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Nov 19, 2008

Adding value to projects and client relationships

When I need a break from an intense bout of translation, I often check out the ProZ forums to see what the "hot issues" of the day are for the translators there. Given the general level of panic about the economy in many places around the world, it's not surprising to see frequent threads asking people if the downturn has affected their business. Some days it almost seems like folks are begging for an excuse to panic. However, the consensus among the more reputable translators seems to be that business is just fine so far. Some of the more cautious individuals are adjusting their payment terms, but that seems to be the extent of measures taken. And I suppose a lot of people are too afraid to increase their rates to compensate for the considerable increases in the cost of food and utilities in the past year.

It is probably inevitable under the developing circumstances that clients (agencies or direct customers) feeling the pinch may try to save money by using "cheaper" translators. As most of us with experience know, lower rates very often do not mean cost savings, and it is perhaps more important than ever to understand the value of the services you offer and document it clearly. Documents like the translation buyer's guide from the ATA or the various translations of it from other organizations are useful tools to help clients understand this issue, but there are more subtle and effective ways to help clients realize that you give the best value.

David Mullen suggests delivering "at least one new, UNSOLICITED idea to your clients each month". This idea can take many forms for a translator, which would fall into two general categories: unrestricted ideas that can be shared with multiple clients and client- or project-specific ones.

Unrestricted ideas:
1. Corinne McKay suggests writing articles for trade publications as a marketing strategy; this is not only a good way to acquire new customers, it can help to enhance the perception of existing clients that you are an expert in their field and thus worth a premium rate. Share reprint, links or copies in other forms with clients who may find them of interest.
2. While trade publications offer a certain "prestige", the value of samizdat should not be forgotten. For example, I have written a number of guidelines for technical procedures of use in translation, such as efficient OCR, file conversions, interoperability of CAT tools, etc. and distribute many of these free via public web sites or e-mail to clients or prospects as a way of explaining our working methods and quality control procedures. Sharing your own special expertise in this way can help clients understand that not all translators offer the same skills and care in their work. Self-publications can
3. Sharing terminologies in particular fields can be another way of confirming your credentials and value. While these might be passed on and used by other translators, I don't see that as a bad thing - it helps a client to keep terminology consistent when you don't have the capacity to take a job, and regular updates build loyalty. Take care to separate general terminology from client-specific terms and never share the latter with other parties of course.

Client- or project-specific ideas:
1. Same as #3 in the previous category - terminology. Collect specific terminology for a project and share it as an Excel file or mine client-specific TMs using tools like MultiTerm Extract and export filters to build HTML or PDF glossaries for your client to uses as references on the corporate intranet or in Sales and Support. Sometimes an initial "teaser" of this sort can lead to larger paid projects with regular updates. The task of collecting terminology "on the fly" is fairly simple with many CAT tools that have integrated terminology modules.
2. Depending on the circumstances, a client who sends you hardcopy, scanned files or a PDF to translate might appreciate receiving good OCR text that can be edited and re-used. I usually charge for the extra effort of dealing with these formats as do many others, but how many of us pass on the source files we create?
3. TM updates. Give your clients the translation memories for the work you do for them in a format they can use. I know this is a source of controversy with many translators. However, given the ease with which text can be aligned to create these resources, it's really ridiculous to make a big deal of things like this. The stubborn attitude of some translators regarding this issue has won me some excellent, profitable direct clients who appreciated not being held hostage.
4. Project archive CDs. It's not uncommon for a client to call up weeks, months or years later and ask for a copy of a translation that got misplaced. Periodic delivery of CDs or DVDs with a historical project archive for the client can be a useful thing. Be careful to ensure the confidentiality of sensitive data, however. It might not be a good idea to put translated personnel documents on the same disk as product literature unless you are very sure that the recipient of the disk is authorized to see all the information.

Those are just a few ideas that relate specifically to our work as translators. Of course the usual ideas for communication and strengthening relations for business in general also apply - spontaneous notes of appreciation, seasonal cards and gifts, etc. The point is to understand your clientele and what will work best with your people. Know what is important to them and creative ideas will present themselves. Many years ago, a research director at a medical device manufacturer for which I worked as a consultant told me the story of how he once won a big account when working as a salesman in the early years of his career. He had visited the purchasing agent of this company many times offering a better product, better prices, better delivery times - all to no avail. This went on for quite a long time, and over the course of months or years they got to talking about common interests, which included fishing. His prospect was continually frustrated, because every time he went bass fishing with his brother-in-law, the other guy caught more and bigger fish. One day Mike showed up with some "special" plastic worms that he used to catch largemouth bass. He explained how to use them best and gave them to the purchasing agent. On his next visit, the guy was grinning from ear to ear, thrilled that he had finally out-fished his brother-in-law. He placed the first order that day and remained a loyal customer as long as Mike had that territory.

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