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Basic Tips to Improve Your Marketing

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: June 11, 2020

[Editor’s note: Usually this blog deals with topics of interest to interpreting users and this will resume soon. But, with almost all businesses having to rethink their marketing, given the COVID-19 crisis, I thought it would be good to hear a different perspective. Clare Suttie is the Owner and Director of Atlas Translations, a UK translation agency. Here is her view on how to get notice by translation agencies. Much of what she says applies to every potential client you might want to woo.]

I recently seemed to hit a nerve with an article on LinkedIn, asking translators not to just send me over their CV.

Some people agreed with my recommendations to make a personal approach, others seemed to be highly offended. It was a light-hearted article, with a serious message.  And then Jonathan asked me – how do you send an email that a client – especially a translation company – may actually respond to.

I have been running Atlas Translations since 1991, and back then, if you wanted someone’s attention, you had to write them a letter and post it. In my case, we delivered leaflets in person by bicycle, which did raise some interest in who we were and what exactly we were doing!  Even when email arrived, it took a while for many companies to catch up with technology.

Of course now, it’s easier than ever to research clients. No more going to the library to leaf through the business directories and Yellow Pages. A quick visit to the ITI website can identify around 100 reputable translation companies. Just fire them all the same email, sit back and wait for your reply.

Well, yes. You could try that. You might get a couple of standard cut and paste responses. But probably you’d find that some of them wouldn’t match what you do, you’d end up in junk mail folders, and you’d just be deleted as they are not currently recruiting. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

The whole sending your CV over idea is quite dated in itself. In 1991, I sat in an office surrounded by files. We had a file for each language combination. When a job came in, we’d pore over the relevant file, looking for someone who specialised in that area. We looked at a CV, we printed it, we sent out application forms and reference requests by post. Our office was FULL of paper. And we had an exercise bike which no-one ever used; it was handy for hanging coats. But that’s another story.

Now if you send someone a CV, what will they do with it? Chances are, like Atlas, they will have their own application system online which they will point you towards. But how do you make yourself more than just another applicant?

There’s no instant magic bullet, but because I like Jonathan I shall break it down into as small a list as I can (because believe me, I could write pages about this). Note that I am specifically  referring to clients within the UK.

Stage one – Research

Set a target of say, 10 companies a week that you will contact.

Research – what kind of clients do you want to work with?

Ask around – on translator networks, people you know

Make a list of those 10 and take a look at their website.

See what their application process is.

Find an email address, ideally an actual person rather than info@ address.

Stage two – Make Contact

Send them an individual, personal email. Just to them. Don’t cc or bcc anyone else.

Spell their name correctly

Use their name. Sir/Madam is pretty generic and impersonal.

Mention something that shows you have done some research – for instance – I see your office is in St Albans, one of my favourite places. Is the Kings Arms still going? Or more directly, I took a look at your website and I can see that you work with many legal companies. As I used to work at a legal firm, this is one of my specialist areas, particularly contract law. I wondered if we could be a good fit?

I promise, if you make it personal, we are all much more likely to reply.

If the company is local, consider dropping in to say hello (best to phone first) and drop off a packet of biscuits. Everyone knows that Project Managers need biscuits. Or cake.

It goes without saying, but I always have to say it because I still see awful CVs, your CV should be free of errors, clearly laid out and easy to read. Don’t bury all your experience on the second page. Blow your trumpet – this is not the time to be modest. Give it a name that says what you are. So not CV.doc or Mylatestcv.doc.  More like – ClareSuttie – French and German to English Translator

Stage three – Follow their instructions

It might be annoying, and yes, I know, it’s all in your CV. But if they want you to fill in a form, then fill in the form. In our case, this puts your information into our database so that you will appear in searches. Because (never start a sentence with because, thanks for that earworm Mrs Thomas English) the days of our files of printed out CVs are LONG GONE. We are almost paper-free! Each translation company may have different requirements. We are all different companies. I am afraid you will just have to deal with it.

Stage four – Post application communication

You’ve gone to all that trouble, and you are approved! Hurrah! Where’s the work??

The nature of freelance work means that you may not be contacted immediately with offers of work. However, there are things I believe you can do to increase your chances. And this will vary according to the client (you may need to start a spreadsheet to keep track – in fact I insist that you do)!

Once you are approved, say thanks. See who the Project Managers are, and if you can contact them directly to say hello. Again, keep those approaches personal.

OK – Hi, I am available for work this week, Regards, Bob

Better – hope the sun is shining up there in St Albans. I have just finished an enormous job about cat food, so I am available for work if you get anything in German to English relating to my specialist areas of marketing, contracts – and cat food of course! Best wishes, Bob

Stage five – Don’t give up

A year goes by. They STILL haven’t given you any work. Again, get in touch with them. Tell them you’re still around. Remind them what you do. Project Managers come and go, they have maternity and paternity leave, they swap jobs. With Atlas, our database shows the last time the applicant updated their record. If they applied 10 years ago and have never logged in since, we are far less likely to contact them as we worry they’ve changed email addresses, their prices won’t be correct and they may not even be working as a translator any more.

Optional Stage – make a phone call

Controversial or what? I know. For some reason, when I suggest this, some translators react as if I’ve suggested they set fire to their own hair. But you *could* make just a very short phone call.

Hi, I’m Bob and I translate German to English, mostly legal subject areas. Do you get a lot of work in that area?

From that intro, you will soon get an idea of whether this translation company is likely to be a good fit with what you do. Another promise here – most translation company staff are LOVELY PEOPLE. They will answer the phone, they will speak to you. They are humans. They might say

To be honest Bob, we don’t work with German as we specialise in Nordic languages.


Thank goodness you called Bob, we are really short of German to English legal translators. Can you send me your CV?

Don’t mention rates! Er, actually yes, you should

The other question you can drop into a phone (or e-mail) conversation is one about rates. Every translation company pays different rates, every client pays different rates.

Can I just check what you generally pay German to English legal translators, per 1000 source words?

Give it a try, they will likely tell you. It may be more than you thought. It may be less. If it fits with you, write it on your spreadsheet. If it doesn’t, well you won’t have wasted your time filling out forms. Move on.

I know my advice is particular to what we look for at Atlas, but I really believe that if translators tailored their approaches to translation companies they would get a much better response. Better to be registered with 5 good companies likely to provide regular work than 50 random companies who you have no idea about.