Today on WriteWorldwide, English-Spanish bilingual writer and expert in cross-border, cross-cultural communication Randy B. Hecht talks to us about building a writing career, the skills and strategies you’ll need to make it as a bilingual writer, and more.
Let’s get down to it….
Hi Randy, please introduce yourself to the WriteWorldwide readers.
I’m a New York City-based writer in English and Spanish for media, custom publishers, corporations and NGOs in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.
I founded my company, Aphra Communications, in 2001 and since 2008 have been working in partnership with Alex Talavera, who is based in his native Santa Cruz, Bolivia.
How did you start your bilingual writing career?
I was referred to the editor of a bilingual in-flight magazine in Mexico and wrote for that magazine until the airline went out of business. My experience working for that publication led to the opportunity to write for a Japanese in-flight magazine that wanted to cover a Mexico City company’s expansion to Tokyo.
Over the years, my business has expanded to a portfolio of clients in the U.K., France, Switzerland, Germany, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and China.
What’s your top marketing strategy for writers to secure cross-border clients? And what type of businesses are in need of multilingual writers?
In terms of marketing strategy, the key is networking, just as it is with monolingual assignments.
The biggest freelance marketing mistake I’ve seen is reliance on job boards and bidding sites. Unless your goal is to serve clients who value low price over high quality, it’s best to avoid the bidding sites or at least use them selectively.
Networking allows you to determine which prospective clients need your language skills and services.
Depending on your training and expertise, that might mean bilingual magazines, corporations that operate across borders, or nonprofits and NGOs.
To secure work with them, you must have training in the areas in which they work. Being multilingual won’t help you to get a magazine assignment if you have no background in journalism, for example.
So it’s not a question of which types of businesses are universally in need of multilingual writing services. It’s a question of which prospects are in need of your particular skills and services.
Networking, whether in person or via social media, helps you to identify and connect with those prospects.
What are your tips for writers who want to start a multilingual freelance writing business?
Know your target markets and your value proposition. You must be able to articulate the value you deliver to clients.
That, in turn, will help you to identify and pursue the prospective clients most likely to be responsive to your sales pitch.
What do you think is the mindset every freelance writer should embrace to become successful?
I think every freelance writer should embrace the mindset that there is no single mindset that every freelance writer should embrace.
The question reminds me of those freelance writers who claim they are able to complete any kind of writing assignment on any topic.
There are thousands of freelance writers who make that claim. If it’s true of all of them, then there is no compelling reason to hire one versus another.
The successful writers I know have developed specialized knowledge and skills that differentiate them from other freelancers and enable them to market themselves successfully to clients whose needs closely match their capabilities. That leads to longer-term business relationships, referrals, and other drivers of sustained success.
What resources (i.e. books, groups, blog posts or courses) can you recommend for multilingual writers?
I recommend reading newspapers and magazines from a variety of countries and in as many languages as you understand.
This helps you to maintain current knowledge of trends and developments that may help you to identify opportunities for your business.
In English, I read The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, BBC.com, and The Harvard Business Review, among others. BBC Mundo, the BBC’s Spanish-language service, is very good, and I follow Latin American news via various Mexican and South American outlets.
Another strategy I’ve found helpful is setting Google News as my home page. You can customize the site to deliver news on topics or from countries that particularly interest you, so I get an instant overview of news from, for example, Japan, Switzerland, or Bolivia. It’s helpful to get this digest of major events, because it’s impossible to read everything.
What’s one piece of advice you wish you had when you started your freelancing journey as a bilingual writer?
This is actually something I observed soon after launching my business. If you spend time with freelancers or in freelance-related social media groups, you’ll notice that there are two categories of freelance writers.
The first category consists of writers who are focused on how difficult the business is, how impossible it is to find high-paying work, how little clients value their services, and so on.
But the freelancers in the second category are having a completely different experience. They recognize that the business is challenging (as are all businesses), but they regularly find high-paying work with clients who do value their services, and they reject the idea that freelancing must follow a poverty model.
My advice to new freelancers is to emulate the attitude and professionalism of freelancers in the second category. I have observed that there is a high degree of self-fulfilling prophesy in this matter and that your fortunes are likely to mirror those of the group with which you identify.
What projects or businesses are you involved in other than freelance writing?
In terms of hobbies, I enjoy photography, attending music and dance performances, and designing jewelry, which is something I’ve done since childhood. I’m also active in philanthropic causes, many of them related to poverty reduction, human rights, and environmental protection.
These are long-standing concerns of mine, but after working and traveling internationally for many years, I am even more aware of the injustices in the world and eager to do what I can to counter them.
Want more interviews like these? Head on over to our interviews page to learn more from other experts, readers, and experienced writers.