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E-mail marketing tips March 9, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Marketing ideas.

As a follow up to my guest post at Naked Translations, here are some dos and don’ts for an e-mail marketing campaign. I got inspired by reading Tips for applying to a job from Craigslist this morning (another tweet from someone I follow on Twitter). As the author says, it doesn’t take much to distinguish yourself from the rest of the pack. This is also true for the translation field. There are certain dos and don’ts when applying as a freelance translator with a translation agency. Take them to heart to ensure your e-mail doesn’t end up in the Trash folder.

1. Don’t have any spelling errors or typos in your e-mail. Seriously, just don’t!!! You are applying for a job as a translator, which requires good grammar and spelling. You need to make sure your e-mail is flawless. Read the e-mail through a couple times before sending it to make sure you catch every spelling error or typo. You might even want to start at the bottom and work your way up so you don’t miss anything.

2. Indicate your language pair in the subject line or the first sentence. The person reading your e-mail shouldn’t have to dig through your letter to find out what language(s) you translate.

3. Use the body of the e-mail as your cover letter. Don’t attach a cover letter and a resume. No one is going to take the time to look at two files. One – maybe, two – no way.

4. Try to write a unique but catchy cover letter. Let your personality shine through. In this day and age, no one wants to read a stuffy letter that has obviously been sent to 300 other agencies or could have been written by 300 other translators.

5. Focus on what makes you special and what makes you stand out. What makes you the best choice compared to the other prospective translators sending their resumes to the agency? Do you have an M.A. in translation, are a Diplom-Übersetzer, used to work as a medical doctor or researcher, or have a law degree? Have you lived in the target country for several years? Did you grow up in a bilingual household and are equally comfortable in both languages? Be sure to mention it in one of your first sentences.

6. Make sure the agency works in your language pair. If the agency specializes exclusively in Japanese and English translations, don’t send them an e-mail unless they specifically say on their website that they are looking to branch out to include other languages.

7. Check their website out before applying and follow their directions to the letter. If they say they only accept submissions through their website, don’t bother sending them an e-mail. It will only be deleted, because it shows you can’t follow directions.

8. Tailor your e-mail to the agency. Show them you did some research and looked at the website to find out if your fields of specialization mesh with theirs. Find out who you should address the e-mail to and try to avoid sending an e-mail to “To whom it may concern:” if the website specifies a contact.

9. Make sure the person you are sending the e-mail to is in fact a translation agency and not another freelance translator. I can’t tell you how many times I have received unwanted resumes from prospective translators. All you have to do is look at my website to see that I am a one-woman show. That said, if you have a website that talks about “we” instead of “I” you are making yourself a target for unwanted resumes.

10. Localize your resume for your target audience. If you are applying to a German agency, it helps to send them a resume that is in German and conforms with other German resumes. Also, make sure your resume is proofread by a native speaker.

11. Think carefully about how you write your name. Choose one name and spelling and stick with it. This will generate name recognition. For example, I use the name “Jill R. Sommer” on my resume, on my business cards, on my website, in the ATA directory, for presentations at conferences, and anywhere else I have a presence (the exception to this being my blog). Also, if your name is somewhat exotic for your target audience be sure to clarify your gender. For example, sign the e-mail as (Ms.) Jill R. Sommer or (Mr.) Chiang Kai-shek. That takes the pressure off the person who might want to respond to you, but doesn’t know how to address you.

12. Use a professional e-mail address. It simply makes a good impression. If you have your own domain name, you give the impression that you have invested in your profession. Free e-mail services like yahoo.com don’t make a good impression. The only exception to this is Gmail, because it is a more serious provider and has outstanding online file storage capacity. There is some debate on the professionalism of aol.com addresses. Some of those who profess to be against aol.com accounts believe that since AOL started off as an entertainment site it is not as serious as other e-mail providers. Just a little food for thought… E-mail with your own domain name ensures no one has any prejudices when they see your e-mail address. And it should go without saying that e-mail addresses like “ cutiecat23@juno.net” or “BigBigGirl@yahoo.com” simply don’t convey the professionalism you need to convey.

13. Consider naming your resume “Last name first name_resume.” If your resume is called “resume,” it is simply going to get amended with resume1.doc, resume2.doc, etc. by the client’s e-mail program. Make sure the client knows what the file is at a glance and can allocate it to your application.

14. Include a Summary of Qualifications instead of an Objective. You don’t need an Objective on resumes to a translation agency. It should be apparent from your e-mail cover letter that your objective is to start working with them.

15. Keep your resume brief. Try to keep it to 1-2 pages. I send a brief resume and refer potential clients to my website, where my resume is a lot more extensive (I also include a list of all the dictionaries and reference materials I own to show I have invested heavily in my profession). If the client is interested in working with me, the information is available, but they don’t have to wade through it if they aren’t.

So, those are my top tips. Does anyone have any other deal-breaking tips? Insights from agency owners or project managers are especially welcome.



1. JLibbey - March 9, 2009

“Remember that you are writing to someone you hope to do business with.” We receive too many emails where the previous sentence would have been written: “remember that u r writing to someone u hope …”. Needless to say, we delete them immediately without even looking at the CVs.

jillsommer - March 9, 2009

@JLibbey – That’s amazing. You would hope one wouldn’t have to specify something like that – particularly to translators who rely on good writing skills. Ouch! OK, #16 is now officially “Do not use chatspeak or shortcuts when writing e-mails to potential clients.” I’m speechless…

2. Loreto Riveiro - March 10, 2009

Hi, Jill

Thanks for (so many of) your posts, they are a grat help.

I am starting out as a freelance, and I am hesitant between two marketing strategies: of course, the research you mention in #6 and #7, in order to send an e-mail (as personalised as can be). But some people consider that a cold e-mail is not enough, so I was thinking about a brief phone call to state my intention, something like: “I would like to send information about myself, if you please tell me who I must address it to…”.

I think it is rather personal, some people think this is too intrusive, and some others think a cold e-mail is not enough… any experience/advice in that regard?

Thank you for your great work.
Loreto Riveiro

3. Serena Dorey - March 10, 2009

I completely agree with all of these tips, especially #6 and #9. My website and blog clearly state that I’m a freelancer yet I still get contacted by prospective translators who think that I’m an agency. I also sometimes receive marketing e-mails regarding a language pair I don’t work in. Very frustrating. Hopefully people will take heed of this advice!

4. jillsommer - March 10, 2009

@Loreto – you can try, but I think most people who hire translators are overwhelmed with their current tasks and may be put off by a phone call. I still think face to face is the best way to make a contact. Corinne McKay suggests calling and setting up informational interviews to talk about being a translator – not necessarily working for them. If they have the time and willingness to meet you, you might make a good impression. You never know what will work. Every person is different. I absolutely hate cold calling (I once refused to do it on a temp job), so I would never use this approach. But it might work wonderfully for someone else. The point is: rely on your strengths and market yourself as you best see fit.

5. Corinne McKay - March 10, 2009

This post is required reading!! These tips are fantastic. I would also add that I think it’s helpful to state your purpose in the first sentence of the e-mail. “I am a freelance English to Spanish translator and I would like to offer my services to your agency” or “After speaking with your representative at the recent ATA conference, I would like to follow up on German to English translation opportunities with your company” or whatever. Many times I receive e-mails from people asking questions about careers in translation and they don’t provide any introductory information, so I’m left thinking “Do I know this person, and if so, how?” It’s really helpful if you clue the person in immediately!

6. email marketing - March 10, 2009

” 10. Localize your resume for your target audience”

Excellent tip!

Understanding your recipients goes a long way. Valuing there time and providing real value will yield positive results.

Great Post.

7. Amanda - March 10, 2009

“I am writing to request a freelance position with your company”.

This one didn’t read your blog, particularly point #9. I’m tempted to send them a link!

8. Kevin Lossner - March 14, 2009

I have lost track of how many CVs I have received from translators for Bulgarian, Arabic, Chinese and whatnot who really need to meditate on your point #9.

Point #12 – using an e-mail address from your own domain – is often debated, but I must say that the apologists for AOL, Hotmail and even T-Online addresses simply miss the point and it’s their loss. I can see the point of such disposable addresses for listserve subscriptions & the like, but not for serious business. Of course many serious translators use these addresses, and I don’t think they will be disadvantaged in many cases, but the potential is always there. What really baffles me are the people with their own domain – presumably also access to a mail server for that domain – who still use the throwaway addresses.

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