My free trial offer experiment

exposure + free sample + good letter + phone call = new client ?

In November 2009, I went to my first Société française des traducteurs seminar: Réussir son implantation et se constituer une clientèle.

The afternoon session covered how to get work. Chris Durban, author of The Prosperous Translator, talked about reaching out to direct clients.

How do you get a good direct client? Chris suggested offering a short free sample to show carefully selected prospects what you’re made of.

Take a few paragraphs of poorly translated text, fix it up, send it off by snail mail, and include a short and powerful letter in the client’s native language. Or take some copy which has not yet been translated and provide the client with your target-language version.

I gave it a shot and got some good (but not excellent) results. I rewrote a few paragraphs of one company’s homepage; they later asked me to do two translations for them. Another client had a bilingual website on which a few articles were missing in English. I translated something hot off the press, free of charge, and this led to a good-sized order.

Other prospects did not even acknowledge my work. Some thanked me, but said they could not afford translation services.

Almost a year later, I’d like to try this free trial offer experiment again. This time, in a more focused and strategic manner.

This is how I am going about it.

1. Get out of the house and shake some hands

Last month, I went to E-Commerce Paris 2010 to see what French-speaking Internet workers were up to. I introduced myself to a number of exhibitors, but did not make a lasting impression on anyone.

I did fill my bag up with brochures, business cards, pens (yes!) and booklets. And a very heavy exhibition directory. Two sections in the directory merit further study: Experts 2.0 and Agences Contenu.

2. Choose my prospects wisely

I’m going through the websites of a few Paris-based companies. Tweeters are being followed. LinkedIn profiles are being been clicked on. Blogs are getting bookmarked.

3. Don’t be a stranger

My chances of scoring some work will be greater if my potential clients somehow hear of me before getting my sample. Perhaps from Twitter or LinkedIn groups.

Hmmm… should I get a Facebook account for business use and starting showing up on their pages? I’d probably learn a lot, find out when they hold events, and could contribute to the discussions.

4. Translate

Choose three or four paragraphs to be beautifully translated. Make every word count.

5. Write a really good letter

Make it concise and pleasant. Be helpful. Ask for an appointment. Let the person know I plan to call. Have a francophone check the letter over.

That one envelope should have three papers inside: short cover letter, French text and English translation. This client-friendly pitch will let him instantly compare the two versions.

6. Follow-up by phone (yikes!)

The hard part! I don’t write or speak beautiful French. But staying in touch is essential and I’m going to force myself to pick up the phone. The client might not be interested at this time, but may need a translation in the future. A pleasant phone call can leave a good impression.

I’ll let you in two months how things worked out. Has anyone else ever offered a free sample translation?

Brian Clark’s SEO Copywriting presentation on International Freelancers Day 2010

I floated in and out of several presentations on International Freelancers Day and entirely reserved myself for SEO Copywriting Made Simple for Freelance Writers.

THE presentation I was waiting for.

I’d like to produce website translations which are attractive to both people and search engines. Some basic SEO training is in order.

Part I Keywords

This is my interpretation of Brian Clark’s advice about creating effective SEO copy:

  • Find your keywords by thinking of the searcher’s question. What actual language would they use?
  • Put keywords in your title to obtain a higher search ranking.
  • Put keywords in your meta-description to obtain the click.

My keyword research experiment: Let’s say the title in French is about “personnes agées.” Should I refer to the elderly, seniors, senior citizens, or retirees, in terms of SEO?

I used Google Adwords to find the number of worldwide monthly searches for each term.

  1. elderly -> 1 220 000 (but searchers may largely use this as an adjective)
  2. seniors -> 1 000 000
  3. senior citizens -> 165 000 (that’s it?)
  4. retirees -> 74 000

Now let’s see what a translation of “maison de retraite” would lead to:

  1. nursing home -> 1 500 000
  2. old folks home -> 1 500 000 (people still use this term?)
  3. assisted living -> 673 000
  4. retirement home -> 110 000
  5. home for the elderly -> 60 500

Conclusion: I’d consider using “seniors” and “nursing home” as keywords to get a higher ranking in search results.

(This keyword research took twenty minutes. Researching the keywords and coming up with the headline and meta-description could take me a whole morning.)

Part II Content

Brian continues his talk by insisting on value:

  • C R E A T E   A   G R A N D   P I E C E .
  • Develop cornerstone content. Be useful and relevant. Your work should answer your searcher’s question comprehensively.
  • Consider creating a content landing page if you’ve made a multi-part resource. This page acts as a table of contents and may get bookmarked for later reading.
  • No keyword stuffing!
  • Link out to external sites (around once every 120 words) and cross-link throughout your own.
  • Put keywords in your anchor text.

Since the English content must engage the English-speaking reader, I’ll have to do more than just translate. I’d have to weed out anything useless, maybe add something which needs more attention, and make sure the videos and images are appropriate.

When it comes to linking out to a related site in French, my client and I would have to decide if that’s useful or not. Or we may have to come up with a relevant site in English.

Part III Links

Brian Clark moves from creating the text to promoting it. He advises viewers on how to encourage others to link to your work:

  • Guest writing. Contribute relevant posts on other blogs.
  • Participating in social networking.
  • Tweeting out your work because Google likely recognizes retweeted links (probably after three retweets).

This gives me some food for thought about possibly offering additional social media services…

To conclude his presentation, Brian Clark mentioned two free documents which are available from Copyblogger:

a) 5-Part Guide to Keyword Research

He takes one subject—mixed martial arts—and shows how the keywords “MMA” would attract fighters and “UFC” would attract fans of the sport.

b) SEO Copywriting Made Simple

28 pages of copious SEO writing advice.

Brian Clark sums up this report like this:

“A good copywriter needs to have a flair for writing content that’s inviting to share and to link to. She needs to have top-notch skills to optimize the page, so search engines know what it’s about and who might want to read it. And she needs to know how to write copy that converts readers to buyers.”

Replays of all the International Freelancers Day presentations

You can now see this video for yourself! I found out three hours ago that the replays of all the talks are now online.

Catch a few other sessions as well. Let me know what you think.

Thanks to Ed Gandia, Steve Slaunwhite and Pete Savage, from The Wealthy Freelancer, for organizing such an inspiring event.

Book review: 30 Days to Better Business Writing

Matthew Stibbe’s free e-book called 30 Days to Better Business Writing is an excellent resource for copywriters and creative translators alike. Download it from Bad Language and get straightforward advice about writing web copy, press releases, interviews, and more.

Did you notice I wrote the word “get”? According to Stibbe, “get” is not only authorized but encouraged.

Readability advice

His most useful lesson to me was Day 24: Write Readable Web Copy. Be gentle on your reader and make online writing clear.

His main points:

  • be brief
  • use short words
  • write short paragraphs
  • use bulleted lists

I try to follow this advice when translating websites, especially the home and about pages.

However, this can be a challenge to implement when dealing with a long-winded source text. Just last week, I translated a 73-word long sentence that took up four lines on the page…

As William Zinsser once said:

There’s not much to be said about the period except that most writers don’t reach it soon enough.

Sub-headings also keep the reader on track

Stibbe writes: “Use meaningful sub-headings to break up the text. They are landmarks for the reader.” In my experience, clients are generally pleased with the sub-headings I’ve suggested, even if they were non-existent in the French version.

The all-important first sentence

The opening sentence is the reader’s invitation to the party.

Stibbe’s Day 5 exercise is about coming up with seductive first lines. An amusing exercise. My subsequent homework meant brainstorming about future blog entries. I tried out several “ledes” on different blog stubs and the results were not bad.

Stibbe says we should use the “inverted pyramid” technique for website copy, going into more detail about this format in Day 6: Pick the Right Structure. He explains, “You give the highest level of detail first—when and where the fire happened—and then add layers of detail and information as the text continues.”

Starting out strong makes complete sense. Your main point should be “above the fold” so if readers just breeze through your page, at least they will leave with the crux of the matter.

Avoid buzzwords

On Day 12, Stibbe gives a list of words to be deleted from all your current assignments. It includes “offline” and “touch base” to my surprise. He insists, “Buzzwords and business clichés are the opposite of effective writing.” The word “solution” appears to be particularly annoying and overused.

I personally dislike “leverage” and anything which “pushes” any type of envelope.

The real question for me is about how to translate hype words from source texts. Do we tone down copy to make texts more credible? I have translated for a few companies who called themselves “leaders” who provided “solutions” in the “most innovative” manner.

Hostile position against long press releases

In Day 21: Write a Great Press Release, Stibbe continues his anti-buzzword speech while going back to the importance of brevity. He shows no mercy to press releases: “Keep them short and factual. 250 words should be the upper limit.”


What I would add to the book

Important words or concepts could be written in bold to help hurried readers.

Do revisions on hard copy and think about changing the font and font size to keep your eyes fresh.

Do your final revision after a good night’s sleep.

The mystery waffle

There is mention of being a waffle and talking waffly and waffling around. And it’s no reference to breakfast.

Free download

To conclude, I recommend that you download, print and bind this book. And do the homework! Matthew Stibbe is a cheerful and articulate teacher and you’ll have fun working through the well-chosen assignments. You’ll get insights about readability criteria, writing for impact, concentration, productivity, power naps, and more.

Sharpen your pencils and enjoy!

Twitter for translators: professional development, networking and dogs

Twitter is an open-source professional development tool. Thanks to Twitter, I’ve read tweets about:

  • upcoming seminars by the Société française des traducteurs
  • new posts on favourite translation blogs
  • translation and interpretation job offers
  • various rules of grammar and punctuation
  • new online dictionaries and style guides
  • marketing for freelancers
  • the creation of @No_Peanuts

I’m eager to hear about what colleagues are working on—current assignments, invoicing issues, remarks about the industry… Some tweet about CAT tools, badmouth Proz, or smirk at bizarrely translated restaurant menus (which they’ve photographed).

As for discussions which are loosely related to translation, you can find loads of tweets about expatriate life, multilingual families and culture shock.

Recurring non-translation topic: dogs

Tweeting translators love to write about dogs. I’ve read twitter updates about leash-free parks, vet appointments and hunting escapades. When I’m lucky, I get to click on a cute puppy picture.

Good translation tweets

While there are many must-follow tweeters out there, the most useful tweets to me come from @anglais. This altruistic Canadian tweets about French to English translation and word choice. He or she reminds me of words I’ve almost forgotten and helps me avoid translationese.

Other insightful translators who give frequent and useful updates: @aegrange, @ebodeux, @erik_hansson, @pikorua, @rinaneeman, @Tesstranslates@GermanENTrans

Good writing tweets

@RedheadWriting – copywriting advice, business inspiration and a regular ‘bitch slap’!

@bigstarcontent – copywriting, blogging and SEO

@MenwithPens – writing habits and webdesign

Good editing tweets

@guardianstyle – UK English

@ChicagoManual – US English

Good freelancing tweets

@EdGandia He’s one of the authors behind The Wealthy Freelancer. He consistently offers concrete advice for freelancers. He and his colleagues have just announced a free online conference for International Freelancers Day on September 24 and 25. Looks promising!

Tweets from @TranslateTrad

I generally tweet about translation (industry news, French English challenges, continuing education, SEO), freelancing (copywriting, client relations, entrepreneurship) and marketing (social media and blogging). No dogs here.

How to use #hashtags

I’ve been showing up at Twitter since January 2010 and am just beginning to figure out hashtags (#). Use hashtags to direct your tweet to a certain group of people. Many translators end their tweets with #xl8 which stands for translation.

Testing Google Translate. #xl8

Hashtags can also refer to a certain event. For example, thoughts about International Freelancers Day can be labelled with #IFD10.

Just signed up for an online conference. #IFD10

LinkedIn and Viadeo hashtags

If you want your tweets to appear on your LinkedIn and Viadeo profiles, adjust settings on these sites, and use hashtags #in and #v respectively.

Twitter Lists

When I can’t keep up with everyone I follow, I check my list of translators and writers to see what colleagues are up to.

Twitter Do’s and Don’ts


  • Tweet regularly.
  • Tweet something useful.


  • Tweet several times in a row. It clogs up my stream.
  • Be too self-promotional.

See you on Twitter!

It’s a worthwhile investment. And it’s not about landing translation projects. It’s about circulating translator insight.

How are you using Twitter? Who else should I (@TranslateTrad) follow? Did I explain hashtags right? Any more Twitter tips? Do you tweet about your dog?

Me, my blogging goals, and a review of The Entrepreneurial Linguist

Hi! This is the introductory post to Catherine Translates.

Via this blog, I’d like to share what I know—and what I’m questioning—about the translation business. I started freelancing just under a year ago and am constantly revising how I want to shape my career.

Why not brainstorm with other translators and get more writing practice at the same time? I’ll be blogging on the 1st and 15th of every month.

Today’s topic:

  • The Entrepreneurial Linguist by Judy and Dagmar Jenner

Topics I’ll be covering:

  • Social Networking – my views on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Viadéo
  • 30 Days to Better Business Writing by Matthew Stibbe
  • Transcreation: How far can we deviate?
  • Strange entries in The Economist Style Guide

Topics rolling around in my head:

  • Your CV: Post it online or not?
  • Common French to English translation challenges and errors
  • Working from home and staying organized, productive and sane
  • Sound body, sound mind – sleep, exercise, sunlight and fresh air
  • Books that have influenced how I run my business

I hope to see you back!

Now for my review:

7 Questions to Myself about The Entrepreneurial Linguist

For smart business advice and a healthy dose of can-do enthusiasm, pick up The Entrepreneurial Linguist: The Business-School Approach to Freelance Translation by Judy and Dagmar Jenner.

The makers of Translation Times focus on how translators can approach, land and keep direct clients. They dig deep into marketing strategies that every freelancer should be aware of.

This newly-released guide sets the tone for how I’d like my own career to evolve.

Why did I buy this particular book amidst so many other translation books?

The title. I need to be more entrepreneurial to properly get my translation skills out there. I wanted clear no-nonsense advice about running a business.

What sections were the most useful to my own translation business?

Pages 104 to 105. How to spend $100. Unsurprisingly, having a proper website is top priority. The Jenners give practical advice about investing what’s left.

Pages 108 to 112. Direct-customer acquisition strategies. Their input is precious! They talk about researching potential clients, going to industry-specific events, and making yourself known as someone who provides solutions.

What advice would I add when pitching to potential clients?

The Jenners did not talk about offering a short translation sample for free. As for myself, I’ve tried this before and found reasonable success. I experimented with free samples after hearing about it at an SFT seminar in Paris.

I chose about a dozen potential clients and proceeded to either translate or correct three or four paragraphs from their websites. I sent them off by snail mail. A couple of them contacted me right away for work. A few clients have even emailed me months after they received my sample.

Major drawback: It’s time-consuming. You must realistically believe it will trigger off a profitable long-term relationship.

Corinne McKay’s blog entry called ‘Using a sample translation as a sales pitch’ from Thoughts on Translation delves deeper into this technique.

What do the Jenners pay too much attention to?

SEO. There are so many translation websites out there that search engine optimization means nothing to me. If someone does a search for “French English translations” I’ll be on the hundredth page. No one will find me unless they know my name (and how to spell it!) or my exact URL address.

I need to take my clients by the hand to my website and not waste time on SEO.

What will I do now?

Find out more about Gravatars and Dragon Naturally Speaking. Reread pages 108 to 112. Figure out my competitive advantage. Redo my business cards. Fix my website. Get ready for an upcoming trade fair. Reread pages 108 to 112.

What were my favourite lines from The Entrepreneurial Linguist?

“Trust us: your potential customers do not want to see your résumé [on your website].”

“You will have to be an entrepreneur first and a linguist second. Find the business, and then put your top-notch language skills to work.”

What could experienced translators get out of this book?

Tips on speaking at conferences, volunteering for translator associations, and creating regional associations.

If you’ve been translating for agencies for twenty years and would like your own clients, or if you want more marketing and Web 2.0 knowledge, The Entrepreneurial Linguist should be on your bedside table. I downloaded it for 17 USD from