Marketing Services during a Pandemic and Economic Crisis: Why You Should Do It and How to Get It Right

By Madalena Sánchez Zampaulo

Lately, you may be asking yourself, “How do I market my translation or interpreting services during a global health and economic crisis?” or “Should I be marketing at all?” You’re not alone. This question has landed in my inbox so many times during the past few weeks from colleagues asking what they should do.

How you decide to market your business during the COVID-19 pandemic is a very personal decision. You may be of the mindset that outbound marketing (actively marketing by sending your marketing message to clients) is inappropriate right now. While I’ll admit I thought this myself, especially during those first days when things seemed to shift by the hour, I quickly changed my mind. Why? Because our clients still need us, and their clients need us. Plain and simple.

While I’ll touch on inbound marketing later, I would like to ask you to consider two things before deciding that you absolutely will not do any outbound marketing during this crisis.

  1. Do you have work landing in your inbox consistently right now?
  2. Are you sure that you’ll continue to have enough consistent work coming in throughout this crisis?

If your answer is “no” to either of these questions (most of the colleagues I talk to would answer “no” to at least one) and you don’t have another source of cash flow in your household to rely on in uncertain times, you may need to rethink what you will and won’t do.

I get it. No one wants to appear out of touch or opportunistic, especially when there’s so much suffering. But rather than continue to worry that you might turn clients off or bother them during what is a very stressful time for everyone, have you considered that your clients might very well need your services as a solution to one of many problems they’re experiencing?

While continuing to work and earn money, you can continue to contribute to the economy. You can continue to provide clients incredibly useful services during a time when their challenges are great and their resources are potentially very few.

To be clear, there’s a way to market your business and not be salesy. There’s a way to market your business and still be compassionate. There’s a way to market your business and serve your clients where they are right now. If incoming work has slowed down, or if it’s come to a complete standstill, you might be experiencing a lot of doubt when it comes to marketing at all. But trust me. Just because some of your clients don’t seem to be spending money right now doesn’t mean no one is.

Yes, some industries and companies are experiencing a huge downturn, but others are not. Even those that are struggling are looking for ways to be creative when it comes to their own marketing. So, why not build a partnership to help them revive their businesses? By marketing your business appropriately now, you can not only show up for your clients when everyone could use some additional support, but you can set your translation or interpreting business on the path to forming and maintaining long-term stability.

Hone Your Messaging First

Messaging is always key when it comes to marketing, but now, more than ever, it’s absolutely essential to get it right. If your messaging is appropriate and you’re coming from a place of service, clients will see you as a helping hand, not as an opportunist. While we surely all want to be the former, proper messaging is vital to avoid being the latter.

During a time when everyone is struggling, the best way we can help our clients—both now and all the time—is by solving problems. The key to your messaging lies in how you solve problems for those you serve. Only you know what messaging is appropriate for your ideal clients. Only you can determine the right messaging for a scenario like the current crisis.

Whatever approach you take, it’s important to recognize the current situation. Don’t avoid mentioning COVID-19. Instead, call it out. Everybody is thinking about this right now. And while your messaging should not focus solely on COVID-19, acknowledge it while keeping in mind that you have something of value to offer that’s relevant.

Current Client Approach

Craft a brief, but sincere, email to clients.

  • Ask how they’re doing.
  • Let them know that you’re available to help with anything urgent. If they have something related to COVID-19 messaging to send their clients, colleagues, or employees, tell them that you’ll put it at the front of the project queue.
  • Avoid a direct sales pitch of any sort unless what you’re offering is relevant and can help them right now.

Pretty simple, right?

When you write to clients, don’t do so expecting a response. That said, I would be willing to bet that you’ll receive at least a few. Even if there’s no offer or mention of projects or assignments in the pipeline, your clients will be happy to hear from you, to experience some normalcy and a friendly face in their inbox. I mean, couldn’t we all do with a kind message in our inbox these days?

It’s important to remember that everyone is stressed and working double-time in fewer hours right now. My own work dried up for about a week or so, but once clients seemed to get settled in their new remote routines, my project flow picked up again. Of course, my messaging helped. Here are two messages I sent to clients and their responses:

Outbound message #1:

Good morning, XXX and YYY!

I hope you are both well. I know things are a little unpredictable right now related to the ever-changing situation of COVID-19 in different areas, so I just wanted to let you know I am thinking of you and hoping your organization is remaining relatively unaffected.

If there is anything I can do to help regarding translations pertaining to COVID-19 (or in general), please don’t hesitate to let me know. I’ll be happy to put any related projects at the front of the queue.

Stay safe and healthy! I know we are looking forward to returning to “normal” whenever possible, and I imagine you are as well.

Take care!
Madalena

Client Response:

Thanks! We really appreciate the check-in and hope you are staying safe and healthy, too.

We actually have two COVID-related items we’ll need translated relatively quickly as soon as we get internal content approved. Thank you for moving those to the front of your queue when they come—we’re working frantically on them ourselves.

Wishing you and yours all the best,
YYY

Outbound Message #2:

Hi, XXX!

I hope you and your family, as well as the entire ABC team and their families, are well and staying healthy. Since we just wrapped up next quarter’s content, I wanted to check in to see how you’re getting along in this hectic time.

I saw that you were able to reuse the content from the blog post I provided on XYZ. Wonderful! I was curious to know if it would be helpful for me to write a few blog posts a month for the next few months.

The goal would be to drive more traffic to ABC’s site, as well as to take some work off your plates. I know that most people’s schedules have been thrown for a loop these days, and I would be happy to work on them for you. If I can be of help to you all and remove any added stress that content creation might be causing during this time, when I know there is so much else going on in addition to routine business, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

 Warmly,
Madalena

Client Response:

Hi Madalena,

Thanks for checking in ! We are all doing well at ABC, just adjusting to this new normal we are in. I hope you and your family are doing well and staying healthy as well.

 Yes, that blog post has been great content for us to use elsewhere. Thank you again for turning it around so quickly! I’ll definitely check in with YYY and ZZZ on your offer to write more blog posts for us. I really appreciate your offer to help out during this time!

I’ll be in touch soon!

While both messages resulted in positive outcomes, there’s the possibility that there may not be a specific assignment for you at the time you send current clients a message like this. On the other hand, it could very well be the case that your email is well-timed and that you could take something off your clients’ overly full plates, either now or a month from now. You’ll never know if you don’t reach out.

New Client Approach

Once you’ve had a chance to craft your pandemic-related messaging to your current clients, it’s time to think about new clients. Yes, it’s easier to market to existing clients than new ones, but that doesn’t make it impossible, nor does it make you tone-deaf. Consider your area(s) of specialization and the clients you have the ability to serve. Then ask yourself these questions.

  • What potential clients could you reach out to who are in a similar position as your current clients and who could truly use a professional translator or interpreter right now?
  • What gap(s) do you fill in the market right now?
  • Are you willing to offer services at a discount to those who may not have an ideal budget due to the economic downturn caused by COVID-19?
  • Can you serve another industry by using the skills and experience you have?
  • Who most definitely needs professional and prompt language services during a time like this? Who will need them long after this crisis has ended?

Craft a message similar to the ones in the examples I shared earlier and tweak them to fit potential clients who would value your services and appreciate some help to overcome language-related challenges. Again, just remember to:

  • Ask how they’re doing.
  • Tell them you’re available to help with anything urgent and that you’ll put anything related to the COVID-19 messaging for their clients, colleagues, or employees at the top of the list.
  • Avoid a direct sales pitch of any sort unless what you’re offering is relevant and can help them immediately.

If this pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that everyone has been impacted in some way. We’re seeing industries and companies suffering losses like never before. But at the same time, they’re working on their own messaging and communications—both to survive the current crisis and to prepare for the future. They have to be ready to meet their customers where they are when people are ready to spend money on their products and services.

Decide If a Pivot—Even a Temporary One—Is Necessary

Small and large businesses and organizations are showing just how creative and determined they can be right now. As I write this, restaurants are offering take-out and delivery options so they can remain open. Schools are taking to online instruction on an unprecedented scale to allow students to finish out the school year with some semblance of order. Fitness studios are offering remote group classes to pay the rent while their employees and patrons have been ordered to stay home.

As you consider the current and future state of your business, don’t be afraid to rule out a pivot, even if it’s a temporary one. For example, perhaps you work for one of the harder hit industries, let’s say travel and tourism. Take some time to look at previous projects and assignments you’ve successfully completed.

  • Are there any projects you’ve handled that could relate to another specialization or field?
  • What can you provide for an industry that might be booming right now?
  • How can you show up for your travel and tourism clients to help them finesse their current messaging, as well as their post-COVID-19 messaging when customers are ready to travel again?

While a complete pivot may not be necessary, it’s important to stay open to possibilities you might not have considered previously. If you’re not sure where to start with your new-client messaging, go back to the idea of looking for a gap that you might fill right now. You can find a lot of these if you’re paying attention!

If you’re a health care interpreter, for example, consider contacting all of the local doctors and dentists offices that have patients in areas with large populations of speakers of other languages and offer your services. A lot of them are still cancelling and rescheduling appointments via phone calls, text messages, and emails, as well as conducting virtual “office visits” with their patients by utilizing remote interpreting methods.

If you’re a translator, could you offer those same doctors and dentists a way to notify their clients about new procedures and healthy practices by translating email content for patients? Many offices will be sending COVID-19-related notifications for the next several months, maybe longer. How can you offer your services to help?

Consider Offering Short-Term, Pro Bono Relief to Those Most in Need

You may have considered offering some free translations related to the pandemic within your specializations. Or perhaps you’re willing to volunteer as an interpreter for a situation that requires critical communication. If you have the ability to give something for free during this chaotic time, you can serve a current need while planting a seed for the future—when clients do have the cash flow to allocate part of their budget to professional translation or interpreting.

If you’re not in a position to volunteer your services, is there anything you could create or pass along to clients who you know are currently facing challenging situations? If you’re drawing a blank, consider sending something useful but meaningful such as:

  • An article or resource that might be timely and relevant.
  • A simple message in one of your working languages that lets your client’s customers know how long they will be closed or when they plan to reopen.
  • An uplifting message (this can seem like a very small gesture, but you never know who needs to receive one).

Whatever you offer, make sure you can relate it back to your brand and services in some way, but be sensitive about the language you use when you deliver. What I’ve found most effective is to simply acknowledge the hardship and share what you can offer as a small contribution to helping clients in a tough time.

Don’t Forget Your Inbound Marketing Strategy

This is probably rather obvious. After all, if you have extra time on your hands due to a slow trickle of incoming work, you can put that time to use by marketing your business in ways other than those mentioned here.

  • First and foremost, make sure your website is updated so the copy and design appeal to your ideal clients. If you’ve been meaning to create a new website, now is the time.
  • If your clients and leads are active on social media, engage with them regularly. You can still market your services indirectly by being helpful and available to them online.
  • Update any directory profiles you have on association websites. Make sure the profile leads back to your website.
  • Polish your résumé. Add any new experience or training and remove anything that doesn’t reflect the work you want to attract going forward.
  • Make a list of companies, organizations, or agencies where you would like to apply or market your services once people are going back to work.

I could go on and on. Bottom line: there’s plenty of marketing work you can do to look to the future and prepare your business for better times to come.

Start Small and Market Your Services with Care

If you’ve been on the fence about marketing your business during the COVID-19 crisis, start small. Perhaps a happy medium of both outbound and inbound marketing is the right fit for you. Work on your inbound marketing first so that when you’re ready, you have a place (e.g., website) where you can lead clients. When you figure out the outbound marketing techniques that are most appropriate for your ideal customers, be ready to put your plan into action. So, get to work. Make this time count. No matter what, don’t simply wait for the work to come to you.

After dusting yourself off from the initial shock of all this, take proactive steps and consider the fact that this is a perfect time to be planting seeds. The economy will turn around, people will go back to work, and when they do, they will remember you for their future translation or interpreting needs—but only if you reach out now.

Whatever your specializations are, there is work for you. There are people who need your services, and there are many who needed them yesterday! It’s time to step up, pivot your message with care, and contribute value by solving problems.

If your project pipeline has dried up, or even if it’s just barely flowing at a trickle, you have the gift of time right now. And if it hasn’t yet slowed down, count yourself lucky. But think twice about putting off all marketing efforts until another time. You never know when crises like COVID-19 will happen. As quickly as this virus has taken hold of our communities, bringing many to their knees, your current project load could slow down tomorrow. No one is immune to the effects of “here today, gone tomorrow.” But take comfort in the fact that you have incredibly important skills that are valuable to others.

Even if your clients or leads cannot afford your services at your normal rates right now, they will remember that you reached out to them when they were struggling. This does not go unnoticed. What does go unnoticed is if you stay silent and don’t find a way to be relevant by offering your support and incredibly valuable services when everyone can use an extra hand.

__________________________________________

Madalena Sánchez Zampaulo is ATA president-elect and chairs the Membership Committee and Governance and Communications Committee. She is the owner of Accessible Translation Solutions and a Spanish>English and Portuguese>English translator. She served as chair of ATA’s Public Relations Committee (2014–2018) and administrator of ATA’s Medical Division (2011–2015). She has a BA in Spanish from the University of Southern Mississippi and an MA in Spanish from the University of Louisville. She is also a consultant for the University of Louisville Graduate Certificate in Translation. You can read more of her articles on her blog at www.madalenazampaulo.com/blog. Contact: madalena@accessibletranslations.com.

1 Responses to "Marketing Services during a Pandemic and Economic Crisis: Why You Should Do It and How to Get It Right"

  1. Nina Ivanichvili says:

    Very good suggestions. On the subject of pro bono work, many employers employing LEP (Limited English Proficiency) workers and serving non-English-speaking customers may not prioritize the need for and/ or budget for having the Company’s Coronavirus Policy translated into the languages spoken by their non-English-speaking employees and customers. It is worth reminding them that these services and available and how they, their employees and customers would benefit from obtaining multilingual professional document translation services. For details please see: “Legal Translation in the Times of Coronavirus” https://www.languagealliance.com/blog/legal-translation-in-the-times-of-coronavirus/

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