How to Define your Target Clients and Land your First Translation Assignments
Define your target clients
The biggest mistake companies make is to try and sell to everyone. The biggest mistake freelancers can make is to do the same. “Everyone is not a demographic,” says an e-book that I downloaded recently from wordstream.com. As freelancers, or small business owners, you need to define your target clients. But what is a target client?
Our target clients are the specific group of people you have decided to target with your products or services. These people are the ones you want to pitch your services to. You need to know them very well, and I’ll explain why.
Why you need to define your target clients
For someone who hasn’t studied marketing, understanding the importance of identifying a target client can be challenging. Why should we exclude part of our possible audience to focus on just a small section? It makes no sense, right? That’s what I thought at the beginning of my career.
The concept clicked in my mind one day when I though of it in these terms: is it possible to try and appeal to all the people you meet in your life, and make them all your friends? It actually isn’t. We can’t reach everyone; we can’t have everyone agreeing with us. As we talk, our ideas will appeal to some people, and will not resonate with other people. The first will become our friends, the latter will not. This is absolutely fine; we need that distinction.
As freelancers, we need that distinction even more because our time is limited and we don’t want to lose it promoting our services to people who are not potential clients. When we try to reach our potential customers we have to tailor our message. This message cannot possibly appeal to everyone, so we want to define an ideal customer and tailor our message for him/her.
We can’t say something that will appeal to both large and small companies. We can’t attract companies that are looking for value for money, as well as companies that look for the highest quality. We can’t, within the same message, appeal to both publishing houses that look for creative translators, and engineering companies that need someone highly accurate.
That’s why, in every marketing message, whether a blog post, an email, or even a tweet, we need to speak to someone in particular. A Mister or Miss X that we have to try and define as much as possible. The more you know about him/her, the more you can tell exactly what she needs the most. If your message resonates with her needs, she’ll buy. If it doesn’t, she will not.
The benefits of defining your target clients
Defining your target clients has several benefits:
1. You know whom you’re trying to address, so it’s easier to know where to find them. Imagine not having a target client; imagine trying to reach “everyone” to pitch your service. If you’re anything like me, you don’t know where to start, right? That’s because it’s hard to find what you’re looking for, if you don’t actually know what you’re looking for. Knowing whom you’re trying to reach will make it easier to know where to find them. Let’s say you want to translate material for tech companies. You can join LinkedIn groups about technology, you can attend conferences about the tech industry, you can contact tech start-ups that maybe don’t have the budget for big translation agencies, and prefer to work with freelancers. Just an example of all the things you can do to meet your prospective clients when you know who they are.
2. You can better tailor your marketing message. Whether you’re writing the content of your website, the content for your social media channels, or your offline material, you’ll be able to use the keywords that will resonate with your target customers.
3. You’ll understand their needs better than they do. The needs of a small blog are not the same as those of a big international corporation; this is quite obvious. If you work with a specific target in mind, you’ll be able to understand their needs and offer your solution. Maybe you’ll become not only their translator, but also their trusted language advisor.
4. You’ll be able to specialise and become an expert in the sector. If you’re a generalist and you work with any type of client, you’ll know a bit of everything. If you’re a specialised translator and you look for specific clients in specific industries, you’ll be the best in your field and people will refer to you for advice. The more you work in a specific field, the more you’ll gain experience, and the more you gain experience the more you’ll become specialised. It’s a positive cycle that will allow you to position yourself as an expert in your niche, and eventually charge premium prices because of your knowledge and experience.
How to define your target clients
There are many theories about how to define your target clients, but it’s actually easier than it looks. Your target clients sit in the intersection between the industries you love to work with, and the industries that have enough demand for translation to make it sustainable for you in the long run. This method of choosing your target clients meets two needs; you’ll do what you love, and you’ll also be able to make a living from it. Remember that you’re not volunteering here; you’re running a business. That’s why you need to make sure there’s enough demand for your services to allow you to make a profit.
So let’s say you love to translate recipes and food-related material. Your target clients will be food-related businesses that have a consistent demand for translation. Are restaurants part of your target clients? Probably not, since they don’t have a lot of material to translate besides menus. It’s likely that food magazines that publish in various countries and have a weekly edition will be a better target though. Or blogs that publish new articles and recipes every week. Or publishing houses that publish cook books from several authors. You see the point here? Any industry can be the right target, if you can find the niche that has a high demand for translation.
When defining your target client, you also need to think of the types of clients you’re comfortable working with. Do you prefer to work with big corporations, small businesses or individual clients? There’s no right or wrong answer here, it’s up to you to define whom you want to work with. The whole point is to paint a portrait of your target client, to draw a mental picture of them, and understand who they are, so you can figure out how to reach them. You can start broad and then narrow it down, but I actually suggest doing it the other way round; start specific, and then broaden your reach to other target markets. So today we’re going to paint a portrait of your target clients.
Try this exercise to define your target clients
This exercise is both about deciding who you want to work with and also finding out who you can work with. It’s up to you to decide who your target clients will be, but in a way this is also a discovery of what types of people or companies can benefit from your services. So defining your target client is both a creation process and a discovery process.
Building an image of your target clients means creating a model, a sketch of your next customers, and then giving this sketch a name and a face. The target customer is also called a ‘persona’ (from the Latin word for ‘mask’ or ‘character’). The definition of a marketing persona, as found on https://www.kentico.com/product/resources/quick-start-guides/kentico-marketing-personas-quick-start-guide/marketing-personas is:
“Marketing personae are not a single user. They are a representation of the goals and behaviours of a hypothesized group of users. In many cases they are captured in a 1-2 page description that includes behaviour patterns, goals, skills, attitudes, and a few fictional details the make the persona a realistic character.”
I’ve put together 10 key questions that will help you identify your target clients, or personae. Go through the 10 questions below. For each of them, start thinking about the types of companies that fit those criteria. Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand if you’d buy from a freelance translator offering the services you’re offering.
1. What problems can you solve with your services? – Typically, a language service provider (an agency or a freelancer) solves the communication problem. It’s quite obvious, but you need to understand this because you want to avoid one big mistake: pitching your services to people who don’t have this problem. Do you solve the problem of translating the same material into dozens of languages? If you’re a freelancer, probably not. But if you’ve opened an agency and built a network of freelance translators, then yes, you can solve this problem with your services. So your target clients will be people whose problems you can solve.
2. What types of companies have these problems? Avoid pitching your translation services to your local grocery store; they don’t need it, and you’re wasting your time. Think instead of companies that have problems in the multilingual communication area, such as needing to translate written paper material and their website, adapt their communication tone to another culture to enter that market, understand another culture in order to start making business there, or find someone to interpret their meetings with foreign clients. Make a list of these companies or people if you know some names already, or think about what they would look like. The more specific you can be, the easier it will become.
3. Which companies need the language combination that you’re offering? Keep in mind that your language pair is part of the picture here; if you translate from English to Russian, you’re solving problems for English companies who want to expand into Russia and no one else, so don’t waste your time with any other company.
4. Where are these companies? What countries? Which cities? Start from a very specific area, such as a specific city or region. It’s simply easier to identify real companies in an area as small as a city. Once you’re done analysing prospects in one city, pass to the next one, and then focus on another region.
5. What size are these businesses? Are they one-person businesses, medium-sized businesses or big corporations? Who do you think is more likely to have the money to pay for translation and localisation services? Who needs them the most? A one-person business probably doesn’t need, or can’t afford, translation services (although there can be exceptions of course), so targeting medium-sized businesses might be more profitable. Do you want to go big? Try and target the bigger corporations. Be aware that generally speaking, a big corporation will need to translate in many languages if they’re working in many different countries. So if you’re only translating in one language, your services might be a bit undersized, but if you run an agency then you can offer them the services they need.
6. What verticals or industries do they operate in? Would you prefer to work with companies in the engineering sector? In the medical sector? In hospitality? Select the verticals you enjoy working in. Think also about the sector where you already have a bit of background knowledge, because it’s important to have a general idea of the topics you’ll translate, especially if they’re highly technical.
7. How much revenue do they make? Do some research and try to give yourself an idea of how much they make, because you need to understand if they can invest in translation services or not. It’s great to offer your services for free every now and then (to charities for example) but remember that your business needs to be profitable to be viable, so you’ll need to find customers who can actually afford your services. You can understand this by looking at the number of employees they have and the number of vacancies they are advertising (the more vacancies, the more they’re expanding; the more they’re expanding, the higher the revenue).
8. Are they already working within markets other than the one in which the company was founded? At the start-up phase, a company is focusing on one market only, typically the one in which it was founded. When they get a bit more stable and receive some funding, they’ll start thinking of opening to other countries. This is the point where they need to localise their website in other languages and get a person to translate their marketing material. If they’re hiring people to sell in different markets, they probably also need a language service provider. Keep in mind though, that many companies don’t have a clue about the translation industry, they don’t know where to find a translator, so they will typically google ‘translation services in my area’ and go with the first translation agency that pops up. Little do they know that they will spend 3 to 4 times more with an agency than with a freelancer like you. It’s up to you to let them know, by pitching your services to them and showing them how much they’ll save by working with you directly.
9. What other services are they likely to use if they use translation services? If they are at the stage where they have a budget for translation services, they are probably using a lot of other services that they could not afford before. Use this to your advantage. Partner with professionals who offer services other than translation (e.g. accounting, consulting, design) and ask them to introduce you to clients they work with. You’ll be more likely to find people or companies that have the right budget for the services you sell.
10. Which person in the company is in charge of buying translation services? Most likely it’s the marketing manager, but if they’re already at the stage where they have a localisation manager, then of course this is your person. Use LinkedIn to find out who’s working inside the company and their role. You might want to consider upgrading to LinkedIn Premium for a few months (https://premium.linkedin.com/) so you can see the full profiles of people, even if they’re not connected with you.
As you can see, profiling your target clients gives you so much information about them, that you now know who they are, where they operate, which other countries they work in, if they’re established enough to buy language services, if they can afford you, and what other services they’re using. All these factors will help you create a particularly attractive offering for them, tell a story that will ‘click’ with them, and make them see that you know their business, their problems, and their needs. In a nutshell, they will understand that you’re the right person to work with.
Find the companies that match your target clients’ profile
Now we want to give a face and a name to these ‘personae’, so go through the 10 questions again and start having a look online to find actual names of companies.
I like to use a variety of resources for this part; my favourite one is definitely LinkedIn. Using the ‘advanced’ LinkedIn search you can filter companies by industry, location, and company size. Let’s assume that I’m a medical translator and I want to work with pharmaceutical companies. In the screenshot below I used the word ‘pharmaceuticals’ to look for companies that operate in this industry. If this is relevant I can filter by location, see if I am already connected with people who work in these companies, filter by company size, and also see if they’re hiring (not because I’m looking for vacancies, but because it would mean they’re expanding).
The second resource I recommend you start using are job-sites such as Monster. Again, we’re not looking for a job vacancy but rather using it as a database of companies that we can then contact to pitch our freelance services (assuming we’re freelancers). On these websites you can normally look for companies in a specific industry, and then apply filters to narrow down your search.
It’s normal that for every answer to the 10 questions, you’ll find many possible clients who meet these conditions. For example, for Question 1, “What problems can you solve with your services?” let’s say you can solve the problems of companies that need to enter a market they don’t know much about. So besides translating the language, you’ll need to give them a bit of cultural background about how to structure their marketing message. You’ll probably find many possible companies that fit into this category. You might actually end up with a list of hundreds of companies (remember that LinkedIn is your ally if you want to find companies to work with).
How do you narrow them down to the few that are most likely to become your next customers? With these 4 questions:
A. Is it a problem you would like to solve?
B. Are there enough companies that have these problems and actually have the money/interest to solve them?
C. Would you like to work with these people?
D. Do you already have the skills to help them?
You’ll then find that some of them, although they initially looked like promising companies to pitch your services to, are actually not mature enough or suitable for your services. That’s a good thing. It means you won’t waste your time with them. The exercise is actually an elimination process; so don’t get scared if you see you’re eliminating a lot of names from your initial list. You’ll also notice that the more you specialise in a specific industry or niche, the easier it’ll become to find the right company to contact.
With this analysis you should be able to identify the companies or people who really need you. Now it’s time to contact them and pitch your services.
I hope this was a useful exercise, and I can’t wait to hear about your successes. If you want to learn more about freelancing and marketing for translators visit our school, the Online School For Translators.