Wearing my translation project co-ordinator hat in this article, let me share some tips with you about approaching clients, be they translation agencies, or direct clients.
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The thing to remember is, don't approach it as if you were a normal employee looking for work, because that is not what you are. You are an independent freelance language service provider, a business person in your own right. So you should project yourself accordingly.
A translator's CV is different to a “standard” CV. In fact, I would compare it to an actor's CV, where you list the projects you have worked on, rather than list the companies you have worked for. For more information on how to write an appropriate résumé for the translation sector, I recommend that you read Ms. Natalya Zelikova’s article on “How to Create a Freelance-Specific CV” in the Proz Knowledge Base.
Whether you're making a bid through Proz, or sending your CV on spec, you can be sure that the person on the other end receives CVs on a regular basis and they will only keep the ones that interest them. Don't waste this opportunity because this is your only chance to make an excellent first impression.
Spell-check, double-check and check again!
This is SO obvious, yet people fall down at this very hurdle. You would not believe the amount of poorly-written CVs & application forms that agencies get from prospective translators that are chock-a-block with language errors. I can guarantee you such applications get deleted immediately. This even applies to the e-mail you write to your prospective customer.
I’ll give you an example of an e-mail I received from a person looking to get started as a translator. I have removed names and places for confidentiality, but apart from that, I have not changed anything else:
….I called yesterday looking for work as a translator, as I explained on the phone yesterday I have lived in [name of city] for ten years and studied as a nurse out there. I 'm fluernt in the [x] language, I'm currently working as an agency staff nurse at [x] where on many occasions I would translate for [nationality] patients .
I have attached my CV for you to see and maybe I can get some freelance work from your agcney.
Looking forward to hearing from you soon
See what I mean? Poor punctuation, careless spelling mistakes, an unconfident tone, and they could not even attach their CV to their e-mail. This is not the kind of application that would fill one with confidence. I’m not likely to work with this person based on this e-mail.
Moral of the story - pay attention to the content & style of your correspondence to prospective clients. The same applies to your website, business cards, brochures, flyers and advertisements.
If you cannot even be bothered to write an e-mail properly, then what are the chances that the client is going to take you seriously? Everything counts. You are supposed to be selling excellent writing skills after all – this is your opportunity to stand out from everyone else. Make them want to work with you.
Direct phone contact or “Cold-calling”
I don't know why, but in Ireland, translators tend to phone customers/agencies on spec to see if there is any work available. Maybe it is because many translators (myself included) cut their teeth in call-centres. I cannot say if it is the same in other countries.
If you want to create a personal touch and believe you can make a better impression on the phone, then go for it.
In fact, it would be worth your while to check the company's website to see if they encourage such calls or not - quite a few agencies don't want translators cold-calling them. Read the company's website first to see if they are currently recruiting - do your skills match their requirements and services?
“Hiya, is that [X]? Yeah, emm, I was wondering if you were looking for...eh... any translators?" does not sound particularly professional. You're basically clogging up the phone line with this kind of waffle. Don't waste the other person's time if you're likely to get nervous and stumble and stammer your way through the conversation.
If you want to go down the "telemarketing” route, I suggest you start off with something like this (feel free to rephrase this to suit yourself):
“Good morning, my name is [X]. I would like to speak to the person who looks after translator recruitment please.”
Tell them your language pair(s), specialities, experiences. Answer whatever questions they may have in a polite and confident tone. Have all your facts to hand. No beating around the bush if you’re asked a question that you’re not sure about or that you cannot answer. After the conversation, if all goes well, follow up immediately by sending a CV to the person you spoke to.
Now, the worst case scenario is if the person on the other end of the line says "Sorry, we're not looking for anyone with your language pair at the moment" (or words to that effect). It’s not the end of the world; at least they are being honest with you. Thank them for talking to you and move on to the next client lead.
This method is not for everyone, of course, but if used properly, it can be very effective indeed.
Anyway, I hope this article has been of interest to you. It is hard when you are starting off, competition is tough. But let's not forget, you are selling communication skills. Use them to your advantage effectively, this is what the client has to go on. Good luck!