Direct clients… the freelancer’s dream

By Helen Eby

We all want to work with direct clients… or say we do. Why?

I have heard many translators wish they could connect with direct clients in a “the grass is always greener” kind of way. I like working with direct clients, and such work comes with its own set of joys and challenges. However, it is a complex issue.

Some joys Some challenges
  • More intimate teamwork.
  • Ability to find out the purpose of the translation and make it fit that purpose more precisely.
  • Visiting the client’s office to see how we can enhance the client’s mission.
  • It isn’t just about the money.
  • We grow as we become an organization’s translator of reference.
  • Our clients may look for ways to support our mission.
  • The relationship develops slowly. It takes years to develop a reciprocal partnership.
  • We absorb the risk of non-payment.
  • To be able to offer a full service, we have to subcontract editing and other tasks, so we must develop a more complete team.
  • Our price needs to reflect additional costs, such as project management time, client development time, and subcontracting a reviewer.
  • We need a referral network for assignments that go beyond the scope of what we can handle. Doing work that isn’t up to our usual standards is a great way to lose trust!

icon-41335_640To develop a true sense of teamwork with a client, we need to be able to articulate our role and our expectations clearly. We have to assume that our client is not fully informed about the translation process, its complexities, or our needs as their partners. I have developed a worksheet based on the ASTM Standards. I introduce it during an initial conversation with the client so we know what to expect from each other.Why use the ASTM? And what does that spell anyway?

ASTM International, formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), is a globally recognized leader in the development and delivery of international voluntary consensus standards.

From the About ASTM International page.

I use the ASTM Standard Guide for Quality Assurance in Translation as a foundation for this worksheet because the ASTM Standards are developed by producers from many different sectors of the translation field. The ASTM requires that at least 50% of the voters be users of our services, which ensures that it is a process that meets the needs of clients and is peer-reviewed by colleagues. Because of this, it is highly respected around the world.

The Guide has sections on what translation is, who the Guide is for, how to select a translation service provider, the different phases of the translation project (see page 3 of my worksheet), and how to develop specifications for a project (that is a big part of my worksheet).

My personal worksheet asks questions like:

  • Who was the source text originally written for?
  • Who will the translation be written for?
  • How much will we have to modify the original text for it to serve the new target audience?
  • Who will do the non-translation work, such as desktop publishing, modification of graphics, etc.?
  • Are there any restrictions on where the work could be done? For example, an attorney or a hospital may want a document to be translated at their office for confidentiality reasons.
  • Will the requestor have a member of his team provide an in-house review? If so, who will make the final decisions about the translated text?
  • Has the requestor produced other documents in this target language that we should be consistent with?
  • How will we communicate during the translation process?
  • Will the translator be identified in the final document?
  • Of course, we talk about payment issues… This is usually the last thing I talk about because the preceding conversation helps us both understand the complexities of the project.

The last page of my worksheet explains my translation process to the requestor. Knowing there is a thoughtful approach to meeting their needs leads the client to respond, “You are a professional!”Using this worksheet, based on the ASTM Standards, has helped my clients and my other partners know that we are not creating a process all by ourselves. We are following a process and working with people according to established best practices, which have been shown to work best for clients and for requestors alike. That is how we develop solid teamwork with clients, whether they are direct clients or translation companies.

More on Helen Eby: After starting to use this checklist, Helen Eby joined the ASTM and is now the Technical Contact for Subcommittee F43.03 on Language Translation. The current Standard is now under review. In the ASTM process, every voice must be given full consideration, and Helen has learned a lot through this position.

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