Adventures with Direct Clients—Part One

By David Friedman

pocket-watch-331021_1280I have always wanted to work with direct clients, since the early stages of my translation career. I would like to tell you the story of what has so far been my most exciting direct client adventure, to show that these kinds of things actually happen in the real world if you play your cards right. You don’t have to be a superhero, just little old me, a 30-year-old with five years of translation experience and almost no business background. But first, allow me to set the scene by explaining my specific challenges in relation to selling to potential direct clients.

I had some experience with direct clients I got through referrals, but I struggled initially when clients approached me in a competitive situation. This is where the pressure was on to make a good impression, to ask the right questions, to give the right reasons for choosing you, to tailor your quotes appropriately, and listen to and understand their needs.

Sometimes they just asked for a price and deadline, I replied, and then they said thanks but chose someone else, or they never answered. I slowly started to learn that I needed to find out more from them before giving a quote, and more recently, there were a couple of times where I talked to them on the phone first to ask how urgent it is and who the target audience is and tell them I offer different prices depending on the urgency of the translation. As I got more practice, I started to try to mention some of the benefits of choosing me and my translation team, and these selling points started to gradually slip off the tongue easier when speaking with potential clients seeking a quote on the phone. I could feel that I was getting closer to finding a method that worked for me and to increasing my chances of success, but still had not really reaped the rewards I was hoping for yet.

One day, an inquiry came in out of the blue for a specific type of text and specific number of words (a relatively large project) to be translated into English. So I called the client to see where it might lead. I took a risk and gave him some approximate price and deadline options on the phone, even though I generally try to avoid doing that so I can see the text first. I also took the opportunity to mention some of the benefits of choosing me, such as direct contact with the translator, you know who the translator is and that I have experience translating this type of text, and that revision is always included. He responded by telling me that he has other quotes (from translation agencies), and asked if I could match a certain rate and time frame.

Although it was slightly lower than my initial quote, these terms were acceptable to me and still within the price range I had in mind going into the call. He then asked me to send him an email with a sample of my work from this field, and to reconfirm the price and deadline, as well as to restate in the email the reasons to choose me, and that was the end of the phone call.

What did I learn from this phone call? If I had not in this particular case begun to discuss the pricing and timing, the client may have never revealed the terms of the other quotes he had received and may have just passed up on me. And perhaps my sales pitch gave the client a favorable impression of me, which made him interested in seeing if I could match the terms of a competitor instead of not bothering to ask.

Next, I put a lot of thought and energy into which particular passage from a past job to send as a sample, and how to phrase the selling points in the email. I didn’t hear back from him for a couple days, but then suddenly around 5 o’clock on a Friday, I got an email saying “I would like to choose you; please call me Monday morning to discuss the details.”

I had no idea during our initial negotiations, but I soon found out that the client wanted me to draft a formal contract with fixed prices and delivery time frames for ongoing work over a six-month period. This was completely uncharted territory for me, and it was exciting that a direct client wanted to establish this kind of formal, close business relationship with me.

The next thing I knew, I was invited to visit the client’s offices to sign the contract. This was also a first for me. In the past, I had never seen the people, the context, and the space that my translation would be used in. I was struck by how friendly everyone I was introduced to was, even though I was an outsider touring their closely-knit world. The decorations, the furniture, the layout and everything about the office had a very specific feel to it and their contemporary approach to consulting appealed to me. I really felt at home in this setting and enamored with it.

Later, when I went on to do my first translation for the client, I could see and feel the setting and tone in my mind’s eye while I was working, and noticed that it affected the wording I naturally was inclined to choose. This is something I had never experienced before, and it was very exciting.

I am proud to be able to say that I had a good understanding of my client’s corporate culture and that this definitely improved the quality of my work and helped us hit it off very quickly and build a close successful relationship. I hope to have more adventures in “direct client land” to share with you soon and would love to hear some of yours too!

3 thoughts on “Adventures with Direct Clients—Part One

  1. David — nice story. Thank you. FWIW, I make a point of calling on my clients whenever I find myself in their town. You are absolutely right about how having a feel for the place and people at the other end of the delivery makes a difference.
    Without exception, they are always delighted to meet one of their “vendors.” This applies to my direct clients and translation company clients.
    Jonathan.

  2. This was an interesting read, David – thanks! I’m building up my client base and it’s always really useful to hear about others’ experiences.

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