By Claire Harmer
In October 2013 I attended a workshop organised by the ITI’s London Regional Group entitled ‘No Pain, No Gain – Active Marketing to Direct Clients’. The workshop was given by Judy Jenner, who was a truly inspirational speaker. Together, Judy and Dagmar Jenner make up Twin Translations, a boutique translation business which operates from Las Vegas and Vienna, where Judy and Dagmar respectively live.
I bought Judy and Dagmar’s book, The Entrepreneurial Linguist, just after attending the workshop in 2013 and have found it to be an invaluable asset since I started my freelance career in 2012. It provided me with encouragement and motivation during the difficult times (both financially and in terms of morale) when I had not long started my business and it was taking a while for things to get off the ground.
In this blog post I would like to share with you how the twins’ book gave me the confidence to go to trade shows and talk to prospective clients – something I would normally have struggled with and shied away from. I learnt a huge amount from The Entrepreneurial Linguist and from the workshop Judy gave, and hope to summarise some of the things I’ve found most useful when marketing my business to direct clients. These tips only cover a few pages of their ‘Business Development’ chapter, and this post focuses on what they call the ‘trade show strategy’, just one of the five client acquisition strategies Judy and Dagmar discuss in their book.
- Research the vendors
‘It is not very time effective to simply go to the [trade] show, wander around, and approach random booths. It will not make you look very professional, and it is not the best use of your time’. I booked to go to a trade show in Paris earlier this year and unfortunately, due to work commitments, didn’t have any time to research the vendors beforehand. I still went along as I didn’t want the ticket to go to waste (plus I’d already booked my flights and accommodation!), but I didn’t have the confidence to speak to the people I wanted to since I didn’t know enough about the companies. The trip wasn’t wasted, as I still met some interesting people and managed to fit in some sightseeing (!), but I now know just how important it is to make time for research beforehand!
- ‘Pre-qualified contacts’
For companies you’re hoping to make contact with at the show, try to get in touch with their marketing director or communications manager via LinkedIn before you attend. Judy and Dagmar mention that ‘if you have a contact in common, the person you are trying to reach will be much more inclined to talk to you’, so look out for 2nd connections on LinkedIn! The twins suggest that if you don’t have a contact in common, you can always try emailing the person, but the chances of you getting business this way are much lower.
How do I start the conversation?
- Judy and Dagmar recommend checking whether the company you’re targeting is speaking at a session during the trade show. Perhaps this is something you can open up a conversation with? If you’ve contacted them beforehand, open up with that as a way of introducing yourself in person and thank them for replying to you if they did so.
Anyone for tea?
- Another thing the twins suggest is taking vendors with whom you’ve already made appointments a snack or a tea/coffee. It’s a nice gesture when vendors are too busy to leave the stand or haven’t had a break in a while! In her workshop, Judy pointed out that sometimes vendors can’t actually leave the conference centres during their breaks, and since the food served at these centres isn’t always great, they might be craving a healthy snack!
- When I get home, I send a brief email to anyone I spoke to who seemed interested in working with me, to thank them for their time and for speaking to me. The Entrepreneurial Linguist recommends doing this within a week of meeting a vendor, and including something like ‘Follow-up: XYZ tradeshow from XYZ’ in your email subject line.
There’s a lot to be said for ‘learning through experience’. In addition to getting some great tips from The Entrepreneurial Linguist, here are some other things I’ve discovered about the process of meeting prospective clients:
Take notes to jog your memory later
- I’ve found that it helps to write down anything that stood out about the person you spoke to on the back of their business card. Just after speaking to a vendor I jot down any key things that will help to jog my memory of them in future. They can also be used as talking points in a follow-up email. Examples of things I’ve written on business cards include ‘from Barcelona but works in Paris’ and ‘coming to London in a few weeks – go for coffee?’. I also take note of what their response was and whether they gave me any other contacts (I find that often people say ‘I’m not sure how our company deals with translations but you can get in touch with our marketing director *insert name here*, they should know’). In this case, make sure you ask them for the contact’s direct email.
Attend a show when it’s quiet (well… as quiet as it can be!)
- I normally aim to go to trade shows in the morning/early afternoon. Exhibitors sometimes rush off a couple of hours ahead of the official closing time, so you may miss them, and a lot of them are busy packing up their stalls if they’re still around.
- When giving someone your card, ask if you can have theirs too, so you can follow up with them when you get home. Although it may feel weird for you the first few times (it certainly did for me!), this is standard practice at this kind of event.
Take a motivational pick-me-up!
- Consider taking a motivational book with you (or just download something onto your tablet/Kindle if you find books too old-school!) in case you need a little confidence boost during the day. I take The Entrepreneurial Linguist to any trade shows, conferences or general networking events I attend, just in case I need some inspiration during a coffee break or something to keep me focused on the way there.
Finding trade shows
- In terms of finding trade shows online, I’d recommend easyfairs.com and 10times.com. You can search for shows and conferences by country/date/industry on both of these sites, which is really helpful. Judy and Dagmar recommend signing up for RSS feeds from any local convention centres near you who put on regular networking events or trade shows (here in London I’ve signed up to receive RSS feeds from the Olympia and ExCel centres), as well as checking if your local chamber of commerce has any upcoming events.
To finish off this post, I wanted to share how, in her workshop, Judy mentioned that acquiring direct clients is a lot more time consuming than finding translation agencies to work with, and that the former is more like a long-term investment. ‘You may have to kiss a lot of frogs’! In other words, acquiring good direct clients is very much about trial and error: you may pursue several leads that don’t work out, but some will! Although Twin Translations work solely with direct clients, Judy pointed out that there is a place for translation agencies or language service providers (LSPs) in today’s translation industry, and that Judy and Dagmar’s business model is not for everyone! It certainly seems to work for them, though!
Translators and interpreters: have you attended any trade shows in order to meet direct clients? If so, what have your experiences been like? What do you think has worked when you have approached them, and what hasn’t?
Many thanks to Judy and Dagmar for looking over this blog post before it was published and for allowing me to talk about their book!
 Taken from The Entrepreneurial Linguist. Unless mentioned otherwise, all quotes are taken from Judy and Dagmar’s book (with their permission, of course!)