Integrity Languages


Why Every Interpreter Needs a USP

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: July 27, 2016

A few days ago, I received an email from someone starting up a new translation platform. In the time-honoured tradition, they seek to build a large, publicly searchable database of translators and (presumably) interpreters so clients can find us more easily. Yet even the briefest squint at the industry will tell us that there are already lots of companies trying to do exactly the same thing, with little to choose between them. How could a new player have a hope of standing out?


For freelancers, the competition is even fiercer. If you define your competitors as everyone with the same job title and languages, you are up against it from the start. If the only thing going for me is that I am a French to English and English to French interpreter, I don’t stand a chance.


Even if you specialise, the difficulties only ease off slightly. If someone wanted to find a French to English legal translator, the ITI directory would offer them twenty. If they wanted to find a translator between Spanish and French with experience in tourism, a quick search on any major platform would give them more than they could handle.


That reality is probably the main reason why people don’t attempt the value-based pricing strategies I talked about in yesterday’s post. To put it bluntly, too many of us see ourselves as ultimately replaceable, clones who could all do the job more or less equally well.


But that isn’t true. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Take me, for instance, I can rock any speech that aims to persuade, inspire or teach but I am not the best at finance talks. That’s why I am glad that my regular boothmate is a finance wizard who can deal with turnover trends and widening margins as easily as I can enthuse people about demolition techniques or theatre as a tool for peace.


My USP then is that I am a speaker in my own right and someone with proven skills in understanding what clients want and making sure that’s what gets delivered, whether interpreting is needed into one language or ten. Saying that is not a sales ploy, it’s a very simply example. Every interpreter has (or should have) that little bit of something extra that makes them stand out.


I have one German-speaking colleague who can interpret sales pitches so slickly that customers fall over themselves to buy. I have an Arabic-speaking colleague who can deal with the highest echelons of politics that you can imagine. I know exactly what kinds of assignments would suit them and which ones are better for someone else.


So what’s your interpreter USP? Once you get to know it, your marketing will never be the same.

2 comments on “Why Every Interpreter Needs a USP

  1. Well written, Jonathan. To my direct clients I can sell my USP without a problem. The main issue is the middleman who does not understand the diversity of our offerings and keep us all under a single, generic umbrella. This has been a point of contention for many years – mind you, I have been in this arena for 36 and they were discussing it before I got here. It is nice to recycle the subject for the newcomers to see what opportunities are there for them to rally behind.


    • Hi Gio,

      I think this is definitely a place where there is an agency/direct client split. The prevailing agency model is to have interpreters as mostly replaceable commodities as this allows easier pricing and job setup. Sadly, this can mean interpreters taking on jobs that they can do well but not excel at. For direct clients, it will always pay to have the specific interpreter that the job needs.

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