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Marketing for Translators: What Kind of Bird Are You?

By Joachim Lépine, Certified Translator

When it comes to marketing, translators frequently wonder whether they should “strut their stuff” and try to dazzle clients or lay low and simply build their business on referrals, often via email. In our field, marketing tends to get a bad rap, and as a result, many translators opt for the latter. 

For illustration purposes, these two approaches can be caricatured as the Peacock and the Ostrich. Which category do you fall into? More to the point, which is more effective? And is there anything in between?

The Peacock

Everyone has met a Peacock at a function at some point in time. The Peacock arrives in its full glory, immaculately dressed, and loses no time schmoozing and handing out promotional literature. It is not unusual for the Peacock’s business card to be a half-inch thick, glittered, glazed, and laminated. Its website was designed by an entire team, and it has a folded brochure tucked neatly under its wing. 

The Peacock doesn’t walk—it swaggers, feathers swaying gracefully in the breeze. The Peacock spares no effort to project a carefully cultivated look. Having practised an elevator pitch for hours, the Peacock seems unable to listen to others for very long and prefers to talk about itself and what it has to offer, since that is what is on its mind.

The Peacock may be a sight to behold, yet this approach is often doomed. How often have you hired someone based on their Whitestrips smile and $20 business card? The fact is, in business as in life, we tend to gravitate toward people who we can sense are genuine, caring, and dependable.

The Ostrich

Given their natural distaste for the Peacock, many translators shrug off the notion of marketing altogether and promptly bury their heads in the sand. The Ostrich, then, is a reactive beast. Having renounced the ways of the world, the Ostrich consciously or unconsciously opts for a conservative stance, quietly hoping for the best. Typically, its suit is a hand-me-down from the 1980s, its website is 10 years old (if there is one), and any business card prominently features a cute rabbit. 

The problem is that Ostriches are reluctant to acknowledge and showcase their own worth, making it hard for clients and colleagues to recognize. Between their lack of presence at events and their literal and figurative tendency to stare intently at the floor when communicating with others, translators in this category frequently sabotage their own efforts. 

The truth about marketing

Thankfully, there is no need to choose between the Peacock and the Ostrich, as both are premised on the same flawed understanding of marketing as fundamentally superficial and self-serving.

The truth is that good marketers know they can only win over clients and partners by providing real value, being properly qualified for the service they are providing, and caring about others’ needs. Because they do these things, they naturally take pride in their ability and are unafraid to put it on display—but their focus is always on giving, not receiving. In the long run, they know they will reap the rewards of giving good service.

This middle way might be referred to as the Dove.

The Dove

The Dove is curious and loves to get to know other people (rather than manipulate them or shut them out). It listens to what people need and responds thoughtfully. The Dove is flexible and malleable, adapting its offerings to every client and being of service to all. Unassuming, it flies smoothly and elegantly—a harbinger of peace.

The Dove has nothing to prove, and so it glides on wings of grace, more concerned with others’ needs than with its own.

Three steps to Dovehood

How, then, does one go about becoming a Dove?

The first step is to become properly qualified. A degree is not enough: to attain excellence; translators must have their work revised for some time. Without this tough but necessary apprenticeship, it will be extremely difficult for them to ever believe in their own ability—and hence convey it compellingly to others. 

Even for experienced professionals, continuing education is a must. OTTIAQ and other organizations offer a plethora of helpful workshops to this end. Did you know that professionals in other fields are required to complete at least 15 or 30 hours of continuing education every year to hang on to their certification? If you haven’t been signing up, do so today! Your skills and your belief in yourself will soar.

The second step is to learn to view marketing in a positive light. It isn’t about you—it's about caring enough about your clients’ needs to create a business that will genuinely meet them. Your email signature, business card, and website should be nothing more than an extension of your natural personality, your pride in yourself, and your desire to be of service to your (well-defined) ideal client.

The third and final step is to get out to events and take an interest in others. In the words of Woody Allen, “80% of success in life is just showing up.” Translators rarely attend industry events, so anyone willing to leave the comfort of home and meet their clients has a considerable edge in our field. (Bonus pointer: when you do attend, remember to use your ears more than your mouth.)

In sum, business is about trust, and trust is built on genuine caring, solid ability, and a healthy pride in delivering excellence. The Dove knows this and can glide through the air freely and effortlessly—a symbol of peace wherever it goes.

Joachim Lépine, M. Ed., is the owner of the training and translation business Traductions LION. In addition to working for an array of clients, he has been teaching at Université de Sherbrooke since 2010. He holds degrees from Concordia University, Université de Sherbrooke and Plymouth State University.


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