Very often, we get questions about how to go about digital marketing and personal branding as a freelancer. Or what’s the importance of learning about marketing. Other times, the questions concern how freelancers should approach the beginning of their careers. Even though we are experts in marketing translation, we thought the right thing to do was ask a professional marketer. And Sarah was the first person who came to mind! She’s an expert in both digital marketing and translation. Plus, she’s so fun to read and listen! We hope you enjoy this interview as much as we did.
Hi, Sarah. For those of our readers who don’t know you, you are the Managing Director of Retro Digital. Retro is a Digital Marketing company you set up a couple of years ago with your husband, Alan. And it has become terribly successful (with branches in several countries!). You also have degrees in Digital Marketing, PR, and Law. You have a background in translation, too, having worked as a military translator and, later, as a freelancer. How did that career switch happen and why?
It all came along by chance, actually. I’ve always been crazy about languages, which is why I studied 6, on top of speaking English, Czech, and Slovak. I suck at maths, so had to do something I was good at to get good grades! :D.
When I finished school at 17, I had the choice of doing languages at uni or joining the military to become a translator. Being a bit of an adrenaline junkie, I chose the military. When I was 19, I found out I was expecting my daughter, which put an end to my career in the military. That’s why, when I was on maternity leave, I set up my own language business and started a law degree so I could work and fit things around being a mummy.
Being young and broke, I didn’t have money to spend on marketing, so I taught myself and ended up growing the business to the point it was too much for me to handle. So after I had my son, I went back to work for an LSP. As part of my role was marketing, I went back to school and did a Masters in Digital Marketing. Fast forward a few years, me and Alan were both sick of working far too much, and after losing a baby (this is why we have a deer as our company mascot, called Oisin, which is Irish for little deer; that’s the name we chose for the baby) we decided enough was enough. And we decided to set up Retro Digital.
After seeing shitty digital marketers and web designers in practice, our single mission was to do a good, honest job, be ethical, look out for people, and not overwork ourselves (though the last bit hasn’t really worked out, haha!). No idea how, but it seems to have worked 😀
Do you think it’s important for freelance translators to specialise in a particular field and, why not, get degrees outside the translation field? Why?
Of course! Whenever we get a CV from a freelancer who claims to do 10 languages and all the specialisations under the sun, it comes across as really suspicious. We’d much rather work with someone who specialises and does a great job at it. Even if it’s something unusual, there’ll be a need for it somewhere 🙂
Do you think translators should have at least a basic knowledge of Marketing? Why?
When it comes to marketing yourself, I think it’s vital that all freelancers understand personal branding. But apart from that, it really depends on what you specialize in. If you’re a highly technical content writer, then you really don’t need marketing as it’s not relevant to what you do. But if you offer transcreation or marketing translations, you definitely need to understand the psychology being marketing so that you can get results for your clients.
What problems do you see in the translation industry worldwide and where do you think the solutions lie?
Oh, God… where do I even start with this 😀 First of all, here’s a little disclaimer: I love the language industry! But my god… I’ve never come across an industry that’s so stuck in their ways! It’s 2019 – it’s time for the industry to break out of their shell and modernize just like the rest of the world is. My other MASSIVE pet hate is the way the industry takes marketing services, adds “multilingual” in front of it, and starts offering it. Take keyword research and SEO, for example; they’re highly-specialized digital marketing services, stop murdering them 😀
How many languages do you speak? How have they helped you get where you are today?
I studied Arabic, French, German, Czech, Slovak, Polish, Russian, Italian, Japanese, and English. But the main ones I use now are Czech, Slovak, French and German. I also have a bit of Irish when I’m drunk, if that counts? Haha! Languages really open up the world. I love being able to speak to people in their language and understand their way of doing things. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my language skills 🙂
What would you say or what advice would you give to translators who are frustrated because they don’t find work as freelancers?
Just keep trying. Be yourself, be friendly, and make connections with people. I’d much rather work with someone I trust and get on with, so just be human and you’ll do great 🙂
What keeps you motivated?
My kids, Alan… But my main motivation for what I do is seeing clients grow. I love taking their ideas and seeing them come to life through amazing marketing campaigns. There’s nothing better than seeing all that hard work pay off when the results come in! And seeing how happy it’s made the clients and the impact it’s had on their business.