WhatsApp for freelance translators Improve your availability and grow your business

Greater than 6 minutes, my friend!

Times are changing and technologies are changing as well. In an era of social networks and continuous availability there are plenty of options to reach out to translators quickly. One of them is WhatsApp. Companies are exploring the popular messaging service more and more. Can it help translators to find new work?

Facts and figures about WhatsApp

Source: InTouchBuzz (http://intouchbuzz.blogspot.nl/2016/02/mobile-os-will-no-longer-support.html)

When I started out as a freelance translator, having Skype was a strict requirement for working together with some agencies. Now, only eight years later, almost no agency is asking to use Skype anymore. There are so many other means of contact available now that Skype no longer seems much used among businesses in the translation industry.

There are a couple of reasons why Skype has been replaced by other means of communication. In the days when Skype was popular among translation agencies and other international businesses alike, it almost had a monopoly on free international communication. In a time where international calls were quite expensive, Skype enabled people in different countries to call each other for (almost) nothing.
WhatsApp has completely taken over the role Skype once played. The messaging service, now acquired by Facebook, enables people to call and send messages, including texts and documents* for free. Furthermore WhatsApp has become more popular than Skype has ever been. According to some statistics, the messaging service now has 1.2 billion users globally. According to this article in the Huffington Post (22/09/2016) the WhatsApp user base is growing by 1 million users daily, who send 42 billion messages each day. It should therefore be no surprise that companies are seeking to explore the opportunities that WhatsApp can offer them.

*Note: sending documents is only possible when exporting them on a mobile phone and selecting WhatsApp is the target.

Why companies are considering WhatsApp

Because of the huge user base and adoption of WhatsApp among different categories of users, companies see many opportunities to use WhatsApp to interact with their audience. All over the world companies are investigating the threats and opportunities that WhatsApp offers, and some of them are even creating marketing campaigns in which they embed WhatsApp, as you can see from this example. Among them are Coca-Cola and Heineken, two major brands that try to appeal to a relatively young audience. In The Netherlands, even the Department of Defense is using WhatsApp in order to lower the doorstep cost for people to reach out to them.
These companies are using WhatsApp because it is a popular medium, used by many, while also being a free and easy to use app that is available on all major mobile platforms. It also enables clients and prospects to use them 24/7, whenever they want or need to, so they need not wait until a new workday arrives in order to vent their frustrations, ask their questions or give a new order.
Some companies are even using it for job interviews and market research, as this article (in Dutch) points out.

Using WhatsApp in your translation business

The above facts and figures offer some small insights into the popularity of WhatsApp and hence the opportunities it can offer. In contrast to large B2B companies, translators and translation agencies alike do not need to set up large marketing campaigns in order to gain new clients or stay in touch with their existing clients.
However, WhatsApp can also prove a great medium for translators, and also for other freelancers, to improve their availability.

In my business I am actively promoting clients to reach out to me by WhatsApp if they have a question and I am not available immediately. Clients can reach me via WhatsApp with their questions and with new assignments if they want to. Until now this has only yielded positive results. Clients in China are glad they can send me a quick message for confirmation when my new day starts and they are going to sleep, while clients in the Americas at midday can use the messaging service to send a new assignment when I am already off. That way WhatsApp has enabled me to take on new assignments, to strengthen my relationship with clients and to answer quick questions.

The pros and cons of WhatsApp for your business

The use of WhatsApp in your business can therefore help you not only to improve your customer relationships, but also to grow your business. Availability outside your own business hours or when you are off for some reason are valued by customers who have a quick question – even if they do not need to have an answer immediately. Sometimes they simply use WhatsApp to confirm an issue, or to ask whether you received their email. So WhatsApp is not a specific medium for emergency situations or for timely matters. Instead it is more a tool to improve the bonds you already have, while also making it easier for prospects to reach out to you with a new job.

A great feature of WhatsApp for business use is that you can use the tool in your browser. Simply hover on https://web.whatsapp.com, scan the QR code and use your keyboard to type messages quickly and share images (not documents).

However, if you are considering WhatsApp for your translation business you need to be aware of the lurking dangers as well. While WhatsApp might improve your availability, you should also set clear expectations. Of course it is great for clients to reach out to you while you are off, but as a human you simply cannot (and will not) be available 24/7.
So while you enable your customers to contact you while you are not working, you should make clear what you are offering. Does answering a message mean that you will start a job immediately? And does having read the message (marked by the blue check-marks) mean that you will reply immediately? Whether the answer is yes or no, be clear in your communication and avoid empty promises – which can easily be made via mediums with a low entry bar.

Another caveat of using WhatsApp as a freelance translator is that it is difficult to distinguish professional use from private use. Once you have the client’s contact details it is easy to send a picture of yourself at the beach, at the bar or wherever. If you want to stay professional, you should avoid this. Never post pictures of you in your swimsuit, during a party or with a weird face, and never use such pictures as your profile picture. Doing so can break up your professional relationship sooner rather than later.

A last important consideration is the privacy of your client’s data. Since its inception WhatsApp has been frequently criticized for its privacy policy. All data you send will be stored on WhatsApp’s/Facebook’s servers in the US and beyond. If you are to share sensitive data, use other means (and do not post a link to the sensitive data in WhatsApp either; that is not sufficiently secure to protect it).

Best practices for using WhatsApp for client communication

So if you do ever want to use WhatsApp for your business (or if you are using it already), it will be good to set and follow a few rules of the game. You can find them below:

Did you read the end user license agreement when activating WhatsApp? Chances are you didn’t. However, If you are going to use WhatsApp for business, it is a good idea to know the rules. Automation of WhatsApp is not allowed, and in some territories where communication with clients without opt in is forbidden, you need to have consent of the client to use WhatsApp.

2. Be professional in your communication

While you might use popular words and expressions in WhatsApp while communicating with your friends, it is a good idea to be polite and formal when communicating with clients. Do not use sayings you wouldn’t use in a meeting with a client. Do not send obscene or offensive texts and pictures. WhatsApp is a great medium to relax and have fun, but sending “funny” videos to clients can entirely ruin your relationship.
There is a danger of getting too close to clients as well, which can work against you in the end. Sharing innocent messages can easily expand to something less innocent, like sexual or abusive communication. If you want to be professional, stay away from that.

3. Determine your limits

Using WhatsApp in your business can be overwhelming in terms of what you receive from your clients, and it can even lower the bar to being offered a life full of work, which can result in burn-out. Consider WhatsApp as a medium to improve your relationships and use it the same way as email, except that your availability for communication is better. Availability for communication is different from availability for work. Make that distinction and enjoy the fruits that it can bring to your business.


Pieter Beens

About Pieter Beens

Freelance translator English-Dutch. Works for high-profile clients worldwide. Professional. Punctual. Passionate.

8 thoughts on “WhatsApp for freelance translators Improve your availability and grow your business

  1. Although you certainly put forward convincing arguments in favor of using Whatsapp on a professional level, I think I’m happy where I am, i.e. not using it for business reasons, just like Giovanna. It would feel too much like mixing private life and work and it would give me an excuse to check Whatsapp and be distracted or tempted by my friends’ messages 😀

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  2. I see eye to eye with Pieter.
    At the beginning, I felt like this is unprofessional but honestly, the answer of the clients was really good. As you mentioned before, the key is the expressions and the way you communicate, even I’m using WhatsApp for some clients, they still telling me I’m very professional. Why I consider they are using this tool? Because we make them things easy and kind of fast. Next step for me is to buy a new cell phone for personal purposes. One more comment is that they reach me fast even during the weekend so I wrote down in my status the hours I will be available for answering any question about business (I mean my regular schedule). I will use it until I can find a better solution/tool for making communication faster with my clients.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experiences Nancy! The key is in communicating, not only the way how you communicate but also what you communicate: as a provider of an extra service to your clients you set the rules of game. Good to see your best practice to share your working hours in your status!
      Whatever your next solution might be, I suppose it will be one that “infringes” on your private life: offering clients options to reach you out better is only possible by using smart device technologies like apps nowadays, so it implies that you will use your smart phone all the more for that. You might consider to use a special mobile phone number and a dual SIM card in that case.

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  3. Hello Pieter,

    Thank you for this timely post! I live in Mexico and WhatsApp is my #1 line of communication with clients. My account is professional and personal, but my photo is always professional. I find WhatsApp works very well for connecting and keeping in touch with clients. Contacts see a picture of me with a microphone and are fairly sure they have the right person.

    Many people don’t want to talk on the phone. WhatsApp’s voice recording message feature is great and I get a lot of messages from clients that way. They don’t want to have a spoken conversation, but they do want to leave you voice messages. It’s a relay conversation with spoken messages where each person has a definite turn and no chance of being interrupted. And of course writing all that would take much longer.

    There is also the question of what the culture you are living in is using. Some cultures have oral traditions, others written, others pictorial, others symbols. Using technology to connect with clients on their own terms will have positive results.

  4. Thanks Pieter for sharing this useful article with us. I love how you covered the good and bad side of WhatsApp. A client today asked me to contact him via WhatsApp but I refused because I wanted to keep WhatsApp for personal use only.

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