How to find translation clients, contact them and keep them

This article of the series Moving the first steps in the translation industry deals with what I think is the most stressful issue for newbie translators and interpreters: how to find translation clients, contact them and keep them. 

Seen the volatile nature of this industry, where a client might need thousands and thousands of words in a few days and then disappear for months, you should always be on the lookout to find translation clients. And you should be actively looking for clients. Yes, having a website and a Facebook page can surely help if you use them in a smart way, but waiting and hoping to be found by a random client is not a winning strategy. First of all, it takes a lot of time and effort to be among the first page results on search engines. Secondly, a potential client might not know how or where to look for translators. Third, you might have a strong online presence, but so will a lot of other translators working in your same pair(s).

With fierce competition and constant instability, you need to have a large number of clients to build a solid business. So, let’s first look at what kinds of clients are out there for a translator and/or interpreter.

Translation and interpreting clients

There are two main types of clients you can work with: translation agencies and direct clients. Agency clients are easier to find and approach. You can easily find them online, either through a Google search or through translation portals such as Proz and TranslatorsCafé. You can check their reliability by using tools such as the Proz BlueBoard, the Payment Practices Database (for paying members) and online translator groups.

Translation agencies

Translation agencies deal with translators on a daily basis. They know – most of the time – how the industry works and what to expect from a supplier. Agencies are a good way to start if you don’t have much experience. On the downside, they normally offer lower rates and give you tighter deadlines. Make sure they agree to your rate before starting any type of collaboration, even if it’s just a translation test. With agencies you have less bargaining power. This is because most of the time they’ve already negotiated rates and deadlines with their end client. Make sure that these align with your capabilities and economic goals. Agencies also usually impose their own terms and conditions. Read them carefully and don’t be afraid to ask for clarifications. If you don’t like something in the T&Cs, discuss it with them. In the end, they’re the ones in need of your services. If they offer very low rates and ridiculous terms of payment, be brave and turn them down. There will be better agencies to approach.

Direct clients

As for direct clients, it may be harder to approach them if you don’t have much experience. A lot of companies don’t trust newbies. They don’t know much about the translation industry and you might have to explain to them the services you offer. Find companies that work in the countries of your source and target language, and in your fields of specialism. If you specialise in the fashion industry, it’s likely that an automotive company won’t be interested in your services, and vice versa. Researching direct clients takes more time than researching agencies, but you can work for higher rates and better deadlines. Being a direct supplier means that you have more bargaining power (and margins!). You might have to negotiate, but you have more power in your hands.

Where to find translation clients

There are many ways to find translation clients, and I believe that a mix of methods should be used in order to be more successful. If you like to talk to people in person, then networking, trade shows, conferences and other events are the best way for you to meet potential new clients. If you are not a people person and enjoy the comfort of your home, then email and social media marketing are there for you. You can find translation clients online through social media platforms, websites, databases or simple Google searches. Depending on your target customer, you will need to find out where your potential clients are. If you are targeting translation agencies, translation portals are a good start. You can also look at agency databases, such as the Association of Translation Companies. As I already wrote in my article about knowledge, research is key!

Contacting translation clients via email

In this article I want to focus particularly on email prospecting. Once you find translation clients, you obviously need to get in touch. Email prospecting is a great way to do so. But it’s not as easy as it sounds. Let me tell you my story.

At the beginning of my career, I was extremely enthusiastic. I was convinced that sending emails and CVs to hundreds of agencies and companies would soon translate into work. Well, it didn’t.

The response rate was really low. Of the 200 agencies I contacted the first time, only 15 acknowledged my message and included me in their supplier database. That’s a 7.5% response rate. Of those 15, I’ve only ever worked with 2. That’s a 1% conversion rate. As you can imagine, I was quite disappointed. I had spent so many hours collecting names of agencies, filling out application forms, sending out my CV and cover letter…

But you know what? It paid off. Not just because I finally managed to receive a constant workflow from those 2 clients, but because I learnt something really important.

Change your mindset

I understood that being a service provider is not the same as being an employee looking for a job. Think of yourself as the solution to someone’s problem or need. People don’t decide to get something translated just because they like it. They decide to have something translated because they need it. For a company, it can be because they want to expand into another market, or because they have a new product to launch in the international markets they’re already in. For an individual, it can be because they need their documents translated to travel or work abroad, or because they need to submit a journal article in a language they’re not familiar with.

This perspective allowed me to change the way I would find translation clients and approach them. At first, I was sending out impersonal emails (with the awful Dear Sir/Madam) where I was telling potential clients everything there was to know about me. I was only talking about me, not focussing on them at all.  My emails were long, boring, full of irrelevant information and definitely not attractive. So how to write an email to a potential new client?

Keep it simple

The general rule to follow is the KISS rule: keep it simple! When you’re writing an email to a potential client, you want them to see how you can meet their needs. Highlight your skills rather than your experiences and education. Adapt your message to the client. With agencies, you can focus on your availability and your turnaround time, your quick response and your knowledge of CAT tools. Let your direct clients know that you specialise in their field and that with your services you can help them expand their market share abroad. If you’re working as an interpreter, make sure that whoever you are contacting knows that you can work efficiently with other people, that you are adaptable and able to work under pressure. Make sure that you let the client know how your skills can help them solve a problem.

Be personal and professional

Secondly, be personal. Try to avoid the generic “Dear Sir/Madam” introduction. Instead, aim for a specific person in the company. It could be the vendor manager of an agency or the HR manager of a company. Use their name if you manage to find it, or at least their role in your heading.

Last but not least, remember that this email will shape how the client sees you. This is your first impression. Be polite, be professional, and be friendly as well. Avoid complicated language (keep it simple, remember?) and spellcheck! Sound reliable and trustworthy. Don’t boast, but don’t be too humble either.

To go back to my own experience: when I contacted agencies with long, unclear, and impersonal emails, the response rate was 7.5%, and the conversion rate a mere 1%. With this new approach, I contacted 30 more agencies. I received a response from 10 of them, and 3 of them assigned me projects. The response rate was 4 times higher than before (30%), and the conversion rate 10 times higher (10%)! There is still a lot of room for improvement, and I will fine-tune my strategy further, but I am pretty happy with the present results.

The CV

Another problem I had was my CV. I thought that including as much information as possible in my resume was the way to go.  So in my Europass CV I included all my work experience (translation and non-translation related), education, my language skills, computer skills, organisational and social skills, and much more. I ended up with a CV that was 4 pages long, full of irrelevant information for a potential translation or interpreting client.

Don’t overwhelm the reader

Again, the kiss rule applies here. Keep your CV simple. The people who will receive your CV won’t spend much time reading it. You want all the relevant information to be there, but not overwhelm the reader with useless information. For example, if you have been working as a shop assistant for a fashion company for quite some time, you might want to include it in your CV if you want to translate for the fashion industry, but not if you specialise in medical equipment. Same goes for your education. Only include those titles and certificates that are relevant to your application. An agency specialising in marketing text might not be so interested in your degree in engineering.

As for your personal details, include the necessary. Your age and address are of no use for a client, but your language pairs and your native language definitely are! Include your country of residence, especially if you are an interpreter, as clients will assign you to more events that take place near you – but specify that you’re willing to travel, if you are.

Be creative

Finally: you have to stand out from the crowd. Agencies in particular receive dozens (if not hundreds) of CVs per day. Find something that will make yours pop. Explore new possibilities: there are many ways to build a CV that is not the standard, plain Word file. Think of infographics, web pages, videos… The possibilities are endless. There are a lot of online tools that can help you with that:

  • is a platform that allows you to build your personal page to share with potential clients
  • Piktochart allows you to easily create infographics and graphic CVs
  • is a mix of the two: it allows you to create an interactive graphic CV

How to keep translation clients

Another key aspect of a solid business is keeping clients. You should always be looking to find translation clients, but you should also keep the ones that you work well with. Did you know that keeping a client costs 5 times less than finding a new one?

So how do you keep your clients?

It’s fairly simple: always deliver good quality work by making sure that the tasks you take on are within your fields of expertise and your capabilities. Always respect deadlines by making sure that you only accept tasks when you have enough time to complete them.

Act as a business partner: be professional and polite, and be the solution to your partners’ needs. Use your expertise and knowledge to add value to your service. For example, point out typos and errors in the original text you are translating. Have a short briefing with your client before an interpreting assignment to make sure the service can run smoothly. If your client doesn’t really know how translation works and asks you questions, explain to them the processes you follow and show them how your service is delivered to help them understand where the value lies and build better relationships for the future.

When your clients are satisfied, they are likely to come back. When you exceed their expectations, they will come back and they will be happy to recommend you to others as well, thus helping you to build an even wider network of clients and partners.

What is your strategy when contacting new clients? What do you think are the key elements of a successful email marketing strategy for our profession? Do you have a success story to share? Leave a comment!

  • Thank you for this article! These are some very interesting elements to take into consideration!

  • After reading your article, I’m compelling to share your points on this topic. You have done a very good job with your attention to detail you put into this article.

  • Many great ideas! My full agreement to all paragraphs! (Have gone through the process, too.) However, this one is the most important idea, I think: “…being a service provider is not the same as being an employee looking for a job.” So, what is a freelance-translator doing all the time? Getting a stable job or buliding a small business? I think, being able to combine these 2 approaches is so crucial.
    Wish you much success!


    1. Vladimir Pochinov

      Sorry, I have tried to insert both LinkedIn and ProZ profiles and ended up sending an unfinished message.

      Here I come again.

      My 2 concerning CVs.

      1. Keywords

      If you ever apply for a freelance position advertised on Indeed, LinkedIn, etc., keep in mind that 80-90% of the world’s top companies employ an application tracking system (ATS), a.k.a. resume screening software, candidate management system, or even resume robot. Smaller companies make use of some sort of ATS about 50% of the time.

      Companies like Apple and Google use their own ATS solutions, others rely on commercially available ATS tools, such as Taleo and Jobvite.

      Typically, ATS processes CVs, conducts some aptitude tests before CVs are seen by an employer or recruiter, thus weeding out incompatible candidates (mind you, even a perfect match may be ditched if his or her resume doesn’t conform to the requirements).

      All ATS solutions assess pre-determined keywords. Some of them compare your CV to the job description ranking each job seeker on the basis of the resultant score.

      If your CV fails to pass the inspection, it is very unlikely to ever reach any human recruiter.

      2. Formatting

      • Don’t use tables or columns as they can cause parsing errors
      • Use left alignment because right alignment can prevent correct parsing
      • Use traditional resume fonts (e.g. Arial, Garamond, Georgia, Times New Roman) to avoid potential parsing errors
      • Don’t use headers and/or footers
      • Use simple and standard section headings, such as ‘Work Experience’ or ‘Professional Summary’ because ATS can stumble over a non-standard heading which will prevent proper processing of your CV
      • Save fancy infographics and tables for the hard copies of your CV
      • Double-check your spelling and grammar because, unlike a human recruiter, ATS won’t even know what you are writing about when it comes across a misspelled word
      • Submit your CV as a .docx file rather than a PDF

      OK, there is much more to the topic of ATS beating and a perfect CV/resume in general. But my local time is 2 am now…

      I hope someone finds the above information useful. For more information, just google for ‘beating an ATS’ or other relevant keywords.


    2. Vladimir Pochinov

      Martina, thank you for reminding some good rules.

      Below come my 2 cents concerning CVs.


    3. Branislav Bratko

      Many great ideas! My full agreement to all paragraphs! (Have gone through the process, too.) However, this one is the most important idea, I think: “…being a service provider is not the same as being an employee looking for a job.” So, what is a freelance-translator doing all the time? Getting a stable job or buliding a small business? I think, being able to combine these 2 approaches is so crucial.
      Wish you much success!

    4. OMG! You gave me lots of new inputs to keep going… I’m so disappointed at the moment that I really need to read this article! Thank you, Martina

    5. Smith

      After reading your article, I’m compelling to share your points on this topic. You have done a very good job with your attention to detail you put into this article.

    6. A great article and important tips, Martina!
      Thank you!

    7. Lilina Collins

      Very Informative and Useful blog. It contains such a good stuff that i had a great time reading this. Thank you for sharing.

    8. Very good

    9. Finayon S.

      This is very useful. I especially like the section about CVs. Thanks for this!

    10. Laure Bourgois-Giraud

      Thank you for this article! These are some very interesting elements to take into consideration!

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