Blogs – What Are They Good For

Blogging, what is it good for

Image by Mike Licht on Flickr

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.

12 thoughts on “Blogs – What Are They Good For

  1. Hello Marie,
    Thank you for your post! I agree with you 100% that a blog is about showcasing yourself as a translator and a professional. It also sets the tone for a working relationship with potential clients. You give them something to nibble on before they bite off that big piece that’ll turn into dinner. Client outreach, YES! On my website I’ve tried to be a bit different than other translation blogs … I have translations (Mexican billboards and news) and some grammar issue and a few work things. It’s a work in progress of course. I’d be interested to know what you think.

    • Hi Jesse, thanks for the kind words. And kudos on your blog! It’s engaging, entertaining and original, and it showcases your talents in a unique way. No one will confuse your blog with someone else’s and that’s exactly the point. I love the billboard translations and the translated news, really cool! My only suggestion would be to include your name as the translator in a prominent spot in the translated news segments, because it took me a while to figure out if you had translated those or if you were featuring guest translators there. I assume it was you but it would be nice to have that clear up front. Other than that I’m just jealous I didn’t think of some of those blog features myself 😉

  2. Couldn’t agree more, Marie. I also love the exercise of “creative” writing, which I’m sure must have a knock-on effect in our own writing style when translating. As someone commented in the Standing Out Group on Facebook the other day too, translators writing blogs for other translators and passing on their experiences is also excellent CPD – I’d never thought of it like that, but I suppose it is!

    • Hi Claire! Yes, I can see how creative writing would limber up the writing muscles! I wish I was more of a creative writer, but unfortunately I can’t write fiction to save my life and believe me, I’ve tried. But that makes me appreciate the variety of the talent in the translation community all the more, and all the ways these talents are reflected in our different specialties and ways we express ourselves. And I agree, most of what I’ve learned about the profession has been from colleagues passing on their experience on blogs, forums, etc.

  3. “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”

    A blog can also draw search engines to your blog and website, and thus customers who may be looking for the kind of services that you offer, if you remember to strategically use important key words in your blog every now and then.

    I have a feeling that many customers must be tired of those fake, artificial websites of translation agencies with Photoshopped images of sexy smiling people and cute graphics that say absolutely nothing about the people behind the website.

    And they don’t say anything about themselves with good reasons if they are just brokers.

    This type of customer might prefer to make a personal connection with a translator, and that is the kind of customer that we can look for, indirectly, also with our blogs.

    Brokers also try very hard to create blogs that would entertain and engage readers, but the result is usually pitiful.

    • Oh right, I hadn’t even thought of that aspect of it, good point. I have to say that I still have a lot to learn about SEO and using it more effectively. I did do a Google search one time with Dutch-English translation-related search terms and one or two of my blog posts came up so that confirms what you’re saying.
      And yes, so true about the generic beautiful people on websites! It’s a huge turnoff for me when I land on a site like that and it definitely makes me less confident in the actual people behind the facade.
      By the way, I have also heard good things about you from our colleague Richard Markley; we meet up informally with other Fresno-based translators every now and then, and I guess he and you go way back. Too bad you don’t live in the area anymore; I’m sure we would all have some lively discussions 🙂

  4. Marie, I am writing from my chosen vacationing place, which means I can’t pry myself completely away from work-related stuff. But having some free time allowed me to read your informative and entertaining posting.

    Blogging, as you noticed, is not just for selling or marketing. Many bloggers enjoy sharing their views, rebel or conservative alike.

    Perhaps you have taken a look at my own blog: It has some postings where serious topics are weighed in, but I keep the writing as free-flowing as possible, eschewing academic discussions or obscure topics that only other translators or professors might be familiar with.

    True, we share a few things with graphic designers (or was it web designers?). Although we write, in essence we shape how that writing looks; hence, we design the information.

    • Hello Mario, thanks for commenting! Very nice point about translators “designing” information, that is a great way to describe what we do. I already knew you as an active contributor to the ATA forum, but I didn’t know you also have a blog. I checked it out and I enjoy your thorough and analytical take on hot topics in our community. Thanks for sharing; there is so much good content out there that we’re not aware of until someone takes the time to point it out.

  5. A deep and insightful post, Marie. However I am a bit surprised when you say. ” I look at blogging as an oblique form of client outreach.” and then: “It doesn’t take the place of actively finding new clients”. I think blogging can be quite a “direct” (as opposed to “oblique”) form of client outreach. It can also take the place of actively “making clients find you”. It doesn’t find new clients but it makes new clients find you (“Inbound Marketing”). If you have the right keywords in your posts, people will come to you by typing those keywords into a Search engine’s searchbox, thus expressing that they want what you have to offer. Please note the phrase “RIGHT keywords”. This is how you get targeted traffic, then leads, and finally clients 🙂

    • Hello Amadou, good point and food for thought. When I wrote this I was thinking of “direct client outreach” as actively contacting clients individually with a “hire me” message, and “oblique” as a more passive form of presenting yourself and getting your message out. But as you rightly point out, that doesn’t mean blogging is passive or indirect, because it is hard work and you do have to be intentional about it in terms of content, keywords, etc. for it to be effective in targeting the clients you’re trying to attract. So perhaps a more accurate term would be “general outreach” as opposed to the individual outreach to specific potential clients? In any case, thank you for sharing your perspective!

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