Have you been following our five-part series on how to assess your readiness to become a successful translator, inspired by ATA’s Self-Evaluation Questionnaire for Translators? If so, we hope your phone is ringing by now! Today we will discuss tips for how to keep the calls coming, based on section 3 of the aforementioned ATA checklist, titled “Professional Relationships (How to keep the phone ringing).”
But before we dive in: if you are just joining, you may want to have a look at the first two posts in the series:
Now buckle up and get ready for the good stuff.
By now your hook is baited and you’re starting to get some bites. How do you keep the catches coming?
As you may expect, there are some no-brainers when it comes to retaining clients and landing new ones: make sure to offer consistent quality, be trustworthy (think honoring deadlines and confidentiality agreements), and, importantly, when it comes to finding new clients, be sure to regularly evaluate and refine your marketing strategies. (Here are some ideas on how to get your name out there, from Carlos Djomo’s post, “6-Step Strategy to Translators’ Visibility.”)
Beyond these foundations for fostering strong relationships, we selected four more tips ripe for the picking, based on the ATA questionnaire.
Do I return phone calls promptly?
Availability and promptness may strike you as “no-brainers,” but as obvious as they may seem, their importance cannot be emphasized enough—hence this being the first of the four tips.
If you take away only one thing from this post, let it be to respond promptly to clients.
If possible, make a habit of replying to new project requests and other important client emails within 30 minutes to an hour. To avoid distractions from work, you may choose to set a reminder to check email every hour. I do this by checking email when my Pomodoro timer goes off (every 25 or 50 minutes, depending on the day or the task at hand).
If you do check email frequently for client messages, be sure to filter out nonurgent emails and tend only to client messages that merit a response. Otherwise, you may end up unnecessarily digressing from work. If you are unable to respond for 90–120 minutes or more, consider setting an autoresponder to let clients know you will reply as soon as possible.
Even if you are unavailable for a job, send a prompt and gracious reply so the client knows they can rely on you next time. You may want to streamline the process by creating an email template (or a “canned response” if you’re using Gmail) that you can reuse and make minor edits to on a case-by-case basis. This limits time spent drafting responses for each individual email, yet allows you to keep clients informed.
Interested in more email hacks? Have a look at this post by Victoria Chavez-Kruse: “Inbox Zero: Forever in pursuit of ‘No new mail!’”
Do I maintain a positive, cooperative attitude? (Are my requests and specific working requirements reasonable?)
You have probably heard the saying, “People work with people they know, like and trust.” In fact, you may have heard it more than a few times. (Clichés are cliché for a reason: they are true!) Successful translators are easy to work with: they have a pleasant, can-do attitude, are willing to cooperate, and have the ability to see things from the client’s perspective. All of these qualities will make you a pleasure to work with.
Here are some questions to ask yourself that will help you reflect on what kind of impression you make: When I am asked to edit a text that was poorly translated, do I immediately complain about quality, or do I try to get to the bottom of why this happened and how to avoid it in the future? When a client cancels a project after it has already been approved, is my response firm and professional, yet friendly, and does it invite the client to collaborate with me on ways to avoid the problem in the future? When I correspond with my clients, do I show them they are valued and not just an email address without a face or name? I like to feel valued by them, and surely the same is true for them!
You may just find that your quest for a positive attitude in your work makes you not only a pleasant collaborator, but a more optimistic person in other aspects of your life, too. Talk about a win-win!
Am I flexible? Am I open to change? (Can I readily admit mistakes and offer to correct them?)
Translation projects are often dynamic. There are last-minute changes, unexpected hurdles, and the occasional impossible expectation. You can minimize the impact of these challenges by accounting for them from the start (for example, add in a time buffer when agreeing to deadlines). When difficulties arise, flexibility and a can-do attitude are key in overcoming them.
As for inevitable oversights and mistakes, what matters most is not their occurrence, but how we face them when they are brought to our attention. It is natural to feel defensive about our work (after all, we put an excruciating amount of care into it!), but we must remember that our clients are our greatest allies. In fact, in the case of agencies, we share the self-same goal of producing an impeccable text for the end client, and as any writer or translator knows, four eyes are better than two.
Take time to evaluate the alleged mistake with a cool head before deciding how to proceed. If a correction is in order, be gracious and prompt about delivering the changes. Remember to take note of what went wrong for the future. If you truly feel the client is mistaken in their correction, you may opt to defend your translation, but do so considerately and be sure to acknowledge the client’s point of view.
Can I accept the fact that my client does not know all about my profession or its problems, nor my personal difficulties, and that it is not his or her responsibility to learn about them?
Think of the last time you hired someone. Whether it was a graphic designer, lawyer, general contractor, or taxi or Uber driver, what did you want or expect from this person? Did he or she deliver, or were you subjected to woes about professional or personal problems? Imagine, for example, a taxi driver who complains that he needs a new car battery or waxes on about the cause of his crabby mood. Now think of someone you hired or worked with who was a joy to do business with and whose service delivery was seamless.
Be someone you would enjoy doing business with. This means getting the job done well in a timely fashion and clueing in the client to decisions where they should be involved, while refraining from bringing up personal matters or complaints, as poignant as they may be. We are all human, but your client hired you for one reason and one reason only: to translate (or edit, etc.). Never lose sight of that reason.
Now that you have some new ideas on how to nurture strong relationships with clients, we hope you continue to reel in a steady flow of loyal customers. Even once you are sitting pretty with a solid client base, there is always room to fine-tune your business skills and relationships with clients and colleagues. Indeed, we will take it a step further in the fourth (and penultimate) installment of this series, which will touch on professional demeanor.
Get a sneak peek by checking out section 4 of the ATA questionnaire. Want more from Savvy in the meantime? Check out this post by Tony Guerra on getting and keeping agency clients. We would love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!
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