Choosing Your Clients - Know Your Market for Language Professionals

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Can I really choose my clients?

I remember wondering whether I had any say on who my clients were. Especially as a freelancer in times of scarce work or uncertainty, we may feel as though turning away clients is a recipe for failure. Can a business turn away clients and still survive? Can a business afford not to pursue every available opportunity?

The answer was revealed to me while leading a sales team and learning about enterprise management. Yes! You can choose your clients. Yes! A business can survive even if it turns away clients. Yes! A business can indeed afford not to pursue every available opportunity, in fact, a business that only pursues opportunities that are aligned with their interest, values, etc. will be more successful than a business that chases after every opportunity.   

What is your business?

The first step to choosing your clients is deciding what you are selling. What service(s) are you able to offer? 

When you first start this exercise think of all of the experience, knowledge, and skills you (or your team) have to offer. Write them all down, like an a-la-carte menu. This is great for opening opportunities, but make sure that you do not try to pursue them all and risk turning yourself or your business into a Jack of all trades, master of none. 

In Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business, Gino Wickman describes this method of being everything to everyone as a helter-skelter method and recommends that we use a more focused approach, that we need clear direction on who our ideal client is (the purpose of this blog), what we will be doing for them (service type: interpreting/translating/transcribing, and sector: legal/healthcare/education), and how we are going to be doing it (on-site, remote?). (Wickman, pg. 55) 

Narrowing down your options may be difficult. In a previous blog, I discuss diversification and specialization in more detail, but deciding how you want to diversify or specialize is just the start. Even with a clear picture of how want to specialize, it may feel limiting to not pursue opportunities that align with one of our other skills. In recent situations, when opportunities offered to me did not align with the services I am actively promoting, I used the model presented in The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get a Yes by William Ury to refuse the opportunity but keep the door open for opportunities in the future. More on how I apply this model in "Choosing When and How to Say Yes: Tips from a Language Professional."

Where are your clients?

As I mentioned in a different blog—or was it a training?—the interpreting and translation markets are different in different states, and even in different cities or towns, which may affect how you are able to price your services. 

For many of us, the decision to pursue a client in a particular location may be related to the direction of rush-hour traffic or the client's preferences for the physical location of the translator or interpreter they hire. However, for some of our interpreting colleagues, the decision may be more involved because their local market does not require their language combination or does not support their rates, while a different market not only needs their language combination or supports their rates, but also covers all travel expenses. 

Understanding how location affects your business and therefore your business decisions is important when defining your ideal client. Building an entire business plan around the idea of pursuing a particular type of client only to discover they prefer translators located in Europe, will put your business at risk if you (or the team who will translate the work) are physically located in the U.S.

How do your clients think?

Lastly, you should also consider how your clients think, what is it that they value. Are they allocating part of their budget to language services? Who are they hiring to provide their language services? What qualifications do they look for? Do they invest in technology for translation or interpreting? 

You should also decide whether you want your clients to be language service providers or if you would rather work directly for the company or organization requiring your services. There are advantages and disadvantages to both and the market in which you choose to conduct your business may play a big role in helping you decide for one over the other. I tend to prefer working through a language service provider because I can work for multiple companies or organizations but my billing is simplified. An advantage that is only useful if a handful of language companies can give me enough business to keep me fully engaged. 

In a nut shell...

As freelance interpreters and translators we are empowered with the ability to choose who we want to work for. Some of the best practices of the Entrepreneurial Operating System described by Wickman and personal experiences have taught me that we must choose our clients wisely as part of a comprehensive business strategy.

Have you thought about who your ideal client is? Do you choose your clients or do you let them choose you? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.


Wickman, Gino. Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business. BenBella Books, 2011. Preview available on Amazon*.

Ury, William. The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes. Hodder & Stoughton, 2008. Preview available on Amazon*.

*All items referenced may be available through other vendors. Purchases made through Amazon affiliated links in this blog may result in earnings for the author.