February 2021 Virtual General Meeting: Building Successful Client Relationships
By Olivia Singier Texier
For our first NCTA General Meeting of 2021, we were pleased to welcome Michael Schubert for a presentation focused on business practices, Building Successful Client Relationships, which is an important and crucial topic for our profession.
Having just joined the NCTA Board as Events Director, I wanted to take this opportunity to write about Michael’s presentation and share his expertise and some of his insightful advice with you.
Michael Schubert is our NCTA President and an ATA-certified German-to-English translator specializing in corporate communications, information technology, and finance. He is also an Adjunct Professor for German-to-English translation at MIIS (Middlebury Institute of International Studies) at Monterey.
As Michael stated, freelance translators’ success depends on building strong relationships with serious clients through dialog focused on value and outcomes. His presentation examined how we can brand ourselves properly and identify serious clients, price our services appropriately, and frame conversations for the benefit of both the translator and the client.
Identity and branding
Identity is how we perceive ourselves, while branding is how we project ourselves. Most parts of our industry are not regulated, and clients need reassurance. We need to prove to our clients that we are “one of the good ones,” and ideally, our clients should view and treat us as peers. Some powerful tools are available to translators to help them achieve this:
- A website. Although a majority of translators and interpreters still don’t have a website, it is indispensable for projecting seriousness and aiming high in the market.
- A LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn is also an indispensable tool for the same reasons listed above.
- A professional email signature. Your email signature should reflect your identity and your certifications. Adding your Phd, MA, your language or your professional certifications gives reassurance to clients. It is an easy way to brand yourself and let potential clients know who you are.
Why is identity and branding so crucial? Some professions, such as lawyers and doctors, are regulated; translators are not. Therefore, as translators, we need to distinguish ourselves from others who are not necessarily as serious as we are or have not engaged in the same academic studies.
Reflecting on pricing models is an important part of a translator’s life: Should we charge by the word or by the hour? Michael has initiated a conversation on pricing on several occasions, including in an article for Translorial (December 2018), in a presentation for the NCTA General Meeting held in September 2019, as well as at ATA60 in Palm Springs (October 2019), and he has extensively explained the pros and cons of per-word pricing. For him, the provider (in other words, the translator) is the one who should determine the price. The product should not determine the price. Any translator should think about what costs need to be included in their rate: sick pay, health insurance, disability insurance, self-employment taxes, retirement accounts, and hardware and software expenses, just to name a few. Moreover, only 75% of our time is billable, as we also deal with communications with our clients, bookkeeping, and continuing education. Translators and interpreters are highly educated, highly experienced, and highly trained individuals who are also often certified. Their rates should therefore reflect their real value.
Framing the conversation
In this part of the presentation, Michael shared stories about his own path to successful client relationships and gave us useful tips on how to deal with prospective clients. We all have to deal with unsolicited inquiries, and some will turn into great new clients, while some may turn into a waste of time. We should first use a phased dialogue approach to avoid unnecessary extended conversations, or lengthy back and forth emails. Calendly, an online calendar, is also a great tool to schedule short meetings without back-and-forth emails. Most of the time, a phone conversation helps you find out if the project will be sustainable and also saves time.
Framing the conversation with potential clients helps ensure a potential high-quality relationship and includes asking questions about the project (e.g., who is the target audience?), talking about the deadline, and, finally, engaging in a conversation about price parameters. Michael also mentioned consulting the client’s website and making comments about it. This projects seriousness as well and is a way to show the client that you care.
Michael suggested providing clients with different options, from the least to the most expensive. Some clients may be more time-sensitive than cost-sensitive, others may choose the cheapest option, but all prospective clients appreciate being given a selection of options.
Michael then presented us with seven different scenarios of personal experiences with boutique agencies, long-term clients, referrals, law firms, and even with a younger colleague. He showed us how he successfully dealt with the “crisis point” in his relationship with each client. Bearing in mind the idea of identity, it is important to consider yourself as a peer in your relationship with clients, encouraging mutual respect and confidence. Proposing added-value services is certainly a plus. This is when the conversation on machine translation and the use of CAT tools should be open and objective. Using CAT tools brings value to the project, as it enables better terminology management, consistency, and overall quality. This should not be a basis for discounts, or for a special rate. The financial investment made in a CAT tool should be included in your rates.
Michael closed by suggesting a few empowering industry voices to follow if you want to know more about business practices and marketing for translators:
- Madalena Sanchez Zampaulo, ATA president-elect, offers webinars and consulting, especially on career counseling and finding direct clients via LinkedIn and other platforms.
- Corinne McKay, past ATA president, has a blog called Thoughts on Translation where she discusses business practices and career advice. She also offers classes and personalized career counseling.
- Tess Whitty has a blog and podcast called Marketing Tips for Translators, has published e-books and offers marketing classes and webinars.
Olivia Singier Texier is an English into French translator specializing in education, cooking, beauty, and art. She holds a BA in British and American literature from Sorbonne University. She has completed her master’s degree in translation studies with the University of Portsmouth with a dissertation on “Cookbooks for Men: Translating Culture, Identity, and Masculinity(ties).” She has just joined the NCTA Board as Events Director.