Charlie Bavington

French to English Freelance Translator - I.T. specialist

Bringing a pragmatic eye to meeting your needs

The Blog Role

January 26th, 2011 | Categories: blogs, business

I promise to try to make this the last bit of blog-related navel gazing. I’ll also endeavour to make it the last post with an abysmal title including the word ‘blog’, but no promises on that score.

Having been wondering who would read a freelance business-related blog and why, and possibly taken huge strides to ensure the question remains purely academic as regards this one, and tossed ideas around elsewhere, I have refined the ideas that were taking shape previously in terms of rankings on the one hand and the personal branding aspect on the other (in older blogs & comments). It seems rather poor form to keep them to myself, and possibly give the impression I don’t like to see things through or resolve apparent conundrums, so here goes.

An analysis

Discussions and reading about the subject suggest there are various aspects to a freelancer’s interaction with and outpourings to a waiting world, described variously as networking, marketing or promotion (strictly speaking, the latter being only one of four ‘Ps’ in the marketing mix), reputation-building and so forth.

Thinking some more, I’ve reached an analysis that suits how I see things, which is, I hope, not too idiosyncratic. The key attributes involved, for me, are:

– one-to-one versus one-to-many communication. I think we can ignore one-to-one from here on (the underlying theme being business-related blogs), but make the comment that in a sense, one aim of business-related communication is to reach a one-to-one stage (email, phone, meeting, etc.) with a lead with a view to conversion to a client. Hence, one-to-one is perhaps one of the ends, rather than a variable in the means.

– one-way communication versus two-way (or multiple-way) communication. An advert is one-way. A business lunch is two-way. It’s the difference between an announcement, statement(s) or a perhaps giving a speech, and the exchanging of ideas and information, whether in real time or otherwise.

– the level or proportion of business-related content.

At which point I drew a simple chart, with a view to placing communication methods on it, hoping that would help me see where a blog would fit. This is it:

So, in terms of a freelance translator’s communications (excluding one-to-one), what seems to fit where? I plan to move roughly anti-clockwise round the diagram.

– In A (one way, low business content), very little fits, except that on the basis of what I have seen this far, Twitter is used by some translators for non-business related tweets to which no response is necessary (or indeed, it seems to me, warranted or even possible). That said, Twitter is also the venue for communication in the B, C and D sectors as well, and if I’m honest, I was initially equally bewildered by the point of Twitter as I was for a blog.

– In C (two way, low business content), I see conventional non-business interaction, from going to the pub with friends and suchlike offline activities, to  leisure (non-business) forums, the ebb and flow of non-business information on Twitter about restaurants and hair dye and bands and celebs and the weather, and so. Worth including here simply because it can shift to D quite easily – I have for instance seen web designers win clients in online sports forums almost by accident, and I once had a client that I originally met at a party, although they did not become a client until some time later and it needed a mutual friend to pull the thing together. I was a networking novice back then. But networking is undoubtedly what C is. I view Facebook (which I’m not on) as firmly in C territory, but I know others use it for D.

D (two-way, higher business content), then, is where I would place business networking. Face-to-face, of course, but also online. Of course, there is a horizontal axis on the chart, and even in a business context, there is some networking that is little more than idle banter (twittering, even, with a small ‘t’) which merges with C. (None of which should undermine your personal brand, the experts say, if you want to take it that far.) Then, moving towards the right of the diagram, there is networking that is perhaps ambivalent in business terms, it may result in business leads, or it may not, such as offering help and advice (as one might see on business & translation forum postings), or indeed online terminology help when it comes to translation specifically, or chewing the fat on business-related matters at a conference. I say “ambivalent”; I imagine those indulging in this practice hope to at least get their name “out there”; to benefit from reciprocity if the boot is ever on the other foot, or become a name that springs to mind when a given situation arises. In short, to generate potential leads and referrals – I know I’ve given work to people precisely as a result of this kind of networking, and I have received some too.

Most networking is, of course, with people one has chosen, at some level, to interact with, and so as an ultimately revenue-generating activity, should generate leads that are a good match with your business.  That said, some networking borders on naked self-promotion, whether online or IRL (attending trade fairs, perhaps?). At this point, any two-way nature of the relationship, with information freely flowing both ways, may become strained, so not only are we positioned at the far right of the horizontal axis with a full-on hard-sell, we may also have crossed upwards into B, as we pitch to increasingly unwilling ears.

– Up to B (primarily or wholly business content, very little or no interaction). Perhaps on the border between D and B, I would put “writing articles”, since no self-respecting personal branding guru would fail to mention this aspect of reputation building. I have heard from more than one sources that printed articles (i.e. in paper journals) may elicit little response although in fact they were intended to generate debate – The Linguist practically begged readers to write in with feedback a few issues ago. (Perhaps a symptom of being on paper and the fact that journal articles are viewed by many as authoritative – if authors wanted feedback, they’d use blogs, wouldn’t they?)

The higher up B we move, the closer we are to pure advertising of the business – the information flow is all one-way. This includes the business website and once you’re there, in terms of online activities you’ll be looking at SEO for business websites, plus more traditional offline approaches (flyers, yellow pages, local papers, etc. – some no doubt more effective for translators than others). The drawback, as I’ve found with the trickle of traffic to my own website, is that all sorts of leads can be generated, some of which won’t match your preferred client-type.

What of the role of the blog, I hear you cry. Fair point.

It is probably fair to say that, in the blogosphere in general, there are blogs covering every one of the 4 segments in my skilfully-crafted diagram. Hence my confusion and possibly ill-advised cry of “what’s the point of it all?” A blog can potentially be almost anything. Anyone would think I’d never read a blog prior to November 2010, but, like children, I view them with a different eye now I’ve got one.

In both the D and B areas of the diagram (the right-hand half), a key aspect is reputation building. Pretty much everything in both can enhance, or not, your reputation. But both segments have (potential) drawbacks.

In B, you don’t get much (or any) feedback. Is your website as fab and groovy as you think, or is it turning people off? Do you get no leads because your SEO is rubbish, or because your website is? Are your articles met with deafening silence because readers are in awe of your authority or because they think you are prize chump but can’t muster the energy to tell you so.

In D, you get interaction and thus feedback, but you perhaps are not in full control of what is being discussed. You may tend to respond, rather than initiate (I know that is the case with me, and there is a tendency in some forums, for example, for those who post most regularly to start very few threads themselves). A real life discussion may drift away from what you wanted to say.

And so that is going to be the intended point of the blog. reputation building with elements of B and D – business based, hopefully with interaction, but if not…

Target

I haven’t said too much about who this stuff is supposed to be for. Networking is done both with potential clients and with peers and others in the same line of business, this being for referral purposes once you hit the mercenary side of ambivalent networking (as per description above). Promotion is conventionally viewed as targeting potential customers, but doesn’t have to, and certainly not online, where there is little or no control over who reads what you publish. And particularly in translation, where no-one can translate everything, promotion to colleagues is a valid (if not always appreciated) option.

So, now all that’s out the way and I’ve clarified matters in my own head at least, I suppose it’s time to get cracking.

Edit: almost forgot – while knocking up the draft (which I sat on for a while before posting), I came across these (via Twitter I expect):
i) a post about business blogging in general, which is of interest
ii) a post about getting your name “out there“, which I found interesting and reassuring as I managed to place everything mentioned somewhere on my rudimentary chart.

  1. February 1st, 2011 at 14:30
    Quote | #1

    Nice, and thorough, analysis Charlie — you’re obviously not one to do things by halves!

    I actually believe all the hype about blogging and other social media tools, although I think the waters might be being muddied a little as far as how to best use them precisely by those making the best use of them, although not intentionally.

    While it is probably useful for us to sell ourselves to each other and undoubtedly so to share knowledge and experiences, if translators are the main audience of translation blogs, I suspect that those getting the most benefit out of blogging about translation are the ones selling something other than just themselves as translators.

    For those of us who only have translations and other related wares to sell, what would really be useful, albeit more than a little tricky, would be to use social media tools to reach potential clients who are not part of the industry itself as such.

    I suppose you’ve probably already thought about these things, but for me it’s the big stumbling block to social media; I can talk about what I do until the cows come home, but it’s a challenge to work out how to package it into something that might be of interest to potential clients, let alone to get them to listen in the first place!

    Anyway, I for one am always interested to hear what you have to say, so please, blog on. (I’ve even got some suggestions about what I’d like to hear your thoughts on if you’re ever looking for inspiration.)

    Rob

  2. admin
    February 1st, 2011 at 19:42
    Quote | #2

    Thanks, Rob. And I suspect you could be right. But does that not also give us a potential answer? Might we not do well going to online places where people are doing other kinds of business, and selling ourselves as translators? So, for instance, if you’re a Sp-Eng property translator, you could join websites for foreign property owners or estate agents, and hover about, being generally helpful and perceptive and whatnot, and when the day comes someone needs a contract for an English-speaking client – bingo.

    It’s probably a bit of a “slowly slowly catchy monkey” approach, and would require some time and effort, but I suspect it could work. It’s an idea I’ve been toying with for a while, and plan to (try to) have a crack at soon. The main hurdle is, I suspect, finding the key websites/forums for any given industry or sector, but I daresay judicious use of the right hashtags on Twitter might help bring results.

    There again, of course, personal recommendations between translators themselves are acknowledged as a major source of new business, and maybe there’s a reason people tend not tart themselves around too much elsewhere. In terms of getting decent returns for least effort, perhaps inter-translator networking gets the best results?

    Meanwhile, yeah, by all means – suggest away! I’ve got a couple of ideas brewing, one about insolvency and one about discharging contracts, both from a Fr-Eng perspective (and I’ve mentioned them now so I’ll have to produce them!), but all ideas gratefully received, and so on.

  3. February 2nd, 2011 at 12:21
    Quote | #3

    Your idea’s a good one — something along those lines would definitely be a way to go. Although, as you say, the trick is to work out where and how (and who in the first place). Then it’s just a question of being able to venture out of that translator’s comfort zone, well mine at least.

    My suggestions for posts might not be so in line with the direction it sounds like you’re going to take with your blog. They were more things on the industry in general, the idea of the “no-man’s land rate” for example, but there are probably better places to discuss them, like the pub maybe.

    All the best,

    Rob

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