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Interpreters don’t need any more platforms

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: March 14, 2017

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At least twice a year, the world of interpreting is bombarded with another “solution provider” offering a game-changing idea that will revolutionise the industry… only to vanish in a puff of smoke. Why is the industry still dominated by the same few players? Why do the game-changers often turn out to be nothing more than a momentary distraction? 

The most common reason that new platforms make a big splash and then sink into obscurity is simply that, in many cases, the inventors either have little industry knowledge or try to solve a problem for which a good, but not perfect solution exists.

Take telephone interpreting. It would really take something special to knock the likes of Language Line off their perch, simply because the largest uses of that form of interpreting are markets where multi-year, exclusive supplier contracts rule the day. To win there, you need to be a technology provider, agency, quality manager and telecoms company all at once.

Then there is the rash of providers looking to provide human interpreting via an app, usually for ad hoc work. This is basically the telephone interpreting market but with less status and so recruiting interpreters means either paying professional rates to try to attract experts and running razor thin margins or going for “bilinguals” and sacrificing quality and hoping clients won’t notice.

It is pretty obvious then that “Interpreting via app” is not the cash cow that it looks like. Building another platform is a pretty risky way of trying to make money, especially since more and more interpreters are looking to win their own clients anyway.

Of course, there are a lot of new potential markets, such as webinar interpreting and remote interpreting for hospitals. However, in those cases, once again, just being a platform provider is not enough. Clients seem to want solution providers in those market to provide both the tech and the specialist interpreters to use it. And that is something you can only do if you already know the industry well.

So what should you try if you want to make money from the interpreting industry? By far the best course of action would be to tune into what the upper end of the market is doing, since the mid- and bulk-markets are already so competitive. Tech that improves interpreter workflows, such as automated term extraction, easier billing and payment management, slicker terminology apps and travel management will always be popular. There is also a need for specific CRM tools for the industry that link to client-specific term lists and ways of tracking practice. Add to that the need to service the needs of new tech-driven markets and there is enough space for a whole world of new providers.

There is huge potential for developers to create something of real value… just don’t make another over-hyped platform, OK?

Doing Great Marketing? Then #BackItUp

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: February 17, 2017

If your marketing budget is greater than your CPD budget, you have a problem

As is probably clear from all the posts on working with a CRM, pitching and writing for clients, I have been on a marketing binge so far this year and it is really paying off. I have caught the attention of new clients and have projects in various stages of being booked in. But it’s not enough to have great marketing; you have to #BackItUp with exceptional delivery.

 

By #BackItUp, I don’t mean having copies of your data stored in lots of places, as good an idea as that is. I mean that every hour spent on marketing needs to be supported by an hour spent on improving practice, especially since no one grows accidentally.

 

You can sell yourself as a premium provider all you like but if you deliver services that are more akin to the stuff you might buy out of someone’s car boot on a rainy Tuesday afternoon, you will hit a problem. The most powerful form of marketing is still recommendations and people will soon know whether you are as good as you claim to be.

 

Why do we think that some companies have massive rates of client turnover? If their marketing is good but they aren’t paying enough to work with great people, clients soon find out and look elsewhere. Whether you are an event interpreter, equipment supplier or events management company, if your marketing budget is greater than your CPD budget, you have a problem.

 

Since I am a French to English and English to French and conference interpreter based in Edinburgh, I absolutely have to be pushing my language and interpreting skills on a regular basis. That means keeping up-to-date with the latest research, practising specific areas of my performance, keeping my French honed and even listening back to myself.

 

So what do you do to #BackItUp? We can all learn from each other and get great new ideas for improving our practice. Why not share this post, alongside how you work on your skills and add the #BackItUp hashtag? Marketing is great but what we all need to #BackItUp.

Learning to Write for Clients – The Basics

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: January 30, 2017

[Note: this is a follow-up to my previous post on pitching]

From Pitch to Preparation

So, you have pitched and have been invited to write a piece for a trade magazine or even a newspaper. What do you do now?

 

Believe it or not, the first thing you should do is look at your pitch again. In that pitch, you should not only have written something that will convince a busy editor but you should also have left enough clues to yourself as to what and how you will write.

 

The best place to look is your three-sentence summary. In that tightly-packed paragraph, you should have left enough information for you to write a basic skeleton of your piece. This is exactly why I advise writing that paragraph according to the incredibly simple “context, problem, solution” structure.

 

Here is an example, adapted from two recent successful pitches:

 

Every business that wants to expand abroad needs interpreting. The problem is that it can be really hard to source excellent interpreters and even if they do find them, many business owners don’t know how to work with them effectively. For that reason, I would love to write a piece on how to source and work with interpreters to ensure that you always get a great return on investment.

 

That one paragraph gives the editor a great insight into how the final piece might look and, just as important, it gave me the outline of what I needed to cover and how. From that paragraph, I could jump straight into writing the pieces themselves, making sure that I wrote each one in ways that were especially attractive for that audience.

 

Remember your audience

This is where your research will pay off. For a piece I wrote for Flybe’s Flight Time magazine (using a slightly different pitch), my research told me that whatever I wrote about interpreting, I needed to drop in real-life (anonymised) stories and preferably some kind of numbered list. For Executive Secretary magazine, I knew I had to write it more like a step-by-step instruction manual with each decision explained.

 

With practice, you will realise that you can write articles covering very similar ground that look entirely different because they are aimed at different audiences. That is part of the skill of writing. While you should never duplicate content, you should have two or three key themes that you are known for that you can write about in a myriad of different ways. And that is why I would always advise practising somewhere safe first to gain experience of angling your content to different audiences.

 

How to edit your first draft

Once you have written your first draft, taking your article summary and research as a guide, put it all away for at least an hour. Go grab a coffee and check Facebook or do accounts or something. You need to find anything that will take your mind off it.

 

When you are ready, come back to the piece and reread it, looking for three specific things.

 

  • Is it written in a professional way, without any glaring typos, meandering paragraphs, repetitive phrasings and non-sequiturs?
  • Is it balanced? Does it give the right weight to the areas you want to emphasise and concentrate on the key things your readers need to know to use what you have written?
  • Have you dropped in at least some keywords that are used by your clients regularly?

In terms of key words, it is important to differentiate between SEO keywords (which are important as they get you more website hits) and article keywords (which are important because they demonstrate that you use the same terminology as your clients. I would always err on the site of prioritising the latter. Always write for humans first and you will find yourself benefiting anyway.

 

The last piece of the jigsaw

Once you have done that whole checking process at least twice, it is time to write a very short bio, giving your name, job and website and send the piece off. And with that, your job is done. For now…

How I use Evernote and Streak to Keep My Marketing On-track

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: January 16, 2017

After my recent post on pitching and my glowing praise of Streak on LinkedIn, I thought I would do a post on two of my new favourite tools – tools which have so far helped me net some incredible promotional opportunities and which showed me where I was losing out in my business.

 

The first tool is well-known: Evernote is a note-taking, image-saving, web page-snipping, beautifully constructed beast. I use it for two things. The first, and most obvious is that, what with being a dad and travelling a lot, I sometimes draft things in different places and on different devices. With Evernote, I know I can, for example, store the title to my latest blog post in a special notebook called “Articles” and then go back to it wherever I am.

 

In addition, I have installed the Evernote web snipping addon for Chrome. To understand what this does, imagine a simple webpage bookmarker but on steroids. In Evernote, you can save the entire page and a link to it so you can review the page both online and offline. In the screenshot below, I am clipping a recent article from Conference News just to show you what everything looks like. The web clipper is the grey rectangle in the top-right.

 

Evernote web clipper screencap

 

In this particular case, I am saving it to a folder called “Business”, which is where I save a mixture of articles I want to read in future and information that I need to know. I will absolutely be using Evernote to store publicly available pre-reads for my next interpreting assignment.

 

One more nifty feature is that you can link Evernote to your email and set-up reminders. This is really handy if, like me, you store the web pages of client leads there and you want to remember to email them or call them later.

 

Evernote is amazing but its power is hugely multiplied when you install Streak as a plugin for Chrome and then follow its easy activation instructions for Gmail. I use Gmail to manage my work emails as it allows really simple syncing between all my Android devices and, when I am on the web version of Gmail, Streak is active.

 

This is a walkthrough of Streak (try to ignore the rather boring voice):

 

 

What I find really useful is that, when I open the CRM pipeline view, I can instantly see where I was with every lead and active client, including when I last contacted them. This has made it much easier for me to ensure I do follow-up and it has meant that contact details are all captured automatically.

 

Want an example of how these tools work together. Here’s a simple plan of how I got an article on interpreting in the in-flight magazine of a major airline. (I am using the same process for interpreting clients too).

 

  1. I grabbed the magazine and used Evernote on my phone to capture pictures of the front cover, editorial contacts and some relevant articles.
  2. I then drafted an email during the flight to the editor.
  3. As soon as I landed, I sent the email and created a Streak box for the email I had just sent by opening the email from my “Sent” box in Gmail and then clicking on the Streak shortcut icon at the top of the page.
  4. A couple of weeks later, I noticed that the editor hadn’t gotten back to me and dropped a reminder. At that point, I changed the marking of the box from “Lead” to “Contacted” in my CRM.
  5. Within a couple of days, she got back, we agreed on the piece (if it had taken more than a couple of emails, I would have moved the box from “Contacted” to “Negotiating”) and I sent it off. Once the piece was off, I marked the box “Sent Piece/Met in person”.
  6. Once I got confirmation that the piece had been accepted, I dropped a thank you email and marked it as “Closed – Won”.

 

I use that same system to track all my leads and am slowly adding my long-standing clients to Streak too. I make sure that I check my Streak CRM pipeline at least once a day, just to keep on top of everything. That simple view has helped me spot one potential client where I hadn’t sent paperwork, one where I was waiting on the confirmation of an assignment and more than one where I needed to send reminders.

 

To be honest, I am still finding new ways to combine these tools. For instance, I recently found out that Streak can tell me when my email has been read. And I can share Evernote notes with people. I am sure that I will be finding creative uses of these and all the other features I keep finding. What tools do you find useful?