Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Back From Chicago With Lessons Learned

After an interesting, but also exhausting STC Summit and reinstalling everything on my desktop (starting with the operating system), I'm back to more regular work. A few lessons learned from this trip:

An iPad alone is insufficient equipment if you turned in translations just before leaving. As it turned out, two of my clients needed additions to work I had sent just before I left for Chicago. Fortunately this time I was staying at the conference hotel, so I could scoot up to my room during Monday's lunch break to deal with these texts. When packing I had decided at the last minute that I didn't need both the iPad and netbook, and left the latter at home. As a result I had to translate without CAT tools or even a decent keyboard. I had brought my bluetooth keyboard for the iPad and got the job done, but typing with timelag to the screen and without being able to switch to a German keyboard was frustrating. Next time I'll bring the netbook (and probably not need it).

It is worth paying for mobile access to CRM (customer relationship management) data. Sage ACT!'s service, where the data resides in the "cloud" still worries me, but there is an iPad app called "iTract for ACT!" that synchs with the ACT! database on my computer. I downloaded a trial version, but haven't yet had a chance to test it. If it lets me input the business cards I'm accumulating at these events while waiting for my plane, then sync them with my desktop when I get back, it will be worth buying.

There is an Android app called "PDAnet" that lets me use my phone to connect other devices to the internet. I should figure out whether there is a way to hook my iPad up to my phone. That way I could be much more productive while waiting for 2-hour plane delays caused by bad weather in New York. After all, there is only so much online work one can do on a smartphone's pull-out mini keyboard and mini screen.

Do you have any other road warrior tips for running your business while not in your (home) office? Please share them in the comments section below.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Client Acquisition and Relationship Management

No, not that kind of relationship. I am talking about keeping track of clients and potential clients, not managing my personal life. Back in the Fall I bought Sage ACT! to track potential clients and my interactions with them. While there are plug-ins for the software to interact with other standard applications, such as Microsoft Outlook, I have a number of problems with my version of ACT!. For one thing, the supposed integration with Outlook doesn't work very well and doesn't recognize e-mails sent by other people within the same organization, unless I set each person up as a separate contact. That's quite a task for larger language service providers with many different project managers.

Besides, I have moved away from Outlook and now mostly use Gmail to manage my e-mail. The e-mail address connected to my website domain name forwards to a Gmail account that I can easily access from my phone or any browser. That greatly simplifies negotiating projects when I'm not sitting at my computer - for example while having my morning coffee (at which point it's already early afternoon in Europe).

I am therefore looking again for another customer relationship management (CRM) solution. Samantha Gluck mentioned on Twitter a blog post with a list of some 20 CRM solutions for freelancers, with a brief blurb and links to all of them. This yielded a couple of promising options: Work[etc] and The first one is expensive (at least for a one-person company), but includes a billing solution. The second one has a free version, but no billing module and seems less customizable than Work[etc].

Unfortunately both of them are cloud-based (i.e., hosted on someone else's server). I suppose this is necessary if I want to be able to access this information on the go, for example at a conference, but I'm not sure how I feel about entrusting my client contact information to "the cloud". On the other hand, my gmail contacts are already on Google's servers and all my e-mails are stored on my web hosting company's and/or Google's computers. So this may not make much of a difference.

About client acquisition: a few posts ago, I wrote about creating a second, more client-focused blog and alternating posts between this blog and the other one. In preparation I started to re-write some of the older posts from this blog that might be interesting to potential clients. But while uploading a new photo of myself (courtesy of my daughter and son-in-law who took and cropped/processed the photo, respectively) I realized that most social media sites only let you list one blog URL. So now I am rethinking the entire two-blog concept. Back to the drawing board, then ... (By the way, the new picture is in the bio section to the right of this post.)

Note: I will be at the STC Technical Communication Summit in Chicago next week and may not post next Wednesday, unless I have enough time (and an internet connection) at O'Hare before my flight back.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Preparing for the STC Conference

The annual Society for Technical Communication Summit in Chicago is a little more than 2 weeks away. So my preparations are in full swing. I wrote my presentation based on average words/minute for public speaking. Turns out, I talk fast (no surprises there, my friends and family would say). So I'm 2 minutes short. Either I slow down, or I write more text. Knowing myself, I suppose I better opt for the latter.

Meanwhile, STC created a social media app just for the conference where attendees can set up profiles, follow others, post their schedules (only official sessions, though), etc. Great networking opportunity, but it can be time-consuming. But then, I suppose, networking takes time in general.

So I said in an earlier post that I'd try and have the client-focused blog up and running by the time I depart for Chicago. I have been working on writing/re-writing posts for that, but I'm not sure I'll have the time to actually set up the blog before I leave. Maybe I'll find time at the conference to do it (one can always hope!).

Another item on my to-do list is to get a decent picture of myself for posting online and using in other promotional material. Again, I'd like to have this done (and up on my website, the conference social media app, etc.) before I leave. Looking for photographers online earlier today, I had a brainstorm: Macy's here in New York has free makeup sessions in its cosmetics section (where they then try to sell you expensive makeup stuff), as well as a photo studio. Maybe I can combine the two, get a professional makeup job on the first floor, then a professional picture on whatever floor the studio is on. If it's digital, I should be able to get it while I wait, right?

Then, of course, there is notifying regular clients of my absence, preparing flight and hotel information for my family, checking that my business clothes are clean and ironed, etc. Not to mention practicing my presentation, actual packing, backing up everything and making sure I have all the files and applications I might need while in Chicago.

I wonder how frequent conference/event speakers handle all these preparations (and the attendant stress) ...

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Referrals Are (Sometimes) Great

I was recently referred by someone I know from one of the groups to which I belong to a potential client. That's wonderful, isn't it? Well, it turns out the potential client needed languages in which I don't work.

Obviously, I didn't communicate clearly enough to my networking contact what exactly I do - and in which languages. This led me to thinking about how I approach networking. Basically, I attend events, try to have something useful to say and hope for the best. Not the best way to go about this and apparently not well directed, either.

In his The Marketing Plan Handbook: Develop Big-Picture Marketing Plans for Pennies on the Dollar, Bob Bly talks about crafting an "elevator pitch" -- a very concise, yet compelling, statement about exactly what I do. My attempts to come up with such a statement seemed rather forced and "marketingy". I hate being marketed to, so how can I inflict this on others?

But marketing - especially marketing through networking - is the name of the game if I ever want to work with end clients (and get paid accordingly) rather than agencies. Since I attend both events within the translation community and those in the larger technical and business community, I probably need more than one such "elevator pitch". I don't need to explain to translators the difference between translation and interpreting or the fact that I only work with a very specific language. On the other hand, contacts in the technical community will know that working with technical material doesn't mean one is equally adept at marketing copy.

So what's your "elevator pitch" (or pitches)?