To spend or not to spend?

A few days ago, I was telling a friend and business associate about my decision to join my twin in working full-time on our translation business and leave the corporate world behind.

The first question my friend asked me was whether I had an advertising and marketing budget. I was taken aback by this a bit -- what budget? As most of us who are self-employed and run very small businesses, our budgets are limited, to say the very least. In the beginning, we are keeping our so-called budget for the U.S. to a minimum to include:
  • American Translators Association (ATA) membership
  • Going to the ATA conference in Orlando in November
  • Nevada Interpreters and Translators Association membership
  • Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce membership, which includes an ad in their directory
  • Some local networking organizations
  • Creating company profiles to send out to potential customers (free, only my time)
  • Creating profiles on translator websites (free, only my time)
  • Some other random expenses
Other than that, that's it. We will mostly focus on search engine optimization, as that's largely free. Are we missing something? We have heard from several of you before saying your marketing strategies are pretty similar to ours. So what's your take? Do we need a marketing budget? My friend made me feel a bit silly for not having one, but I think I am on the right track. Dagy found an interesting option from Vistaprint. I am sure most of you are familiar with their services (free or inexpensive business cards, etc.), but we came across a free decal that you can order to place on your car, or minivan, or window, or scooter (I guess won't work that well on a bike). The first one is free, and you only pay shipping. Of course, Vistaprint offers a seemingly endless array of special offers during the checkout process, so it takes a few minutes to decline them all, but it's worth it (unless you are translating 10,000 words today, which I am not). The best part we got out of this offer was a coupon for $25 in Google ad words. I can't quite envision what it would actually look like on my Prius, but I figured it's worth a try. Marketing/advertising budget for today: $4.53.


Corinne on September 17, 2008 at 7:40 AM said...

Great post, Judy! I agree with you completely; I think that direct advertising is way down the line of ways that a freelancer or small company should spend money. Word of mouth, networking, and the dreaded but necessary cold-contacting are what I would emphasize. At the ATA conference, I have found it helpful to have something other than the standard things that everyone comes with (i.e. resume and business cards). For that, I think it's worth doing up some postcards from Vistaprint or something like that. All of us come home with a stack of business cards and barely remember what most of them are for, so when you're dealing with 2,000 translators, I think that some sort of semi-flashy marketing tool can be a good thing. We just did some postcards for Colorado Translators Association using one of Vistaprint's templates, and I was impressed with how well they came out. It was about $100 for 500 cards including shipping.

Judy and Dagmar Jenner on September 17, 2008 at 5:45 PM said...

Those postcards for professional organizations are a good idea, Corinne. Now that I am a proud member of the newly founded Nevada Interpreters and Translators Association, I will look into getting postcards made so we can get the word out. I hadn't even thought about that!

bonnjill on September 18, 2008 at 7:04 PM said...

You forgot to mention that your friend was pushing you to get a $10,000 small business loan for advertising. That is just crazy.

Not to be Debbie Downer, but I personally throw postcards and other non-traditional things from the conference out to keep office clutter to a minimum. Business cards get filed in my business card folder.

Sarah M Dillon on September 23, 2008 at 6:44 PM said...

I think there's nothing wrong with having a budget for marketing, but a budget in the broadest sense and for internal purposes only.

It's very important to measure exactly how much time AND money you are spending on different kinds of marketing, and for what return. It's so easy to waste energy by channelling your efforts into the 'wrong' things. This goes for online and offline marketing.

For example on the face of it, my marketing budget may seem pretty low but I put a lot of time and effort into low-cost online marketing. To some translators this would be a huge waste of time but it works for me - I live in Australia, my target clients are based primarily in Europe and like me, tend to have a stronger online rather than offline presence. The occasional business card I do get, I put the details I want into my contact database then throw the card away... so it's very much horses for courses :)

I think a lot of it comes down to who your target clients are, and what it takes to engage their interest in your products and services. A single freelance translator targeting agencies and the occasional direct client is going to have very different marketing requirements to a translation company targeting corporate clients.

What matters is the return on your investment, rather than the initial investment itself. Is it worth taking on $10,000 debt for a marketing budget? Hmmm. Personally I'd want to be pretty sure of a fantastic return on that, if it was a route I decided to take. Is it **necessary** to spend $10,000 on marketing in order to earn a living from translation? Certainly not. But that's the beauty of running your own business, you can have fun sussing out what other people are doing and then decide what's best for you!

Lynn on October 14, 2008 at 9:41 AM said...

How about a pic of that decal on Planta?

Judy and Dagmar Jenner on October 14, 2008 at 10:52 AM said...

Good point, Lynn. Forgot to send an update: the decal was much smaller than I thought, and the letters are so tiny that there's no way you could read it on Planeta. I guess that means that this experiment didn't yield any good results. :)

Anonymous said...

Hmm... I just read what you wrote in 2008. Do you still agree? I feel that a small marketing budget should be there in order to get the word out. And I do not mean spending $10,0000 on advertising... ;-)

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