Gain direct clients online

The traditional ways to contact new clients are through cold calls, mailshots and other painfully ineffective, awkward and resource-wasting methods. Although they still (unfortunately) exist, the internet has changed the marketing landscape for the better, and the most agile successful businesses are investing their limited time and budgets into it. Some of the best new techniques being used are either free or very cheap and make the smartest use of the internet. We will look at two key building blocks of an online approach:

o   Email

o   Web presence

These two methods alone allow a freelancer to reach thousands of potential clients at little cost, typically only the unbillable hours that have been built into the rate.

Email remains the most unobtrusive, direct, relevant and cheapest form of marketing that can be used. It has survived the waves of social networks and messaging technologies that have attempted to usurp it. A private inbox remains the best place to engage a potential client. We all live in our inboxes day to day in the modern workplace and now even carry them around with us.

It is important to get the prospect’s permission to receive your email, but if you offer enough value through special offers and information, then this should be a simple request to those interested. This permission is extremely valuable and lasts for a long period of time. Respecting the contact’s wishes to be (or not to be) emailed is paramount, and ensures continued efficacy of the method. A mailing list of 500 prospects, including 50 clients, would keep you in work for as long as you wanted it.

How do you start to build a mailing list?

The first step is to offer the prospect and existing customer a way to sign up, and an incentive to do so. In your sales and marketing communications you can provide a link for them to click through to subscribe. You can offer them industry insights, language news or any special offers you may have in the future. Using a third-party service makes this easy and automates the permission request. Once they sign up you know that they are potentially interested, and they become ‘qualified leads’ in sales-talk. This simply means that they are contacts who are receptive to your business offers.

You can place this ‘subscribe link’ on your website or communications with a simple link offered by services such as MailChimp or Aweber. These companies store your lists and enable you to send out a set number of emails depending on the package. The free plans include 1000s of contacts, and hundreds of emails per month at present, which ought to be enough to make a start.

Invite all of your existing clients to sign up, that way you can be sure to have their permission and get them onto your main list, so they stay in the loop too. This has the benefit of helping with repeat business, gently steering their thoughts towards translation whenever opportunities arise in their companies.

Once you have a list of existing and new clients you can send out emails periodically. Keeping this to a minimum is respectful of their time and sanity, and starts things off on the right foot. Aside from the subscribe link, you should also include a ‘call to action’. This asks your prospect or client to either get in touch or set up a meeting. It can’t be vague, “if you get a chance do not hesitate to call us to ask any potential questions”, it should be direct and guide the reader into the action you ask for immediately, “Call us now”, “Reply to this email”, “Call to discuss your project” etc.

This email contact doesn’t guarantee sales by any stretch of the imagination. What it does guarantee is at least more sales than doing nothing and has been shown to be at least as effective as website sales. It is the minimum level of on-going communication that you should (in theory) have with your client-base and prospects.

Another way to stay in touch with clients is the now ubiquitous social media. The basic premise of using this effectively is to communicate with prospects and existing clients where possible. Search for users with your problem, search their bios and tweets, mine the data to find the key influencers in your target market. Hashtags and keywords let you sift through the masses of data to find people who may be interested in your offer. Try to encourage retweets of your message among influencers, and be sure to try to keep it relevant to prospects.

Youtube, Vimeo, Soundcloud (and many, many more) are now very much part of the social media fabric, becoming some of the largest alternative search engines on the web. They can help you to communicate your message in an engaging way. Set up a podcast, or give tips and tutorials on a regular basis. You can even sponsor a podcast in an industry you work in, to leverage their audience and credibility.

The idea with all social media is to start and continue conversations for improved relationships with colleagues, prospects and existing clients. There are ways to work this to your advantage, but given that they are typically less focused than traditional avenues, I’ll only advise a presence on social media and to place a higher importance on private communications with prospects.

The most efficient use-case for social media, apart from democratising news and information dissemination, is for client-provider contact when urgency and mass-communication is required. Disaster and crisis situations are a solid example of this. However, many businesses report that engaging with prospects generates new orders over time, so at least a cursory exploration is a worthwhile time investment.

Training or speaking publicly positions you as the expert but also lets others interact with you in a way that printed material doesn’t allow. Starting conversations and thus relationships with interested parties is a great way to bring in new clients. Look to surprise, inform and intrigue. Try offering webinars or contacting conference organisers in your area.

The national press can certainly work wonders for your profile and website status if linked from their sites. The best way to reach journalists, much like with clients, is to build a relationship first. Introductory emails to a journalist who covers language or translation matters, letting them know what you’ll be able to provide for them, is well worth doing. To shortcut to what they may be interested in, take something they are already talking about and add a new angle to it. You can also sign up to portals that connect you to journalists looking for stories, such as Expert Sources, Gorkana or DWPub. There is a fee to pay, but it is modest and your marketing budget may thank you for it. Make sure your mailing list solution is in place before you go national – it’d be a waste to not capture the emails of any interested prospects who visited your site but didn’t call!

Local press is reported to have a response rate of up to 3x over national press. This was at least the experience of a PR consultant I worked with. Your mileage may vary depending on the size and properties of your local region, but reporters working on feel-good stories about local business success and intriguing initiatives would welcome your contact. Avoiding ‘advertorial’ is the main requirement, meaning you do need an interesting story, rather than sending them plain old self-promotion.

Search engine optimisation is a fundamental branch of the modern marketer’s communication strategy. I’ve included a full section on basic and advanced SEO in the coming chapters, following a discussion on the tools you can use to market and organise your efforts. These include tips on how to set up a website, if you haven’t already.

Data-driven blogging can bring in traffic from all corners of the web, or just those you are interested in, by carefully crafting posts to answer or mirror the questions and problems your ideal clients might have. The concepts for this are covered in the SEO section, but the overall idea is to publish as frequently and relevantly as you can manage and doubling-down on any posts that turn out to be popular. Include a call to action at the bottom of each post, either in a bio/signature box or more relevantly as part of the post itself.

The use of A/B split testing is a great low-cost way to turn your site from a static window to an irresistible display. It involves measuring simple changes to a site, such as the colour and placement of contact buttons, introductory texts and so on. Using this data you can set up your site to convert as many visitors as possible to interested prospects who give you their details for future contact. This is explained further in the section on productivity and tools.

Networking is often lauded as the sure-fire way to gain new clients. My experience is mixed, and I’d say it is highly dependent on industry, product and personality. To make sure you have the right balance of these you can at least ensure your industry and product are right for networking by doing it at a relevant tradeshow or exhibition. Go to where your clients will be. Get their literature and speak to their representatives to get an idea of how they work and what they like to work on. Even if no sale is forthcoming directly from the show, you have improved your chances for the future.

Networking can also help to raise your profile if you’re not known locally or don’t have a vast and impressive portfolio. Talk to people directly and let them know that you can cover their needs if there is a good fit; you’ll find that out by asking them questions and taking an interest in them.

I work in a rural area, so I have to travel to network, or do it online. Networking online may not offer everything face to face networking does, but it has a lot more reach to make up for the difference. If you deliver on your promises, the word of mouth effect is the same as for face to face. You can also mention that you accept referrals on your various profiles, to really drive the word of mouth aspect.

Think of LinkedIn as a potential starting point, with its groups and company research possibilities. There are many other online networking sites that now cross over into the world of social networking, opening up communication between people like never before.

A general framework for marketing online is:

1.   Use your head before your money. Make your message delight and intrigue your reader. Quality over quantity.

2.   Rather than comparing yourself to competitors, compare your solution to the problem your client is likely to be having (such as communicating effectively in foreign markets, in our case).

3.   Offer something more than features and tools – offer clients an insight into another culture, show them foreign companies in their field, or how you could help them to find foreign clients. Capture their interest. Just showing what you can do and where you studied does not do that.

4.   Give them an easy way to use your service: a low cost trial, a newsletter signup or a free consultation to find out more about their situation.

One last tip I would offer is to remove your contact form from your website. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, I did this and saw contact emails increase substantially. I can’t explain the phenomenon, but I’d hazard a guess that email is really quite simple and cannot go wrong, instilling confidence in the buyer to reach out. Using a different custom contact form on every site can seem more impersonal and like, well, filling in forms.

Dealing with naysayers

There will be those who cannot commit to a meeting nor have time to engage in a conversation at that moment. For those people, ask if you can add them to your mailing list if in person, or include the subscribe link in your communications with them.

In either case, you should track responses in the tools mentioned in the productivity section below. Before looking at productivity, though, there is one other method that translators should focus on when prospecting for work, and it does not involve the internet. Read on…

Thanks for reading. I do translation from French and Swedish to English, so if that's useful to you, feel free to connect and message me on LinkedIn or Twitter.