This is a guest post by German to English translator Sarah Silva. Sarah lives in the UK and specializes in chemistry translations; she became a translator after a first career working with paper, flooring and pharmaceutical coating manufacturers. This post is based on Sarah’s own experience developing and implementing a direct marketing campaign, and she’s also teaching a course on this topic for Training for Translators, starting April 5, 2021.
A Direct Marketing Campaign to Grow Your Translation Business – It’s All in the Follow Up
Many of us have tried marketing to win new clients, by email or post. But if we’re honest, few of us really follow up effectively, if at all. You may regard the follow-up process with narrowed eyes and gritted teeth, resisting it all the way. After all, it feels hard and you don’t want to appear pushy or annoy potential clients. I was the same, I didn’t want to bother people. I dabbled with sending out letters or postcards to potential direct clients and never followed up. Funnily enough, I got zero new clients this way.
The first time I tried a different approach was in 2015. After making a new contact at a trade show I sent a considered and unsolicited proposal for collaboration and actually followed up when they didn’t respond. Not once but twice. They didn’t love my first idea, but it opened up a conversation about what they did need and we’ve been working together regularly on editing and translation projects for the past few years. Now, finding clients at trade shows wasn’t a very scalable approach given that I live in the UK and my clients are based in Germany. Regular travel was a non-starter due to family commitments so I promptly forgot this ever happened. Until I started learning more about using direct mail as part of a marketing strategy and Chet Holmes’ Dream 100 campaign – where you contact 100 people you want to work with and keep following up.
How I carry out direct marketing campaigns
My kind of direct marketing campaign targets a small list of potential clients so you can personalise everything you send and build a relationship. Starting with a small list is also an ideal way to fit your marketing around your busy schedule. I use a mix of the following methods, contacting people every two to four weeks:
- Direct mail: physical packages and postcards
- Online: email, connecting on social media
- ‘Live’ conversations: in person at trade fairs/conferences or via telephone/video calls
Why you should try it
You get a better response than with email. According to Litmus email analytics, 51 % of readers delete your emails within 2 seconds (and that only refers to the emails that get opened).
The GDPR makes contacting new clients harder. Sending your first piece of marketing by post gets around that issue.
Potential clients don’t know you exist. Inbound marketing is great, but many of my new contacts aren’t on social media and don’t realise that specialist translators (I’m in the chemical field) exist. So they don’t look. They commonly use a local translation agency and if they’re disappointed with the results they’ll take their translations in-house if they can – this is especially the case for translations into English.
You’ll gain fantastic insights into your target market from talking with new contacts that you can use across your business.
How my first campaign went
In 2018 I ran a direct marketing campaign to 25 potential clients and got an 8 % response rate to my initial contact by post. This is higher than the 4.9 % average rate quoted by the Direct Marketing Association but in hard numbers, was just two people. I then sent a follow-up Christmas postcard – not a great time of year to get hold of people – and a follow-up email in January, which boosted my overall response rate to 44 %. After a trade show visit to meet some of these contacts in person, I increased the number of new contacts I’d made and spoken with from my list to 52 %.
Show me the money
I know what you’re thinking: Contacts are good but are they paying clients?
From this first campaign, not yet. However, four contacts have promised work when they next need an English translation, and one has mentioned a specific project he wants to work with me on. Another wants to test me out when they next need a specialist chemistry text translated but will stick with their chosen agency for general translations.
It’s a long-term strategy and my German chemical market is ultra conservative so I know it’ll take time. One of my mistakes was to target smaller companies thinking they would be more likely to work with individual translators, but I found they didn’t have the regular work I’d love.
From my new campaign (I’m at stage 2) to an even smaller list of 10 potential clients, I’ve had two responses so far and one contact is now a client. That one client has already covered the costs of both campaigns and I’m confident of more new collaborations.
Update March 2021: I’ve now secured three clients from that campaign, one of whom came to me 18 months after my initial approach as a result of regular follow-up
Top tips for a successful direct marketing campaign
You need to be persistent. Not pushy persistent, but follow up with people, even if they don’t respond. Keep in mind that only about 2 % of people are ready to buy when you contact them so keeping in touch means you’ll be the person they think of when they are ready for translation. And let’s face it, people are busy and translation is often an afterthought.
Consider your schedule and timing. Will your campaign coincide with industry events? I do like a challenge, but marketing over holiday periods isn’t always a good idea!
Be helpful and useful, even entertaining. You can have a lot of fun and be imaginative with your marketing so that people look forward to hearing from you.
Consider this a long-term strategy. My best clients are those who are cautious and consider the finer details of a business partnership. But once they make their decision, they’re loyal.
To make the most of your campaign and encourage you to be consistent and persistent in your follow up (because it’ll take less time), I’d suggest selecting a highly targeted but fairly small list. You can add a personal touch, handwrite postcards, even spend a little more than you could with a larger list, all factors that can boost your success rate.
Direct marketing with consistent follow-up isn’t easy, but it’s not as hard as you might think. And it’s a fantastic way of getting in front of clients you want to work with, who you wouldn’t otherwise meet. It’s growing my business and I’d love for you to benefit from this strategy too.
For more tips from Sarah, download her free PDF guide to direct marketing for freelance translators.