Hire an Agent? Marketing Your Language Services translation jobs
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Tips for Starting a Translators’ Association advice from Fire Ant & Worker Bee (more columns in Translation Journal http://www.accurapid.com/journal)


Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I worked as a professional translator (and enjoyed it very much) before moving into IT in a salaried position, but am now planning a return to translation and want to position myself properly.

You've often emphasized the importance of networking. Since I am not that good at networking, I'm thinking of employing a person to help me. Is this a good idea? If so, what profile should I be looking for?

Back Again


Dear Back,

We are in favor of translators focusing on what they do well, hiring other professionals as needed (e.g., a professional accountant, a professional IT technician, etc.). And it's true that some of the best translators we know are more at ease with words on the page than the humans across the desk or on the other end of the phone. Which means employing someone to help market your services can be a good idea (1) if you find the right person and (2) if the numbers add up.

But before getting into buying marketing services, remember that enthusiastic word-of-mouth referrals by satisfied clients amount to the same thing—and they're free! By providing outstanding service to client A, you set the stage for them passing your name on to client B, then C, then D.

If you do decide to purchase marketing services, consider whether you are looking for an individual or an organization. Are there business networks or business service providers in your city or elsewhere that could usefully list your services in the palette they offer? Your local chamber of commerce might have some ideas and/or training courses that could help you to hook up with likely candidates.

If you are thinking of an individual agent, will s/he be representing you alone or you and several contenders in the same market? This must be clear from the start. To give your rep a running chance of pitching your services successfully, you must have an offer that sets you well apart from the competition. We don't see this working if you are not targeting the top end of the market.

Money-wise, work out very clearly what the agent/PR person's remuneration will be (percentage of sales won is safer than a retainer) and decide how many hours a month s/he will be working for you. Again, for this set up to work, you will probably have to be pitching to the upper end of the market—highly specialized content or very well-written work, which by definition is not fungible.

Note that in an ideal world, a savvy translation agency might also be your "agent"—a terrific idea in theory (see "translator more at ease with words on page" above). But this ain't gonna work as long as agencies view translation as a commodity, and translators themselves share this misconception. When was the last time you heard a specialized translator tell a potential client "fine, talk to my agent"?


Fire Ant and Worker Bee have five decades’ combined experience in translation. They believe that in addition to producing consistently strong work, translators benefit commercially from adopting an entrepreneurial outlook and exchanging tips and experiences.
Contact: chrisdurban@compuserve.com

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