Posted by: patenttranslator | May 6, 2015

How Aggressive Should Translators Be In Their Marketing Efforts?

America is the land of supremely aggressive marketing. You have about the same chance of escaping shamelessly aggressive marketing in the land of the formerly free as would be your chance of escaping giant slogans celebrating the genius of the Chubby Leader in North Korea.

Children in America are indoctrinated into believing that aggressive marketing is a virtuous activity that is beneficial to the entire world from a tender young age, as evidenced by processions of timid young girls who are eager to sell me Girl Scout Cookies when they periodically ring our door bell. I bought them recently from a neighbor’s kid because I kind of felt neighborly.

I am not an expert on cookies, but I must say, the taste was pretty awful.

If you have a fax and your number is listed somewhere – anywhere, it is only a matter of time before it will start spitting out ads for Caribbean cruises and loan proposals with absolutely no collateral required. There is a phone on the bottom of the fax that you can call to stop the faxes. I called it three times and left my message for an answering machine, to no avail.

If your telephone is listed in the phone book, or on your website or both, after a while it will start ringing, and ringing, and ringing.

If you pick up, at first there will be no answer because highly automated phone marketing outfits are at first simply using computers to ring the phones of hundreds, or thousands, or millions, or maybe billions of people to establish which fool among the billions of defenseless victims still picks up his or her own phone. The computer will make a note of the time and that is when poor losers who can’t find any other job will then start pitching various services and products to you that may or may not exist.

Thanks to an extremely aggressive marketing culture, most people probably no longer pick up their phone unless the call ID seems to display the number of a legitimate caller.

What is the most powerful company on this planet now? Hint: it is pretty young and it starts with a G, and although its name originally did not really mean anything because it was a typo, everybody knows it now. And the company knows everything about everybody too. It bills itself as a search engine, but it is mostly a marketing company.

I used to listen to a local classical music station from Norfolk, VA because it did not used to have a lot of commercials. But they keep cramming so many commercials into the music that I now listen instead to a new-agey and experimental music station from Bratislava, Slovakia, on the Internet. It has a funny name: Mixing of Particulate Solids, and it may be the only radio station known to man that has absolutely no marketing because there is no spoken word on it whatsoever.

If you click on a link on Internet, instead of the information that you are looking for – a commercial will quickly assault you while you are still alive! I could go on and on. When I was a young lad, we learned in Latin classes a quotation from Horace: Est modus in rebus, sunt certi denique fines, which basically means that everything should be done in moderation (including moderation).

Modern marketing is the opposite of moderation. It is an evil octopus that has the whole world in its giant tentacles. It will not let go, no matter what. After World War III, only two things may be left on planet Earth: cockroaches and marketing.

So after this cheerful introduction of the topic of my post today, let us consider the intriguing question of what is the best type of marketing that we translators should use, and how aggressive we should be in our sophisticated marketing efforts.

Quite a few translation bloggers dispense advice on marketing these days. Some write about marketing so much that I wonder how do they find the time to still translate, as they have positioned themselves as formidable experts who offer online seminars where translation newbies can learn, for a modest fee, all they need to know about the translation business, including marketing of their services.

It is possible that such marketing gurus would then not even need to translate much anymore as long as their seminars are mostly sold out.

I was kind of aggressive myself as I was trying to wean myself off dependence on translation agencies 20 years ago. But back then I was going for a civilized kind of marketing, since all I was doing was sending letters to prospective direct clients as I wrote in the linked post. After I moved from California to Virginia in 2001, I mailed another few hundred letters, and then stopped doing that as my website was doing most of the marketing for me thanks to Google, without almost any direct intervention on my part.

But a lot of damage was done over the years to the translating profession by various cut-rate translating agencies peddling cost savings instantly achievable through “edited” machine pseudo-translation and other great translating achievements of translation agencies from Chindia and elsewhere where people eking a living for a few dollars a day can be taken advantage of. I think that this is the reason why my business has slowed down considerably in the recent years,

I have to admit that to my eternal shame, I launched an aggressive e-mailing campaign during the last year. In other words, I was contributing to the bottomless avalanche of disgusting junk e-mail for a few months myself during the time when I had quite a bit of time on my hands.

Although I did get a couple of clients in this manner, I don’t think that it was really worth it, and I will hopefully never do it again. Although I am not an expert on marketing, it is clear to me that while you may be able to find a few new clients when you do something like that, you are at the same time damaging your own brand in ways that are not immediately visible to you, while the effects of this damage may linger on for years. And the question that you should really ask yourself if you are contributing to the piles of unwanted garbage in other people’s e-mail boxes is: How can you sleep at night?

Fortunately, things have picked up for me this year, as I am still plugged into at least three continuous projects, two from old clients who discovered my excellent, yet reasonably priced services thanks to my initial mailing campaigns 20 years ago, and one from a patent law firm which found my website about 8 years ago. Continuous projects that go on for years, preferably until you die, are the key to a healthy work flow. Unfortunately, although projects like that do exist when you translate patents, they are kind of uncommon, as the pathetic life of a patent translator is mostly defined by the infamous feast-or-famine routine.

As I said already in another post, I believe that the best form of marketing is when you don’t need any marketing. The problem is, every now and then the work will stop coming in for some reason, even if you have been in business for more than 27 years, which is how long I have been fighting the good fight in the trenches of the real world where translation is bought and sold, sometime in ways that are not completely savory.

I’ll say it again: I am no expert on marketing. But in any case, I don’t think that there can possibly be a single recipe for a successful marketing strategy as every translator deals with very different local and global conditions, different languages, different subjects and a myriad of different purposes that may prompt a customer to order a translation.

Other bloggers about translation are probably much more knowledgeable on this subject, as quite a few of them basically specialize in it.

But whatever approach to marketing you will decide to adopt in the end, I think that it may be a good idea not to be too aggressive in your marketing efforts. Instead of adopting an aggressive stance, easy does it would be a good way to summarize my marketing philosophy at this point.

A well designed, informative website is a good marketing approach as far as I am concerned. And so would be an interesting paper on issues having to do with translation, submitted to a publication on paper or online, or presented at a translators’ conference. A mailing campaign might work too, but probably only if you choose the recipients very carefully.

God knows this world has too much marketing already and about 99% of it is perceived by most people as offensive, useless garbage.



  1. “Continuous projects that go on for years, preferably until you die, are the key to a healthy work flow. Unfortunately, although projects like that do exist when you translate patents, they are kind of uncommon, as the pathetic life of a patent translator is mostly defined by the infamous feast of famine routine.”

    So uncommon that I’ve never come across them, obviously 🙂 What do you define as a “continuous project”? It surely must be something more than a patent opposition which progresses to an appeal?

    I understand about the “feast or famine” part, too. Last month, one of my clients actually told me that they needed to clone me because I was so snowed under!


  2. They are uncommon, but not unheard of. Without divulging too many secrets of my trade, if you catch a major patent litigation early on, it can continue, albeit in fits and starts, for years.

    There are also patent-related projects that may in continue basically forever, unless the client decides to dump you if you screw up something or miss a deadline, such as for example translation of patent claims for various official websites of public bodies in different countries.

    I find that my best customers are small and medium-sized patent law firms who are busy working mostly for a few major clients. Once they get used to you and you get used to the material they send, they are unlikely to “clone” you or replace you by somebody who may be slightly cheaper, which is something that a major corporation will do without a second thought.


  3. Stevie, my Wonder! Another wonderful post to wake up to, equal parts informative, titillating and funny. You’re right on the mark, it’s great to hear you say that annoying/spammy marketing efforts really can damage your business and put you into a category where people don’t take you seriously, and maybe don’t respect you. Then again, your this-kind-of-marketing led to clients that are still giving you business years later.

    My main marketing tool for my business is excellent work paired with a website, and number two marketing method is word of mouth. I have a couple of clients, who though they don’t need translations all the time, continue to recommend me to their colleagues. Nataly Kelly gave me a great tip two years ago: ask each client to refer you to their contacts. This takes finesse, and timing, but does it ever pay off.

    Next stop: publishing an article in a translation related journal or magazine.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. And I’m not even blind, nor can I carry a tune, according to some people.


  5. My local classical music/jazz station is pretty good — and public, so no commercial commercials. And it’s now doing fund appeals with short messages, not the two-week extravaganza type. But Internet radio is the way to go; you can pick from hundreds of stations around the world.

    As for actual translation matters, getting into a major multi-firm lawsuit kind of thing is also good. I have big hopes for my new web site, but haven’t yet figured out how to get it from page 1,267 of Google, or wherever it is, a bit higher up, so that people who want translations can actually find it.


  6. Thanks for commenting, Zenner.

    1. My local classical music station is nominally also a public broadcasting station.

    2. I first put my website online in 2001. It took about three years before I had any reaction to it. It works for me quite well now.


    • “Public radio” of course is like “health food.” You have to look at the horse’s mouth. Mine is a university station, so it mainly advertises the university.

      My web site is only a few months old, so I’m not expecting an immediate miracle.


  7. Coming back to the question in the title, there is currently a plague of hopeful (= hopeless?) e-mail spam messages from would-be translators. These people seem to spray their advertising everywhere, regardless of the language combinations of the recipients. I never accept or sub-contract work in languages that I can’t understand, yet the spammers push me to give them work in languages in which I couldn’t even read the alphabet.
    Oh well, it gives my spam filter something to do.
    So one crucial piece of advice for newbie translators. Before you mailbomb dozens (or hundreds) of translators, ask yourself a crucial question:
    Who are you writing to? And why? This may take a bit of research, but it is essential if you want to be taken seriously.
    If you write to lots of sole freelance translators advertising your cheap rates in half a dozen languages (exotic or not so exotic), you are a spammer. No more no less. And you deserve to be listed on all the black lists in the industry.


    • What amuses me is the number of emails I get from people who claim to be in the translation business but whose English is terrible–to the point that I can’t understand a lot of it.

      You would think that any professional translator who wants to communicate in English but whose command of said language is that bad (and I don’t blame them for that–English is a very difficult language to learn for speakers of many languages, actually) would hire another professional translator to fix it up, but apparently that idea never occurs to them.

      Rather than messing with filters, what I do with this flood of useless email is to select all of it in big bunches and hit the delete key.


      • My filter process is very low key, too. I simply tell Outlook that stuff from this sender should be considered junk mail, and then delete it. I check the junk mail folder periodically, and usually delete the stuff straight away.
        But I get nothing like the quantity of junk mails that Steve reports. Instead of 100 a day, I get no more than a dozen or so junk mails and only a couple of spurious translator e-mails each day, so I don’t need a high tech solution.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for commenting, Victor.

    I have the same problem. Every morning I wake up to about 100 junk e-mails, and then they still keep coming all day and all night long. A good portion of them is form would-be translators.

    I wonder what filter do you use and whether these filters are safe, by which I mean that I don’t want to inadvertently delete or ignore e-mails from existing or potential clients.


  9. “Rather than messing with filters, what I do with this flood of useless email is to select all of it in big bunches and hit the delete key.”

    But can this be done with Mozilla Thunderbird or iPhone, which is what I use?

    I don’t think so, or at least I have not been able to figure it out so far. Instead of being able to select a block of junk, I have to put a check next to each message to be deleted, which actually slows down the deleting process.


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