If your response to this title is “Absolutely nothing, HUH! (say it again y’all),” to the tune of War, What is it Good For, you are probably thinking in terms of how effective blogs are as marketing tools. A common complaint is that blogs do nothing to bring in new clients and are therefore a waste of time.
It’s an interesting debate which surely does not just apply to the translation industry, so out of curiosity I decided to look at a few other professions to see how their practitioners use blogs.
To keep the search manageable I limited myself to 3 fields: web design, legal and medical. I specifically looked at a) what the blogs look like, b) what they blog about, and c) what the purpose of the blog seems to be. The results, while not exactly scientific, were still pretty illuminating. This is what I found:
The web design blogs, not surprisingly, are very well done, favoring visual appeal over in-depth content with lots of “click here to read more” buttons to short practical articles. Most use a magazine format with multiple topics and contributors covering industry news, reviews, new products, tech & marketing advice. The purpose seems to be to share product information and showcase the designer’s style and abilities.
The legal blogs I checked out were conservative in appearance and layout, with some attempts at edginess through names like Legal Insurrection, Above the Law, and Lowering the Bar (I suggest Rebel without a Case for any disbarred bloggers out there). The blogs focus on news, rulings & cases, and some offer advice on marketing, technical issues and job hunting. The purpose seems to be express opinions, keep up with important developments and establish expertise.
Medical blogs also tend to be more conservative and text-heavy than the design blogs. Some are in magazine format with multiple contributors, but there are also a good number that use a simple journal format written by individuals. The content is usually medical news, analysis of complex issues, and reflections on life as a medical professional. The apparent purpose is to connect with colleagues, address complex issues and establish expertise.
So how is that relevant for translators?
Well, consider this: In terms of running a business, translators have a lot more in common with web designers than lawyers or doctors. Most of us are freelancers selling a service which primarily requires software + our minds. Our primary presence is online and we usually communicate with our clients through e-mail or over the phone, rather than in person.
Yet most of the translation blogs I know of, including my own, look a lot more like medical blogs in terms of presentation and analytical/reflective content. Doctors are in a completely different position, though. They don’t get hired on the basis of their online presence, nor do they communicate with their patients online. Their professional life depends on face-to-face interaction in brick-and-mortar facilities, not on internet marketing.
So should we talk less and focus more on products and soundbites in an exciting package? Not so fast. Web design, after all, is a visual service, so the content of a design blog not as crucial as the way it looks.
But translators write, and that is what a translation blog does: it showcases your writing. You may have brilliant insight in the meaning of a source text, but if you can’t express that meaning clearly and eloquently in your target language it doesn’t mean a thing.
And it’s not just about style and grammar; content matters as well, and not in the way you might think. While the prevailing wisdom is that our websites should focus on our clients’ concerns, I don’t think this is true for our blogs. By writing about our own profession we give potential clients a sense of who we are and what we are like; it allows them to see us in action, as it were, in our own professional environment. It is the next best thing to meeting us in person, and this is important because people feel more comfortable doing business with someone they know.
I have had new clients tell me on several occasions that they had read my blog before contacting me. The transparent and sometimes personal nature of a blog can lead to interesting situations, though. One time a new client asked me to call him on the phone so we could hash out some of the contract details, and after chatting for a bit he told me he appreciated me calling him because he had just read my post on “Why I Hate the Phone”. Busted. We had a good laugh, though, and moved on to a discussion of my fee, which he accepted without complaint. Now it just so happens that in that very same post I also explained how I don’t accept low-ball offers; this may not have been the sole reason for the smooth negotiations, but I’m sure it didn’t hurt.
So I look at blogging as an oblique form of client outreach. It’s a low-threshold way for potential clients to scope you out and see if you are someone they would like to do business with. It doesn’t take the place of actively finding new clients, of course, but it can be very effective in nudging a potential client off the fence onto the “let’s do business” side.