Creating Your Own Website

Suggestions on How to Become Established as a Freelance Translator

I was never happy with the idea of doing nothing more than "window dressing", to me a website is a work horse that is supposed to bring in clients, not an impressive looking Arab racehorse people admire running around in the field.

Initially, there was no response to my site. The other translators seemed to be right. Then I looked into search engine optimization (SEO). There is more information about this ostensibly "secret" art to be found on the Internet than you'll ever have time to read! And I changed web designers.

Between us, we totally re-created the site and "finally" managed to tweak it, so that it now does exactly what I want it to do: Provide me with a constant flow of customers who want a fast, good and reliable English-German translation service at a price that both they and I are happy with.

When I first started my business, almost 100% of my clients were agencies. Nowadays more than 90% of my business comes from direct clients who find me through my website. I have a large number of private clients and work with a lot of small businesses.

Advantages of having your own website

The advantages of using the website, so that you are working with clients direct, are numerous:

  • You can command significantly higher rates than when working for agencies. And your clients win too: They are still paying a lot less than they would if they went to an agency.
  • Instead of working for two or three large clients, you are spreading your customer base much wider, thus you are not dependent on any one of them.
  • The website can be tuned to what YOU want to do!
  • Cashflow is usually much better than with agencies. Most private customers pay straight away or even in advance.
  • You are saving a lot of money on advertising. Maintaining a website is a lot cheaper than paying Yellow Pages.
  • You get feedback from your clients. The only time you get feedback from agencies tends to be when their customer is unhappy with the translation. Direct clients are much more likely to tell you what they like or don't like about your service ...and if they don't, there is nothing to stop you asking them. Thus you know what clients expect from you and can adjust your services accordingly. You can also help shape their expectations to avoid disappointment arising from a lack of communication.
  • Direct contact with clients means you get immediate answers to queries. Much less frustrating than having to go through an agent who often doesn't even understand the question and keeps you waiting for ages. Being able to communicate with your clients without an intermediary means the translation is much more likely to be exactly what the client wants. Once clients have learned to trust you, they even end up asking you for advice on how to phrase texts for their target readership!
  • You can agree convenient deadlines with clients. These are mostly not as tight as those agents impose on you. Most of the time you can negotiate a deadline with clients that suits both of you, thus taking a lot of stress out of your life. One way of "convincing" a client that the work isn't really all that urgent - say it is Friday today and he wants it by Monday - add a hefty surcharge on for weekend work, an extra 30% or 50%. Suddenly delivery on Tuesday will be fine.

Disadvantages of having a website

  • You constantly have to work on your website. It is not safe to rest on your laurels, especially in the early days. Add or change your site at least every six weeks to maintain your pole position once achieved. I now tend to add new contents every three months or so which keeps everything running smoothly. When you are first starting the site, there is a big danger that you achieve a good position on the search engines for a while and then suddenly find you have been demoted to page 10. Which is no good, as people will usually look no further than page 1 or 2. Use Google Analytics to keep track of your position and of which keywords people are searching.
  • You must have some copy writing skills. Your site will not work if you go to a web designer, tell them you are a freelance English-German translator and to build you a site. They don't know your business. You are the only one who knows what you can do and what you want to do, and what kind of clients you are hoping to attract. It is you who has to think what keywords and what combinations of keywords your clients might be looking for. The designer can put them on the site but doesn't know which ones to use. They know the "how", you have to provide them with the "what".
  • Clients may contact you from anywhere in the world. The problem is payment: How do they pay without you having to fork out large amounts in bank charges? How do you deal with non-payment? Payment by Paypal is quite a good option, their charges are about 3% if your turnover is low. If you are concerned that clients might not pay, ask for advance payment. Most are happy to do that. Even without advance payment 99% of customers pay up without any trouble. See my chapter on credit control.
  • If you have Professional Indemnity Insurance (PPI), something I would strongly recommend, check your policy! Many insurers do not insure for work from the USA because of the American litigation culture. Don't get caught out!
  • You need to be patient. The website is unlikely to bring in clients from day one. You can, of course, go for the Google "pay-by-click" option. But that is even more expensive than advertising in Yellow Pages, so in my opinion, it defeats the object of the exercise.
  • Establishing and maintaining a website costs time, experience and money.

Conclusions

I am very glad that I persevered with my site. I have one-by-one waved good-bye to most my agents and become my own woman. I now get a lot more job satisfaction than I ever did working for other people. I am in charge of my own working life, the type of work I accept and the hours I work. I set my own rates. If I want to turn a client away for whatever reason I can do so without having to fear where the next job is coming from.

A few tips of how to build a website

If you are disappointed that I did not reveal much as to "how" to build your site, here just a few tips:

  • Go to SEO sites and read up on the subject and apply it to your own business.
  • Put the keywords you want people to find you with into search engines and analyse what other site owners have done to get to that first page.
  • Find yourself a niche. I know it is easier said than done but you may have some specialist knowledge that you could put to good use or you may come across a gap in the market, some service people are looking for but no one is offering as yet. Keep your eyes and ears open and something will jump out at you.