Today’s article puts an end to this blog post mini-series marking my 10-year anniversary as a freelance translator. In the first article, I shared my thoughts on the freelancing journey and success, while the second article was about languages, specialisation and career path.
Here are some thoughts about business practices and networking:
Own your mistakes
If you want to be taken seriously as a professional, you need to take full responsibility for your mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes and how you react to them will signal your professionalism (or lack of).
This is how I think you should approach any mistake you make:
- Acknowledge it.
- Apologise and tell the client how you are going to fix it.
- Fix it.
- Learn from it and make sure it does not happen again.
Every single time.
Did you take on a job you were not particularly suited for because you needed the money? Was the project taking longer than expected and you skipped proper research? Did you pull an all-nighter and missed something?
Whatever the cause of the mistake, if it was your mistake, you need to own it. You do not sneak a lazy translation in your text hoping the client will not notice it. You do not give excuses. You do not lie. You do not stop communication and disappear.
You acknowledge it, you apologise for it, you fix it and you learn from it.
Align your public image with your service
If you are professional in your business, your public image must instil the same level of professionalism you deliver to your clients. By that I do not mean pretending to be professional, because we all know that looking professional and being professional are two different things. You could project a false public professional image which does not correspond to reality, but that strategy will not take you far in your career. You may land a high number of new clients but most of them will not hire you again after a first mediocre or even poor client experience.
I am of the (probably unpopular) opinion that treating your public social media channels the same way you treat your professional website is a good practice. In an attempt to be authentic by showing some behind-the-scenes images and information you may end up projecting a public image which may be detrimental or even contrary to your business values. Again, this is not about pretending to be someone you are not but about sending out a consistent message across your website and public social media channels.
Two real examples where people’s practices are not aligned with the values that they claim to have:
Publicly condemning plagiarism while copying and sharing someone else’s tweets as your own on a regular basis.
Talking about honesty and transparency on social media but not disclosing affiliate links and sponsored content on your website’s blog.
Your business, your rules
Reading about other colleagues’ experience and learnings is always helpful but avoid following others’ advice to the letter. Their advice is based on their experience and circumstances, so it may or may not suit you and your business. Remember: it is up to you to decide what works best for you.
Example: my phone number is not displayed neither on my website, nor on any public directories. This is something that goes against any business advice and most colleagues will think is a terrible idea. I removed my phone number in 2014 after some guy who was bothering me in person and who I repeatedly rejected started messaging me in the middle of the night (digital harassment and stalking is something not discussed often enough in translators’ groups and events). It was a sudden reactive temporary measure which has become a permanent feature. I agree that this radical move can be detrimental to my business, but I made it work for me.
Not publicly displaying my phone number does not mean that my clients do not have it. All my regular (and not regular) clients have it. It only means that the first contact from someone who finds me on Google, in the list of sworn translators or in other directories will be by email. My main field of work is sworn and legal translation, which means that I do not quote over the phone without seeing the documents first. It is, therefore, in my interest to get contacted by email first. My seemingly radical measure may start not seeming that radical after all. It helps filter out specific types of clients I am not particularly keen on targeting and have more control over client communication and working hours.
This is not a recommendation, of course, but only an example of how I made a controversial busines practice work for me. It is your business, so you set your rules.
If you have not been freelancing for long yet, here is an idea: compile all suggestions, thoughts, and tips you come across into your business plan or another document. Then cross out everything that you would not consider doing, because it does not suit your business, personality, or lifestyle. The goal is to end up with a list of things you want to try in your business. You could then create a table with several columns to help you keep track of each new thing you try, when and how you put it into practice, and whether it worked for you or not.
Select your CPD and networking events carefully
Like in many other aspects of business and life, it is not about quantity but about quality. When starting out, many of us attend as many and varied events as possible, thinking that by doing that we increase or chances of getting results. After many unsuccessful and frustrating experiences at events, I can confidently say that the best approach to CPD and networking events is
- To create a business strategy with clear goals (knowing where you want to be at in the next X months/years).
- Select only CPD and networking events which are aligned with your strategy.
By establishing a strategy with clear goals first, you will know which type of further qualifications and events will help you deepen your knowledge, get specialised and meet the right people.
Example: I do not go to fairs anymore. I used to attend all sorts of fairs: tourism fairs, export fairs, business fairs, property fairs… I am not good at approaching people in fairs, because it feels like you are trying to sell yourself to people trying to sell themselves. I sometimes attended fairs and ended up not talking to anyone. I used to feel frustrated and unaccomplished and decided to stop going.
Now, instead of going to events where my clients go to sell their services, I go to their CPD and social events – their conferences, their talks, their seminars, and events organised by their associations. I even became member of several of their associations, and this has proved to be a fantastic investment, apart from helping with specialised CPD.
Treat every event as a learning experience
For quite a few years, I thought of events as opportunities to give out business cards. I used to measure how productive an event was by how many business cards I managed to give out. As I was going to the wrong kind of events (see above), sometimes I gave out exactly zero cards. On more than one occasion, I spoke to zero people. I cannot tell you how bad that made me feel. After two particularly bad event experiences, I realised that MAYBE I was 1) attending the wrong kind of events, and 2) approaching events in the wrong way.
At that point, I started narrowing down my main fields of work, studying towards a clear specialisation, and becoming more selective with CPD and networking events. I started attending my clients’ events, and I can tell you that it is very daunting at first, but it gets better over time. The key elements are, for me, having a real interest in the subject matter and treating every event as a learning experience.
When you do not know much about a topic, you will probably struggle to approach people at seminars or conferences aimed at subject specialists (picture me quietly standing by the tea and biscuits table during breaks). You feel like an outsider with nothing to contribute to conversations, so you focus on listening instead. That is an understandable and normal approach, so do not feel bad. They are regulars who already know each other. You are doing well.
Suggestion: if you are an introvert, you can start by attending smaller local events, where newcomers are easy to spot, so you may not need to approach people to talk. You may be approached instead, and that makes things a bit easier. Show your interest in the topic and let the specialists do the talking. They will be happy to share tips on career path and point towards resources you may use to deepen your knowledge.
The more you learn about the topic and the more events you attend, the easier it becomes to fit in and have conversations with people. You start knowing what speakers are talking about and have something to say during breaks or the drinks that follow the seminar or conference. Someone may remember you from a past event and introduce you to someone else. And you see where I am going.
Expand your personal network
Over time, many freelancers tend to only (or mainly) mingle with colleagues and clients or potential clients. While it is important to be active in your professional circles, so is expanding your often overlooked personal network.
Getting out of your comfortable freelancing bubble and meeting people from other fields, professions, countries, etc. will enrich you both personally and professionally. By exposing yourself to different points of views, approaches, cultures, and people from other walks of life, you will learn useful things which you could apply to your business and lifestyle; this, in turn, will help you become a better professional.
Make sure you have a clear idea about what you want to be known for and anyone you meet knows what you do. Referrals and word of mouth are powerful tools, and you never know who may need your services in future!
Another advantage of having a varied personal network is having direct access to specialist knowledge – people you can occasionally contact to ask for help deciphering a term outside your usual working fields, or explaining something complex in plain language.
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