If you’ve read part 1 & 2 of this article series, you may be asking "what else is there to say about improving one’s translation style?" The answer to that, my friends, is the most important part of the message. Polishing Your Translation Style - Part 3:
- The client and you
- Let your reputation precede you
- Operate like a professional to be a professional
- Don’t make clients look for you
- Who do you do business with?
Read on and profit!
The client and you
Let’s for a moment consider our profession from the perspective of the client.
You have a need for professional translators. You pull out all the stops: hit the search engines; post on translation directories; and, even call in a few favours. In short, you get the word out. Pretty soon you have around a hundred (probably more) potential candidates. Then, based on your translation project requirements, and other priorities and considerations, you cull the list down to 10 candidates. The surviving candidates bring the exact same qualifications and benefits to the table. At this point you do an in-depth analysis on each potential candidate. So, here’s the question: Who do you commission to take on your translation project?
Part 3 of this translation article series answers that question.
(Click here to view the complete series - Polishing Your Translation Style)
Applying the lessons of part 1 & 2 of this article series will put you in the final line up. However, although you may be the most accomplished professional translator in the business, it does not necessarily ensure that clients will contract your services. It is as simple as that -- Brutal to be sure, but the truth none the less! Here‘s where you get to ensure that you’re not one of the "other nine."
Let your reputation precede you
We’re all somebody’s client; no pearl of wisdom there, I am afraid. However, think about the time - and we’ve all experienced this at one time or another - when you made a major purchase decision for a particular product or service without the usual angst. It just seemed the most obvious thing to drop the "green", or money, on the table. You were totally comfortable with your decision. Why was that? Dell (computers) was my experience, and not because Dell produces the best computers, either. For me, it was because their reputation for quality of product AND quality of service preceded them.
What is the lesson here that can be applied to translation style?
Deliver on the promise
Always deliver client projects on time. Better yet, don’t just beat the deadline -- Deliver the project with time to spare. If for some reason, an act of God hopefully, you won’t be able to deliver as promised, give the client a heads up the moment you realize. The response may not be pretty, but it definitely will be appreciated. And, whatever you do, don’t come up with a lame excuse! (You’re not in university anymore!)
Of course, nobody sets about a project intending to miss the deadline, and yet many do. You can avoid the "unavoidable" by:
- Not accepting projects with unrealistic or impossible deadlines. Negotiate a more reasonable deliver date, or simply refuse the job altogether -- Your reputation will not suffer.
- Working within your abilities. Don’t accept material you have little or no expertise knowledge about because then you will definitely end up making lame excuses.
- Making sure you’ll be working within your abilities. Evaluating the source text BEFORE you accept a translation project. Check it out yourself -- Don’t take somebody's word that it’s a "business text." (It may be a business contract requiring legal expertise!)
Take a page from Dell’s operations manual -- Make your clients feel comfortable by developing a reputation for delivering more than you promise. You’re already standing tall in that line up.
Operate like a professional to be a professional
Start by knowing your client
That is, do some preliminary research on the client before submitting your proposal. This is important for a couple of reason. First, your research will manifest itself in the proposal submitted, and the client will definitely pick up on it. The message is powerful: this candidate is interested enough in the job to "go the extra mile!" Second, you’re playing at a psychological level -- You are appealing to a universal sense of vanity. Everybody likes to feel important enough to be "researched."
(I recently received an email from a freelance Japanese translator. This person had skillfully worked an original phrase from an article I had written into the resume. Now, you just have to know that I took a closer, longer look at that resume -- What can I say, I'm only human!)
Too much sweat? Apart from the obvious benefits, you may discover some interesting information. For example, your research may turn up a pierce of information that will land you at the head of the line up. Alternatively, you may discover the client has a history of bouncing checks in which case you probably want to remove yourself from the list. A word of caution is in order, though. When working research into your proposal, do be subtle and forego the flattery.
Professionals know how to listen to understand what’s required.
Have you ever thought about the difference between listen and hear?
And the buzz that comes with a reputation as a good listener -- Pure gold! One hears it all the time: these guys knew exactly what I wanted, and they got it right! Apply your listening skills and let your reputation precede you as a professional that gets the job done right, first time round. You’ll be rewarded many times over with repeated requests for your services.
The job does not start until the paper work is complete!
You need a contract that is detailed, and you need an agreement on that contract before anything happens. At a bare minimum, your contract should have clauses cover pricing, terms of payment, limitation of liability, delivery of product (service), dispute resolution, termination of arrangement and confidentiality. Now, some may think that a contract at this point will scare a potential client away. Quite the contrary -- It speaks loud and clear of professionalism!
In addition to protecting yourself, you’re dealing up front and honestly with an issue that is of obvious importance to the client. And, at the same time you’re providing transparency. For example, the clause on translation pricing will tell the client upfront how much your services will cost and how those figures are arrived at. There’s no greater turn-off than a "black box" pricing structure -- Lurking sticker price shock at its worst!
There are a number of very affordable translation project management software packages targeted at professional translators that do a good job of organizing and storing business records. E-mails, faxes, invoices, contracts, purchase orders, receipts, source files and translated files should all be stored. Some would say that this is a good business practice, which it is. I would argue this is essential to being a professional. Organizing and storing records will ensure clients get a prompt response to inquiries. In addition to lending an aura of professionalism to your operation, stored records are a great source of information when your business grows to the point where data mining becomes feasible.
Plan for the future now!
I’m a repeat customer of Dell. All our hardware (laptops, desktops, and servers) are Dell boxes. As our translation business growths, there’s a continual need to upgrade. How do I know what components to purchase? I simply log into my Dell account and enter the product number of the box I need to upgrade. Every single information record about that box is readily accessible -- Now that’s what I call business record keeping! Of course, not everyone has deep pockets for a state-of-the-art system, but you get the point.
(How long should you keep records for? In some countries, you’re required by law to keep business records for a certain period of time. If you employ a project management software tool you essential have the option to store records forever (recommended). At a minimum, store records for at least one year.)
Communicate like a professional
This is a vast topic that I could never do justice to, and in an article of this length, I also run the risk of losing the original message. Allow me, instead, to focus on written communication since this is probably the most common form of communication that you’ll have with clients, and in most cases, it’ll be the first communication you have with a client.
Your writing abilities either are one of your greatest assets, or one of your greatest liabilities. That’s it.
A colleague found herself in the un-enviable position of having to e-mail the entire company alerting them to an error she’d made on a project she was the lead project manager for. This was a critical error on a major project on which everyone had been slaving away for months. Tempers were very short. I immediately realized she was so stressed, and in such a hurry to fire off that e-mail, that she hadn’t done the best job she could’ve done on format, grammar or style. I explained to her normally people would overlook such issues as trivial; however, in the current situation she’d probably be put to the stake! We re-worked the e-mail several times, took a lazy dinner, and then re-worked it some. How did her colleagues respond? In her words "Oh... the good response was good!"
Written communication is incredibly powerful. Take writing courses if you have to. Definitely re-work everything that clients get to read until it is perfect. And remember this, once it is out there, it becomes a permanent record that you have no control over (i.e. can never edit).
You can dominate the line up by projecting an image of a professional translator. Researching the client, listening carefully to identify what the client wants, tying up (legal) issues that are of concern to the client, employing project management tools, and communicating in a clear and concise manner all serve to focus that image and polish your translation style.
Don’t make clients look for you
Getting referrals, putting out resumes, working the phones, and pressing the flesh are marketing approaches I’m sure you’re employing to stay on the client’s radar. What more can you do?
If you maintain visibility by employing any of these approaches, then like the rest of us, occasionally you drop of the client’s radar. How does this happen? Well, physical addresses change, as do phone numbers, when you move. Maybe your e-mail address changed with your new ISP that you got a great deal on. Or, simply, you changed your e-mail provider because you were unhappy with the service. Do you even remember all the places where you’ve posted your contact details? The point is this: your hard work at staying visible is all for naught because the client won’t be able to contact you about a proposal during this transitional phase, if at all.
An web site offers a permanent solution. Translation professionals often shy away from a web presence for a number of reasons. They assume that the cost is too prohibitive, they don’t have the technical skill requirements, or the commitment is too great. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Unfortunately, these misconceptions may be preventing you from harnessing the full potential of the web to grow your translation business.
A web presence really is within anybody’s reach! What are the possibilities?
- Your internet address, or domain name, will never change which means you’ll have a permanent shingle pointing to your office door.
- You’ll always have the latest version of your material in front of the client that can be accessed from anywhere at any time. In effect, you will be open for business 24/7.
A web presence will not only stabilize your income, it will provide the opportunity for growth -- Planning for the future. Stay accessible to clients, stay in the line up.
Who do you do business with?
Let’s revisit that major purchase decision that we happily made a while back.
Sure, the product (service) came with a good reputation, the operation was professional, and we didn’t have to look too hard for it. In other words, even before we made the purchasing decision, we were already quite comfortable with the idea of making a purchasing decision. In effect, we were already "pre-sold." However, pre-sold is not quite the same as being sold. That fleeting interval between pre-sold and actually carrying through on the purchasing decision - laying out the money - is where it all happens. Sales people refer to this as "closing the sale." And sales people know that in order to seal the deal, the client must not only feel comfortable with the deal, but must also like the person making the sale.
Surprised? Don’t be, you do it all the time, and so do your clients!
All things being equal, we buy from those we like
That bears repeating: 10 candidates offering the exact same qualifications and benefits, and clients will always go with the professional they feel most comfortable with and like.
I’m afraid there’s not much that can be done about character -- We are who we are. But, there definitely are some things you can do to improve your "likeability" score:
- A good, positive attitude attracts clients
Clients don’t want to work with professionals; they want to work with professionals that project a positive attitude. Just as we avoid colleagues that are unpleasant to be around, so do clients avoid contracting professionals that don’t project the right attitude.
- Show appreciation for having the opportunity to work with a client
Send a card, nothing fancy or expensive, with a personal and original thank you message. You should try it -- It works wonders.
- Have a genuine interest in your client’s best interest
Share you insider knowledge of the industry with your client. When you can’t take on a job (maybe you have enough work, or are not qualified for that particular subject matter), reach out to your network and forward the job to a colleague. You can also point clients to translation websites that can handle their project. Clients appreciate these small acts of kindness, and they certainly do not forget about them!
What would an article be without a true, or two, story for emphasis?
After completing under graduate school in Japan, I returned to my home country briefly to help in the family business. We made it a policy to recommend customers to establishments - even if they were competitors - that most likely carried the products we could not provide. Did customers ever appreciate it! They ended up coming around more regularly and making more purchases. Not only that, but even our competitors started referring their customers to us during stock outs. Of course, we made sure not to run out of stock too often -- Clients also have businesses to run…
(The customary caution is not to introduce the client to a nightmare. A good rule of thumb to follow is to never introduce the client to a product or service you yourself would not layout money for.)
When clients like you, you are the line up.
Ultimately, the success of your translation style can only be measured by the number of your clients, and the number of projects that those client entrust you with. That’s very much a function of how successful you are in making your clients feel comfortable with your deal -- Defined by reputation, professionalism and visibility, and by climbing in the "likeability" rankings.
About the Author
Ivan Vandermerwe is the CEO of SAECULII YK, the owner of Tokyo Translation Services Japan Visit SAECULII for the latest professional articles and news on Japanese Translation Services
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