Posted by: patenttranslator | February 12, 2014

Making the Switch from Agency Clients to Direct Clients


Most translators and would-be translators have no clue how to find new clients. The best evidence of this is the fact that they keep buying useless lists of translation agencies from peddlers of useless lists of translation agencies and then fire off hundreds or thousands of e-mails with a generic cover letter to these agencies.

Many of these translators are so dumb that they even include the same idiotic cover letter that the peddlers of useless lists of translation agencies also helpfully include in their offering for a mere 150 Euros or so.

Imagine how a translation agency coordinator or an owner of a small translation agency must feel about having to delete these e-mails, every day, day after day. Although I am not really an agency, I receive these e-mails as well, usually in duplicate because I am listed under two different names in several of those useless lists, and there is no way to get me out of those damn lists.

Obviously, most people would angrily delete this kind spam within a split second. And let’s face it, these e-mails are the very definition of spam, especially when you are stupid enough to even use the same idiotic cover letter that thousands of other people have been using.

So, there, I had to get it out of my system. I see that two more such e-mails appeared in my mail while I was writing these words.

More than two decades ago, I used to do basically the same thing, except that since this was in the pre-Internet era (which many of the people reading my blog don’t even remember), I was mailing my résumés to addresses of translation agencies listed mostly in Yellow Pages.

But then I realized, after 5 years of trying to make myself visible to agencies, that it might be a better idea to go after direct clients instead. That is what I have been doing since the early nineties, and that is what I would also recommend to translators who have acquired enough experience at this point and who have had it with the way translators are now being treated in the new, corporate translation agency model.

Although each of us needs to have a different strategy because we all have different strengths and weaknesses, the starting point will be the same for every translator: First, we have to figure out who our likely clients are depending on the type of translation that we want to specialize in.

If you have been translating for a few years, this should not be that difficult because this decision will depend mostly on two factors:

1. The type of work that you enjoy the most, and

2. The type of work that you have been receiving most of the time from translation agencies, because that is probably where the demand is.

More than 20 years ago, I realized that I really enjoy translation of patents and technical articles from Japanese, partly because it pays better than other types of translation – so that was going to be my specialization. A friend told me that I can buy a list of patent lawyers from the US government for about 50 dollars – so that was what I did (this was still in the pre-Internet era, there were no databases on Internet), and I started mailing my letters to patent law firms instead  of to translation agencies.

I must have mailed at least a couple of thousand letters since about 1990. I was mailing them, year after year, every time when the infamous feast or famine seesaw hit the famine point, which will happen a few times a year to every freelancer, no matter how long we have been in business.

I stopped doing these periodic mailing campaigns for good about 7 years ago. The postage rates have been steadily increasing so quickly that I really had no choice.

As I started to realize around the year 2000 that the Internet will be the most important way for me to market my services, I registered several domain names and I paid a freelance website designer to put together my business website, which can be found at,,, and a few other domains.

If you want to make it possible for potential customers to find you on the Internet, it is very important to find a good URL for your website.

Unfortunately, it is much more difficult for new translators to do so now than 14 years ago because just about all the good and short ones have been taken. But while it can still be done at this point, 14 years from now it will probably be an impossibility if we are talking about .com sites, namely the ones that Google and other search engines go to first.

Out of curiosity, I went to Network Solution to find out how much would such a short, meaningful URL ending with the .com extension cost now (you can still buy it for example from Network Solutions or from hoarders of potentially good domains who now make a living in this manner). The number they gave me was 38 thousand dollars. I don’t know whether this number is realistic, but the domains that I have now are definitely worth something, and they will be probably worth even more if I decide to retire in 14 years, if I play my cards well.

Once your professional website is up and running on a good domain name and indexed by major search engines, there is not that much that you still need to do about it, other than updating it once or twice a year, or submitting your URL and relevant key words through an SEO (search engine optimization) specialist to search engines, which is not very expensive.

In addition to having the right kind of URL, your website must be obviously well designed and relevant to whatever it is that clients who are looking for the kind of service that you are selling need.

Although so far I have not been advertising on Google AdSense or other marketing services due to the cost, my website keeps delivering new clients every year. Every year, the website generates between 10 to 40 percent of my revenues by finding new clients for my services.

While I saw no real results from my website during the first three years or so, from about 2004, the website started working really well for me – in the initial years, about 20 to 40 percent of my revenues would be generated every year from new clients. These days it is more like 10 to 20 percent.

So far this year, for example, four new clients found me in this manner and sent me work:

1. a US government agency on January 3

2. a CEO of a tech company in US on January 10

3. a large patent law firm in Canada on January 14

4. a small patent law firm in Europe on February 11.

In fact, most of the direct clients who send me work regularly at this points found out about my services by discovering my website during a search for a certain type of translation service several years ago.

Other translators may find a completely different approach to looking for direct clients, or use a multifaceted approach that is more suitable based on their location, the type of service that they are providing, and their personal preferences.

Also, there is no need to stop working for translation agencies who pay good rates and on time just because you work mostly for direct clients. I still work regularly for 2 specialized translation agencies, and once in a while for several other agencies who usually find out about my services from the ATA (American Translators Association) database of translators. That is also a good way to advertise one’s services, but only to translation agencies as the ATA is making no effort to make translators easily discoverable by direct clients.

When I see what is happening in “the translation industry” these days, I am so glad that I had the good sense to make the switch from working only for agencies to working mostly for direct clients.

I believe that as large translation agencies are insisting on paying lower and lower rates to translators, this will result in lower and lower quality of the translations that they are selling to their clients.

I also believe that the greed and the ruthlessness of the large translation agency business model creates new opportunities for translators who want to cut out the middleman and start working for direct clients who at some point are likely to start looking for a better service – if these translators are only able to make a connection with these clients.

Translators can continue buying lists containing thousands of generic translation agencies to spam them mindlessly with incessant e-mails the way they have been doing it for at least a decade now.

Or they can start thinking about a long-term strategy that would actually work for them, the way my strategy has been working for me. It can be a very different strategy from what I have tried to outline in this post, or a similar one.

There are many choices that can be made – and the choice is theirs.


  1. Now, Steve, finally! I like this piece.

    This helps definitely our younger generations of translators.

    There are a lot of secrets we are going to take along with us, semi-retired translators, into graves, but there are something like this piece that we may generously give away.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, Wenjer.

    From a well informed and well meaning old-timer like you, this means a lot to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am sorry, but this e-mail came in blank. Could be an NSA glitch?

    Best regards,

    Irina Knizhnik


  4. NSA is not engaged in any “glitches”.

    Well, at least not wittingly.


  5. Another content-packed and strategically brilliant post! I’m getting addicted to this blog, and with some luck, it will end up playing a big role in my freelance operation’s ultimate evolution from naive infancy to mature success.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. @Lucille

    Wow, thank you very much.


  7. Agreed @Lucille. I’m getting hooked too! Hooked on the good tips. The one about domain names is a good one.

    Funny I’ve heard a lot about the “evil translation agency” not to mention “Pam, the evil PM”. 🙂 This has led me to straight to trying to specialize and target direct clients. I’m learning from other translators that there is work specializing in the environmental sector and charging well to direct clients is what it’s all about when you want to avoid being treated like a machine that churns out words. Focusing on quality always pays off.


  8. @Jessie

    Thank you and good luck!


  9. […] Most translators and would-be translators have no clue how to find new clients. The best evidence of this is the fact that they keep buying useless lists of translation agencies from peddler…  […]


  10. Great Post. Thanks for the good advice.


  11. […] Blunders: Good for a Laugh, Bad for Business Does an academic background really make a difference? Making the Switch from Agency Clients to Direct Clients Language and words in the news – 14th February, 2014 How to transfer SDL Trados Studio to a new […]


  12. […] But at the beginning of this century, I realized that I too can use the power of Internet to create a direct link with new my clients through my website. And eventually, it worked, although it took several years before I started seeing concrete results as I wrote in this post. […]


  13. Reblogged this on Translator Power and commented:
    A very interesting post you can learn a lot from.


  14. […] An alternative model is based on working only with the traditional model of translation agency and, … […]


  15. Hi! In my search for new patent clients I came across your site. I read this article and found it very interesting. I opened the site: and found a lot of patent clients. But I dont’t understand why the site is created – it is a business site for hiring clients? Is this actually your site? Are you a big company? I thought you were talking about your own personal web page with information about you as a translator? That is what you told us to create. Anyway, I am working as an EN-NO patent translator and was wondering if you could give me some tips about how I can get in touch with the right clients. I am looking for more patent clients these days. I contacted nearly half of the clients listed on your mentioned site, but I do not expect to receive response from any of them. I feel like they are way too big and that they find big translation companies who can translate their patents to which ever language they need. I am just one person and I can only do one language combination.

    This is probably the stupidest e-mail you have ever received.

    Please contact me at

    Best regards, Ada Synnøve Saxegård


  16. It is not the stupidest comment I received, but not the smartest one either.

    Just so you, in more than 20 years I never had a client ask me to translate a Norwegian patent.


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