The Business of Interpreting FAQ 14 – Learn to speak client!

Lourdes de Rioja, a video blogger and conference interpreter well known for her interviews and photographs, recently interviewed me.

She asked me to talk about something that would be important for you, so I chose “speaking client.”

Here is the link to her blog, with the full video. The transcript is below.

Did you know that we all have to add a new language to our language combination?  And it has to  be an active one.  We all have to start to learn to speak “Client.”

Let me explain.

One of the biggest problems that everybody tells me about, wherever I go, is that our clients just don’t understand us.  They ask us to work under untenable conditions,  they don’t give us background materials, and sometimes they even ask us to work from languages that we don’t have!

Well, I want to make a couple of points here.

First of all, of course they don’t understand you!  You’re a highly specialized, highly trained professional, who solves highly specific problems.  Why would they understand you?  Do you understand what your accountant does?  Do you understand what your lawyer, or your mechanic, or your plumber do?  Of course you don’t.  If you did, you’d do it yourself.  But they are highly trained as well.  So that’s the first point.

The second point is that you need to think about how you prepare for a technical job.  You study, you make glossaries, you make lists of terms and their meanings so that you understand what’s going on in the industry.  You even learn some jargon, so you can speak their language natively.

Well, that is your job.  That’s what we’re paid for.  Your lawyer, your accountant, your client, is not paid to study us.  They’re not paid to learn our language, to learn our jargon, and to understand what’s going on.  They just aren’t.  So of course they aren’t going to understand you.  

They don’t know the difference between an interpreter, a translator, a spoken translator, a linguist… They don’t know what simultaneous interpreting is, consecutive interpreting, sight translation – “and wait a minute, you just told me you were an interpreter.  Why are you sight translating?  I don’t get it.”

So what you need to do is learn to speak “Client.”  

The first step is to audit all of your communications:  take a look at your website, your social media presence, your email signature, your CV.  Look at all of those and see where you fall into jargon.  

Are you telling people that you have an A, B and C language?  Why?  They won’t understand.  What you need to do is say, for example in my case, “I work from French and Russian into English, and from English into Russian.  That way they know very clearly what your languages are, and the directions.

If they ask you what services you provide, and what you can do to help them, turn it around.  Don’t just say, “Oh well, I do simultaneous, consecutive, whispering, on-site, remote, whatever…”  They don’t know what any of this is.  

Turn it around and ask them questions, such as, “Would you prefer to save time, or money?  If you prefer to save time, I can set up a team and the equipment, and we will interpret at the same time as your speaker.  If you prefer to save money, then I can also set up the team, but there won’t be any extra equipment, and we will speak after the speaker is finished, which means it will take twice as long.”  

See how clear that is, and how well your client will understand it?  So take a look at all of your communications, and make sure that you are speaking “Client.”  

On top of that, make sure to target your client.  Because obviously, nothing I just said holds if you’re writing to another interpreter, or to an agency.  

But, if you are working with a client who has never used interpreting, who may have used interpreting but is still confused (which is fairly often), then make sure to use this new language of yours, “Client,” and then they can visualize what you want to sell them.

And once they have it in their mind, and they can see it happening, then they can buy it.

The Business of Interpreting FAQ 13 – How do you avoid your biggest CV mistake?

CVs (or résumés in the US) are a wonderful tool. But whenever I hold a webinar or workshop that even touches on CVs, you can bet there will be plenty of questions.

I find that, when written well, CVs not only help you to show your value to future clients. They are also fantastic at keeping your assignments organized. For example, they could help you keep records to become a member of a professional association.

But once you become a member of that association, do you often think that you don’t need a CV?

One of the things that always puzzled me before I became an AIIC member was how few members had CVs ready to send out. “I’m in the book,” seemed to be the standard response. When I requested one from AIIC members, it took them ages to write something up.

Even though many people trumpet the death of the CV, I still find myself sending out several a year. You can send CVs both in response to direct requests and in prospecting for new clients.

The Fundamentals

Let’s start with what you should include:

👉 Your name

👉 Your language combination

👉 Your contact details

👉 Your skills

👉 Your relevant experience

👉 The technology you own, use, or have experience with

👉 Your relevant education or specialized training and publications

👉 Your specialties or “Areas of Greatest Experience”

👉 Optional: your professional photograph

👉 Extra: watermark

These elements are pretty much what you will find in anyone’s CV, interpreters or not. If this is what everyone includes, why is it so difficult to write a good CV?

CV Myths

Myth 1: CVs are tools for beginners.

Seasoned professionals think that their experience speaks for itself. They are on the roster of vetted interpreters of their association, and that should be enough.

But clients in many fields often ask for and receive CVs for all sorts of jobs. You need to fit yourself into their world in a way that they understand. And CVs not only give an idea of your experience, but also show your attention to detail and presentation.

Myth 2: Regular old CVs are passé, and you should have a graphic CV.

No one needs anything super trendy, with icons that confuse people. A good old-fashioned CV that is well-formatted will serve you just fine!

You can find all sorts of CV-builders or resume-builders online. Your professional association may have one, which allows you to brand yourself with their logo as well. Online tools help in that you don’t have to worry about formatting, and you will still have a nicelooking CV.

(download an example of my own AIIC-branded CV from my directory page, here)

Myth 3: You should fit in everything you have ever done! After all, potential clients need a full picture…

Your CV is part of your personal brand. To simplify my post on branding, a brand is a curated view of what you can do.

If you fill the page with writing and have hardly any white space for the words to stand out, you had better use a larger font. Who knows who will be looking at your CV in the future – and how old their eyes are?

As to curating what you can do … keep reading this article!

Your Biggest Mistake

The biggest mistake you can make is that you send the same CV to everyone – hoping they will see your value. But how will a potential client see the value you can bring if you don’t tailor your CV to that client?

Are you sending it to another interpreter or translator? An agency? A direct client? Answers to these questions will tell you how to showcase your information.

Are you sending it to law firms? Construction businesses? Universities? This tells you what experience would be relevant to include.

Example: Showcase Your Languages

Let me give you some examples of different ways to show your language combination, using my own.

If you send your CV to an interpreter from the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC), to international organizations, or to agencies in Europe, you would use the A, B, C classification.

👉 For example, my own combination would be A: English, B: Russian, and C: French.

If you send your CV to an interpreter or agency not familiar with AIIC, you could still use some jargon.

👉 For example: Native: English, Active: Russian, Passive: French.

If you send it to clients who are not interpreters or translators, you should avoid jargon at all costs. You could use arrows, or the words “from” and “into.” Be as clear as possible, and spell out all language abbreviations.

👉 Russian/French > English, English > Russian.

👉 I work from Russian and French into English, and from English into Russian.

Example: Showcase Your Skills

You should also change your approach in explaining your skills.

If you write to a colleague or an agency that works with interpreters, do use the jargon: simultaneous interpreting, consecutive interpreting, whisper interpreting, etc.

But if you write to people who have little experience with interpreters, explain your skills instead.

For example:

👉 “Interpret with no specialized equipment, speaking after the speaker has finished speaking.”

👉 “Interpret with specialized equipment, in real time, in a team of two or more.”

Example: Relevant Information

Intermediaries have their own requirements that differ from what direct clients need.

If you send a CV to an intermediary, you should include a section on the technology that you own, use, or have experience with.

👉 RSI platforms want to know your upload and download speeds.

👉 They will want to know what headsets and microphones you own.

👉 Agencies will want to know what platforms you have worked or trained on.

Example: Relevant Experience

The single most important part of your CV is your experience. And this is where you will truly show you are thinking of your client.

What I have done throughout my career is keep a list of all my jobs in a simple spreadsheet. I have filled in a table with:

👉 dates

👉 topic

👉 meeting name, and

👉 meeting location.

You could add any other tags you want, such as:

👉 Client name

👉 Type of client (direct, agency, colleague, international organization, etc.)

👉 Simple Client Relationship Management information

👉 Payment terms vs when they actually paid

👉 Any rating system to show how much you liked working with that client

👉 If you organized the meeting, extra costs and income from that meeting

👉 Etc. etc. etc.

If your data is in a table, you can then sort it by any column. For your CV, you would sort by topic, and create groups of similar jobs, or what I call experience modules. You can then swap these modules in and out of your CV, depending on your target audience.

Remember not to give away confidential details! On my own CV, I use the format: <Name of Meeting>, <City/Organization of Meeting>, <Year>. This gives little away, but is detailed enough to show that I actually have this experience.

When you need to send a CV to a law firm, swap in the module with your legal experience. If you need to send a CV to a particular company, then swap in the module showcasing your relevant experience.

My entire CV is 7 pages long (and growing) – but people almost never see all 7 pages.

My first page is a traditional CV with all the information in my opening list above, and a bird’s eye view of my experience.

After that comes my “Work Experience Appendix.”

For the appendix, all my experience is grouped into modules: Aerospace, Business, Development, Nuclear (civil and military)… The last pages list my training experience.

Modular CVs save a lot of time. You could write your entire CV on one page, with a dedicated space for the relevant module. Then swap in the modules as you need them.


Agencies and others may ask for your CV, to keep it on file or to use to win a bid on a job. But we have all seen examples where they use it to get the job, and then hire someone else, without your qualifications.

So, if you do send a CV, at the very least use the PDF format.

It would also be good to include a watermark – a phrase that shows up behind your CV. For example, the wording could be: “This résumé is for information only and is not for job tenders.” This is the wording in the watermark for the AIIC résumé builder, and what you see in the background of my own CV (again, here).

Of course, anyone with tech knowledge can still strip out and use your information. But at least you will have made it more difficult for them.

Adding Value or Noise?

It’s always a good question to ask yourself before sending anything to your prospects. Are you adding value to their work? Or are you simply noise that they can ignore?

If you tailor your CV to the client’s areas of expertise, and show them only relevant information, then you will keep their attention for longer.

However, if you send the same CV to everyone, there is no story for them to latch onto. They will see all these areas you could help, but nothing jumps out at them to say, “This is the person we need!”

Tailoring your CV helps them see a story;

👉 We have this problem.

👉 This person has dealt with this problem in the past.

👉 Let’s use this person to solve our problem.

Not only does it give potential clients a reason to hire you. It also gives them a reason to consider you an expert, and not simply an interchangeable dictionary on legs that shouldn’t cost a lot.

And we all want to be considered experts, right?

A shorter version of this article was originally published in the American Translators Association’s The Savvy Newcomer.

An Unexpected Christmas Gift in an Unprecedented Year!

This year, the Troublesome Terps invited me to be a guest on their podcast (tagline: The podcast about things that keep interpreters up at night) – and what fun we had!

The four Terps themselves come from all walks of life: three freelancers, one staff interpreter for an international organization, two researchers. All speak English, though not all are native speakers. And their podcast talks about all things interpreting.

This year, their episodes discussed starting out as an interpreter; how to deal with bullying; issues of mental health in interpreting; interpreting in conflict zones; new ways of working as interpreters; websites for interpreters; taking care of our voice, body and mind; tech for interpreters; and meeting the American Translators Association – as well as an episode on the Know Your Worth: Understanding Marketing and Negotiating for Interpreters seminar by yours truly.

Just to be chosen to be on the podcast is great! You can see from the non-exhaustive selection I just mentioned that the guests broaden our knowledge and topics of conversation. And the ability to get the Know Your Worth conversation out to a wider audience was fantastic.

But this year, they held their first ever Episode of the Year and Guest of the Year contest, based on votes from their listeners – and the Know Your Worth episode won both categories!

I knew the podcast was still being listened to – my interpreting students periodically ask me to explain an expression in English, or to write out the Big Mac jingle… But the episode obviously brought all the interpreter listeners information they could use, and that could help them – especially during this crazy year.

So I would like to say a heartfelt thank you to Troublesome Terps for inviting me, and to the listeners for voting!

If you liked this article, please connect with me on LinkedIn – – and we can continue the conversation!

To listen to the KYW episode of the podcast, please go here.

To listen to The Troublesome Terps, please go here.

The Business of Interpreting: FAQ 11 – How do I win the bid?

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 (

The Business of Interpreting: FAQ 10 – How can I check my profit margin?

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 (

The Business of Interpreting: FAQ 9 – What is the customer decision journey?

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 (

The Business of Interpreting: FAQ 8 – What is the most sustainable interpreting market?

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!

Originally published on the blog of the International Association of Conference Interpreters (

The Business of Interpreting: FAQ 7 – What is the rule of 7?

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:

  1. Call to find out who should get your CV.
  2. Send your CV.
  3. Call to confirm they received your CV.
  4. 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.
  5. Send a Christmas card to the person.
  6. Send a new CV reflecting an update to your skills.
  7. 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 (

The business of interpreting: FAQ 6 – How do I become more professional?

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?

Template it!

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!

Originally published on the blog of the International Association of Conference Interpreters (

The business of interpreting: FAQ 5 – Why do I need to be a brand?

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!

Originally published on the blog of the International Association of Conference Interpreters (