“Wait a minute,” I can hear you say. “I didn’t sign on to be an interpreter to work remotely – I want to go to conferences in exotic places! I want to see and work with my friends! I like people, and don’t want to work alone in my office!”
Remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI) platforms have been around for a while – some started up as early as 2014, so they aren’t new. And they have been building up a following since then.
The novel factor is the recent choice: to either work remotely, or possibly not work as interpreters at all. So let’s see what we can do about it, and turn this situation into something that works for us too!
First of all, there is an enormous amount of information about RSI platforms, sound technology, appropriate headsets, and so on. A good starting point is the list of resources supplied by AIIC’s Taskforce on Distance Interpreting and Technical and Health Committee. This is a huge opportunity for you to educate yourself on what RSI is all about, and what it isn’t.
When I started educating myself, my negative opinion changed once I realized that I could simply treat RSI platforms as consoles. Of course, there is a lot more to them than that – in fact there is a whole ISO standard on them – but, for my purposes, they exist to deliver my interpreting to my customer. They all have a form of mic on/off switch; there are incoming and outgoing language channels; some allow relay, others don’t. Some aren’t even RSI platforms per se, but have some of the functionalities.
Moreover, by educating yourself, you can gain a better understanding of the features each platform has, and how they could meet your clients’ needs.
Understand what RSI platforms are good for, and what not
Do your clients hold multilingual events involving many languages and speakers? In such cases, some platforms would work better than others.
Do they hold webinars, with most of the information going in one direction, and only one speaker and some slides? Then another platform might be better.
Does your client need a quick two-language meeting, to check on their counterpart? Then yet another platform would be best.
Does your client need confidential meetings for legal purposes? You can explain end-to-end encryption, and why no cloud-based RSI platform is a good idea.
But always put the choice in your client’s hands. Firstly, this avoids legal issues for you if the platform doesn’t perform as expected. And secondly, you aren’t stopping them from having their meeting – you are giving them the information for them to make their own informed decision.
Know how to get what you need
Once you have educated yourself, you will discover which platforms will require work-arounds.
Many platforms allow you to listen to your partner and to the floor simultaneously – but that is only a part of what we need. I’d like to see that my colleague is relaxed or struggling, or if they need me to write down numbers for them.
If these functions are not integral to the platform you are on, what kind of parallel set up would you aim to use? Would you rather a video call on an app, a shared document, or a video meeting on a second device? Work that out with your partner ahead of time.
And remember that it is very rare that you could be the interpreter AND the moderator/tech/troubleshooter all in one. Make sure you can focus on the job at hand.
I am also convinced that our new environment has provided an excellent opportunity to make our clients more aware of us, rather than less.
As we have moved farther from the client – from consecutive to simultaneous, to booths at the back of the room with dark glass, to booths not in the room, to off-site remote – we have lost many opportunities to remind the client of our place in the value chain. We have fewer meals or coffee breaks during which we may ask questions and cement ourselves in their minds as being part of the process.
If we as a profession were to become involved in hosting and moderating interpreted meetings, we would have an unprecedented chance to remind clients of our presence. Moderators could introduce the fact that speakers are being interpreted, and that they must wear headsets, or not speak over each other. Dry runs and rehearsals will give us a say in how the meeting is run. And we will help shape the communication process.
RSI knowledge helps with hubs too
We have all jumped on the hub bandwagon, now that we realize that remote is here to stay. We can work off-site, away from the venue, but all together, and with technicians to boot!
Hub setups vary greatly – from using the usual consoles in our usual booths, to being given a laptop per interpreter.
If you think about it, current social distancing requirements mean that even in a hub you may each be in a separate booth, presenting some of the same difficulties as interpreting from home on an RSI platform.
The booths may not be next to each other. Some consoles and computers don’t have repeater speakers that can be set to a different channel than your incoming channel – which means you still need a second device to hear your partner and the floor at the same time. Or a way to write down numbers which doesn’t rely on a pad that’s visible between you.
And if your colleague is so focused on the speaker that they don’t look at the chat on the RSI platform or at you in the booth next door, you still need a way to signal the handover that will catch their attention the way touching their shoulder used to do…
But hubs do give us something valuable besides the presence of technicians to troubleshoot for us: while hubs may present some of the same difficulties as online platforms, you can at least have drinks with your colleagues afterwards!
Originally published in the webzine the International Association of Conference Interpreters (https://aiic.org/site/webzine/issue-76/boi).
We’ve all been there, right? We get a phone call with our perfect assignment, all but offered on a silver platter. It’s in our niche, with our ideal customer, we know what the market will bear, and we know we are in the right geographical area. We have all the information the prospect wants, and they are speaking to us one-on-one.
And then… silence. Or the dreaded “thank you, but” email comes – thank you, but we have decided not to go through with this job. Or perhaps – thank you, but we have found someone else who better fits our budget.
Why you don’t want to win the bid
Of course we didn’t win the bid! And frankly, under these circumstances, nor should we have. Someone called us and asked our availability and price. That’s it, nothing else. They didn’t offer any more information, and they didn’t answer any of our questions – if we bothered to ask any.
These are all signs that the prospect was just looking for the service provider with the lowest price.They have limited knowledge about our profession – all they know is that they need someone with our working languages. They assume we are all the same, because they found us on the website of our professional association. So their only point of comparison is price. Even if we volunteer more information, send in a CV, or try to engage them in a conversation, they would still only look at the price. And there is always someone cheaper than us.
That means that to win the bid, we have to be cheaper than anyone else the prospect can find with a quick online search. But do we really want to be the cheapest? It’s a tough position to defend, as someone else could always come in just that little bit cheaper. And it’s not like we don’t have bills to pay. It’s true that we can have a large amount of flexibility in the rates we charge, but if we are always the cheapest then we have to work more hours to pay those same bills.
Moreover, we have to find a partner to work with – interpreting with us, providing the equipment. Which means that the fact that we charged rock-bottom rates will spread to the rest of the market, becoming part of our reputation and brand. And even if we can find someone to work with us at these low rates, we won’t inspire loyalty in our partners.
Surely there’s a better way to win bids?
Don’t worry, it can be done. Perhaps I can illustrate with a personal experience:
A tale of two jobs
Two jobs, both alike in every respect:
two lawyers – let’s call them Lawyer A and Lawyer B – called within a month of each other
to interpret for similar legal jobs – Job A and Job B – with
the same language combination
the same team strength, and
the same type of interpreting.
Legal interpreting happens to be one of the areas where I do a lot of work. I know the pitfalls, so I know what to include in my contract. I know the rates that the market will bear. I know who I’d want on my team. I probably know more than the lawyers about the rules in certain venues.
I sent in my fees and conditions to each of them. I also sent in a CV, and expressed my desire to help.
This is where the story splits:
I found out later that Lawyer A was shopping around. They had spoken with at least one other interpreter, and most probably several. Fair enough.
As you can imagine, I did not get Job A. Lawyer A wrote a polite “thank you, but” email declining my services. Reasons given (to me and the other bidder I know of) were many and strange: they wanted someone closer to the city (where all of us are based), they wanted someone who could better accommodate their client’s schedule (we all could). And they wanted someone who better fit their client’s budget. Ah, now there’s the rub!
Lawyer B, in contrast, contacted only me. Having asked for my fees and conditions, they said everything was fine, and asked that I note down the dates of the event in my calendar. Thank you very much, very happy to do business with you, fait accompli!
Every respect but one
The crucial difference between Lawyer A and Lawyer B is how they found me.
Lawyer A searched my professional association’s website, and wrote to me (and others) from that list. There was no attempt at any personal connection and no relationship at all.
Lawyer B had a need, and asked a former colleague for a referral to a good interpreter. The colleague referred me. Lawyer B then contacted me, gave me the details, and accepted my fees and conditions. There was no bid, nor any competition. There was just a satisfied customer, with whom I stay in touch, giving a recommendation to a former colleague. This meant that from the outset there was a foundation for trust and reciprocity, even before we discussed availability or price.
Start the relationship
To convert your Lawyer As into Lawyer Bs, you must build a relationship. In Lawyer A’s case, I made sure not to send only my fees and conditions, but also a CV that showed my expertise in this field, as well as an email stating that I was ready to help. While nothing came of it this time, perhaps I managed to plant a seed. They may call again for a future client with an appropriate budget, after having had experience with someone with less expertise, or less of a desire to build a relationship.
In the meantime, Lawyer B will not have complete radio silence from me. Nothing too much, but a note now and again to keep me top of mind. If the job gets cancelled, it won’t be due to concerns about my professionalism, but because one of the parties decided not to continue. And by the time we meet in person, I will be cemented in their mind as the best choice they ever made.
Learn to recognize and avoid the reverse auctions out there. Rather, focus on building and maintaining relationships. In the longer-term it will pay off.
Originally published on the blog of the International Association of Conference Interpreters (https://aiic.org/site/world/newsEvents/blog)
I just walked 3000 steps more today than yesterday! Recently I was given a pedometer, and now I can see how close I am to the ideal 10,000 steps per day. And more to the point, I can keep track of my performance.
As interpreters, there are metrics we should be tracking in our business as well: How many days did I work last year and the year before? How much did I earn during each of those periods? We may become even more detailed, noting the types of clients – international organizations, individual businesses and sectors, government ministries, courts, etc.
Two key metrics to evaluate profitability
As business people, there are two essential metrics that we should track, ones we hear about whenever we watch Shark Tank and Dragon’s Den: CAC and LTV.
CAC, or customer acquisition cost, is a business person’s way to understand if their clients actually make them money. In our case, CAC is the cost of convincing a client that they want to buy our service.
To put it simply, CAC may be calculated by dividing all the costs spent on acquiring clients by the number of clients acquired over the same period. For example, if we spent 1000 CX (currency X) on marketing in a year and acquired 10 clients, the CAC for each client is 100 CX.
In our case, we could measure CAC expressed in money or in time, since we usually charge by the day and we know what our day costs. If our daily fee is 800 CX (100 CX per hour for an 8-hour day, including all lunch and coffee breaks, to make the math easy), we just spent the equivalent of 10 hours marketing, and were able to acquire 10 clients, each with a CAC of 1 hour.
If we then consider how much we project to earn from a client over time, the LTV or customer lifetime value, we can determine if that individual client is profitable, and then compare that client to others to see which are the most profitable. In other words, we can see who is helping us to cover our expenses and earn us a profit, and who is literally costing us money to work for.
How it works
So let’s say it took us the equivalent of 4 hours to market to Client A before s/he agreed to sign a contract for 3 days (3×8, or 24 hours) of work. That client is profitable to the tune of 20 hours.
On the other hand, if it took us 10 hours to convince Client B, who ended up hiring us for only one day, Client B cost us 2 hours. If we do not expect to work for them again, and they are not amenable to giving us a referral or a testimonial, then Client B was not worth the time we invested.
Know your cost of living
Before doing this exercise, make sure you understand your expenses on a monthly (recurring costs such as rent or mortgage, food, health insurance, transportation, child care, office supplies, etc.) and annual basis (monthly expenses plus all one-off payments such as a car, a holiday, a computer, an emergency fund, etc.). Divide this grand total by the number of days you can realistically expect to work in a year to get the bare minimum rate you must earn per day worked to be able to break even. (Download Julia Böhm’s excellent article for information on what to include by clicking here.)
For example, if you must earn 2000 CX per month, then in the case above you would have covered only 1800 CX of your monthly expenses (Client A brought in 2000 CX, and Client B cost you 200 CX). So you would need one more day of work for someone who is easier to sell to than Client B.
If we expect to work for a client again, and don’t have to expend more effort or money to convince them to hire us, the LTV just keeps going up. So if we could plan on Client A hiring us even one more day, we would have just earned another 800 CX at zero cost. Whereas, unless they radically change their behavior or give us lots of referrals or an amazing testimonial, we should just stop trying to sell to Client B. After all, why keep a client who continuously makes changes, thus using up far more time than we have budgeted for? Let them go!
Of course, we may decide to work for clients who don’t make us much, if any, money – but only if we know our expenses, that they are covered, and we have another reason to work for them. Reasons abound: we like the cause, we want to gain a toehold in a new market, we want the prestige… but we must know what those clients cost us.
Evaluating your clientele
So how do you do this? List all your current clients, and try to remember how much money or time you spent in convincing each of them to buy your services for the first time. Expenses would include the cost of one business card, time writing emails, a portion of your website, any dedicated expenses such as transportation to a meeting, etc. It may have been very little, if it was a referral from another client; it may have been a lot, if it was someone whom you had to introduce to interpreting.
Do this for all your current clients and rank them by CAC. Do you notice any trends? Are clients from a particular industry less expensive to acquire than others? Make sure to do this exercise for any new client you acquire.
For the same clients, consider how many days you have already worked, and how many more days you might realistically work for each, as well as how much more money, time and effort you will have to expend to convince each of them to hire you again.
Then calculate how much these clients could earn you and see if there are any common features among them. If there are, this should be your niche, your specialization. In fact, this approach could be another way to come at the ideal client question I posed in FAQ 3: If you already know that your most profitable sectors (lowest CAC and highest LTV) are electric power generation, or environmental protection, then you have found your ideal client niche.
If this niche isn’t your favorite, consider if you can make it a favorite and specialize. You have already made inroads into the sector, which will save you a lot of preparation and research time for future jobs, meaning that your effective daily earnings have just increased without having to increase your nominal fees.
If you can’t, then try and understand why you are able to market yourself so successfully to one niche, and not so successfully to another. Once you have that figured out, your business should grow in your ideal niche, and you will know for certain that all your clients are profitable.
Time to start keeping track of your metrics!
Originally published on the blog of the International Association of Conference Interpreters (https://aiic.org/site/world/newsEvents/blog)
What will trigger a potential client’s realization that they need an interpreter? And how will they go about finding one? Hard to say right off the bat, so let’s start by thinking about how we search for something, for example terms for a medical conference. The internet, of course – but where exactly?
There are many search engines available, bringing up lots of websites – some gathering all sorts of terminology, others giving you just one term at a time. One of the medical speeches will be about how substances in smaller quantities can be helpful, but larger can kill you – digitalis is one example. So you look up digitalis and get lots of photos of flowers, one of which you just saw in your garden. Really? What’s its common name? Foxglove! Hmm, where did that name come from? And you find that in various Gaelic languages, it’s “folksgloves,” like fairy folk. Then you wonder, do languages other than Gaelic mention the fairies when talking about this plant? And down the rabbit hole you go, not looking up from your computer for hours.
The internet has so many different paths that no one’s journey is alike, even if they start at the same place. And really, maybe no one even starts at the same place either – you noticed the digitalis, maybe another interpreter focused on nanoparticles.
Our potential clients face the same problem. They could start with a search for linguists; they may understand that they want spoken or oral translators. They might even know the word interpreter, though some of those hits will bring up actors or computer programs that execute other programs.They could look for an individual, or an agency. They may already know someone who knows someone. Or they may simply call the local university to ask for a student who speaks that language. Or the embassy of that country. There is no set path.
The customer decision journey
So let’s take a look at the typical customer decision journey. It starts off with a trigger, something that prompts a search, in this case for an interpreter. That trigger could be anything – the boss wants to invite a famous speaker from another country to the AGM, the CEO has just thought about expanding into overseas markets, or the EU suddenly realizes that all their French interpreters with German will be retiring in the next few years. In other words, it could be anything.
The next phase of the journey is research. This is the scary part, as clients most probably don’t know you, may not even be aware of your industry, and they could go anywhere. They have multiple paths available, such as recommendations from friends and colleagues, television, print media, the yellow pages, and of course the internet.
Social media may help, if you are a prominent contributor of content that educates buyers on your own website as well as on LinkedIn and other platforms where serious clients would expect to find a professional. But it may also hurt, since it is easy to find others doing the same thing as you, as well as numerous other distractions. And SEO doesn’t always work here, e.g. if the client heads in a direction that is different from what you consider logical – keep in mind that phone call to the embassy! This phase is when clients gather and evaluate most of the information they need to find the interpreter(s) they will finally hire. In today’s world of immediate gratification, it may take very little time.
Once they have evaluated the information, clients start contacting the interpreters and agencies they found. In fact, well over fifty percent of their buying process will have been completed before they ever contact anyone – which means that clients already have in mind a ranking of the people or agencies they are contacting, and if the first person who answers even comes close to what the potential client wants, they will most probably get the job.
So any information they get from you both during and immediately after the search phase will be critical, as it will differentiate you from the mass of other providers that they are in effect interviewing.
This is where all your homework on what value you provide and how you differ from other interpreters will come in handy. Never merely state a price and end the call – you must have a conversation. The easiest way to start would be by asking where they found you, which is good market research for you as well. After that, make sure to ask all the questions you need to do due diligence on the client and the event, and listen carefully to the answers. If their problem is one you can solve, let them know that you will get back to them in [name a time] with an offer. Then get back to them at that time without fail, to start building trust.
The next point on the journey is when you are offered the job. This is only the halfway point in the customer journey, and takes little time, just like the trigger. It takes place once and is the start of the second half of the cycle, a portion that most of us ignore.
Groundwork for the future
You shouldn’t think that you can simply sign the contract, provide the service, get paid, and have a satisfied client. You may not realize it, but there are multiple contacts you will have with the client during the process of providing your services: obtaining documents, providing input on equipment, advising on how to ensure the event is truly multilingual as opposed to an event with a superficial patch of last-minute interpreter hires. Each one of those contacts will lead your client into thinking that you are easy to work with, fulfill their needs, and have an engaging personality – or it could prove the opposite. At the end of the day, it isn’t just your interpreting – it is this phase that makes or breaks you.
In fact, mediocre to bad customer experience is the norm, so anything you can do to enhance this relationship and experience will ensure that clients see you not simply as a service provider, but as the expert and partner that contributed to a successful event. Clients will not only know, like and trust you for the future, but they will become your advocates in a densely crowded and highly competitive market.
If a client is happy, ask for a written testimonial or a recommendation online, and for possible referrals to new contacts. The written aspect of a testimonial cements their opinion of you in their minds, and the social aspect shows others that clients speak positively about you, which of course is much more valuable than you talking about yourself.
At this point, you have come full circle back to when something new triggers their need to hire an interpreter. But since the previous experience was so positive, why would clients waste time repeating the research and evaluation process? They call you directly, and you take the shortcut directly to the point where you are hired again.
This is a simplified model of how a client finds a service provider. There are many other models that make the rounds, such as the funnel model (you run into that when you click to receive a free report and are required to give your email address to have it sent to you), or the hero journey (described by Joseph Campbell and exemplified by Luke Skywalker), but this one sums up best what we ourselves have to deal with when clients find us.
I bet that most of those that called you out of the blue have already done a minimum of research, at least to find your name, even if that was simply searching for “spoken translator” + “your foreign language” + “your city”. It’s your job to then make their calls to you into such engaging conversations, showcasing your value to them, that they go no further, and become your biggest fans.
Originally published on the blog of the International Association of Conference Interpreters (https://aiic.org/site/world/newsEvents/blog)
Things have been going well, you have lots of work with a great client, you are earning lots of money – and then suddenly bam! Something happens… and now you are making almost nothing. Your loyal client is no longer hiring you more than once in a blue moon. What can you do?
In actual fact, the question should be “what could I have done to prevent it?” Putting all your eggs in one basket is never a good career move – that’s why there are sayings and fables about it. So let’s take a look at clients and how we can make our situation more sustainable.
The myth of the ideal client
Most of us would think that finding that one client who can hire us every day of the year for decent fees and conditions is a godsend. How fantastic, we don’t have to take the time to market, research new jobs, figure out how to work for a new client, or anything else! We are practically employees, but still able to take our vacations when we want to.
Most often, this type of client is the hiring agent in a government interpretation service, an international organization or an agency. You like the work and don’t have to worry. Your contact knows you and your work, likes you and the ease of dealing with you, and trusts you. For them, you are a consistent element, so why would they bother trying to find another?
This is all well and good, but have you considered how fragile this situation is? What happens if your longtime contact falls ill, or retires, or changes jobs? Have you been nurturing an authentic relationship with them so you know ahead of time that they are moving, so you can make plans? Have you been educating this person for a long time, and can you ask them to pass on the fruits of that education to their replacement or to include them in a standard operating procedures file?
Or even more out of your control, what if you’ve been working for an international organization, and your main language combination is dependent on the political or economic situation in the world? In other words, the major country that speaks your language does something the international organization considers to be beyond the pale, and suddenly they no longer hire anyone with your languages?
Or have you thought about subprime loan risks that spread throughout the global economy? Governments the world over cut their budgets, so many international organizations are now just trying to keep their heads above water and there is much less work for interpreters.
These are all-too-familiar situations that can happen to any of us at any time, and all have happened to some of us. We can cross our fingers and hope that things will pick up again in the near future –though this isn’t very helpful because while the economic situation has only just started moving, it looks to be sinking again; the political situation looks frozen. And how long will this new hiring officer who actively doesn’t want to hire us stay in the job?
Or is there a more sustainable way of finding regular work?
Somewhat counter-intuitively, direct clients on the private market look to be the most sustainable way of working as a freelance interpreter today. Such clients are easier to get to know, and have multiple means of entry – you may get a toehold in the export department, and then get called to work with the marketing and sales departments. Once the company has a long term relationship abroad, you might get brought in to help manage their customer relations. And any time anyone makes a trip to visit that market, you have another job.
If you think about it, even if governments aren’t talking to one another, individuals still do. There will always be some sort of business relationship that people need to maintain. When deals go wrong, there will be international arbitration. And there are always some sort of civil society efforts that need interpreters. It may not be what you would strictly call conference interpreting, but these are fields that many of us have worked in.
If you have a strong base of private clients, even if they are concentrated in a particular niche, you don’t have to worry as much if one of them disappears. Even if they are in the same niche, they maybe at different stages in developing their foreign markets. You don’t have to worry when the hiring agent at one of them changes, that the economic situation in one company will be reflected in exactly the same way in all of them, or that a suddenly different political situation will hit each of them identically.
Moreover, if you have been educating all your points of contact to work with you as a full member of the team, and if you have been maintaining an authentic relationship with them, then when they move on, it may be a great opportunity for you! They may leave instructions for their successors, who will then understand that the company already knows, likes and trusts you; you’ll have less marketing to do to keep them as a client. Plus, you will have the added value of knowing that a second company doesn’t need the same level of education, because your former contact point is now preaching your cause in the new company.
So if sustainability is the watchword, and market diversification is the best way of remaining sustainable, then put more of your eggs in the direct client basket!
It’s funny how knowledge in one sphere of our lives is not always transferred to others. I know interpreters who own apartments to rent. They would never allow anyone to live in one of them without a written agreement, but would never think of putting anything on paper when hiring other interpreters.
In previous FAQs, I’ve spoken about relationships but haven’t really defined them. We all know how to make friends and have done since we were children. But for some reason, once we grow up and are no longer carefree students, we tend to forget how to enter into a mutually beneficial, authentic interaction with another person.
So let’s take a quick look at working relationships with clients who are not our colleagues.
The rule of seven
First of all, a very brief history of how sales used to work before we entered the brave new world of one-to-one marketing. Over the decades during which sales became a specialty, there were rules that salespeople sussed out on the job and that have since been validated through practice and research. One of the most important is the rule of seven: It takes an average of seven contacts to make a sale.
This is why cold callers don’t get far. It’s why sales people who call you in the middle of dinner get hung up on. It’s why you never hear back from people you sent your CV to.
Before one-to-one, or relationship, marketing became the norm, that meant literally contacting a possible client seven times before you would capture a sale. In the good old days of Wild West marketing for interpreting contracts, that meant:
- Call to find out who should get your CV.
- Send your CV.
- Call to confirm they received your CV.
- Wait a few weeks and send a card updating some of the information on your CV – you have anew skill, you offer new hours, whatever.
- Send a Christmas card to the person.
- Send a new CV reflecting an update to your skills.
- Call to say hello.
By this time, the prospective client would be so sick of you that they would give you an assignment just to get you off the phone. Or else you would contact them just as something you could do came across their desk; it was pure coincidence that they could hire anyone so quickly.
None of it was really building a relationship, but it certainly made sure your name was familiar. All the client knew was that you were familiar and persistent, and perhaps pushy. And frankly, as politicians all over the world know, even bad publicity is publicity.
In Europe, where Wild West marketing would get you shot down in flames in many markets, you still have to get through an average of seven contacts, it simply takes much longer. The three years it took me in the US to get to the point where I no longer had to market myself to have as much work as I wanted, can take at least 5 years in Europe, assuming you’re steady in your efforts.
The advent of relationship marketing
Today, “relationship marketing” rules. The idea is the same in that we still have to contact prospects several times before they become clients. But other things have changed making our job harder –such as having only nine seconds to make a good first impression instead of at least a minute or two. Some – like relationship marketing – make our lives more complicated, but a lot more fun.
One thing that I love about interpreting is getting to know people, and helping them to communicate their ideas to others. The better I know them, the better I communicate their ideas. Getting to know them is the fun part – and it is far from the traditions of waiting my telephone to ring, for someone to call and say they have an assignment for me, or just sending out my CV to everyone I know.
The key to relationship marketing is having an authentic connection. You don’t (usually) go on a first date with someone and immediately start thinking of baby names; why would you want to meet people only so they can hire you? When I meet anyone who could be a prospective client, I don’t think about that future job they could hire me for. I think about what they do, ask them questions to find out their interests, and talk about myself as little as possible. If an idea sparks during our conversation, I share it.
After I return to the office, I note the person’s contact details, along with anything I can remember that stood out from our conversation – especially the sparks. If they are proud of their son’s Little League win, I note that. If I promised them a book recommendation, I make sure to send it the next day with a message saying how great it was to meet them. If I run across an article that I am sure will interest them, I send it along. If we live in the same city, I may ask if they want to go out for a coffee or lunch sometime, and not necessarily to talk about work.
Prospective clients are people too, and will be turned off by a hard sell. The idea is to keep the relationship going. Then, when the company finally does have that event, they know whom to call. And you end up consulting for them, knowing more about what the goals for the meeting are, helping to organize it, and adding a new paying client.
Of course, the relationship is not based on that at all, so whether or not you get work,you still keep in touch. And even in markets where much of interpreters’ work comes from agencies, there is no reason not to call the person who hires you to ask them out for a drink. Agencies are not always our enemies, and if you are happy working for one, that means that you should have more than simply a sales contact with someone on the staff.
“Oh, but…,” I hear a lot from interpreters. “It just isn’t done.” Or “What will people think?” I am not advocating trying to make agency representatives or prospective clients into your best friends. I am not even advocating turning them into friends in the strict sense of the word. It is a very rare client who becomes someone you want to invite to your house, meet your family, or accept an invitation from to stay at their place.
But having a drink to talk about things other than assignments, being a“business friend”, can only be a good thing. It paves the way for more sensitive conversations later, such as, “You do know I have this other language combination as well?” Or “It would be better to organize this part of the meeting in a different way.” Or “It’s about time we had that conversation about raising my rates.”
Remember the earlier FAQ about your ideal client? Having an authentic relationship with an ideal prospective client should be easy. And the best part of this type of marketing is that you aren’t poaching on another interpreter’s territory, and you won’t be able to be poached from as you have a real connection. And when your contact changes jobs, as they will, you now have a good contact with a company that has never heard of you before – and a referral from your contact for the new person at their old desk.
So it still takes an average of seven contacts to make a sale, but those contacts are more authentic, more fulfilling, and a lot more fun.
Originally published on the blog for the International Association of Conference Interpreters (https://aiic.org/site/world/newsEvents/blog)
You are an interpreter – you help others get their ideas across to people from other cultures. That’s what you signed up for when you decided to become an interpreter, so what’s all this about also acting as travel agent, accountant, marketer, customer relations manager, bill collector and so on? And how do you get all of that done when you barely have enough time to train and practice, prepare for meetings, travel to the assignment, and interpret?
The answer is to become a professional! “Wait a minute,” you ask, “but isn’t that what I am already? I do the job and get paid, doesn’t that make me a professional?” In a manner of speaking, yes. But let me explain what is understood by professional in the business world.
A professional business is one that has documented processes for all routine tasks. When hiring a new person for a job, is it only HR that does the interviewing, or does the manager who needs the position filled have more weight in the decision? Is it enough simply to fire someone when they do something bad, or does the business have to document it and go through a specific procedure? Do the sales people stick to a script that has been proven to work with previous customers? Are certain days reserved for certain things, such as office meetings on Monday mornings or casual dress days on Fridays? All of this builds routines, expectations, cohesion, and a corporate culture that everyone contributes to.
Having processes – or routines – is not a new idea, though it seems to have finally caught on with the general public outside the office too. You can find bestselling books listing the morning routines of successful professionals, business hacks that other successful professionals have used to up their game, life hacks that make it easier to get things done, and so on.
But what is at the core of these books, and what can these ideas teach us when we want to become successful professional interpreters?
Amateur vs Professional
First let’s take a look at non-professionals. Amateurs do something they like, but they don’t have set processes to cover routine eventualities. In other words, they fly by the seat of their pants– “Oh, that sounds like a good idea, I’ll try it,”-– until the next good idea comes along. Everything is constantly new, and needs to be thought out every time it comes up.
This takes up valuable time and, because there are no rules, amateurs give different responses when the same questions come up over time. Amateurs don’t develop a consistent message, which means they are unable to build trust with clients, and have to keep convincing existing clients that they are the best bet.
That all sounds exhausting! Not only are they doing double work with existing clients, but they use up valuable time and brainpower re-thinking things that should already have been set up as routine.
To bring this to the world of interpreting, do you remember when you were just starting out? Every time you heard the chairman of a meeting say something, you had to think of the right way to say it. You struggled with what to call the meeting, what to call the participants, how to open and close a meeting… By the time you became a more experienced interpreter, you realized that there were set phrases that took care of the routine parts of a speech, which meant that your brain could then focus on the less routine parts that require more creativity.
So let’s look at your business world outside interpreting – the part you haven’t necessarily focused on at all and that takes up far too much of your time. Why not create your own routines and processes? Make up your own rule book of steps to deal with matters that come up repeatedly so you don’t have to waste time and brain power reinventing the wheel.
Let me give you an example from interpreting: glossaries.
They are a valuable tool that shortens meeting preparation time. If they are well organized, you remember that in this organization the “Conseil executif” is called the “Executive Board” and in that organization it is the “Executive Council.” You know what term the negotiators used to refer to a particular phenomenon in the previous round, and even if it isn’t exactly the correct word outside of these negotiations, you won’t have to spend time re-explaining everything to both parties to come up with a new term.
So why not apply this lesson to the non-interpreting tasks you are faced with?
Templates are enormously useful, in many different walks of life. If all your glossaries have the same format, you don’t have to think about formatting anymore. If you always do the same thing whenever you accept an assignment, you don’t have to waste time and brainpower thinking about what it is you have to do again.
Areas in our business life that could benefit from routines / templates / processes could include customer relationship management (CRM), social media marketing, sales calls, pricing, manning of meetings, billing, travel.
You could simply set up your own routine, such as always calling the same hotel whenever you go to a specific city – thus building a relationship and earning points with their loyalty programs.
You could set up a billing form on your computer, ready to be completed and sent out as soon as the job is over.
You also have a choice of making up your own system or buying something that has already been set up. For example, you could either buy a more or less expensive CRM program, or else make a simple spreadsheet showing the client’s name, any personal details that you have gathered, when your last contact was, and what your next contact should be about.
The same goes for social media marketing – you may buy a program to help you organize your posts, or simply set up a spreadsheet showing when you want to post what kind of message to which platform.
Another example of a template that could help you with prospects and clients is an FAQ page on your website or computer, to be used whenever you get the same questions from different clients. If the answer is already written out, there is no need to rethink what to say.
And, of course, templates are perfect for pricing.If you’ve done the work of figuring out how much you have to charge to make a living, you have your prices and your arguments all ready to go!
The last example, though it is more of a routine than a template, is to fix a day and time to do whatever it is you have to do. There is a reason why books on successful professionals’ routines (now called “life hacks”) are so popular! Every Friday morning at 9:00 am, it’s billing time. Every last weekend of the month, it’s accounting time. Every evening before you go to bed, it’s time to make your To Do list for the next day, or lay out the outfit you will put on in the morning.
Routines that have the force of rules make things easier for you and for your client. There is no decision to be made on routine matters anymore; you can save your brainpower for the unusual assignments that come your way – and add them to your processes for future reference.
After all, who wants to waste time coming up with new ways of handling routine items when we can spend that time more profitably finding new clients to use our processes on!
Do you know what people think when they hear your name? Do you consciously try to influence what they think? Or do their impressions form haphazardly while you hope that they will understand your underlying value without any input from you?
One way of intentionally influencing them is to build your personal brand.
What is a brand?
Simply put, a brand is anything that is recognizable, that is known, liked, and trusted because it is consistently the same. Let me give you some examples: McDonald’s, the Subaru Impreza WRX STi, and Bob Dylan. In each case, when you hear one of these names you get an impression, a feeling, an awareness of exactly what you will get when you open the box (sometimes literally).
In McDonald’s case, you know that wherever you are in the world, you will be able to find sustenance at a reasonable price, and in an atmosphere that reflects America – why else do you think it was a popular dating spot in Moscow back when the first restaurant opened? Russians didn’t pick up the hamburgers the way Americans did, and they didn’t see it as a cheap and easy way to feed the kids. It was seen as a way of visiting a small piece of America – so couples went dressed up, and pulled apart the burgers to eat the meat, bread and salad separately, with forks and knives. OK, the audience may have changed today, but the restaurant is still popular with people who want to eat something they already know, like, and trust, and they know they can find this little bit of Americana in Moscow, New York, and Paris.
The Subaru Impreza WRX STi (yes, all the letters mean something) is a driver’s car. In fact, it has long been seen as the supreme driver’s car at a decent price point, and it won many rally championships. Owners flash their headlights at each other when they meet on the road, like members of a private club, and they are immensely picky whom they will flash – if the model doesn’t have a turbo and the gold wheels, you don’t get the flash.
Bob Dylan – well, ’nuff said.
What is a personal brand?
Personal branding started back in 1997, with Tom Peters’ article “The Brand Called You.” Magazines started helping people become brands in a world where the cradle-to-grave job no longer existed or was no longer considered satisfying.
Unlike improving one’s skills, personal branding is away of improving the package those skills are delivered in, so that people see you as distinctive and not as an interchangeable, fungible commodity.
Why are we so different?
Nowadays, all entrepreneurs are brands; we trust the new company because that particular entrepreneur already had a company we all liked. Even employees inside companies are brands, or else they wouldn’t be able to advance. There is even a growing market for personal brand consultants to help you with just these issues.
So why should we interpreters be any different? After all, it is what clients expect. As you already understand, your packaging helps them know and like you and, secondarily, trust what you do even though they don’t understand it at all.
Why do you choose a brand?
Let’s think about this from a different perspective: why do YOU choose a brand? Why have you chosen to drive that car, eat at that restaurant, read that book? Do you make a practice of choosing goods or services with no research, even if it’s only asking your sister what she’s reading today?
Usually you choose to buy goods or services because either you – or someone whom you know, like, and trust – already knows, likes, and trusts – that brand. You choose that author because you have liked what s/he wrote in the past. You choose that restaurant because your Italian friend recommended it as the best Italian restaurant in the city. You bought that book because the bookstore staff highly recommended it. You drive that car because you like and/or admire the tribe of people who also own it, and you want to belong.
If YOU do that, why should your prospective clients do otherwise?
Surprises are not always good
And remember that you are not particularly happy with surprises when you buy and get something other than what you expected. Surprise does not always equal delight.
Subaru found that out when they changed the Impreza. They had originally focused on drivers, so put all the money into the mechanical side and very little into creature comforts: the dashboard looked like cheap plastic instead of feeling more like leather, the seats weren’t very comfortable -just very useful when cornering and driving sideways. When Subaru decided to make the inside more comfortable, sacrificing some of the driver’s features, their sales dropped. The new model alienated their ferociously loyal customer base, and didn’t attract a new demographic because everyone expected the same “driver’s car.” They went back to their roots for the next model.
And for an example from the culture world, just think of the furor that arose when Bob Dylan switched from being a folk music star to playing rock with “Like a Rolling Stone.”
You already know someone
In fact, you most likely already know colleagues with whom you are consistently delighted to work; they would be members of your dream team if you were staffing a meeting. You may even emulate them in your interpreting approach, your booth manners, your customer relations. I am sure they have bad days – they lost a lucrative contract, their kids were sick all night… But would you know it from their demeanor? Their performance in the booth? Their relations with other colleagues or customers?
These colleagues are consistent, so have a personal brand. Why not emulate them? It’s much easier to model your behavior on someone else than to make every little decision all the time. It’s very easy: you just ask yourself “What would [colleague] do?” If you can’t imagine the colleague you are emulating doing something, don’t do it. You become more consistent, people know what to expect, and you begin to understand the concept of a personal brand, if only in the interpreting world.
Become recognizable to your clients
Now take this to the next level. To become a recognizable brand for prospective clients, you need to find reference points that they would understand, from outside the profession.
So now is the time to put on your thinking cap: what brands do you identify with that are not interpreting related? Not brands that you merely like or follow; brands that, when you think about them, really resonate. You want to be that brand. Feel free to pick more than one brand, though if they resonate for different reasons, you should limit your choice to two or three.
Next, think about why the brand/s resonate/s with you. What are the main characteristics that call to you? Think about them, and see if you can bring them into your interpreting career. Create a type of“style guide” that will help you remain consistent with your chosen packaging.
Putting it all together
Now take all of that information and put it together with your interpreting market.
This first isn’t my favorite example, but it is an easy one to show: are you a complete fan of McDonald’s? Do you like their consistency, their delivery of a known product that won’t let you down, anywhere in the world, at a low price point? You could take the consistency as your hallmark, the fact that all your clients will get a known (if not high level) service for not a lot of money. What would McDonald’s do?
Maybe you prefer having more of a niche market like Subaru does with its Impreza model: that keen focus on what the core customer wants, the attention to detail specifically in that area, not being all things to all people. Are these characteristics that could serve you and your interpreting market?What would the Subaru Impreza do?
Even Bob Dylan can serve as a model. He pissed off his loyal fans when he turned to rock, but then proved that he could influence more than just folk and rock, and moved into blues, gospel,rockabilly, garnering new fans and a Nobel Prize along the way, and all with that voice. The characteristic of being ever-changing can work if you are consistent in your “ever-changing-ness.” Or the characteristic of being supremely good at expressing a message in a distinctive voice, or in different styles may be the one to focus on. What would Dylan do?
Now think about what you are selling, and who your client is. Consistently use your new style guide to refine your packaging when selling to prospective clients, and hey presto! You are a brand!
Are you clear on what it is you are selling? You know it isn’t interpreting, right? That goes without saying – if you were a plumber, they wouldn’t have called to ask you to quote for aninterpreting job. So they know you sell interpreting skills – but is that what they will buy from you? How will a future client differentiate between you and the other interpreters out there, when s/he believes that you all offer the same thing, that you are all a commodity?
Well, you know for sure you shouldn’t sell quality, because that says nothing. Who would bother selling low quality stereos, or low quality legal services? High quality is the very least that yourclient can and should expect, so it can’t be a benefit or a selling point, and should be more implied than mentioned.
So what are you selling?
If we look to the world of products, one excellent example is Kodak. Eastman Kodak was in thebusiness of making and selling imaging products and image capture technology (cameras and film, for those of us born before pixels). But they weren’t really selling their programs, film or cameras. Kodak was actually selling you feelings and memories – in fact, they were selling you your memories. They were selling you the look on your mother’s face when she watched you get married (finally!); the way you feel when you see palm trees on your favorite beach (and the taste of the ‘pissaladière’ you were eating there); the laughter you can still hear when you look at the photo of your children when they were younger. Nothing to do with image capturing at all – you bought the technology for your memories.
Another good product example is how clothing is sold, or how cigarettes used to be sold. It doesn’t matter what brand you like or buy. What matters is the lifestyle you can see yourself living: theparty you would love to attend, the people you want to spend time with, the places you would go – not so much the clothes you would wear at these parties or the cigarettes you smoked there, though you think it is.
Cars are the same – we all want to drive that fabulously winding road through gorgeous countryside with that beautiful person next to us. We want to be able to pick up at any time, throw the luggage into the back, and take off for parts unknown. We want to belong to the tribe that drives that car, to flash our headlights at each other as we pass on the street, to turn heads as we rumble by …
So what are we selling?
We deal in abstracts, in communicating ideas, which are much more difficult to sell. There is no literal sun shining, no sense of place, nothing to engage your senses at all. The ideas we deal in have to fire the imagination through words alone. The UN has done this – they had to sell cooperation and long term peace just after the most widespread war in history. UNESCO has been able to call people to action through ringing phrases: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.”[i]
Ideas can spark new behaviors, new approaches, new products, new connections. We can gather together and exchange them, firing each other up to do great things. Ideas can get people excited –why else would so many have come out to Washington DC in 1963 to hear the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. speak? He had a dream that the country could rise “from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.” Winston Churchill spoke of the world moving forward after World War II into “broad sunlit uplands.” Here are ideas expressed with feeling: you can feel the cold of the darkness giving way to the light and warmth of the sunlight. Each of them was selling a big idea, an abstract idea – racial equality or victory – but doing so through the senses of their listeners.
We need to understand exactly what we are selling.
Just as those speakers did, we also have to describe what we are selling in great detail. And yes, it is difficult to say what each of us sells. We all sell the same type of service, but again, it isn’t really interpreting that gets us the job, or the client would stop at the first phone call. It isn’t even “French interpreting,” whatever that may mean to the client, whether it be interpreting from FR>EN,or EN>FR, or FR<>EN, or … It is something intangible, something that belongs solely to you, your specific skill set. After all, what skills I include in my service will be different from what you, my colleague/competitor, include in yours. My unique selling proposition will be different from yours, or else it wouldn’t be unique.
Each of us has to sit down, apply some mental elbow grease, and think what it is we provide that is different. After all, if the prospective client called us, they want us to be their solution. They don’t want to sit through a recital of why you are the best, how you provide high quality services, ad nauseum. Everybody does that, and they wouldn’t have called you if they didn’t already know that part of your package.
So is your special ability that of bringing people together? Can you somehow introduce people to each other as part of your job?
Is your gift being an excellent organizer? Could you somehow include organizing meetings as part of your contract?
Could your contribution be to ensure that the client’s product is marketed in the best possible way to target foreign language-speaking counterparts during the client’s big event?
This specific skill, this intangible something, must somehow be made more tangible for the client to be able to imagine it. Your prospective client is thinking, “How will this service specifically benefit ME?” and doesn’t care about any other thing you might want to tell them about.
If you can bring people together, why not go through your contact list and see who might be good contacts for each other? This will show that you are thinking about the clients and their needs rather than your own. If all they need is the introduction, but no interpretation in this particular interaction, they will remember your selflessness and your ability to see to their needs.
If you are an excellent organizer, why not suggest to your client that you organize a meeting, or a series of telephone calls, to maintain relations with their foreign clients? It would take very little time out of the client’s schedule, as you would deal with the organizing, the note taking, and reminders of the main points of previous interactions. This could make you indispensable to the client in their foreign customer relationship management.
If your prospective client is hiring you to interpret at his big marketing event, and your talent is to really become the speaker, why not let the prospect know that? Explain what specific benefits you can bring to him, his company, and his products or services, and how much better it will be for the speaker’s enthusiasm to target the foreign audience segment in the same way as the local audience.
Yes, we sell communication (note, not ‘high quality interpretation’), possibly even intercultural communication services, but what specific benefits does that communication bring? We need to make what we are selling as real as possible in our client’s imagination. We need to describe specific outcomes that can be seen, felt and touched.
Once a client can imagine using your services, feeling the warmth of the handshake at the end of the negotiation, and deriving a concrete benefit from your service, the sale is made and the job is yours.
[i]Preamble, UNESCO Constitution.
originally published on the blog of the International Association of Conference Interpreters (https://aiic.org/site/world/newsEvents/blog)