New Year’s resolutions for freelance translators: 7 steps to get the year off to a great start for your business

Published on January 15, 2019 Charles Eddy |   Share


Photo by: Greg Rakozy

The new year is already well under way, but there is still time left in the month of January.

While a new year is more symbolic than anything, it can still be the perfect occasion for you to get some much-needed perspective on where your business is headed and where you want it to go.

Here are some ways to help your business get off to a flawless start this year.

1. Take stock of the previous year

The new year gives you a valuable opportunity to look back at all that happened over the previous twelve months. Some of the questions you can ask yourself are:

  • How many new customers did I gain?
  • Did any customers stop calling? Do I know the reason?
  • How did last year’s earnings compare to previous years?
  • What was my breakdown of agency/direct customer earnings last year?
  • What were my overall per-customer earnings? Do I have one or two customers that represent an excessively high share of my earnings that it would be too hard to lose?
  • Ideally, how much would I like to earn this year?
  • How much time do I spend on each aspect of running my business, and can adjustments be made to increase/decrease time where needed? If you spend a lot of time on certain things with no return, it may be time to adjust. (And if you don’t know how much time you spend on each activity, I recommend using a time tracker like Tracking Time so that you can get a perfect breakdown of how much time you spend on your business.)
  • How was my work/life balance last year? Did I get to take enough vacation or spend enough time with my family?

Asking these kinds of questions will allow you to evaluate what is and isn’t working in your business right now, which will pave the way for implementing strategies to improve less positive aspects of your business.

2. Do something brand new to improve your business

Use the new year to put a spark in your business and drive change. Use what you learned from the questions in the previous point.

Now is the time for any ideas you may have had in the past that you’ve put off. Here are just a few possibilities:

  • Join a translator’s association such as the SFT;
  • Design a website, redesign your current one, or rewrite some of your website copy;
  • Redesign your CV/cover letter to better appeal to agencies;
  • Rethink or redesign your branding – images, logo, etc. – to better appeal to both direct customers and agencies;
  • Create business cards and other promotional materials;
  • Sign up for events (conferences, local chamber of commerce meet-and-greets, etc.) to network with direct clients and others working in the translation industry;
  • Take a training course or attend a professional conference in your area of specialization. Talk about it on your preferred social networks;
  • Develop a new and improved marketing strategy;
  • Invest in a new software license to improve your efficiency or add to the types of files/projects you can handle;
  • Improve your social media presence;
  • Put a new prospecting system into place;
  • Streamline your accounting and project management processes to save time.

Whatever you choose to do to enhance your business, it will almost certainly be a positive step. The important thing is to not remain static – because the rest of the industry won’t.

3. Reconsider your pricing

The new year is often an ideal period to think about adjusting your translation rates. Looking at your finances and the time you spend working, are you making as much as you feel you should per hour? Your prices should reflect how much you feel your services are worth, and with an inflation rate of 1-2%, what’s certain is that they shouldn’t remain the same from year to year.

Admittedly, it can be hard to raise rates with customers – especially agencies or direct customers with whom you have worked for a long time, and if you don’t feel comfortable doing so, that’s completely normal; but it is a necessary evil, and should at least be something that you take into consideration each year.

Apropos, at the recent SFT round table held in Lille on International Translation Day, several of the professional translators present agreed that often, it can be less of a hassle to find new agency customers than to raise your rates. So, if this strategy seems less painful to you, take a look at the agencies you enjoy working with the least and consider slowly winding down your relationship with them as you replace them with higher-paying translation firms.

Whatever strategy you use, it is important to show as much tact as possible in raising your rates or ending your relationship with customers – there’s no use burning bridges when you don’t have to!

4. Get back to looking for new customers

When you’re busy and earning a comfortable living (as one might hope you are), the search for customers can often take second stage.

But if you aren’t happy with everyone on your client list, it’s worth remembering that there are always other customers.

Take advantage of the new year to craft a fresh strategy for acquiring new leads and go after them!

For agencies, look for better (and better-paying) work in lieu of more work. Rather than sending out dozens of emails, the goal should be to hand-pick new higher-end agencies that do a lot of business in your areas of specialization. Redesign your CV and carefully personalize your cover letter to blow them away. (And don’t forget to clean up any online profiles (LinkedIn, ProZ, etc.) they might stumble upon so that all your information is up to date).

This can also be the occasion to redouble your efforts to land new direct customers, either passively (by focusing on your social media presence, search ranking, etc.) or actively (by prospecting, attending events, etc.).

5. Expand your social media presence

Social media has become a major way for we as freelancers to make ourselves known to potential customers.

I feel the traditional divisions between the major social networks still apply for small businesses (though the lines between them are, of course, blurred in some respects):

  • LinkedIn is the network of choice for courting B2B customers and agencies. No longer is it a mere CV-style profile with a passive network of real-world business relations. Rather, it has evolved into a full-fledged interactive social network that allows you to actively prospect for new customers;
  • Both Twitter and LinkedIn are great for networking with fellow translators across the globe (a solid investment, because good colleagues are always looking to pass along or subcontract work that they are unable to take on);
  • Facebook is ideal for connecting with B2C customers and establishing a solid web presence (with a value similar to that of a traditional showcase website).

If you’re not on one of the big three networks above, the new year might be just the occasion to take the plunge and sign up. Alternatively, you could try setting up an account on other, less traditional networks like Instagram or YouTube that make it possible for you to advertise your services in fun and attractive ways.

Also, if you have multiple accounts and aren’t already using a social media dashboard service, you will likely appreciate tools like Buffer, Crowdfire, and Hootsuite, which allow you to save time by posting to all of your business’s social accounts at once.

6. Boost your website’s search-engine ranking

How often do you go as far as the second, third, or fourth page of search results to find a service provider? Odds are, not often.

Search traffic is one of the main ways direct customers organically find your services, which is why your search-engine ranking is so vital if your business model involves direct customers.

Search engine optimization has also grown more complex: blunt keyword spamming and other such tricks are no longer effective, so you have to make subtle changes to improve your search ranking.

Although search ads can put you in first place on Google for as long as you can afford them, I don’t recommend this solution for freelancers, as search-engine advertising can be costly and generally has a low ROI.

Instead, there are some simple and effective steps you can take to help you stand out more on Google by investing just a bit of your time:

  • Make sure the meta title, meta description, and headers (H1, H2, etc.) of each of your pages contain relevant keywords. Think of the keywords your customers are likely to search for and make sure to include them where you can;
  • If your website doesn’t have a blog or articles section, add one and write from time to time. External links and visits to your site have become a key vector in the way Google determines its search ranking. Ideally, the text of the majority of your articles should include keywords relevant to your business;
  • Update your business’s Google My Business page, which shows up in search listings and is sometimes the first thing prospective customers see;
  • Sign up for free online directories (ProZ, but also the Yellow Pages or whatever directories are relevant for your customer base) and be sure to link back to your website on them. These can have good visibility on Google, and every link back to your website is a plus for your search ranking;
  • Ask your customers to submit a rating on your Google My Business page (or another online directory service if you prefer). Better rated businesses get more clicks and show up higher in rankings.

7. Consider diversifying your offering to give yourself some added value

Freelance translation not an ordinary job or a “gig”; it is a full-fledged business. It is exasperating that translators are now sometimes lumped in with the “gig economy” on the same level as bicycle couriers or ride-hailing services. It isn’t because full-time translators are freelancers that they aren’t also ordinary service providers like solo lawyers, software developers, or architects. Professional freelance translators are small business owners: full stop. We deserve to be treated as such, and we should always conduct ourselves in a manner that reflects our status.

Like any business, one thing that is expected of future-oriented freelance translators is to consider developing our businesses into new areas to adapt to ongoing shifts in the market. Some, of course, will be just fine standing still for an entire career, but I would wager that most will find that at some point, it is necessary to evolve and avoid stagnation.

Which brings me to my point: the more diverse your offering is, the less likely it is that you’ll be among those hit hardest by inevitable changes in the industry and the economy as a whole.

When looking at ways to diversify your business, treat the process like an investor would, carefully weighing the pros and cons of each additional activity in accordance with your skill set. What would you like to do or be willing to do, and do you already possess the skills required to do it? If so, why not venture out and add some value to your business? And if not, why not consider setting aside some time for training to acquire those skills?

First, there are some complementary activities that you may already have the skills to do as a language professional, such as:

  • Language teaching – If you live near a big city and speak an in-demand foreign language, chances are that there are some excellent opportunities out there. Don’t limit yourself to B2C customers! Businesses, especially in markets with a great deal of international contact, often pay good money for foreign language courses for their employees, and they are a far more lucrative market than consumers;
  • Proofreading – Most of us already offer this service, but if you don’t it can be a worthwhile addition;
  • Translation project management – Odds are, you’ve already done a little bit of subcontracting, but if you’re really looking to expand, you can always begin offering comprehensive multilingual project management services. Who knows, maybe one day you will end up at the head of your own translation agency!
  • Liaison interpreting – While most types of interpreting require special training, many of us are capable of liaison interpreting at small meetings, appointments, or visits;
  • Writing – Translators are generally excellent writers, so this makes a natural addition to our skill set;
  • Transcription – Some markets have high demand for transcription services, so this can be a useful addition to your arsenal if you enjoy it;
  • DTP and OCR – If you’re good with publishing and layout software, DTP and OCR services can help you to offer real added value to your existing customers.

Second, you can also diversify your existing translation offering:

  • Add another source language – Stopped working on another language a while back? Now might be the time to pick it back up again. The rarer the language, the higher the rates you can charge and the more future proof your skills will be;
  • Add an area of specialization (especially if you don’t have one already) – The best option, of course, is to take university courses (or at least online courses), but self-learning, if it’s done with application, can also lead to good results in the long run.

Conclusion

Whether you decide to learn new skills, diversify, expand, network, boost efficiency, or make any other kind of improvement you can think of, the new year is an ideal symbolic occasion to look back on how well you have done over the past year and make the necessary adjustments to propel you to even greater success over the coming twelve months.

So what are your new year’s resolutions for your business? Do you have any other ideas or suggestions for possible improvements to be made by freelance translators?

I’d love to hear about them! Don’t hesitate to share this article with friends and discuss the topic with me on Twitter: @ceddytrad!

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