The key to maximizing your rates and opportunities as a freelancer is building a captive audience. I’ve been struggling to achieve this as a freelance interpreter since 2017. It requires a lot of work and diligence but it can be done. I am a strong believer that any freelance business, not just interpreting practices, flounder or flourish based on one’s ability to create demand within a niche. I know a lot of interpreters struggle with how to get started and grow a steady practice. In this article I’ll share a few with you three strategies about how I built a great interpreting business in personal injury and criminal law.
The first strategy I want to share is specialize, specialize, specialize. Focus on one particular area and stick with it. Usually when you stay in something long enough opportunities arise and you “get lucky”. A great opportunity is usually due to your staying in the game and playing through tough spots. I think part of specializing is paying attention to what makes your skills valuable in a niche. For example being in Texas, Mexican Spanish is usually what I encounter during depositions and court cases. I mean, not studying Mexican news sites, but reading text messages, scouring YouTube and TikTok to hear the accent and vocabulary. I make an effort to pay attention to other Spanish accents and vocabularies too, speaking with anyone who will engage in a brief conversation in Spanish. Also, getting back to what makes your skills valuable in a niche means what makes you different. For me, being a non-native Spanish speaker is a huge advantage. In general I spend more quality time studying Spanish than most of my native speaking colleagues. This is not unusual or unexpected. When I was in Bolivia as a Peace Corps volunteer it always amazed me the level of competency many of my Bolivian colleagues spoke English, from understanding the rules to working up a beautiful vocabulary. It’s all about curiosity. In some instances being a non-native speaker doesn’t benefit me. However, again, it’s about discover where your skills stronger.
The second strategy to dominating in a niche is, ironically, spending time outside the niche. The reason this works is a background in one area gives you an advantage over someone who doesn’t have it. It gets back to that idea of tenacity and perseverance Elon Musk is always talking about. The benefit is, you get to see where your skills could be better in one area so you don’t get complacent. For me, DNA and ballistics is always challenging. Forensic investigative techniques are always changing. New machines and new metrics for measuring get published every couple of years. Each time the skill demands change I change up my research in order to hone my skills. However, I don’t dominate in this area because mainly of opportunity. I’ve not worked myself into a solid position as a courthouse interpreter in some courts where I could learn more about those topics. Plus, spending time outside the niche means you are keeping your opportunity pool fresh and clear. If one of my gigs dries up I might have another on its way up.
The third strategy is providing excellent, and I mean, excellent customer service. Working up a profile on a freelancer platform like GoSignify is one way to start the process.. One of the challenges I’ve often faced is getting the leads that fit my skills or direction I want to go. A platform like GoSignify gives me the power to add specialties to my profile which is automatically searched when clients post jobs. This makes it easy for clients to get introduced to me. Proz.com and a few other pro linguists sites already do this albeit to varying degrees. GoSignify extends the customer service angle by adding an in-app chat, so you can set expectations with your clients and work with them to make them successful. It’s better than email exchanges. When you conduct business through a dedicated platform, clients are getting streamlined communication about something vitally important to their livelihoods. That’s instant value you add to your interpreting skill. It really is a game changer for upping your competitive advantage.
Do some searching around for opportunities to dig into a couple of your skills to provide new solutions to people’s problems. Think of this as keeping your ears to the ground while letting your talents flow in the background. The advantage of specializing in a few specific niches or skills is that it sets you up for a diverse skill set that can be valuable to many people. This approach encourages a steady supply of new opportunities. The goal is to provide really good service to the people who are going to benefit from your knowledge and experience. Those opportunities may not have to wait.