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Attending the right client events

A call out of the blue

Two and a half years ago I received a phone call out of the blue to discuss long-term collaboration translating material for Spindrift racing, a sailing team run by Yann Guichard and Dona Bertarelli. I’ve always been passionate about sport, so this was a dream offer for me.

Exciting projects awaited. A year earlier, the team had bought a record-breaking boat called Maxi Banque Populaire V, and would soon attempt to set a new transatlantic record on her, after rebaptising her Spindrift 2. A year later, having already won the famous Route du Rhum race from Saint-Malo to Guadeloupe, they would embark on an even more exciting challenge: attempting to win the Jules Verne Trophy for the fastest ever circumnavigation of the world.

Spindrift racing contacted me after finding my website while searching for a specialist sports translator. I was over the moon. It felt like all the hard work I’d put into rebranding myself and marketing myself as a sports specialist had finally paid off!

My contact asked me to do a 600-word test translation, which she happily reduced to around 300 words when I said that 600 was more than I was willing to do for free. I know some translators get very upset at requests for translation tests, but I’d have been mad to turn down a dream offer like this based on a request that would take me no more than two hours to fulfil, especially for a potential client interested more in my expertise than in my rates.

I sent off the test, and my client agreed to work with me at my proposed rates.

A steep learning-curve

The translations were quite tough going at first, and at times it felt like I was sailing into a headwind. In the past, I’ve managed to apply my knowledge of the sports that I follow to sports with which I’m not familiar. For instance, while covering the World Handball Championships many years ago, I would use many of the same turns of phrase that I might use if reporting on a football match. I basically just had to learn a few new terms, such as names of positions. Sailing, however, was a whole new kettle of fish, with a language all of its own.

I already knew that boats have a starboard and a port side, rather than left and right. I also knew that a boat is always a she, never an it, though it’s easy to forget this when you’re translating from French, since you’re so accustomed to translating the masculine pronoun il as it when referring to an inanimate object. (I can’t think of any other contexts where il would be translated as she!) Many other terms, however, were new to me, so the learning-curve was steep. I’ll discuss some of the specialist vocabulary in a future post.

Over time I became more familiar with sailing-specific vocabulary and expressions, whether referring to parts of the boat, types of sails, directions on the boat, or manoeuvres, and I no longer spent so long doing research while translating. I therefore decided to start marketing myself not only as a sports specialist, but specifically as a sailing specialist too.

In search of other clients

I also began to attend boat shows, looking for potential clients to whom I could sell my newly acquired expertise. The entry fees for boat shows are pretty cheap, and I could fly from Barcelona to the venues for less than €70 return. For the Geneva show, I flew to Switzerland in the morning and returned to Barcelona in the evening, all for around €50. The biggest investment was therefore the office hours lost.

Unfortunately my efforts did not bear tangible fruit, as I failed to secure any new clients in the sector. The main reason, I believe, was that I was not meeting the people who actually handle translations. Besides, the boat shows had a strong focus on the leisure side of yachting, rather than solely on yacht racing.

The Yacht Racing Forum

It would have been easy to give up at that point and not bother attending any other sailing events. But then I heard about the Yacht Racing Forum, held this year in Malta. Not the cheapest or easiest place to get to, especially from where I was now living, and the delegates’ fee was far more expensive than entry to a boat show. But I couldn’t resist the opportunity to go to an event that would be attended by those involved in yacht racing, from boat owners and sailors to communications managers and magazine editors. More about the content of the Forum will follow in a future post.

My persistence paid off. I’ve not landed any new projects yet (it only ended a few days ago), but I’ve learnt an awful lot about sailing, how the industry works, and which people purchase translation services. I can now adopt a more targeted approach to pitching, and I’m expecting to receive a few phone calls or e-mails from people who asked me for my card as soon as I told them what I did. Delegates I spoke to were particularly impressed by the fact that I specialise in sailing, with one woman from a communications company lamenting some of the awful translations she has received from translators who know nothing about sailing.

Persevere, and target the right events

As mentioned above, I’ve attended many client events that have borne no fruit in terms of new clients. Perhaps the same is true for you. However, I’d encourage you to persevere, because the types of clients you find at such events often provide regular work at good rates, so when you eventually do acquire a new client, the investment will pay off.

I would, however, recommend trying to target the events you attend carefully. Try to see who will be attending, and aim to go to those where you’re likely to meet purchasers of translation services.

To give an example from my other specialist field, macroeconomics, two years ago I found out about the International Conference on Economic, Business, Financial and Institutional Translation. I wasn’t too keen on going, due to money I felt like I’d wasted on previous events. However, when I saw that people from the translation departments of international financial institutions (IFIs) would be there, I decided to attend. It was an excellent decision. I spoke to the head of an IFI translation department, told her about the extensive work I’d already done for the OECD, and as a result of that conversation I’ve earned a five-figure sum from that client!

So keep attending events, but target the ones where you’ll meet translation purchasers.

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