Uncertain start to the New Year

Uncertain start to the New Year

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Action needed now

My last blog post of 2016 was full of defiant optimism. I hadn’t had the greatest of years, I needed to change my approach, but I was confident I would be able to pull it off in the New Year. But now the New Year has arrived and 2017 seems a far more uncertain prospect than three weeks ago. Part of this feeling is due to a setback I had recently (of which more in a future post) and part is due to self-knowledge: experience tells me that however good I am at dreaming up marketing strategies, I tend to fall down when it comes to putting them into practice.

But let’s start at the beginning and look at why I need to change my approach in the first place. As I explained in my last post, 2016 was a reasonable year for me, but, despite putting my rates up across the board at the beginning of the year, I ended up earning somewhat less than the year before. Before the last week or so, December was particularly slow. The message I draw from this is that the business model that has served me well until now has come to the end of the line. I can’t continue putting up my rates without finding new clients who are prepared to pay more for my services, and if I carry on trying I will simply erode the base of clients that keeps me going to dangerously low levels. In the short term at least, I need these customers and I will have to limit my prices for them.

At the same time, though, I need to look for new, better-paying customers, and that means direct clients. Agencies are simply not going to contemplate the kind of rates I am looking for now, nor do they fit in with my quality strategy, as set out in another one of my posts from the end of last year.


So what’s the problem? Well, this requires an absolute change of strategy from the one I have been using with some success until now and which I described in my presentation at METM16 in Tarragona. There, I explained my “spider” strategy, in which I largely wait for clients to come to me. What I am contemplating means switching to a “tiger” strategy: going out hunting for new direct clients. It is a big, daunting change, and I am still feeling my way towards it.

Basically, what I intend to do is concentrate on promoting two areas: firstly, wine translation, which is an area where I obtained a qualification last year and which I consider has potential for finding direct clients. Secondly, copy writing. This is much more of a departure, although it also links back to my past in journalism. So, first the passive bit: I’m going to be looking to change my website or set up new websites – still to be decided – to focus on those two areas. This is necessary because I don’t believe my existing site really speaks to the types of client I’m looking for in these areas.

Then, I want to make contact with potential clients in ways I’ve never seriously managed before. I’ve already been preparing for this in a small way on the wine side by getting involved in Twitter for the first time, tweeting just for potential clients (see a future post on that subject). But however effective or ineffective Twitter turns out to be (and it isn’t bringing in floods of inquiries), I don’t think there’s any substitute for actually getting to meet people, so I need to find ways of going out to find clients by attending their events, for example. Finally, I need to make direct approaches, to make sure the clients I want to find know I exist and what I have to offer.


All of this has, of course, been done before by others, and there is information out there on how to go about it. But I have to confess to having serious doubts about my own diligence and determination in this area. I have had grand schemes to approach clients before and they have come to very little. I find myself lacking conviction, and if I don’t really believe something is going to work it’s hard to put in the necessary effort. This must change: I can’t stop at the blogging, sitting down and making plans stage.

I’ve already also mentioned my new strategy concerning quality, which is going to be an important part of my approach this year. This means, I’m going to take measures to improve the quality of what I already do, and try to attract new clients at high enough rates to be able to employ an editor to check the translations I do for them.

All these changes and new approaches will necessarily restrict things I do in other areas. At the moment, I am a mentor, as part of a scheme run by Mediterranean Editors and Translators; I am part of the team of writers producing the METM17 website; I am a co-admin of the Standing Up Facebook group; I write this blog and I do various other things. Whether I am going to keep everything up to the current level, I simply don’t know. And that is without considering a family I don’t intend to neglect or my visits to the swimming pool.

So the year ahead looks potentially difficult and rather uncertain. But then what year isn’t? Who would have said looking at the world last January that 2016 would turn out the way it did?




  1. Jack Dunwell

    SJB. Over the years (9 now) I have never put up my rate to agencies (€0.075). At the same time my translation speed has increased from 600 to 2 000 words an hour.
    I don’t have a rate problem…really I have no problem at all….but I’d like to find a good way of picking up direct work this year without wasting loads of time and bothering with websites. I shall be trying direct work with major legal firms and let you know how it goes…Jack

    • Simon Berrill

      Thanks for your comment, Jack, and good luck with the legal firms. I’ll be interested to hear how you get on.

  2. Philippe Salmon

    Simon, you and Jack are dead right about specialising. My wife also spent some time with Botterill’s Entrepreneurs Circle and the main lessons were 1. You must work on your business as well as in your business.
    2. People buy from people, so create opportunities to meet direct contacts through networking. Luckily my wife is quite happy to go and talk to a bunch of complete strangers, which helps!
    Google "Networking events" or use Eventbrite to find meetings which are relevant to your specialism.

  3. Jonathan Downie

    Hi Simon,

    Your story is basically a translation version of mine. What I am finding useful is getting articles in the trade magazines of my target market. It has taken me a while to even get the pitches right but I seem to be on a roll and I had someone from a major client event discuss the possibility of me doing a seminar for them.

    All this is to wish you luck and to say that we are on more or less the same road. One thing I will say is that success is by no means immediate and it really does help to get out their to client events in person, even tradeshows. It is incredible what you pick up and how much easier conversations become after. Do keep us up-to-date.

    • Simon Berrill

      Thanks for your encouragement, Jonathan. I’m sure there will be more posts on this subject.


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