The art of cold calling. Strategic advice to fellow translators and others.

Written by Aga Gordon

Most translators, especially beginners, send a large number of CVs to translation agencies to try to get work. This will surely be successful, but at the price of sacrificing the lion’s share of the payment to the agencies for finding this work. I would advise more proactive approach; a bit more challenging perhaps, but as a result more self-fulfilling.

This strategy requires a change in your mindset from passive jobseeker to active enrepreneur. In short, you take your business destiny in your own hands, and start looking for DIRECT CLIENTS.

There are several techniques to achieve your vision, one of these being old fashioned COLD CALLING. I can hear some of you shrugging and thinking: ‘But I am not a sales person!’. You might be proved wrong, if you have a chance to read Pawel Grabowski’s book which contains excellent advice on this. Pawel shows how every small business owner is effectively a sales person, and how to maximize your client database. It is certainly worth having a look at this book.

I would challenge you on changing your mindset about cold calling. It is a fantastic technique, used by many successful entrepreneurs, which we all are, aren’t we? In brief, it is a meaningful, professional approach to clients, presenting them with a valuable proposition.

Depending on your attitude, cold calling can be either an incredibly successful strategy or a necessary chore. Do not think that cold calling is a hopeless exercise, bringing only a small percentage of customers. Such an approach does put it on a par with junk mail. On the contrary, it is an empowering method, enabling you to achieve what you want through gaining new business. It enables you to take control of who and how much you work for (the sky is a limit). It also determines your future in accordance with your own VISION.

Cold calling will give you FREEDOM – you will not depend on anyone. What is more, you will decide on your RATES.

This approach is challenging the status quo, which is the translation industry culture of initially working through agencies – ‘we always have done it like that’. Doing it your own way is truly a trait of an entrepreneur, and I would strongly advocate that every translator behaves in this manner. I have noticed that Judy Jenner from Twintranslations also advocates an entrepreneurial approach, and even published the book ‘Entrepreneurial linguist’, which I have not yet had the opportunity to read.

Here are a few tips to ensure you cold call efficiently and effectively:

  • Make sure you know exactly what you want to achieve.
  • Be flexible.
  • Be proactive in seeking business.

Of course effective cold calling is not easy, as otherwise everyone would do it, and you would not be able to differentiate yourself and achieve a competitive advantage.

Here are some more tips about how to behave while cold calling:

  • Be interesting and helpful – nobody likes boring, pressurizing and repetitive sales pitches.
  • Prepare a straightforward, informative, and professional business proposition.
  • Be enthusiastic about what you do.
  • Be creative and innovative.

In short it is all about changing style and attitude from perceiving a cold call as a necessary chore, to seeing it as an empowering strategy aimed at achieving your vision and goals. You do not deliver junk, you are a strategic enabler.

Tips on cold calling strategy:

  • Ensure your translation services meet the organisation’s needs, and ethical, social, political and cultural standards.
  • See cold calling as a strategic and empowering process, and aim to excel at it.
  • Make sure you are relaxed when you are cold calling
  • Understand your services and environment extremely well. Of course you know what you offering, your strong points, your excellent knowledge and expertise, but you also need to have a deep understanding about the industry specifics, competitors, new entrants, barriers to entry, issues etc.
  • Research the organisation you are cold calling in depth in order to be able to address their needs properly. This also means exploring possible issues related to your proposition, and the ways to address them properly.
  • Prepare a concise introductory speech about your translation services, but do not make it sound like a fixed script, remember to be flexible.
  • Do not try to push or sell. This is the tricky bit. I am sure you also do not like to be forced to buy anything. Therefore, behave more like an advisor to help the supplier to make an informed decision. Naturally, your product needs to be of a superb quality.
  • Educate the client gently and slowly. The ultimate aim is to find the fit between your translation services and the client’s needs.
  • Engage the client in discussion to help them to make a decision.
  • Make sure you have a deep understanding of the whole process right from the beginning (keep notes if necessary) and show a genuine interest in the prospective client.

An example of cold calling could look like this:

‘Good morning, Mr Smith. This is Dr Agnieszka Gordon of acgtranslation. I read in the local paper that you are planning a strategic move into Eastern European markets. I am a professional English to Polish translator, specialising in business translations. I hold an MBA and have an extensive knowledge about Polish culture and market. I’d like to ask a few questions to determine whether my services and experience will help you to achieve your vision’

As you can see there is none of the old technique of pushing the client to take on your services. Do not be tempted to do so. I personally never accept any offer carried out in such a manner.

And finally, be patient and persevere. Most of your potential clients will not take your offer immediately, but make sure you contact them periodically to see if their needs have changed. You might even need several calls, but take your time to build a strong and long-lasting relationship.

Finally, I realize I have not exhausted all the possibilities so I would be interested in the tips and the strategies you use. Please share!


About acgtranslation

Highly qualified English Polish translator and entrepreneur, business coach and consultant, quantum chemistry researcher and lecturer. Translation specialities: Business, Scientific and Medical Translation. Bilingual with two bilingual daughters; vivid reader.

Posted on March 26, 2011, in Business Management. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. You’ve raised a very important issue which, sadly, is underestimated or simply ignored by translators. The truth is that cold calling is a very powerful method of getting business! I share your point of view; flexibility is crucial as well as showing that you have done some research about the company you’re calling. You gave a perfect example of it, where you said: “I read in the local paper that you are planning a strategic move into Eastern European markets.” This shows that you are interested in this particular company and haven’t chosen them arbitrarily.
    I myself made a few cold phone calls but at some point I abandoned it and tried popping in to local companies (mostly law firms) and sending cold emails. The results well exceeded my expectations! I got invited to a law firm and worked for them for some time.
    It is important to remember that the response will be around 10% of your calls or emails and then 2% of them will become your clients. Sounds discouraging but the more you call the more business you’ll get! Thanks for sharing these valuable tips Aga!

  2. Thank you for your valuable input Ewa. I shall clarify that the term cold calling in my post is by no means restricted to the phone calls. Perhaps I should use the term cold emails or simply cold contacts:) Emails are indeed very powerful method, especially because they give an advantage of being in different time zone, give the client time to think your proposition over and what is the most important to me, a busy entrepreneur-scientist-translator-mum to use cold emailing at night, my favourite time for working:)

  3. Aga,

    This is great advice. Thanks for sharing! Translators… we are quite an interesting breed. Most of us HATE direct contact with clients; I think, mainly, as you said, because we are not sales people and I don’t like to be pushy… I don’t even know if I’m being pushy or not. This generalized fact about translators is not good because those direct clients are the ones that allow us to actually enjoy what we do, as opposed to “suffer” through some agencies (not all of them!)

    I agree with both you and Ewa about the need of doing some research. One of our fellow translators, Christine Christaki (@LinguaGreca), commented in a blog that reading press releases is also a good way of finding potential clients to be contacted. (Christine, please correct me if I’m wrong.)

    This approach, although quite intimidating, seems good for smaller-sized companies. Aga, do you think that for bigger companies we should extend our research to the point of finding out WHO should be talk with directly (Communications Dept., Marketing Dept., Language Dept., etc.)? It feels that, in these cases, we would never be able to get to the “right” person, thus being a discouraging task even before it begins. Should we even invest this type of energy? Do you think that bigger companies would rather find us? I once worked on a very big project for a very big corporation and it was actually them the ones that found me. Never attempted the other way around. What do you think?

    • Thank you Silvina for your valuable comments:)
      I do not think all the translators hate direct contacts with clients per se, I think they just see it as old fashioned pushy sales talk, which I think all of us talk. In my opinion it is because the person, who does it that way, genuinely hates/dislikes what they do, and quite a lot do it from the script. This is bad, because it sounds so impersonal and there is no real enthusiasm to it. However, it does not to be like this, especially for translators. We all love what we do, we have a wonderful trait of researching multiple subjects and when we choose so we could do cold calling very succesfully. I realize it might be easy for the extroverts like me, and quite a lot of colleagues are more on the introvert side. However, it is where email cold calling comes really handy. It is my preferred way of communication, because it gives both client and me flexibility and also an advantage to work with different time zones. Fits nicely with my night owl personality too.

      I agree with Catherine Christiaki (@LInguaGreca) that reading press releases as a great source about the company we want to approach. Internet in general is a fantastic place to find whatever you are looking for. In general keeping yout eyes open helps to see opportunities everywhere!

      Regarding big corporations, I do not see why we should not contact them. They certainly need translation services, and would usually have a contract with a big agency. However, in my opinion it does not hurt to contact them and let them know we are there. You never know when you come handy. The contact should definitely be done through the person who makes decision (find on their website or the Internet who it is and address them personally). I would not wait to be found, there are many of us and however good is your SEO, the chances are that you will never be noticed. I am in favour of taking my own destiny in my own hands and becoming really proactive.

      If there is a company you have in mind, definitely go for it. I am currently considering a few to become my new clients and I will certainly share my experience with you when I finally manage to find a while to do it. Best of luck for you and please share afterwards.

  4. I will have a closer look at this later… but I am a bit curious about one thing. I do not know about the United States, but cold calling can be plain illegal here in the UK – as we have a register that marketers are meant to check. If you are reported, you can face a massive fine.

    • I think you mean private potential ‘customers’ , bothered by general sales people, for example double glazing people, bothering people several times a week, in dinner times. Do you mean Telephone Preference Service when you say ‘register’? The fine if you contact people on this register is massive indeed. However, contacting businesses through phone, in person or email, surely is fine. At the end of a day, every business makes themselves visible for obvious reasons.

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