Going direct

Going direct

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Client events offer a way in

One of the most commonly asked questions in translators’ groups and forums is “How do I go about getting direct clients?”. In fact, there are probably as many ways of doing this there are potential clients to find, but I thought a recent experience of mine might offer colleagues some ideas and pointers.

I discovered that an event was going on, very near to me, organised for precisely a group of clients I was very interested in contacting – in this case, people in charge of museums and similar institutions. Considering that it was open to everyone and not at all expensive, I decided to go and spent the day listening to speakers discussing the subject of cultural tourism.

In fact this was something of a revelation to me, particularly when I heard Professor Greg Richards, who apparently coined the term cultural tourism, and who was a speaker, define exactly what he meant, because it actually summed up precisely the kind of translations I specialise in. I had gone in search of potential clients, and I came away with a new focus for my marketing.

I was also there to make contacts, of course, and I tried to make use of the coffee and lunch breaks to do just that. I’ve written here b efore of my difficulties when faced with a room full of strangers, and, for me, that doesn’t get any easier, but I did manage to talk to at least some people who may turn out to be useful contacts.


I tried means of making contact other than face-to-face approaches, too. Although not an avid Twitter user, I do see its potential for contacting clients and I thought this was an opportunity to try it again. I followed the event hashtag, interacting with people who commented and I also tweeted myself and picked up a few followers that way. I also commented on the event’s Facebook page.

At the end of the day, I left feeling I’d learned quite a lot and made a few useful contacts, but I didn’t feel I’d done enough. Looking down the list of attendees I saw there were people I’d have liked to have spoken to but hadn’t seen. Why not, I thought, send them an e-mail saying just that and suggesting a conversation or a meeting? I picked out a few names and sent my mails and, slightly to my surprise, actually had some response. The person in charge of communications at a large museum said she was always looking for new translators and was particularly keen to talk to someone with my background. We fixed a date and I went to see her a few days later for what turned out to be an encouraging talk, which I hope will lead to work in the future. She also gave me some very interesting information, which I believe applies to many clients and potential clients in a variety of fields. “When you quote, please don’t try to underbid. We have translations for which we have quite a big budget and others for which we have no budget at all. Those, we have to get done the best we can.” So the message is clear: if you’re really a translator with some expertise you need to price yourself accordingly. If you want to be taken seriously, what you mustn’t do is put yourself in the “low-cost, low-quality” bracket.

What lessons have I learned from this entire process?
  1. Make sure you get to hear about possible client events going on, especially those that don’t require much effort to attend. I found out about this one because I follow the organisers on Facebook, but you could use Twitter, mailing lists or whatever other means you think might be effective.
  2. Make the time and go. I could easily have decided I was too busy to spend a day the day away from my desk, but the truth is you can nearly always divide a day’s work over the remaining four working days, or work a day at the weekend, to make up any time you take away from your desk.
  3. Go to events where you’ll learn something. Of course you want to make contacts, but that might not go as you hope or expect. At least if you are getting something from the event itself, you won’t be completely wasting your time.
  4. Overcome any shyness you may suffer from and talk to people. It can be hard work, but it’s what you’ve really gone to do, so make sure you actually do it. And have business cards with you, of course.
  5. Use Twitter or any other social media to make contact with other people at or interested in the event.
  6. Check the list of attendees before and after the event: before so you can see who you’d like to talk to and after so you can see who you haven’t managed to meet.
  7. Contact anyone you really wanted to speak to but didn’t and follow up any good leads.
  8. Remember, you went to the event as an expert, to improve your expertise. Don’t underprice yourself with any resulting contacts. It doesn’t help your cause.
  9. Don’t expect anything to happen quickly. It’s very unlikely anyone at your event needs translations now. If you make contact, with luck they’ll remember you if and when they do, but that might not be any time soon.
  10. Don’t be put off by any feeling of failure if you don’t think you’ve made the most of the opportunity. I’ve felt this in the past, not so much this time, with client events, but I try to use that feeling as a spur to do better next time.



  1. Alison Hughes

    Sounds like a really useful event, Simon, and such great advice from a potential client.

    I think your idea about contacting exhibitors afterwards might even be a great tactic. Everyone is so busy at the event that an email afterwards could be even more worthwhile than trying to talk to them while you’re there. If you do it soon enough the event will still be fresh in their mind and it doesn’t feel like hassling them with a follow-up.

    • Simon Berrill

      Thanks, Alison. Yes, I made contact very quickly on quite a personalised basis to make sure it didn’t look like a mass mailing. I also used the event name as the subject line, because I thought it was legitimate and might actually help to get the mail read. I’m sure if you put "Translator ES-EN" or whatever, that, unless they’re actually looking for a translator at that moment, it will either not be read or go straight in the bin.


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