Interpreting in the U.S. #8 – Marketing

Good morning, wherever you are! I bet you woke up today and said to yourself, I’d like to be making more money and working for clients I actually like. Right? Me too. Well, as luck would have it, that is what this article is all about. We need to preface it with a little background though.

Up until the last decade, conference interpreters made up a very elite circle in the industry. Someone had to know you and your work to recommend you to someone else. If you were at the top of your game, everyone knew your name simply by word of mouth. While that elite circle is still well intact, with the rise of the internet as a tool for marketing, recruiting, and general information gathering, it is no longer enough to be known. Most clients want to see some evidence of you online. They want to see a professional footprint in the form of a website, LinkedIn page, professional association profile, published articles or blog posts, and other media. So, let’s begin this article with a brief checkup.

What does the internet say about you?

When was the last time you searched your name on google? Go try it. I’ll wait.

What did you see? Well, whatever it was, that was the face you are showing to your clients. If a potential client is under 50 years old, in all likelihood they will do a search on you before reaching out to you about a job. Their investigation into who you are may be prompted by a recommendation from a colleague or a search on a professional site. Either way, they want to know more about you. They want to see evidence that you can do the job you say you can.

Personally, I want potential clients to see that I am active in my profession, that I have experience as documented by pictures and video. I want them to see that I talk with other interpreters and am engaged in professional development. They will see markers of someone who is heavily involved and dedicated to their profession and maintaining their subject area knowledge. Afterall, that is what sets apart someone who is doing a job from someone who is making a career.

The next important thing clients want to see is consistency. Does one profile say you have been interpreting for 5 years and another say 8? Do all your specializations match up? If not, how can the client know if you are really an expert in say deposition interpreting, if only one out of three of your profiles list it. So, if you have more than one professional profile, make them match!

How can potential clients find you?

Let’s move on to how your clients find you. This may vary by the region that you reside in, but I have found a lot of people locate me through my profile on either the American Translators Association or the Japan Association of Translators. This is why I keep multiple organization memberships, to increase visibility. The same goes for ProZ, which is a common place for agencies to recruit from.

Imagine you are a potential direct client…

In the US, direct clients are the golden ticket. They pay more, are easier to work with, and they often turn into repeat customers. I touched on this in Article #7, but it is really important to put yourself in the shoes of your client to see how easy it is to find you. Here is an exercise you can try:

  1. Imagine you an HR associate at a company in the city where you currently live. The company wants to hire an interpreter who has one of your specializations. The company doesn’t often use interpreters, so they don’t have a go-to agency. They turn to google.
  2. Search the key words that you think they would look for. In my case, this was “Japanese + Interpreter + Automotive + Columbus + Ohio”.
  3. What results do they see? Are you in the top 20? Top 50?

In my case, I didn’t come up until #13. While big agencies that use Google AdWords are likely to show up first, what I learned from this search is that my competitors are showing up before I am! Three other freelancers (who I know and love dearly) came before me on the google search. That means they are likely to be the first ones a potential client contacts.

4 Tips to increase your visibility

How do I get to the top of that google search? Easy! Be more active online. The more you blog, tweet, write articles, and post videos, the more your name will become associated with a certain field. Even if someone doesn’t find you through a conventional method, like a professional association, if they see you have published professional articles related to interpreting and your specialization, it will increase their trust in you. The same is true with blog posts and tweets. All these little mentions of your name, interpreting, and a specialization boost the likelihood that you will come up on a google search. Here are a few quick and easy tips.

  1. Write a LinkedIn article once a month about interpreting and/or one of your specializations. Write in all active languages to increase visibility to all your client bases. If you are hesitant of writing in a B or C language, use lang-8 or a trusted colleague to proofread before posting.
  2. Share articles related to your specialty on LinkedIn and Twitter. Always use hashtags such as #interpreting (or the more popular #1nt), #Japanese, #日英, #通訳, and #(specialization) – meaning whatever field you are working in.
  3. Write guest posts on 通訳翻訳WEB, ALC 翻訳通訳のトビラ, and the ATA’s Japanese Language Division newsletter.
  4. Use Search Engine Optimization techniques on your website. Read more here.
  5. Use Google AdWords or Facebook Ads to make your website the first hit your clients see.


For you to find potential clients, you have to go to where the clients are. Obviously, some will be looking for interpreters on places like Proz, Upwork, Freelancer, and TranslatorsCafe. But the majority of your potential clients aren’t looking for an interpreter until they need one. By proactively networking, you have the opportunity to get in the door and make a good impression early. So, when the need arises, they know where to turn. And how do we do that?

Go where your Potential clients are

If you want to get direct clients, you are going to have to run in the same circles as them. Business-minded clients may be involved in local business community activities like chamber of commerce events. Clients with technical specializations will be at trade shows and seminars. Look for the type of conferences and networking dinners that your dream clients attend. In my area, JETRO runs a lot of events for Japanese businesses in the area. These are a networking dream. Even if I don’t meet my dream client directly, I get my name out there. I have gotten contacted by someone who said someone else at the event handed them my card. That is the best marketing you can ask! It means that someone who just met you was so impressed from a quick conversation with you that they recommended you to someone else on the spot.

But I’m not the networking type

I have heard many of my colleagues say something to this effect: I don’t like networking, I’m not that outgoing, I just don’t know how to approach people I don’t know. Nothing is wrong with that. We each have our own personality types. An interpreter doesn’t necessarily have to be the life of the party in social situations. However, when you are freelance, you are marketing yourself. You are your sales team. So, to a certain extent, you have to put yourself out where people can see.

3 tips for shy marketers

1.Make a plan before you go into any event. Let’s say that you are going to a trade show. You know that there will be booths where people present their technologies and services. Imagine that scenario and answer these questions.

  • a.Who are you going to talk to?
    Will you go to booths with Japanese staff at them or with Japanese names? Only booths that seem interesting to you? Will you approach  other non-presenting attendees if the opportunity seems right?
  • b.What do you want to learn about them?
    What about this specialization is of interest to you? What could you   learn that would help you do your next interpreting job better? What information do you think the potential client wants to impart? (Remember, the person you are talking to has goals too!)
  • c.What do you want them to learn about you?
    What is your elevator pitch? What value can you bring to their  company? What do you have to know about them before you start  your pitch? What impression do you want to leave on them? (Before you  go into a networking event, try out your elevator pitch on some friends and family.)

2. If you are nervous about attending a large event for the first time, why not just go and listen. Commit to not doing any PR, but just going to learn more about your specialization. I can almost guarantee that you will be approached by one or more people without even trying. This will be good practice networking without any pressure

3.Start small with one-on-one meetings. Go to the Japan Society or JETRO or the Chamber of Commerce and talk to them about their members’ needs. Make appointments with Japanese companies in your area to hear what kind of opportunities there are.


Don’t wait for agencies to bring you business. Don’t spend your whole career passively waiting for someone to ask you to dance. Be active. Find the clients you want to work with. Think like they think. Present yourself online as someone they want to work with. Go out and talk to people, even if it doesn’t lead directly to work. Indirect connections and name recognition are worth their weight in gold.

Allyson Larimer

Allyson Larimer is a freelance conference interpreter based in the U.S. She worked for two Honda suppliers for 7 years doing in-house translation and interpretation before branching out on her own in 2017. She is dedicated to promoting training opportunities for translators and interpreters in the Midwestern states of the U.S. She founded and chairs the Midwest Activities Committee for JAT. Allyson holds a BA in International Studies with an East Asian focus and an MA in TESOL. Her Japanese language study began at age 16 when she was dreaming of becoming an animator. While that dream faded, she continued to study the language throughout her post graduate schooling. She did a short home-stay in Okinawa during high school and 2 half-year study abroad trips in college and graduate school (both in Aichi). Despite having a TESOL degree and Japanese proficiency, she did not end up working in Japan. During the economic downturn, she found an opportunity working for a U.S. based Japanese company and has continued down the interpreting path ever since.