The Business of Interpreting: FAQ 7 – What is the rule of 7?

If you're a freelance conference interpreter, relationship marketing can help you to form and maintain a strong client base.


Photo credits: Melpomene (fotolia.com)

It’s funny how knowledge in one sphere of our lives is not always transferred to others. I know interpreters who own apartments to rent. They would never allow anyone to live in one of them without a written agreement, but would never think of putting anything on paper when hiring other interpreters.

In previous FAQs, I’ve spoken about relationships but haven’t really defined them. We all know how to make friends and have done since we were children. But for some reason, once we grow up and are no longer carefree students, we tend to forget how to enter into a mutually beneficial, authentic interaction with another person. 

So let’s take a quick look at working relationships with clients who are not our colleagues. 

The rule of seven

First of all, a very brief history of how sales used to work before we entered the brave new world of one-to-one marketing. Over the decades during which sales became a specialty, there were rules that salespeople sussed out on the job and that have since been validated through practice and research. One of the most important is the rule of seven: It takes an average of seven contacts to make a sale.

This is why cold callers don’t get far. It’s why sales people who call you in the middle of dinner get hung up on. It’s why you never hear back from people you sent your CV to.

Before one-to-one, or relationship, marketing became the norm, that meant literally contacting a possible client seven times before you would capture a sale. In the good old days of Wild West marketing for interpreting contracts, that meant:

  1. Call to find out who should get your CV.
  2. Send your CV.
  3. Call to confirm they received your CV.
  4. Wait a few weeks and send a card updating some of the information on your CV – you have a new skill, you offer new hours, whatever.
  5. Send a Christmas card to the person.
  6. Send a new CV reflecting an update to your skills.
  7. Call to say hello.

By this time, the prospective client would be so sick of you that they would give you an assignment just to get you off the phone. Or else you would contact them just as something you could do came across their desk; it was pure coincidence that they could hire anyone so quickly. None of it was really building a relationship, but it certainly made sure your name was familiar. All the client knew was that you were familiar and persistent, and perhaps pushy. And frankly, as politicians all over the world know, even bad publicity is publicity.

In Europe, where Wild West marketing would get you shot down in flames in many markets, you still have to get through an average of seven contacts, and it takes much longer. The three years it took me in the US to get to the point where I no longer had to market myself to have as much work as I wanted, can take at least 5 years in Europe, assuming you’re steady in your efforts.

The advent of relationship marketing

Today, “relationship marketing” rules. The idea is the same in that we still have to contact prospects several times before they become clients. But other things have changed making our job harder – such as having only nine seconds to make a good first impression instead of at least a minute or two.  Some – like relationship marketing – make our lives more complicated, but a lot more fun.

One thing that I love about interpreting is getting to know people, and helping them to communicate their ideas to others. The better I know them, the better I communicate their ideas. Getting to know them is the fun part – and it is far from the traditions of waiting my telephone to ring, for someone to call and say they have an assignment for me, or just sending out my CV to everyone I know.

The key to relationship marketing is having an authentic connection. You don’t (usually) go on a first date with someone and immediately start thinking of baby names; why would you want to meet people only so they can hire you? When I meet anyone who could be a prospective client, I don’t think about that future job they could hire me for. I think about what they do, ask them questions to find out their interests, and talk about myself as little as possible. If an idea sparks during our conversation, I share it.

After I return to the office, I note the person’s contact details, along with anything I can remember that stood out from our conversation – especially the sparks. If they are proud of their son’s Little League win, I note that. If I promised them a book recommendation, I make sure to send it the next day with a message saying how great it was to meet them. If I run across an article that I am sure will interest them, I send it along. If we live in the same city, I may ask if they want to go out for a coffee or lunch sometime, and not necessarily to talk about work. Prospective clients are people too, and will be turned off by a hard sell. The idea is to keep the relationship going. Then, when the company finally does have that event, they know whom to call. And you end up consulting for them, knowing more about what the goals for the meeting are, helping to organize it, and adding a new paying client. Of course, the relationship is not based on that at all, so whether or not you get work, you still keep in touch.

And even in markets where much of interpreters’ work comes from agencies, there is no reason not to call the person who hires you to ask them out for a drink. Agencies are not always our enemies, and if you are happy working for one, that means that you should have more than simply a sales contact with someone on the staff. 

“Oh, but…,” I hear a lot from interpreters. “It just isn’t done.” Or “What will people think?” I am not advocating trying to make agency representatives or prospective clients into your best friends. I am not even advocating turning them into friends in the strict sense of the word. It is a very rare client who becomes someone you want to invite to your house, meet your family, or accept an invitation from to stay at their place. But having a drink to talk about things other than assignments, being a “business friend”, can only be a good thing. It paves the way for more sensitive conversations later, such as, “You do know I have this other language combination as well?” Or “It would be better to organize this part of the meeting in a different way.” Or “It’s about time we had that conversation about raising my rates.”

Remember the earlier FAQ about your ideal client? Having an authentic relationship with an ideal prospective client should be easy. And the best part of this type of marketing is that you aren’t poaching on another interpreter’s territory, and you won’t be able to be poached from as you have a real connection. And when your contact changes jobs, as they will, you now have a good contact with a company that has never heard of you before – and a referral from your contact for the new person at their old desk.

So it still takes an average of seven contacts to make a sale, but those contacts are more authentic, more fulfilling, and a lot more fun.


To read previous articles in this series click here.



Recommended citation format:
Julia POGER-GUICHOT DE FORTIS. "The Business of Interpreting: FAQ 7 – What is the rule of 7?". aiic-usa.com January 26, 2018. Accessed April 19, 2018. <http://aiic-usa.com/p/8489>.