Nine Ways to Stand Out in the Translation and Interpreting Industry

By looking at other industries and what they do differently, I quickly found some trends and items I could implement in my own small agency that would shake things up a bit. I saw results almost immediately.

One of the things I really dedicated time to in 2017 was looking at what I could learn from other industries—those totally unrelated to translation and interpreting (T&I). What I found was eye-opening and intriguing.

I had been feeling like I was in a bit of a rut. I had also been hearing the same tired complaints from colleagues (no offense!) about how it can be difficult to educate potential clients, close deals, and grow in an industry where it seems like the large corporations are eating up the little guys. I knew there had to be a way to change this mindset and look at it from a different perspective in order for smaller guys like us to thrive.

By looking at other industries and what they do differently, I quickly found some trends and items I could implement in my own small agency that would shake things up a bit. I saw results almost immediately.

Whether you’re a freelancer or a small agency owner, looking to other industries for inspiration and tips can provide you with innovative ways of doing things in your own business. Here are nine things I learned and was able to implement simply by looking outside the T&I industry and being open to different ways of doing things.

1. You don’t have to do things the same way as everyone else in your industry. I hear a lot of professionals in our industry making comments about how they feel like they have to do something a certain way because that’s just the way it’s done or has always been done. It turns out that this thing they think they should be doing is actually not working for them at all. If that’s the case, I say “Stop it.” If you spend time and energy on something you’re really not excited about, it’s going to show. Instead, do something different. Do something that will drive you closer to your goals, even if it means that you’ll stand out from the rest of those in your profession. In fact, I would say standing out is a good thing, especially if you feel like the market for your specialization and/or language pair is oversaturated.

2. Make your industry and your work attractive to your clients, especially if it’s a topic that requires client education. You might think, “But I’m a translator. My work isn’t ‘attractive.’” I really beg to differ. What we do in our industry is exciting, and it’s different every day. How many people can say that about their work? Think about it. You go to a networking event, or even a random social gathering, and somebody asks you what you do for a living. When you tell them, “I’m a patent translator,” do their eyes glaze over? If so, it might be how you’re portraying what you do. The next time you’re asked what you do for a living, tell people how you help your clients do business in other countries, or how you connect people across languages who otherwise would never be able to communicate with one another. Paint a picture. And while you’re working on your elevator speech, think about your web presence, too.

Not only is it important to relay what you do verbally in a way that others can grasp and also get excited about, but it’s absolutely vital in this day and age to make sure that your web presence is also extremely attractive to potential clients. Use images and branding that make your clients want to get a feel for what you do. Make them understand that your work is professional, but that you’re still very much down to earth and in touch with your clients’ needs. Make them want to work with you by giving the best impression you can online, as well as in person.

3. Stop wasting time on things that don’t move you closer to meeting goals or are not fulfilling. There’s a lot to do when you own a business, no matter if you work alone or with a team. When it comes to reaching your goals, don’t waste time on tasks that don’t actually drive you closer to them. I alluded to this in Number 1 earlier, but I want to expand a bit more to say that time you spend on tasks that feel meaningless, or like tedious busy work, is time you could be spending on real work that will take you closer to reaching your goals.

Make sure that what you’re doing is fulfilling. Don’t fall into the trap of going through the motions just for the sake of it. Really look at all the hats you wear in your business. Can any of them be taken off or be worn by someone else? Make a list and then make a plan to contract someone to do those tasks, or get rid of them all together if they are not essential.

4. Blog for your clients, not just for your colleagues. Blogging is extremely important in this digital age. Of course, there are other mediums that are going to really make up a lot of how people consume content in the future, like video, but don’t underestimate the power of writing and having a regularly updated blog.1 Having a blog where you share content regularly is very good for search engine optimization, and it can show clients that you’re an expert at what you do. If you do choose to blog for colleagues or about industry-specific topics, create a separate blog. Don’t mix the message you want to send to your clients with the one that’s meant for colleagues already familiar with what you do.

5. Create other income streams besides your primary one. This is something that a small handful of translators and interpreters I know do very well, but only a handful. Why is that? Because the majority of translators and interpreters I know are too busy translating and interpreting. This isn’t a criticism of what most professionals in our industry do. It’s merely an observation that if more of us put time and effort into creating other income streams, the conversation about rates and certain types of markets might very well be a different one. Looking at how professionals in other industries do this can be a real eye-opener. Again, take a close look at your skills and shoot to do something different than everyone else in the industry. You just might surprise yourself.

6. Think in terms of strategy and not just what you think you have to offer. This is perhaps one of the best pieces of business advice I’ve ever received. Think about this carefully. Our clients hire us for translations of texts or to interpret for a specific appointment or meeting, and that’s the extent of what we do for them, right? Wrong. It’s important to listen to your clients and their needs and think beyond the scope of what you think you’re selling.

I hear a lot of translators and interpreters say that they refuse to work with clients who don’t want to adapt to their way of doing business, whether this is paying a certain rate or having a reasonable deadline. But the truth is that in order for this to change, we as a profession and an industry must help ourselves. By this, I’m not just talking about educating clients on how to work with professional translators and interpreters. That’s a given.

When we actually take the time to look at the reason behind why a client needs a text translated or a meeting interpreted, we see the real purpose of our jobs. Rather than being an order taker, think of yourself as a part of your clients’ team. We’re not merely a tool in their toolbox, and our services are not merely another line item on their expense sheet. But if we don’t think of ourselves as more than these things, then we cannot demand more respect in our profession.

We provide services that aid our clients to gain access to untapped markets, to increase revenue, and serve populations that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to serve. When we recognize this, and when we’re able to relay this to clients so that they recognize this for themselves, this is when we hit a sweet spot. And no machine or automation can replace such a vital part of the human team.

7. Figure out how to present your expertise in a way that will be attractive and understandable to anyone. Don’t just think that telling people what you do for a living will be enough. Again, I’m repeating myself a bit here from Number 2, but bear with me. Having a great web presence and a memorable elevator speech are important, but presenting yourself to clients is a process that starts at the point of inquiry and ends at the point of payment. If you think of client interactions as a continuum, it’s easy to see why every interaction with a client is an opportunity to educate and impress.

One way I learned to shake things up a bit in my business was to learn how professionals in other industries do this. I keep a “swipe file” of businesses and brands that are very successful when it comes to leaving a lasting positive impression. To even make it into the “swipe file,” these brands have to impress me from start to finish. From the time I click on their social media post or website to the time I check out and receive my product or service, if I’m impressed with what they’re doing, they’ve won me as a long-term/repeat customer. It’s that simple.

We’ve implemented this in my business by adopting a customer relationship management tool that’s actually meant for design/creative industries. We tweaked it a bit to make it work for us, and I feel fairly confident that no one else is doing the same in T&I, at least not the way we do it. We’re able to stand apart from our competitors. Whenever a client reaches out to us for a quote or requests a bid, I know without a doubt that we’ll stand apart and appeal to them visually while also educating them.

8. Be open to learning new things with new-to-you programs and software that could take your business to the next level and differentiate you from the competition. To piggyback on Number 7, this is perhaps one of the biggest differentiators we’ve adopted in my small business in the past year. By looking to other industries to see how they handle the challenges we similarly face, we were able to adopt some of the same programs and software they use to fit what we do to manage projects and workflows.

I’ve yet to find a proper project management tool in the T&I industry that actually does everything we need it to do. And believe me, I’ve tried many. But when I looked to other industries, I found a solution that’s affordable and effective. Again, no one else seems to be using the same tools, which means that our clients are getting a different experience with us than with competitors. I use the word “competitors” loosely here. I believe in working from a mindset of abundance, not scarcity. There truly is enough work to go around, but how we approach our clients and how we present ourselves to them during every step of the process can be the differentiating factor that convinces them to sign on the dotted line. While you can and should stand apart with your skills and abilities, how you present these things is key in building trust with clients. Consider how you do this with your processes and the programs you use to do business with clients.

9. Increase your visibility and refine your strategy by building a team and surrounding yourself with people in other industries from whom you can learn (and who can learn from you). In addition to doing the research and tweaking the way you present yourself to clients from the point of inquiry to final payment, surround yourself with a small team of colleagues you can consult on a regular basis. Try to tap into the minds of professionals from various industries who can teach you new ways of doing things that you would normally not have considered before. Think of this team as your own personal mastermind group. Meet once a month if you can, and make sure you’re able to provide value to the folks in your group as well. Collaboration of this kind can lead to more awareness in other industries about the professional work that we do, and it can certainly help shake things up for the better in our own industry.

Bring Your own Value to the Table

Finally, remember one thing. You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing in our industry. In fact, I dare say that you shouldn’t. As we’re all unique and bring our own value to the table, it’s time to embrace what can differentiate us and use these factors to benefit our businesses. If you notice something that’s not working, look elsewhere for inspiration. If everyone else is doing something one way, be the “change-maker,” the “outside-the-box thinker.” Other industries can teach us how to grow and pivot, because while everyone else is worrying about the future of this or that, we can be looking at trends or movements happening in other industries and adopt them to freshen things up in our own.

Notes
  1. Zampaulo, Madalena Sánchez. “Why Your Translation Business Needs a Blog: A Free Planning Guide,” http://bit.ly/madalena-zampaulo-blog.

Madalena Sánchez Zampaulo, an ATA director, is the chief executive officer of Accessible Translation Solutions, which she founded in 2010. She joined ATA’s Public Relations Committee in 2012 before becoming its chair in 2014. She has also served as administrator for ATA’s Medical Division (2011–2015). She has a BA in Spanish from the University of Southern Mississippi and an MA in Spanish from the University of Louisville. She is also a consultant for the University of Louisville Graduate Certificate in Translation. You can read more of her articles on her blog at www.madalenazampaulo.com/blog. Contact: madalena@accessibletranslations.com.

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