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Nov 25, 2008

Getting one's online presence right

There are a number of ways for a freelance translator to let the world know s/he is alive and ready to take on interesting, lucrative work. Some of these (in no particular order of importance) include:
  • public profiles on translation portals
  • a business web site
  • a blog related to one's business or at least mentioning it enough to matter
  • published articles, glossaries, tools and other info
  • participation in public translation and terminology forums
  • e-mail signatures
and probably others I haven't thought of. Which of these points is most important? I have no idea. In one way or another, all of them (except the blog, which is very new) have attracted business for me personally. I think the "right" online presentation or mix of presentations will be a very individual thing. It's easier to say what won't work (having no presence being near the top of the list) than to say what will work best for you.

There are numerous portals and other venues where translators can post public profiles or enter themselves in directories where potential clients might find them. Most of these are free, though in the case of the commercial portals, paid memberships give one a better ranking in the listings as well as offer other benefits. I maintain profiles in quite a few places (more than I can remember honestly), but over the years, the two listings that have brought in the most business for me have been those at ProZ.com and Translationzone (the SDL Trados site). The latter has declined in value as the site has become more of a marketing venue for Dark Side technology, but I have had some excellent business from direct clients and agencies looking there for a Trados user with my skill set. Overall, however, ProZ has brought the best result, with new contacts from my profile at least each week and in some weeks nearly every day (and sometimes it seems like every hour). The sheer size of the platform means a lot of traffic and a lot of opportunities, some of them even worthwhile. There is a lot of confusion and criticism of this and other portals by translators who see lousy job posts at dumping prices and fail to understand that this isn't where the action is at for the successful translators. In fact, I forgot to mention "quotations submitted in response to online job posts" to the list above because it has so little significance to my business. When I submit a quote (at my prices), I usually get the job (and if I don't I can often guess who got it in certain fields - it's a small world with a limited number of good people in my favorite areas). What accounts for this success in quotation and the fact that I am usually to busy getting contacted to initiate contacts myself: my profile. It is very useful to browse the profiles of other translators to see how they present their information. One example I found recently which I really liked was from a German to Italian translator, Stefano Incerti. It's not the most extensive or complete one I've seen, but it presents his information well. I might have taken any one of a dozen or more examples of good ProZ profiles I know (hm... maybe I'll write a "favorites list" some day to help others who might be looking for ideas for their own online profiles). The reason I mentioned Stefano is that I really wanted to mention his web site.

I see a lot of web sites for agencies and translators. Obviously, some will be good, others less so. I found Stefano's site appealing because of its good aesthetics, easy navigation and unique way of presenting information about himself and his services. The site is trilingual, and he even includes a little status indicator to tell you if he has capacity or not. I wasn't familiar with the text analyzer he linked, so I appreciated finding it there. His web site is arranged very differently than mine and others, truly original as far as I can tell, yet very functional as well. If I were to "steal" his concept and re-do my site according to it, I would make changes, not because I find anything wrong, but rather because I am who I am and he is who he is. I think this is a great site that works for him. If he translates half as well as he maintains his public presence and follows other basic business principles, he must be thriving.

Web sites are an important marketing tool for translators. How important. I suppose I could wander over to my billing computer and do a quick summary of all the business I've done in the past four years with direct clients and agencies who have found us on the web site I slapped together quickly at the end of 2004 and have scarcely had time to update since then. Let's just say it paid for the effort. My site is long overdue for an overhaul both in its content and its aesthetics, but it works. I'm sure others work better. Another site that I really love is from a local British colleague whom I've never had the pleasure of meeting, Victor Dewsbery. Web designers will find a million "wrong" things to nitpick there, but I think the site is fantastic. The content is great, and it reflects topics that are important to Victor as a person and a professional. I use his reference list for the English names of German laws there all the time. The navigation doesn't bear the mark of genius (from what I've heard of his work, maybe he reserves that for his translations), but it's absolutely clear and easy to use in two languages. I really don't think you can improve on his site for absolute usability.

Along with web sites there is the issue of owning your own domain and using the mail server from that domain for your professional e-mail communications. I know there are lots of good translators out there who use AOL, gmx, Yahoo and other free mail accounts - even Hotmail - but many people see these as a sign of amateurism. As silly as it may sound with domains being so cheap and easy, having your own domain for a web site and e-mail gives an impression of greater seriousness despite what those who don't have one may think. Given the low cost and good ROI, it's rather stupid not to do it.

Blogs are less frequently used by translators but are growing in popularity. One of the most interesting is Corinne McKay's Thoughts on Translation. I don't know what impact blogging has had on her business or that of any others, but the fact that agencies are also getting into the act indicates that the medium is being taken seriously. I would be very interesting to hear about results from someone. I do mine for fun and as an alternative to some of the portal forums, which can be so full of information and interactions that one can't find a lot of desired information buried in the trash. I'm fascinated by the potential of this medium for communication and education and looking forward to seeing where it leads.

Published articles, glossaries, tools and other info: I do a lot in this area. So do others. I find it fun to share this way, and it's also my way of returning favors for all the information that has been shared with me. Sometimes the most useful things in business are free despite what I said in my TANSTAAFL post. My efforts here have probably given me more credibility than I deserve, and I encourage others to share their knowledge and skills in this ways both for the common good and for personal profit. Yes, things like my ancient insurance glossary on ProZ really do bring in new business. I would do more of this if I had time, not because I need the extra business (though it might help to focus what comes in on what I like most), but because it's simply enjoyable.

Participation in public translation and terminology forums like KudoZ and others is a great way to learn, network with colleagues and show your strengths in various areas. This can lead to direct business opportunities in some cases, but the general benefits of networking, like helping to overcome the isolation of what can sometimes be a very solitary profession, are more important than any deal. Anyone who doesn't understand the value here probably hasn't tried it or hasn't found the right forum: the BDÜ, ITI and other professional organizations have their own forums, so not everything out there is on a commercial site.

We all send e-mail. Including an e-mail signature with your business contact information at the bottom of many communications is another way of letting people know what you do and how to find out more. For example, a signature I often use for communication in English is:

Best regards,

Kevin Lossner
Simmer-Lossner Translations & Consulting GbR
Specialist translators for German -> English
Dorastrasse 9, 16540 Hohen Neuendorf, Germany

[T] +49 3303 / 508857

[F] +49 3303 / 508859

Inquiries:
translation@simmer-lossner.com (response receipt)
translations@simmer-lossner.com (no response receipt)

Internet: http://simmer-lossner.com
http://simmer-lossner.blogspot.com/


It's stored in my Outlook settings, so I can use it automatically or insert it easily in a message. This is a useful, "gentle" way of letting people know what I do and how to contact me if they want me to do it. Speaking of which, I need to end this novel-in-the-making and get back to the doing bit.

4 comments:

  1. Hi Kevin, thanks for visiting me at fidusinterpres.com and for having me on your blogroll. Your blog is so recent, but you already have a lot of very useful content here. I hope other colleagues will feel inspired to contribute with their thoughts about our profession.
    I've added a link to Translation Tribulations on fidusinterpres.com and will definitely follow your blog on my RSS reader. :-)

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  2. Hi Kevin,
    Thanks for your kind words about my website - and I must say I agree with the less kind words, too ;-)

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  3. Welcome, Victor! I've admired your site for as long as I've been translating professionally I think - I discovered it a long time ago in any case because of your many helpful contributions on the dejavu-l lists. I think it's a good example of the triumph of content for someone in our business.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hello, Here's antother related post worth a read. "Where to promote your translations and interpreting services for free"

    http://babelanmicroblog.blogspot.com/2009/06/where-to-promote-your-translations-and.html

    C

    ReplyDelete

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