Emailing Potential Clients as a Freelance Translator
So, you've set yourself up as a freelance translator...
How do you email clients?
Recently, EZo Translation received an email from an English-Thai translator who had apparently sent a bulk email to a load of translation-related businesses in the hopes of getting hired.
The email I received (below) seems like a perfect example of what not to do when emailing potential clients as a freelance translator.
[The sender's name and email have been blacked out to preserve their privacy.]
So, what should you do instead?
Here are some tips for emailing potential clients as a freelance translator
1. Do research about the company
If there's a company that you want to work with, do some research about them before you send an email.
What does the company specialise in?
Do they offer services in your language pair and specialisations?
If not, could you feasibly use that to your advantage by saying that they'd be able to expand their client base with your help?
What are their values? Do they align with yours?
What kind of wording do they use on their website and marketing?
Imitating their wording might show that you are a good fit with their company.
Are they currently hiring?
Do they have a sign-up form or instructions for signing up with them on their website? If they do, make sure to use them rather than emailing.
Do you meet their requirements?
If a translation agency is ISO-certified, they're going to require you to prove that you adhere to the ISO-17100 standards, which you can find at the ISO17100 website, or in the screenshot below:
2. Establish a contact within the company
Do research about who you are emailing. Get a specific name and email address.
Visit the company's website and LinkedIn page to see if they list their employees and their roles.
Find out who's in charge of HR, Talent Recruitment, or whatever other title they might use.
Find the person in charge of hiring on LinkedIn, and see if you have any mutual contacts.
Try to build up a rapport with them.
Check out some of their LinkedIn posts and interact with them.
Comment on their posts. Share their posts. Tag your posts with hashtags they might be following. Make sure your name keeps popping up in their notifications.
Present yourself as an expert in your field with valuable insight to share.
Send them a connection request, and—this is important!—a personalised message briefly introducing yourself, saying where you know them from (or how you know of them) and why you want to connect.
Most people will just ignore connection requests from people they have never met or spoken to before.
Connection request messages are limited to 300 characters, so make sure to come across as professional, friendly, and get to the point!
Here is a basic example of something I might write:
Hello Sarah, I'm a Japanese-English translator specialising in literary translation. I came across your posts through John Smith, a mutual connection of ours. Your posts are always very insightful! I was hoping we could connect and share insights about the industry. Zoe
3. Personalise your emails
Once you've found out who is in charge of hiring, make sure to address the email to them. Use their name.
Dear Mr. Smith
Do not write :
"To whom it may concern"
"Dear Sir or Madam"
or worst yet, do what the person who emailed me did, and simply write:
This means no bulk emailing!
You can tell from the screenshot of the email I received that I was added in the BCC of the email. This makes it painfully obvious that the sender was just emailing as many companies as possible in the hopes that something would stick.
While this may seem like a more efficient way to apply for many companies at once, it's actually more effective to take the time to research companies, make connections and present yourself as a reliable translator and an expert in your field.
Put yourself in the company's shoes. Who would you rather work with?
Someone who took the time to research your company, found out what your name is so they could address the email to you, connected and chatted with you on a platform like LinkedIn first (so you were perhaps given a heads-up about getting this email), explained why they want to work with you and was able to tell you why working with them would benefit you.
Someone who sent you an unsolicited email addressed "Dear Sir" or "To whom it may concern", attached a CV that may or may not contain a virus, rambled on about themselves for a few paragraphs, and asked to be sent work in a language pair and/or specialisation that your company may not even work with.
Once you have an email address and name, you need a strong Subject line to pique interest because, let's face it, a subject line like "Freelance Translator" or "Looking for work" does not really encourage someone to read your email.
Mention your language pair, specialisation(s), and what you can offer them.
Body of the email
Personalise your emails and show that you did your research. Mention something you know about the company, make links to their website ("I noticed that your website says..."), say how you found out about them, why you want to work for them, and how working with you would benefit them.
Learn copywriting techniques to use in your writing.
Use customer-focused language; say "you" more than you say "I". Talk to your potential clients, not about yourself. Describe the benefits of your services and how they will positively affect your clients' lives. Look at it through the eyes of your potential clients and make sure you're focusing on their needs.
Remember that the recipients of your emails don't want to spend ages reading through unsolicited emails. Keep it short and concise (about three paragraphs is plenty!), delete filler words and any extra information that doesn't add to your message.
Make sure to sell yourself properly and present yourself as being on the same level as them: a potential business partner, not someone who thinks they're superior, and not someone begging for work.
Perhaps mention that you're open to send your CV, rates, or even have a video chat to discuss things further.
Finish your email off with a nice, professional email signature, with your business details and links to your website, LinkedIn profile, and any other social media you use for your business.
4. Don't exaggerate your skills
Or claim to be "specialised" in multiple areas.
You may have noticed that the person who emailed me said:
I specialize in the following fields: Technical, Apps, forum and Website content, art, fashion, automobile, machinery, financial, banking, shipping, legal documents, food, restaurant, medical, health and care, IT, tourism, marketing, and games.
Unless this person is some kind of multi-talented genius, that's way too many specialisations!
While you may have experience translating in those fields, that doesn't mean that you specialise in them.
There are various opinions on how many specialisations a translator can (or should) have in order to be considered a true expert in those fields.
Some people say to only specialise in one or two specific areas, while others say you can have up to about five specialisations.
While you don't want to undersell yourself, it is definitely unrealistic (not to mention dishonest!) to claim to be an expert specialising in eighteen fields, some of which require years of intensive training to be truly proficient.
5. Proofread & show off your writing skills
If you were hiring a language professional, would you hire someone whose emails were full of errors, or one who had a lovely writing style, no typos, and perfect grammar?
Consider your emails, cover letters, CVs, and any other marketing material you use as opportunities to show off your superior writing skills. Always write concisely and coherently, and make sure to proofread your work before sending it off.
Even if English isn't your first language, you should definitely consider having your email (and CV) proofread by a native English speaker if you're emailing someone in English.
Some common errors I spot are:
Extra spaces between words
Missing hyphens (e.g., "full time translator" should be "full-time translator")
Incorrect or inconsistent capitalisation
Basic grammatical errors
Also make sure that your emails, cover letters, and CV don't include anything factually incorrect.
Here is another example from the email I received:
able to work with CAT-Tools: Trados, memsource, MS Office.
I wonder... When did MS Office become a CAT-tool?
6. How to avoid the spam folder
A lot of times, your email may end up in the spam folder, losing you a potential client and wasting all the hard work you put into personalising your email.
So, how do you make sure your email doesn't end up in spam?
Well, there's no guaranteed way to prevent it, but here are some things you can to do help avoid the spam folder:
Don't add any attachments to your email Attaching anything to your email, such as a CV, can cause your email to automatically end up in the spam folder and the recipient might not even open it due to security risks. Instead, make your initial email attractive enough to pique the interest of the recipient. Offer to send a CV in a follow-up email. Or, if you sell yourself properly, they might even ask you for a CV!
Avoid using words that are often added to spam filters Avoid words such as:
Consider investing in your own personalised, professional email domain Many free email domains (such as Gmail and Hotmail) are associated with scammers, so getting your own domain can give you more credibility as a professional translator.
7. Where to get more advice
Most of the information I've shared is from the following resources.
I recommend checking them out for more tips on how to email potential clients and market yourself as a freelance translator.
How to Reach Out to Agencies by Freelanceverse
What Agencies Looks for in Freelancers by Freelanceverse
How to Find Direct Clients by Freelanceverse
Going through Freelancer Emails by Freelance Translator Tips
How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator by Corinne McKay
How to be a Successful Freelance Translator by Robert Gebhardt
The Marketing Cookbook for Translators: Foolproof recipes for a thriving freelance career by Tess Whitty.
Kick-ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps: Build the Buzz and Sell the Sizzle by Susan Gunelius
Working in the Gig Economy: How to thrive and success when you choose to work for yourself by Thomas Oppong
The Small Business Success Guide by Margie Sheedy
The Power Formula for LinkedIn Success: Kick-start your business, brand, and job search by Wayne Breitbarth
Social Media for Business: Foolproof tips to help you promote your business or your brand by Linda Coles
Business and marketing skills are indispensable for being successful as a freelance translator. The following are some websites offering free or very cheap online courses in business, marketing, and various other skills.
Do you have any more tips or useful resources for emailing potential clients? Please share them in the comments!