In Southern Africa, it is common to hear and read the expression “Local is lekker” in advertisements encouraging people to buy local food. The word “lekker”, borrowed from Afrikaans, is used to say that something is good.
For purchasers of business services, local is very definitely lekker. People prefer to buy their services from someone who is local.
All freelance translators know that the world is their oyster, that they can work for clients anywhere in the world. That’s the theory, anyhow. In practice, however, most translators I’ve spoken to seem to get most of their business from local clients.
There are many reasons for this. Obviously one major factor is that you meet more people in the place where you live, and word of mouth spreads more among the people who know you. However, I noticed that although nearly all my clients were based in Catalonia, not all of them were acquired through word of mouth. Many of my Catalan clients had found my website. So why was I not getting many clients from, say, France through my website?
Foreign phone numbers
I concluded that it was because people in Catalonia could immediately see that I was local, probably due to a combination of having my website in Catalan and having a Barcelona phone number. I already had a French website, but could I get more French clients by obtaining a French phone number?
Foreign SIM cards
I began acquiring phone numbers for various key markets in an attempt to expand my client base. For countries I visited regularly, I picked up SIM cards with good pay-as-you-go (PAYG) rates and as flexible conditions as possible in terms of keeping the SIM card active. In addition to my main smartphone, which is dual SIM, I have a cheap quad-SIM phone (not a smartphone) that sits next to my desk for my other foreign SIM cards. Unfortunately the quad SIM card is no longer sold, but you come always put extra SIM cards in an old dumb phone that is no longer used.
Here are the phone companies I recommend for a few markets (please leave a comment if you can recommend a better service for any of the countries or a service in another country):
- UK: TalkMobile‘s PAYG phones remain active for 180 days since the last chargeable call, SMS or data usage. Data rates when in the UK are reasonable.
- Spain: I have a Simyo card that I pay for by direct debit. The card remains active for 10 months since the last outgoing call, SMS, data usage or top-up. You need an address to have a new card delivered to. The card plus delivery costs €7. For data, it is best to activate one of their packages when travelling to Spain. Simyo also has a good roaming package that you can use if visiting an EU country for which you don’t have a local SIM card. If you sign up with SIMYO, when registering, please enter my phone number as the person who invited you, and both you and I will receive €5 credit.
- France: In France, all SIM cards require payment of a minimum monthly fee to keep them active. However, the minimum fee charged by Réglo Mobile (run by the supermarket E. Leclerc) is just €1.50. This means I must pay at least €1.50 a month even if I don’t use the SIM card at all, so I use this SIM card if I ever have to make a call while in a country where I don’t have a local SIM card, such as when I was recently in India, since anything I spend that is less than €1.50 is already paid for. If visiting France, I take out one of their data packages.
- Switzerland: Like in France, the best option in Switzerland is also run by a supermarket: Aldi. You can pick up a card from one of their supermarkets. Cards remain active for one year since the last incoming or outgoing call (top-ups, SMS and data don’t keep the card active). Unfortunately the minimum top-up is 30 Swiss francs. When visiting Switzerland, it is best to buy a package for data.
It is not always easy or desirable to pick up a SIM card for all our target markets. For instance, I wanted a Quebec phone number, but wasn’t travelling there any time soon. That’s where virtual numbers come in. Ever wondered how companies such as airlines have local phone numbers in so many countries? It’s not because they have a call centre in every country, but because your local call gets forwarded to another country.
The best virtual number service I’ve found is FlyNumber, which provides numbers for almost 60 countries, in some cases allowing you to choose a number in a specific city or region. The call forwarding service costs $2.95 per number per month. You must also pay a small charge per minute for each incoming call. Thanks to the powerful PBX panel you can configure call forwarding to your phone and add pre-recorded messages if you are unable to take a call, with voicemail forwarded to your e-mail address. You can change the forwarding for all your virtual numbers in just a few seconds, so if, for instance, I’m going to be attending a conference in Switzerland, I’ll change my call forwarding to my Swiss mobile number. Similarly, when I was on holiday in India, as soon as I’d bought a local SIM card I changed the call forwarding to my Indian number.
Of course, eventually the client will find out where you are based, probably when they receive your invoice, if not before. But once you’ve reassured them that you can provide just as good a service as a local translator, and that payment will be just as easy, it won’t matter.
Although most of my clients are still in Catalonia, I have acquired several new clients in other countries since getting local phone numbers there. I can’t know for certain that the local phone numbers secured those clients, but I reckon they probably did.
If you decide to use any of these options, please leave a comment below, and please share it on social media!