Q: From Amy, a freelance translator:
“I definitely need a smarter, more compelling sales pitch.
“I struggle with clients who see translators as interchangeable, or think that one translation is as good as another. Some are even okay with having ‘bilingual’ employees do their translations in-house.
“It’s especially frustrating when they don’t realize that their translations are awkward — and make the company sound inept and inarticulate.”
“I think there is a huge opportunity here. But how do I get them to see the light? “
And this from Millar, a graphic designer:
“I’m encountering too many clients who only want fast and cheap. They seem to be happy with $99 logos they bought online, and clunky websites made from templates. They could clearly benefit from smarter design and visuals — where their competitors complete outshine them. But I can’t get them to see it.”
“Should I try doing re-designs on spec, just so they see the difference? Or what?”
Oh boy. I feel your frustration.
But this isn’t a sales-pitch problem.
It is mostly a wrong-client problem.
Here is the quick advice:
Quit trying to convert the philistines.
You will only exhaust yourself. And it is a lousy business model, besides.
As I learned the hard way, it’s impossible to build a career on clients who don’t much care about whatever it is we offer. (I know this. Only because I tried it too many times.)
If a company can get along just fine with a $99 logo and a pre-fab website, they obviously don’t see graphics and design as mission-critical. It is merely an afterthought, a check-off item.
So they are not worth chasing. Period.
If a client is perfectly happy with those clumsy translations that Marcel does in-house, just shake hands and move on. They ain’t about to spend good money on hiring you, or any other pro translator. It is not important enough to them.
And no amount of ‘communicating your value’ will change any of this.
Even if you do manage to wangle an assignment from one of these ‘fixer-uppers’ things will go downhill. They will balk at budgets. Their interest will wane. They will ‘forget’ to review drafts. You will be handed off to underlings. (I speak from experience here.) It will break your spirit.
For you and me, it is infinitely more profitable and uplifting to work with people who already ‘get it.’ People whose jobs, whose projects, whose businesses depend on what we do. People who come to the office thinking about it.
Those are the pro buyers. That’s where 88% of your career earnings lie.
So just skip everyone else.
Your best bet: scan the horizon for companies or agencies who are already doing brilliant and enviable work in your field. (Or at least doing a metric ton of it.)
Keep an eye out for companies whose copywriting make you wish you had written it. Or the multi-national company whose multi-lingual marketing communications are so artful, you can’t tell which language the message was born in.
That brilliant work tells you that the company lives and breathes this stuff. It matters to them in a big way. Somebody upstairs pays close attention.
Which means there are people in the building with to-do lists that involve what we do. They live and die by it.
Those are the people we need to win over.
There is no script for doing this. There cannot be a script.
Study what they are doing — closely — then try to start up a conversation, even if you are intimidated. I am always intimidated.
“By any chance are you trying to find a freelance copywriter who is really good with fintech, and AI? I notice that. . .
Or “I’ve been admiring those illustrations you are using on your instructional pages. I like the economy of thought in the visuals. And I just realized that you subtly change the color palettes for each subject area. Very clever. I was wondering . . .”
A generic mass-produced ‘pitch’ will go straight into the trash. Make it a personal contact about them and what they are doing. Be specific. Make it so the email couldn’t possibly apply to anyone else.
Be forewarned: These pro buyers will have sources in place already: staff people, freelancers, agencies, whatever. Don’t despair over that. Getting stuff done is their job, after all. You would expect them to have it covered.
Oddly enough, I found these folks will often be willing to engage, even if they have their go-to favorites. The smart ones want to know who’s out there, what their options are. Just in case. Because needs arise. They might get mad at someone. Someone might screw up. Who knows.
Mostly, with these savvy buyers, it’s about demonstrating your value. That lies in what questions you ask. Suggestions you make. Things you notice. How willing you are to share. Making them feel you are on their side.
Let them do the talking. Your best line is, “That’s interesting, tell me more.”
The more they talk, the smarter you sound.
You want to get on their list, and maybe get a crack at an assignment. Be nice. Be on their side. Stay in touch.
You are both pros about this.
The philistines, leave them be.
Be more savvy about this business for much less than $42: Smarter Freelancing.
From the cutting room floor:
Things that were dropped from this post because I wasn’t sure about them at the time.
“One client looked at my skillful and ingenious makeover and said ‘Nah. We like our own verbage better.’ Never mind that the actual English word is verbiage, with an i, it still sounds like a garden weed or a bitter vegetable and it is not what I do.”
“It’s not that these people are boneheads. It’s just that what we’re selling doesn’t matter to them. It’s too far off their radar.
“That’s me with lawn care services. ‘Never mind the bio-engineered year-round turf management with the integrated weed control. How much to, you know, just cut it?'”
“These pro buyers will know what they are doing. They will know what they want, what they like, what works for them. They may not be right about any of it, mind you, but they will ‘know’ it anyway. So respect that.”
“Ignore the non-believers. You can’t sell kale to carnivores, or pork chops to vegetarians.”
“Over a few beers one night, I asked some of my fellow renegades how they landed their largest, most lucrative clients. Collectively, we had been hired maybe 987 times. None of us could remember using a magic phrase, or a value statement, or an elevator pitch, or some salesy tactic that we read on a blog.”
“Mostly it came down to not being a jerk in the first few interactions, and listening more, and trying to be helpful.
“Chasing those fixer-uppers seems like it should be a smart strategy. You’re serving an untapped market. Bringing enlightenment to the clueless. But mostly, you are just chickening out.”