How to set a budget for your freelance business

This post was originally published on the Thoughts On Translation blog. It is reposted with permission from the author.

Setting a budget for your freelance business is important, because:

-Many freelancers have no idea how much they need to earn in order to achieve the same level of financial security as someone with a traditional job.
-As a freelancer, you probably need to earn more than you think in order to reach your financial goals.
-You need to know how many billable hours per week you need in order to reach your target income.
-If your rates right now are too low, you need to at least acknowledge that and make a plan to do better in the future (rather than working, working, and working, and then wondering why your bank account empties so fast).

In my online courses, I use a worksheet called “deciding what to charge.” John Milan and I also used this worksheet in our session at the 2018 ATA conference (which got very positive reviews, so hopefully we’ll present it again!). Here, I’ll give you a simplified version of how to do the calculations on that sheet.

Start with: the amount of money you want in your bank account every month, to pay your non-business living expenses such as rent or mortgage, utilities, food, entertainment, and so on. That’s your desired/required net monthly salary.

Next: to that, add every expense that you incur for your business. If the expense is not paid monthly (i.e. professional association dues), divide it into a monthly amount and enter that. Your expenses may include some or all of the following, plus anything else that you pay that is not listed here:

-Taxes: (20-50%, depending on your tax bracket and your country)
-Retirement account contribution
-Paid vacation/sick time allocation (money that you put into a business savings account so that you can pay yourself when you take time off)
-Professional association dues
-Professional development (conferences, webinars, classes, individual coaching, etc.)
-Subscription-based web services (cloud backups, PDF conversion service, LinkedIn Premium, etc.)
-Office rent
-Computer hardware and software (new purchases and/or upgrades)
-Work-related child care (if applicable; and don’t forget in that in the US, you may be able to deduct summer day camp for kids under 13)
-Work-related travel
-Communications (internet, cell phone, Skype minutes, etc.)

Add it all up, and that’s your required or desired monthly gross income. Warning: as discussed above, this will be a big number. Perhaps bigger than you want to admit; but the first step is to get a grand total. If you’re feeling energetic, do this for three income levels: the minimum you can live off, the amount that gives you the similar level of financial security to someone with a traditional job, and something in between.

Next (not done yet!), multiply that number/those numbers by 12, to get your required or desired yearly gross income. Write that down.

Now we’ll convert that to your required hourly rate.

Take 52 weeks, and subtract the number of weeks you think you will not work (vacation, sick time, time off to take care of family members, etc). Divide your yearly gross income as calculated above, by your number of working weeks. That gives you your required income per week. For example if your required/desired gross income is $90,000 and you’re going to work 48 weeks per year, your required income per week is $1,875 per week.

Next, determine how many hours per week you realistically think you can/want to bill. Non-billable time is a big variable. For beginners, non-billable time often involves time that you would like to be working, but you don’t have paying work. For experienced translators, it’s more likely to involve non-billable but necessary tasks such as accounting, marketing, professional development, research, client communications, etc. As a side note, when other freelancers ask me, “How do you find the time to work on marketing or other non-translation tasks?” my answer is “By not having to bill 40 hours a week.”

I’d advise doing this calculation for perhaps 25, 30, and 35 billable hours per week: take your required weekly income (your equivalent of the $1,875 listed above), and divide that by your number of billable hours, to determine your required hourly rate. For example at 25 billable hours per week, our $90,000 translator would need to earn $75 per billable hour to generate $1,875 in a week.

The fun continues because most translators aren’t paid by the hour. If you are, great: you’re done, other than asking whether your existing clients will pay your required hourly rate. If you get paid by the word or the project, then you need to further calculate how fast (or slowly) you translate. For example to generate $75 an hour, you could translate 500 words at 15 cents, or 250 words at 30 cents, or 800 words at 9.3 cents (these are not recommended rates or translation speeds, just examples). Translation speed is a huge factor in your income, and one that a lot of translators overlook: if you are someone who translates 250 words an hour, you need to charge a lot more than someone who translates 600 words an hour.

At the end of all this, you should at least have a better sense of whether the numbers for your freelance business add up the way you want them to; and if you’re not making enough money, why you’re not.

  • Perhaps you have tons of work, but it’s pervasively low-paying.
  • Perhaps your rates are fine, but you need more work.
  • Perhaps you translate very slowly.
  • Either way, these calculations should help you base your pricing decisions on objective data, rather than on fear and vague speculation about “what the market will bear.”

In closing, a huge thank you to Jonathan Hine, who presented the pricing presentation at the ATA conference for many years before passing the baton to me and John, and whose booklet “I Am Worth It!” goes into greater depth on the calculation methods I’ve mentioned here!

Image source: Pixabay

Spider marketing – How to get clients to come to you

Reblogged from SJB Translations’ blog, with permission (incl. the image)

How to get clients to come to you

Adapted from my presentation at METM 16 entitled “Spinning your web”

Last year at METM15 in Coimbra I was inspired by a presentation by a very experienced translator called Graham Cross, which I wrote about here. Graham was talking about churn, the marketing concept that dictates how many of our clients end up disappearing for one reason or another, and his basic point was that, because of this seemingly inevitable factor, investing large amounts of time and money in marketing is a waste because, even if you do find new clients, it is highly unlikely that they will earn you enough to repay your effort.

This attracted my interest because it was certainly my experience that a great deal of time and effort can be wasted on marketing. Last year, for example, I went to a big trade fair in an attempt to sell my services. I had leaflets printed and went round meeting people handing them out all over the place. Some of the responses were quite encouraging but, despite this, the effort won me no new customers at all. The year before I went to a networking event for entrepreneurs in a bar in Barcelona. I prepared myself, got up on a stool and presented my business for two minutes, which is the format for these meetings. The reaction was very good and it was a fantastic exercise in getting out of my comfort zone, as I’ve never considered myself a public speaker. But once again, in terms of winning new customers it was an absolute failure.

My point isn’t that going out and selling yourself is never worthwhile. I’m sure the way I went about things in those two examples can be dissected and the reasons for my failure laid bare. What I am saying is that it is possible, and even quite likely, to spend lots of time and energy on it for little or no result.

Back to Graham Cross. He was asked the very reasonable question: “If marketing is a waste of time then how do you find clients?” He replied by explaining the two theories of capturing clients: the “Tiger” and the “Spider”. The Tiger represented going out and hunting for them, with the risk that you might chase a juicy deer and end up with a rabbit or a rat. But he identified with the spider, waiting for the clients to come to him.

Networks

So, how does being a spider work? Well, on this one I’m not with Graham, who was such a technophobe he dictated all his translations and had them typed up by a secretary to avoid having to have a computer. This is the 21st century and we have all sorts of electronic means within our grasp. First of all, there are the social networks. I’m not going to spend too much time on this because we all know about Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and so on. All I will say about them is that, in my opinion, it doesn’t really matter which ones you use as long as you’re there somewhere. If you know me, you will know that I can be found on Facebook, for example, but, until very recently, not on Twitter. This has been a personal choice. I know many people who use Twitter very successfully. I simply have limited time to spend looking at and dealing with social media and have chosen to ignore it until an experiment which I’m currently carrying out and will no doubt report here at some point. All the networks have their peculiarities. Facebook lately seems to have been trying to discourage business pages; LinkedIn, as always, seems to be full of potential but never quite lives up to it and Google+ is dying on its feet. You can post across several of them using Buffer or Hootsuite, but my advice is to make sure sure the content you post is good and worthwhile.

Have I won clients through social networks? Yes I have, and one or two good ones, but to be honest not that many. A good spider’s web needs to have other strands. One of those, of course, is the online profile. There are many kinds of online profile on sites like ProZ and others and some of these may be worth having, particularly if you’re not ready to take the step of having your own website. They can attract offers of work, although often the conditions will be so poor they won’t be worth considering.

To my mind there really isn’t any substitute for having a website of your own, although I have to confess that mine hasn’t brought me huge numbers of clients. As much as anything, I see it as an electronic business card where I can direct potential clients to find more information and I know for a fact that my site has helped convince clients to entrust their translations to me. I believe the most important thing is that you try to connect with your customers, with a message that says a bit more than “Here I am, I’m very good at my job”. Mine, for example, makes the point that if you hire me, as a freelance rather than an agency, you know exactly who is doing your translations. You will no doubt either have found or will find a message of your own.

So, here are my website tips. First of all, as I have said: connect with your customers. That would include making sure you have your site in their language or languages. Then, use a professional designer. There are plenty of programs that allow you to do it yourself but I don’t see how we can in one breath ask people to use professional translators and, in the next, say we’re going to build our own websites. But even when you use a professional, make the style your own. There are lots of possibilities, but your site should be original and reflect your personality or the personality you want to put across. Tying in with that is the content: make sure it’s well written and don’t try to artificially fill it with keywords. Now, keywords are related to search engine optimisation, which means getting your site to appear high up when someone makes a search with Google or another search engine. As I’m not an expert on the subject, I asked a more knowledgeable colleague what she thought and I was greatly encouraged because many of her tips turned out to be very similar to mine. That means Google is now set up so it actually rewards things it ought to be rewarding. But she also had some other advice I thought I’d share.

Selling

First of all, she made the very important point that you should concentrate on the experience visitors have on your page, and, following on from this, pointed out that conversions matter more than clicks. In other words, it’s all very well getting people to your page, but it’s no good if they then don’t buy your services. Then there were two other points: consider all elements of SEO and use Google Analytics to make sure it’s working. Finally, there were some suggestions there for getting more information on SEO: visit https://moz.com/learn/seo, read Search Engine Optimization for Dummies or simply google “SEO basics”.

Moving on, there are also translators who have a blog. I’m one of them, of course, and blogs can be used for selling, although I’m the first to admit that mine actually isn’t. It’s written in English and talks about translation. If I was really going to use it for selling I’d write it in my source languages and write it about subjects of interest to clients. At the moment that’s a future project, although I have the capability to do it, as my website is multilingual. Strangely, my English blog has actually helped to win me some clients. I know this, because they have mentioned to me that they picked me because they liked my writing style, which only goes to show that you can’t always predict the results of what you do online.

Everything I’ve mentioned so far accounts for what you might consider to be the main strands of a spider marketer’s web. Nowhere, though, have I given examples of anything that has attracted lots of new clients. To explain why, let’s go back for the last time to Graham Cross. Right at the end of his talk he was asked another good question: “Where are my clients going to come from?” to which he replied “The people sitting next to you: your colleagues”. This set me thinking. The marketing initiatives I’d launched had largely failed. I had what I considered to be a good website, but it wasn’t bringing in lots of customers, and yet I considered myself reasonably successful, with plenty of work. So I did something I’d never done before and started looking at who my own clients were and where I’d found them.

First of all, I was amazed to discover that 85% of my clients had come to me, rather than me going to them looking for work. It turns out that I really am a spider. Then I was surprised at how many direct clients I have – they make up 36% of the total, followed by colleagues at 31% and agencies in third place at 29%. This year’s figures would show a different proportion, with agencies dropping still further after I put my rates up again at the beginning of the year.

Relationship

Looking a bit more deeply I realised that a lot of the direct clients had also, in fact, come via colleagues. Taking this into account, colleagues were clearly my most important source of work, just as Graham Cross had predicted. So what is it that makes our colleagues such good clients? One reason is, as I have suggested, that they often bring us into contact with direct clients. More importantly, they bring us into contact with direct clients at a time when those clients need translations. Maybe if we’d run into that same client at some event or other they’d have taken our business card and by the time they needed work doing they’d have lost or forgotten about it. But if we’re introduced by a colleague it’s because that end client needs a translation now. If we do it well, we have a good chance of keeping the client. Not only that, but if our colleague has a relationship with the client, it probably means that the client is a low risk in terms of non-payments, something else it could otherwise be difficult to discover.

And even if the colleague does not put us in direct contact with the end client and decides to act as an intermediary, the rate we can obtain is often better than an agency rate. This is because, generally, our colleagues are not motivated by profit when passing translations on to us. What they are usually concerned about is solving a problem for their client. Sometimes they don’t even make money on these jobs, they just want to help the client by getting them a good translation with as little fuss as possible. Their profit will come from the translations they regularly do for the same client.

This is one reason why colleagues make up such a large proportion of my clients nowadays. My rates are becoming too high for many agencies to pay, but colleagues’ clients can still afford me provided the colleague is not concerned to make money from the job. Colleagues who work in this way are also generally reliable payers. I have some who pay within a day of receiving the invoice. Why do they do this? It’s obvious really. They know exactly what it’s like having to wait for payment themselves.

So where can we find these colleagues who are going to bring us all this work? It’s possible to find them online, of course, but I’ve found the best source is in translators’ associations. My survey of my own clients showed up clearly where a large proportion (31%) come from: my membership of APTIC, the Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters of Catalonia. Why is this the case? Well, it’s because most of its members work in precisely the opposite language combination to me. A colleague in the same language combination will only send you work when she’s rushed off her feet. But when those working in a reverse combination are asked for a translation into English, they are professionals, who don’t want to translate into a language that’s not their own, and they look for someone who they think can do the translation well. The trick is, to be the person they think of when they’re looking.

Events

There are various ways of being that person. You should, first, appear in the association’s directory of members. You can also, for example, participate in the association’s mailing lists and forums so that people get to know your name. Then you can go to its social events and get to know members. Just to give an example, I make a point of going to the APTIC Christmas party and chatting to people I know and people I don’t know there. You might think this is a trivial point, but when I went to my first one, several years ago now, I was sitting on a table with three other people. I still work for those colleagues and they are still recommending me to other potential clients. I should stress that I have done none of these things consciously, or at best with vague desire for “networking”, but I can vouch for the fact that they really do work.

Another way you can make the most of associations (and this is more the spider venturing out of its web once in a while) is by chasing after jobs advertised to members. This I would advise you to do as often as you can, provided it’s a job you can do well. But when you do it, be quick. With this sort of job offer it’s definitely the early spider that catches the fly. It isn’t necessarily the job that’s advertised which you’re interested in, though, it’s more the long-term connection with the client concerned, often a direct client. The job isn’t always what it seems, anyway, as demonstrated by this example. Last year I saw quite an interesting job advertised on the APTIC e-mail list. I wrote in response – it was a 3,000-word French translation related to history, one of my specialist areas. After speaking to the client, it turned out that what really had to be translated was an exhibition catalogue amounting to almost 100,000 words of Catalan and French – one of my biggest and best jobs of last year.

Of course, once you have managed to get orders for work from colleagues or other clients, you need to keep those clients and, just as importantly, find ways of getting them to recommend you to others. 11% of my clients, I discovered, came through this kind of recommendation, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a good number of the 44% of clients whose origin I don’t know or can’t remember also came in this way. So how can this be done?

Dating

I started writing down some tips, based on my own ideas and conversations with some of my colleagues and clients, and I can only apologise for the fact the headings sound a lot like the kind of dating advice you might receive from your mother:

  • Be different. Sometimes it helps if you can offer something different – an unusual language combination or specialist area, for example. Mine is French-English, which isn’t an unusual combination except in Spain, but has opened a lot of doors for me.
  • Be yourself.  Remember not to work outside your specialist areas. You won’t impress if you mess up a translation you’re not really suited for.
  • Be available. Sometimes you need to make a bit of extra effort to secure this type of client, working the odd evening or weekend, especially at the start. You can set boundaries later, but you want the client to come back.
  • Be good. I can’t stress this one enough. Be the best translator you can be, taking advantage of all possible forms of self-improvement, including conferences like this. And it’s not just me saying that, I want to reinforce it with a comment left on my blog earlier this year from no less than Chris Durban, who many of you will have heard of as someone who has, in the past, stressed the need for translators to adopt business-like attitudes. She said: “I would dearly like to hear more support for the hottest tip I know of for translators looking to build their business. Ready? Here we go: *Become a better translator.*”
  • Be on time. Deadlines matter, but it’s amazing how many translators don’t realise this. How do I know? Because some clients have been astonished simply at the fact that I always deliver on time. To me as a former journalist it’s second nature. Make sure it’s second nature to you too.
  • Be nice. This can take whatever form you like, but it takes your relationship on to another level. In my case, I just try to be friendly and make my e-mails a little more personal, especially if the other person takes the lead. Others make homemade Christmas gifts. One thing I do is think about who might become a potential client in the future. Project managers, for example, often leave agencies and set up on their own. If you find out one is leaving, write her a message wishing her luck. Next week she may need a translator into English…
  • Be reciprocal. Pass on work you can’t do to colleagues. It helps make them think of you when they need something doing.

Follow these principles and I can’t promise you’ll find Mr. or Miss Right, but you should satisfy your colleagues and clients and win more recommendations, which is the point of the exercise.

So, I would say that’s mostly what there is to being a successful spider. It’s a strategy that perhaps won’t take you to the very top of the profession. After all, a spider is unlikely to catch big game. What it will do is provide you with a good base to build on with clients who will pay you reasonably well and reliably and who will help you break out of the agency market – and that’s something well worth considering.

Freelancers: 7 Things to Know Before Your Next Negotiation

This post was originally published on the Copyediting.com website on June 20, 2017. It is reposted with permission of ACES, The Society for Editing.

Editorial business owners are always negotiating. Whether it’s terms for an upcoming project or an existing contract that’s gone out of scope, having these tough conversations is part of the job.

Here are 7 things to know before your next negotiation with a client.

1. BE READY TO SAY NO

The fear that many of us have around negotiations is hearing, and saying, “no.” But remember that every negotiation starts with a “no.” Otherwise, why would you be negotiating?

Practice saying “no” in a mirror, or with a friend—whatever it takes for you to get used to saying that tiny, yet powerful, word. Soon it will feel like second nature, and your business (and personal life!) will be better than ever.

2. PLAN TO AIM HIGH

Before the negotiation begins, it’s important to know your bottom line. What’s the lowest number you’ll consider before walking away from the deal?

Then, decide what you’ll ask for in the negotiation, and aim high—as high as you can while still being relatively realistic (don’t ask for $1 million for a proofread). Even if this number feels ridiculous to you at first, know that you’ll negotiate down from there.

Here’s the key to this concept: if you go into a negotiation knowing exactly what you want and you start there, you’re actually showing that you’re not willing to negotiate anything. You’ll look like you’re not willing to compromise, and the client will almost always call you out on it.

3. START ON COMMON GROUND

In their simplest form, negotiations are based on one fact: someone wants to buy something, and someone wants to sell it. As a freelance editor, you want to sell your services, and your client wants to buy them. This is your common ground.

Start every negotiation by simply stating your common goal, in very general terms: “I would love to work with you, so let’s talk about ways we can make that happen.”

Strive for a respectful tone, and use “we” to show that you’re invested in working together to achieve a win-win result.

4. NEVER SHOW YOUR CARDS

Once you’re in the middle of a negotiation, be careful not to show your cards. This gives the other person all the power, and you will lose ground without gaining anything.

Avoid phrases like these at all costs:

  • “The least I can do this for is $200.”
  • “The most I can pay is $100.”

These types of phrases give away your bargaining power and back you into a corner.

5. BE THE FIRST PERSON TO THROW OUT A (HIGH) NUMBER

Not showing your cards doesn’t mean you should avoid being the first person to throw out a number. In fact, studies have shown that the first number mentioned during a negotiation serves as an anchor, especially if the seller says it.

For example, if a graphic designer is negotiating with a CEO who wants a new logo, the graphic designer should be the first to say that the logo design will cost $10,000. Even if the CEO had planned on offering $4,000, he or she will usually respond with something closer to the anchor number, like $6,000.

6. DON’T RUSH INTO A “SOLUTION”

As freelancers, we often feel caught between wanting to make our clients happy and still needing to make a living. Many times, we go above and beyond to find a quick “solution” that really isn’t addressing the root problem. One example of this is accepting projects that offer lower pay and/or unreasonable deadlines.

Instead of rushing into closing a deal that you know isn’t a good fit, give it time to breathe. Don’t rush into something just to make the other person happy—the beauty of negotiation is that it can, and should, benefit both sides.

7. BE PREPARED TO WALK AWAY

Let’s face it: walking away from a negotiation is hard. We’re often afraid to disappoint a prospective or current client, or we’re scared they might spread rumors about our business or try to go after us in some way. This is especially true with authority figures, such as an influential person in the community.

But it’s so important to be able to leave the contract on the table if the terms aren’t right for you. Just remember: walking away from the wrong client frees you up to attract your ideal client.

Look Out(!) for these Red Flags in Client Communications

Over the years I’ve received a lot of spam emails from would-be “clients” requesting my services. Here are just a few of the red flags I look for to determine whether an email is from a legitimate client or a scammer.

Ambiguous requests

“Hello, I’m contacting you in regard to an English content document worth 11,633 words (44 Pages). I need this document translated into [your language here]. I would like to know if you are interested and available to get this done for me. Please get back to me as soon as you can. Thank you.”

Some of the details I noticed here:

  • No deadline
  • Nothing about the topic
  • No mention about why you would be the right linguist for the job
  • It comes from a Gmail account or some other free domain

Trying to get personal / Grammatical errors

“I hope that you are enjoying the best of health and this message meet you well.

I would like to know if you are interested and available, I got your contact from an online Directory of Translators and Interpreters.”

Note the writing errors:

  • Sentences are separated by periods instead of commas
  • Poor subject-verb agreement; “this sentence meets you well” would have been correct

Inaccurate claims about your profile

“Your portfolio published on [your association here]…”

We don’t put portfolios on our association websites! We have profile listings that describe our skills and specialties. That’s an immediate red flag.

Math about the experience of their staff

Sometimes a client will try to convince you they are great by saying they are “managed by highly erudite professionals with over [xx] years of combined experience.” We don’t know how many professionals are on the management team, so if their combined experience adds up to 50 years but there are only 20 people, this doesn’t mean much.

Unusual contracting procedures

Some clients will claim to offer a certain amount of pay per month, and will report with a 1099-k structure. That means that they are not the ones sending you the 1099; whoever processes the electronic payments is. That would be PayPal, QuickBooks, or whoever they work with. You have to receive either 200 payments or $20,000 through that system to get a report through them. In other words, they do not do their own 1099 reports.

Phone number and address

When in doubt, I call the phone number listed in the potential client’s email. If I get a Google phone message, this raises a red flag. A Google message is unusual for a language company, especially if it does not identify the company the email supposedly came from.

You can also look up their listed address on Google Maps. Occasionally it is at a Dollar Tree, a barber, or a storage unit site—I have seen all three of these! As soon as I ask why they operate from that type of address, the emails stop coming.

Better Business Bureau rating

If a company reaching out to me has a poor rating on the Better Business Bureau website, that’s a red flag too. The company isn’t worth working with if they are known to be delinquent in payment to their contractors. If a company has one star out of five, beware!

Unsolicited prepayments

Some clients will try to send me a check before I have started the job, without me asking them to do so or agreeing on a price. Once, I got the translation… and a check in the mail for an amount I had not negotiated. We had not negotiated any price at all! Then I got persistent emails asking whether I cashed the check instead of asking whether I had any questions about the translation. This is a red flag, too!

I went to the bank and discovered it was a fake account from a fake bank. The bank destroyed the check. I never cash a check before finishing my assignment; first I have to negotiate the deal, then complete the assignment, then receive payment.

When something looks off, it probably is. If you think something is questionable, it probably is. Standard business practices exist because they prevent problems. It is always helpful to find colleagues to check with when you have questions, though. Local chapters and national professional associations such as ATA are excellent resources.

Image source: Pixabay

Pursuing the Translation Dream: Professional Demeanor

Your translation career is moving right along: you have a growing slate of repeat customers and a modest circle of close colleagues. You can even hear a little voice in your head wondering whether you’ve finally “made it.” But that little voice has a devilish counterpart that doubts work will always be plentiful and that you’ll earn enough to meet your goals.

This post, which is part four of a five-part series on how to achieve a successful professional career in translation, explores what it takes to continue to build your business and foster professional relationships that will help you meet your long-term goals.

This series is inspired by the ATA’s Self-Evaluation Questionnaire for Translators. The previous three posts in the series contemplated what to know before the phone rings, what to know after the phone rings, and how to keep the phone ringing. In this fourth installment, we’ll look at selected questions from section 4 of the questionnaire, on “Professional Demeanor.”

Have I honed my “client education skills”? (For instance, what would I say to politely refuse a request for a job with an unreasonable deadline or fee?)

Sooner or later, newcomers to the profession will hear old-timers talk about the need for client education. But it can be hard for a budding translator to imagine what client education looks like until she finds herself in a situation that calls for it. Even then, it can feel easier to shy away from the problem than to figure out how to face it.

Here are two recommendations on how to help clients understand your work as a translator:

Talk to experienced colleagues. If there’s no one you feel comfortable seeking advice from, consider consulting the enlightened and lively participants of the ATA Business Practices list, where you’ll be sure to reap advice from those who have worked through their own trial and error. (For the record, we’re always happy to answer your questions here at The Savvy Newcomer blog, too!)

Use the power of visualization. In other words, put yourself in the client’s shoes. Close your eyes and imagine you’re the client. Visualize yourself in their office, at their computer, even literally in their shoes. Now think about what drives that person, what worries them.

Now think of the client’s role in the exchange at hand: Imagine you’re the one who needs the translation. You’re the project manager challenged with delivering a quality translation to the end client in a short timeframe and you must find a well-matched translator who’s also able to deliver on time. Or you’re the head of marketing trying to figure out how to produce effective copy to attract customers in other languages without the CFO questioning“unjustified” expenses.

Now open your eyes and return to your own shoes. Think about how you can communicate in a way that speaks to the “client version” of yourself. How can you help the client solve their problems, while still taking into account your knowledge of the nature and value of your own work?This may mean finding common ground with the client, or it may mean forgoing the project altogether in order to maintain your own sanity and professional standards.

Either way, understanding the other party’s perspective is key.Not only does this allow us to demonstrate empathy and solve our clients’ problems; it also helps us better understand the factors that impact negotiations. If you recognize the importance of a certain text or a critical deadline, there may even be room to negotiate a higher fee commensurate with the value you can offer.

Do I request constructive feedback on my work and services? (Do I accept criticism graciously, and consider it seriously with the intent to learn and improve my skills and services?)

We’re taught from a young age to seek positive feedback, whether in the form of good grades or “gold stars” for following the rules. This can make it uncomfortable to receive critical feedback later in life, since we often understand criticism to mean that we’ve done something wrong.

Yet constructive criticism is key to honing one’s professional skills. What master cellist, ballet dancer, or surgeon perfected their craft without any guidance? Similarly, the craft of translation is no easy feat and can’t be mastered in isolation.

Indeed, many translators are content to translate in the privacy of their own homes and share their work only with the clients who hire them. The best translators, on the other hand, spend painstaking hours teaming up with keen-eyed colleagues who help them refine their craft.

Yet, because translators are generally a kind breed, it can take time to find a colleague who has what it takes—that is, not only the talent, but the willingness—to provide the constructive feedback you need to advance your skills. That said, it’s worth the search.

You’ll find some helpful tips on how to do this and more in this post: “Hone Your Craft Before You Sell—How I Would Have Practiced as a Newbie in Hindsight.”

Do I refrain from casual discussion about an assignment or a client/bureau/colleague, realizing that such casual talk could be problematic and detrimental to everyone – the client and the translation profession as well as my colleagues?

Our job as freelance translators is both thrilling and challenging. There are inevitably times that we want to revel in a positive experience—or vent about a negative one—with colleagues.

Especially when it comes to negative experiences, keep in mind that there’s a difference between sharing factual information—such as a dubious payment record—and badmouthing a client or fellow translator. Before indulging in gossip, consider how your words will come across to others. How would you would react if your comments were to get back to the subject of the conversation (that is, the criticized client or colleague)?

Most importantly, if you have regular complaints about someone you work with, be it a client or a colleague, it’s probably time to find a new customer or collaborator whose praises you’ll want to sing!

Do I acknowledge those who refer clients to me with a thank you note or call, a reciprocal action, an agreed-upon finder’s fee, or some other mutually understood recognition?

Humans are social creatures. We function on reciprocity. A thank-you note or a return favor (for example, a return referral) goes a long way. The lack of reciprocation may go an equally long way—in the opposite direction.

In some professions, it’s customary to reciprocate referrals with a “finder’s fee.” There have been discussions about this on the ATA Business Practices list, and the general consensus has been that translator colleagues prefer a karma-based system (and a sincere thanks) over a cut of the earnings.

There are plenty of simple ways to show gratitude that may not fill anyone’s wallet, but do fill a metaphorical“bank account.” One of these is to let the referrer know you’ll keep her in mind as a resource in the future. If you know she would be a good fit, you could also hire her to collaborate on a project when the opportunity arises.

When you show gratitude for favors or, better yet, have the opportunity to return them in a meaningful way, you find yourself in a mutually beneficial cycle of reciprocity that builds trust, camaraderie, and—yes—more work.

In short, take advantage of the power of word-of-mouth referrals. Do so with grace and the benefits will multiply.

Now that you’ve armed yourself with powerful relationship-building tools and learned how to avoid pitfalls that could make things go sour,you’re ready to explore what it means to become a Promoter of the Profession, the topic of the fifth and final post in this series. Stay tuned!

Image source: Pixabay