Nov 28

„Cover letter” writing for translators – how to do it right (part 1)

Are you unhappy with the “cover letter” you have been sending to translation agencies? Are you wondering how to make it fresh and brilliant so that the entire population of translation project managers wants to work with you? Great! I can help you with this as I experienced a similar problem myself. I looked for information, searched the web and analysed various guides to translate my research findings into conclusions I would like to share with everyone.
But, let’s talk some “theory” first.

Freelance translators do not write cover letters
We need to get this straight: we write cover letters when we apply for permanent, full-time jobs. But being freelance translators, we write proposal letters or letters with an offer of services. I know that translation companies use the term “cover letter” as in “please send us a cover letter with your CV”, but there’s nothing wrong in educating them that in fact these are business proposals. Let’s keep the new wording in mind throughout the process of creating such a letter: we offer services and we are not enquiring about jobs. This will change your mindset and how you perceive your business.

See below – does it look familiar?
“Dear Loaded Client,

My name is Superb Translator and I am writing to ask if you are currently looking for a freelance translator in the English to Polish language pair?

I have 7 years of experience and an M.A. in Translation.

I translate medical, pharmaceutical and health care documents and I work with Studio 2011.

My rates are 0.10 for translation and 0.50 for proofreading.

Many thanks and I am looking forward to hearing from you.”

Does it ring a bell? If it does, it has to end NOW. The problem with this email is that the author is asking for work rather than offering a service and he merely states facts about himself (Superb Translator). Count the number of “I” in the letter and you will know what I (sic) mean.
This email does not present any benefits to client and the sender barely understand who he is writing to.
My bet is that as much as 80% of translators sends such emails to translation companies. How can I know?
I often receive such emails from translators of different languages and hardly any stands out.
So if you’d rather be in the 20% who does differentiate from the crowd, please continue reading.

Remedy is here – how to “heal” your proposal email
When writing a proposal email, we should:

1. Know who we are writing to
We can be writing to a translation project manager, an owner of a small translation company or to a direct client. In each case, our content will differ in some way. Let’s try and visualise our addressee’s surroundings and a typical day at work. A project manager is probably a multitasking person who likes when things are going smoothly, when translators deliver on time, when they don’t rename files to from PO_122334XCB_SKDKJD_102 to Polish_doc, when they really use the tools they claim to use, etc. Having created such a persona in mind or on a piece of paper, we need to structure our message accordingly.
Equally important is the use of appropriate jargon, the lingo our addressee communicates in. For a direct client in the pharmaceutical industry these will be words such as: the ethics committee, FDA, EMA, CRA, AE, etc. The idea is to connect or to “click” on the language level.
If we speak the same language, this will serve as a good starting point.

2. Know what we want to achieve with our message
Why are we writing to them? Surely, not because we have some time to spare. There is a genuine business reason behind it. Our aim has to be very specific, e.g. we want to be added to their database, we want to take part in a project they are about to start, we want to meet them in person, or call to discuss collaboration, etc. The aim has to be clearly defined and every word we write should be geared at achieving this goal.

3. Don’t talk about “I”, talk about why THEY want you and why they should get back to you
Forget the “I have an MA” talk. This, of course, is important, but you have to change the perspective. Instead of saying “I have an MA in Languages”, write “Your high-profile clients can benefit from my knowledge on Regulatory Affairs”. Rather than saying “I am a proficient user of Studio 2011”, say “Your project managers can rest assured I can proficiently handle any Studio 2011 projects”. Small tweaks allow us to better influence how our addressee will visualise working with us. He or she may think “Yes, in fact we do need someone who knows CAT tools to an advanced level” and this, surely, will be us!

4. Dispel their fears
We see a nice pair of jeans on TV and think “I would love these, but they must be expensive” and the second we think it, a voice in the commercial says “Now 50% off”. What do we do? We BUY them. The jeans company resolved our doubts and this is exactly what we have to do when contacting a potential client. A translation project manager can have many doubts. He or she may think we are inexperienced, expensive, unreliable, unfamiliar with CAT tools, etc. and our task is to address these before he or she gets a chance to voice them. We can write “If you are worried about my experience, so far I have completed over 100 projects to do with medical devices and have references from 3 of my regular clients”. Or “If you doubt my technology skills, I have been using InDesign for over 2 years and completed a training course at my university.”
If we do medical translations, but aren’t medical doctors, we may write “I’m not a medical doctor, but I’m a highly qualified linguist with an aptitude for research. In fact, I have received positive feedback for all of my medical projects, and this can be verified by my referees.”
This is a really important step, so plan carefully.

5. Ask them to take action
Many freelance translators who have written to me finish their emails with “I am looking forward to hearing from you” which is far from perfect. We need to tell our addressee as precisely as possible what our expectations are. I suggest “If you would like me in your database, please reply to this email.” Or “If you would like me to take a test translation with you, please reply to this message.” and so on.

6. The power of references
It is a good idea to include in our email excerpts from our hard copy or other references. If a client provided us with a reference on one of the professional portals, we can incorporate it neatly into our email. We can write “My client of 3 years says that I am “a reliable partner with expert knowledge in medical translations. I highly recommend him to professional businesses.” Let’s not include too much – a brief summary will suffice.

7. The final, most important tip
Remember, no matter how convincing your proposal is, if you don’t follow-up on your contacts, if you don’t regularly communicate with them, there is a small chance they will remember you. It’s not the translators with greatest experience who always win business, but the ones who are persistent and stubborn in achieving their goal.

So, does it sound difficult? Trust me – it isn’t. Just take your time and you will come up with something brilliant. After some practice, you will actually enjoy tweaking your proposal letter and adjusting it on a case-by-case basis.

Good luck and let me know how it went! A sample proposal letter will follow soon!

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