Having worked as a freelance translator for almost ten years, I hope to offer some advice on how to cut out the middle-man. Throughout my career I have done odd jobs for translation agencies here and there, but my main income has always been from working directly with clients. It would be a fair statement to say that companies contacting translation agencies usually do so because they do not know of anyone that can do the work for them. So how do you make yourself known to these companies? There are a few ways.
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My background from the real estate industry has taught me the somewhat entrepreneurial ideology that everything you want to achieve in life, you have to create for yourself. So if you want direct business from companies in stead of going through translation agencies that would take large part of your profit for themselves, one way to proceed is to send out a letter to potential clients introducing yourself and your services.
When I started out in the real estate industry, this is what I did. Granted, one hundred flyers would get you maybe one client, if you were lucky, but that is not the entire equation. That one client who happens to call on your flyer might know of someone else that requires your services, and that person might in turn know someone, and so on so forth. The old principle of repeat business and referrals certainly applies to freelance translators as well. These companies could also require your services again in the future, so the key is to build a network of contacts until you get busy enough to where you can basically pick and choose between assignments, at least ideally speaking, and where you do not have to depend on agencies to make a living.
It is also important to know your market and to know what type of companies to approach. You do not want to offer translation services to Al & Son Plumbing Company. That would be a waste of your time. Ideally, you want to target international businesses that operate in several countries. They do not necessarily have to be large corporations, but they could also be smaller business with a supplier in a different country or something to that effect. You will also have a greater advantage if you are able to translate less common languages. For example, there will be more jobs available to a Bulgarian translator than a Spanish translator. It is also beneficial to target businesses in the target language country, for example Bulgarian in Bulgaria and Italian in Italy, etc. You do not want to offer Spanish translations to companies in the United States for instance, because chances are these companies will have a Spanish speaking employee readily available to do the work for them. This will not necessarily be a professional translator either, but even so, those are your competitors, and with translation services as with any other business, it is important to know your target market and to know who your competitors are.
Mailing or passing out flyers is simply one method of advertisement that could be useful, even through they are not the only ones. In this technology driven age, you could also use the Internet, e-mail, a telephone, or any other means at your disposal. You could even appear in person, simply ask the receptionist who is in charge of translation services at their company. Usually this will be the proprietor or the manager at smaller companies, and at larger companies it might take a little more effort to track down the right person. Always remember to have your business card available to hand out, regardless of whether or not the right person is available or willing to speak with you.
In closing, I realize that this method is not for everyone. But if you are ready to leave the nest (or should I say cage) of the translation agencies, you will have to put your name out there and sell yourself, because no one else is going to do it for you. Good luck!