How to get on agency books: a guide for freelance translators

I know, I’ve written something a bit like this before. But now I’m a Community Manager, and I’ve got some other advice up my sleeve.

For anyone that doesn’t follow me on LinkedIn, I have a few irons in the fire at present. Alongside translating and localising, I work for a Translation Agency as a Community Manager and Project Manager. It’s quite a cool agency as it happens, so we get lots of emails from translators asking to work for us.

Who makes the cut, and what’s the best way to find jobs?

Emailing agencies

Well, firstly, I’m going to say that if you don’t make it onto someone’s books, or end up working with them, then it doesn’t automatically mean that you’re a bad translator, and it doesn’t mean that your marketing techniques aren’t up to scratch. At the end of the day, we can only give out work when it’s available.

That’s why I’m not a fan of firing off a blanket of CVs to multiple agencies at once. I’m not saying it doesn’t work, but a lot of this is situational. If a client is perfectly happy with the quality and quantity of the colleagues they have available, then it’s unlikely that they will ‘need’ any more.

But! Your application might arrive at a time when they’re specifically looking for someone, and you might fit the bill.

Which brings me to my next point: your correspondence has got to be memorable. It’s unlikely that there will be a job ready and waiting for you if you email an agency out of the blue.

Get into our heads.

Come up with something creative either in your application message, or your CV. Even if there’s no room for more translators in the pool, every once in a while, I might stumble upon an outstanding CV or a memorable conversation, and I can’t resist wanting to work with this person.

In the same way that translators don’t like to be treated as ‘just another resource’, we don’t want to be treated as ‘just another agency’. Unpersonal emails to undisclosed recipients don’t go down well. It makes us think that you don’t really mean what you’re saying about working with us, because you’re obviously saying the same thing to everyone.

A lot of people have some sort of template letter that they use – that’s understandable as the whole process is time consuming – and it isn’t always in your first language. But if that’s what you do, spend a bit of time researching the company first, addressing it to the correct individual, and writing a line or two of personalised detail.

Tip: make sure it’s all in the same size and font, so that it’s not completely obvious that you’ve copy-pasted a generic message.

Whatever you write, keep it simple and clear, so that clients can find what the information they need on an initial first scan.

✔️ Personalise your email and the heading, differentiate yourself clearly.

✔️ Highlight your specialisms separately, don’t bury your expertise in a paragraph.

✔️ Put your language combination clearly somewhere so we don’t have to hunt for it.

Networking

I’m a huge fan of networking as a marketing strategy for freelance translators. It can be a lonely job sometimes, and getting to know your translation colleagues can make you feel less isolated. It might also bring you new work opportunities. Sometimes when freelancers go away for periods of absence, they hand over clients to trusted colleagues. This helps their client, and might give them peace of mind that they’ve left the work in capable hands. I have received offers of work off the back of referrals from people I’ve met in real-life or online.

As a Project Manager, it’s not only a nice feeling to give work to people you’ve met before – it also makes good sense. I’ve met people at networking or social events, or spoken to people socially on LinkedIn for a while, and these exchanges have in some cases ended with me offering people work. I can only benefit from getting to know people and what their strengths are, putting me in a good position to match up clients’ jobs and translators harmoniously.

Which brings me to….

Building your online presence

If I need to find a translator, and don’t know of anyone suitable to hand, or if I receive an interesting application, the first thing I do is check them out. I go and try and find their website/LinkedIn profile/ProZ profile, etc. to verify that they’re real. Some people asked me recently if it’s off-putting if someone doesn’t post regularly on LinkedIn. Honestly, no. That’s not for everyone. But make your online presence (on whatever platform or media that may be) detailed, keep your contact info up to date, and be mindful of your activity on there. I’m put off by people that are constantly getting into arguments with other people for no reason on social media – it doesn’t make me want to work with them.

How to use social media

It’s your personal brand. Build up your image, and reflect your values. Connect with other people in your industry. It’s a long game, and the results aren’t instantaneous.

Some of the people I’m most drawn to on social media have these things in common:

✔️ Plenty of information on their profile. Language combinations and specialisms in their tag line or about section, so I know instantly what field they work in.

✔️ Pleasant, professional interactions on here and on my feed. Gives a great insight into what a working relationship would look like.

✔️ Maintaining communication and activity. When I’m looking for a particular translator, these people stay at the top on my mind.

✔️ People that have followed up communication on here with a DM or an email to introduce themselves professionally. It feels like I already ‘know’ them.

❌ Sending me direct messages telling me to give you a job.

❌ Commenting on my posts telling me to give you a job.

❌ Asking me to be your mentor/for advice, then immediately asking me to give you a job.

The above strategies are too direct for me, and make me feel a bit used. Someone messaged me the other day and just said ‘I WOULD LIKE A JOB!’. I honestly didn’t know how to respond. So I didn’t.

Professional associations

By joining a professional association, not only do you get opportunities for networking and training, you might also be placed on a member directory. This is a great resource for clients who are looking for a particular language combination or subject to work with, as you can add your areas of expertise, which then come up in the search function. I’m a big fan of the ITI directory for its ease of use, and I have additional peace of mind knowing that I would be working with professionals from a trusted association.

Applying to posted jobs

Many translation jobs are posted online, and a lot of people I know bid for jobs on the Proz job board. In my opinion, the calibre of the jobs (and pay) posted on there has gone down in recent years, but it’s still worth keeping an eye out for hidden gems.

I recommend following companies and Project Managers on LinkedIn if you’re interested in working with them – sometimes if they’re looking for linguists, they will post opportunities to their network. If I’m a bit quiet, I’ll also check out the #findatranslator hashtag, as occasionally I’ve been able to find clients through that. 

Keep an eye on company websites, and other social media announcements! Jobs might be posted on there, and some companies also prefer you to apply via a form or process on their website, rather than cold emailing.

Don’t give up!

It’s a long game, with so many moving parts. Don’t get disheartened if you don’t yield immediate results from your efforts, because so much of this is ‘right place, right time’. Keep networking, keep connecting, and build up your personal brand as a translator. When applying for jobs, focus on quality rather than quantity, and be mindful of how you approach potential clients. You will get there!

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