a clear answer.

Having a clear definition of your target client (aka client avatar) helps you focus your marketing activities to a certain group of people that share the same interests, which generates more positive marketing results.

If you send your marketing emails or messages to a wide variety of customers with different needs, you cannot give them the impression you can solve their specific problem. Freelance translators who send the same marketing message to potential clients with different needs may achieve minimal results, if any.

Solution:

Set time aside to write a one-page draft detailing your target client. Answer questions like, where your potential client is located, what type of documents they need translated, whether they have large, small or medium projects, and how can you reach them. Just start with a draft and then improve it with time.

Reason #4: Pretending to be marketing their translation services

Websites for translators

Consider the below as a tough love message from someone who made the same mistakes before.

  • Improving your logo will not attract clients.
  • Making your website look better does not have a huge effect on your marketing.
  • Changing red to blue in your flyer colors will not make clients notice you.

I can write a long list of things freelance translators do that have no effect on client acquisition. That does not mean your logo, website, or flyers are not important, but you do not need to spend time improving these items instead of contacting clients directly via email or sending them messages through LinkedIn or other media.

 I see many translators on Facebook asking colleagues what they think of their logo or website, which is not bad, but careful if you think these are marketing activities.

Solution:

Make sure you spend most of your marketing time contacting clients or building relationships with them. Spend less time on your logo and website design. Direct contact or making offers are real sales generators and a solid marketing technique.

Reason #5: Not writing a good email copy

The marketing material you use can have a strong effect on the success of your marketing activities. I am talking about emails here as they are the most common marketing tool freelance translators use to market their translation services. Well-written templates are useful, and I love using them, but they must be specifically targeted to each potential new client!

Many translators still use long form emails when they contact new clients. Some of the email subjects I receive go something like: "Arabic-English freelance translator with 10 years experience and a PhD. My price is $0.06 per word." Then the email body itself is around 400-500 words long, contained in two paragraphs!

 Many email subject lines and body content make it clear that this translator did not check my website or LinkedIn profile.

Solution:

Your first email should be a discovery email. Use this email to check if your target potential client is interested in your services or not. Also, say something about them, such as bringing up something they published on their website. Keep your email short, organized, and to the point.

It’s Your turn

Remember, having a big enough database of potential clients is the only thing that will help you survive as a freelance translator. Keep working on your marketing activities in a consistent way and I promise you will gain more clients.

  • Some interesting points here! Mistake #4 particularly resonated with me 🙂

    • Sherif Abuzid says:

      Thanks Catherine. I was hesitant to add it as some translators may get angry with me. But I said to myself, I have to be clear about this as it is a very important reason for their failure. Thanks for commenting 😉

  • Bushra says:

    I think ‘inconsistencies in marketing’ is a major problem for me as I hardly manage my time! Working on overcoming it. Thank you for your article.

    • Sherif Abuzid says:

      It is a common problem. I have it too, but I always try to get over it by taking more small actions at a time. This will give you some results. Just do your best to overcome it 🙂 Thanks for commenting Bushra.

  • Toby Wakely says:

    You need to find out as much information as you can about your “ideal” customers. You need to try to think what their problems/needs are and how translation can help them with this. When you have a better idea you can then start contacting clients. So, how do you find out this information? You can try sending surveys (unfortunately, there is not always a good response to these), you can email your clients and ask them why they contract you, you can attend trade fairs or Chamber of Commerce events. I´ve even started watching a TV programme here in Spain about Spanish companies who are successful in other countries. It´s not directed at translators, but watching it has given me a feel for what my potential clients may be looking for.

  • Becky says:

    This is gold, Sherif. Although I’m aware of all these issues I still struggle with some, especially with consistency in marketing. And I’ve definitely spent more time on the aesthetics of my website than I’d like to admit. Sometimes it’s easy to lose track of what’s really important and your problem-solution approach is the perfect antidote! Also, I love that you’ve based this on first-hand research.

    • Sherif Abuzid says:

      Sometimes I feel l like to write these articles to keep myself also on the right track. We get overwhelmed with our day-to-day work and need to have some rest to think about what we are doing :). Thanks a lot for your comment Becky.

  • Re7ab says:

    thanks for your tips, it’s really helpful.
    My biggest problem is that I don’t like specialization in translation.
    I’m a general translator who hates routine subjects. that’s why I find a difficulty finding the client/ company that I’d feel comfortable working with.. most companies I’d like to work with are specialized in legal translation. I started to doubt my skills and don’t know what should I do.

    • Sherif Abuzid says:

      Hi Rehab, you have already mentioned you like to work with legal translations, maybe this is a starting point for you. Being a general translator is tempting as it means more work in the short term. But within time new translators who do general translations will have rates lower than yours which will put you in a tough situation. Being a specialized translator will improve your positioning in your market and your clients will stick with you for a very long time as they realize the value you are offering. Hope that answers your questions and good luck.

  • Oleg Gordeev says:

    Great post, Sherif! Especially Reason 4 “Pretending to be marketing…” I used to make this mistake myself. Improving a website/logo/banner etc is so much interesting that you almost become addictive to it. In such a case I would recommend making a rigid schedule and allocating certain time for such activities. For example, 1 hour per week or, alternatively, during a weekend.

    • Sherif Abuzid says:

      Thanks Oleg. You can not imagine how many hours I spent designing my first website. I am obsessed with learning new things and WordPress is one of them. I guess I spent not less than 60 hours designing my first website and changing many pieces each week. But then I said, I have to stop being a perfectionist on this one and allocate a limited time for this and I can improve it late on. So, you are right, translators need to allocate a certain amount of time to such marketing material and they can get back to them and improve them. Happy you found this post great Oleg.

  • Renata says:

    Hi Sherifa. I’m just starting out as a translator and because of that I find it really hard to have a clear picture of my potential client. I’m still trying to figure out which field of expertise I want to pursuit. Any pieces of advice regarding the potential client thing? Thank you.

    • Sherif Abuzid says:

      Hi Renata, I would advise first to choose a specialisation for your freelance translation business. Check what do you like to read about, a previous experience you have or a hoppy. Then know exactly where are the clients who need this type of specialization, are they large, medium or small companies and if you can reach them. Start by answering these questions and you can move to other questions.

  • Ahmed says:

    Thank you

  • Gabriela K says:

    Thank you very much. I realized I was doing some mistakes about my marketing.