Greater than 3 minutes, my friend!
When starting or re-launching our freelance business, one of the first things we need to do is develop a so called USP (unique selling proposition). In other words, we need to define the unique value we bring to our clients. This comes down to being able to answer a few questions such as “How am I different?” or “What makes me stand out from other freelancers?”. As eas as pie, one may think. After all, we are supposed to know ourselves better than anyone else, aren’t we? As a matter of fact, this task can be quite daunting for most freelancers.
While we might manage, with some effort, to come up with a set of hard skills or more tangible USPs (like diplomas, qualifications, certifications, areas of expertise, exotic language combination s, software and CAT tools) we often struggle to define which “soft” skills and PERSONAL qualities set us apart from other freelancers.
Yet, these qualities are important as well when it comes to positioning yourself and becoming your clients’ preferred supplier. First of all, your hard skills might not be enough to set you apart, due to the hard competition. Depending on where you live, there might be a few other professional translators based in the same area, who graduated from the same college, specialize in the same fields and are as quick, accurate and reliable as you. Why should translation buyers choose you over them? Secondly, we shouldn’t forget that our clients are people too and like everyone else they are more likely to do repeat business with someone they get on well with, someone who suites them or, like the Germans say “if the chemistry is right”.
A few months ago two colleagues and I decided to try an experiment. Inspired by a workshop on self-promotion for conference interpreters we had attended last summer, we sat down together and helped each other determine the personal qualities, as well as the social skills that could make stand out from other translator and interpreters.
Since we are all early birds, we met up for breakfast at 8 a.m. and after catching up on a few professional and personal matters we kicked-off the first session of what we called the “I branding”(Marke-ICH in German) project. We proceeded in three steps:
- First of all, each of us wrote down what she thought her best qualities were
- Then each of us wrote down what she thought the main strengths and qualities of the other two colleagues were
- Finally, each one read aloud the qualities she had written down for herself first and then compared these to what the other two had written down about her.
The outcome was quite surprising. While when brainstorming about our own qualities we mainly focussed on what we call the “Prussian virtues” (professional, reliable, always on time, accurate etc.), we failed to come up with some more emotional or social skills that were quite obvious for both our colleagues.
For example both my colleagues turned out to be very impressed by my pro-active behaviour, saying I tend to take initiative and both appreciate me being authentic. Qualities I had not included on my list.
At this point it may be worth mentioning that one of the three of us is a seasoned conference interpreter, with over 20 years experience. Even she failed to see some of her qualities that for me, having worked with her before, were quite obvious, like her strong problem solving attitude. She admitted having taken this for granted and not considering it as a particular quality or USP, but just the result of her experience.
The exercise took us about 2,5 hours.
Last week we met again for the second part. We had some Easter Bunny cakes for breakfast to boost our energy level for the day and then had a closer look at the brainstorming list we had made the previous time. We devoted particular attention to the strengths and qualities that both our colleagues think make us stand out from the crowd. Then we discussed how each of us could actively translate (pardon the pun) her skills and strengths into an unique added value and use them to define her corporate identity, in her marketing copy etc.
For instance, I was recommended to focus on my good communication skills and my pro-active actitude, as both colleagues considered these to be my strongest unique qualities. I could for example, use my proactive behaviour to suggest alternative solutions to the customers or recommend other freelancers to them, which fosters clients loyalty.
The exercise really helped me become aware of what others perceive me and what they consider to be my strongest qualities. I am now determined to make the most of this acknowledgements and take them into consideration later this year, when I will be re-launching my website and re-position my business. I would recommend to everyone to do the same exercise with his or her colleagues, as it can be really productive and funny at the same time.