Practical tips for practicing translators.
Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,
I am desperately nervous in the presence of clients. The other day I'd planned to go to an information day for professionals in my specialty area but didn't make it past the registration desk. It just seemed too daunting: once in the room, I would have had to dart around shaking hands and making small talk. I can appreciate (theoretically) why that might be a good move, but it's not me.
What's with the darting and small talk? First-time participants at such events learn a lot by simply watching and listeningif necessary, you can don a potted-palm suit and melt into the background or fiddle with your cellphone as an I'm-busy-doing-deals prop.
You will quickly realize that attending client events serves three main purposes:
- you consolidate existing ties and drum up new business (at the very least, there are always a few speakers whose PowerPoints need your expert input)
- you pick up news of issues (and terminology) that are likely to surface in jobs over the weeks ahead
- most important of all, however, you experience how these peoplethe very ones who will be ordering, using and reading your translationsinteract with each other; you observe how they chat and joke and make a case for their products and services over coffee. Which makes it easier for you to make a case for your own services when you pitch to them at some point in the future. Invaluable!
But to get that far, you'll want to take steps to avoid a meltdown in public, with or without the tree costume.
Tips for cave dwellers preparing for a client event:
1. Do your homework. Identify a half-dozen clients or potential clients likely to be there, and read up on what they and their companies do. This is not just to avoid asking stupid questions; it also reminds you how very interesting their business is.
2. Look the part. If you're selling professional services, threadbare sweats and a plastic-bag-cum-briefcase won't make the grade.
Some translators we know object to donning suit and tie. "I feel like I'm attending a costume party as a corporate banker," says one. But that's beside the point, which is to blend into your prey's environment before moving in for the kill. Trust us: knowing you are appropriately dressed will calm your nerves and allow you to focus on the important stuff like listening harder.
3. Take it in bite-size chunks. If you're feeling jittery, you needn't stay for the entire event. Example: start with a meeting where you know existing clients will be on hand. Have their names handy and link up briefly for even a few minutes of face time. Extend hand and say "Hi, I'm (name). I'm so pleased to meet you at last! / I thought you might be here and wanted to meet up in person to tell you how much I enjoyed the project we worked on in April." After a little back and forth about that job or a speaker at the current event, announce with a regretful smile that you're booked for a meeting at a venue across town and dash offconfirming the impression that you are much in demand.
4. Remember that your concern is to get themthe existing client or preytalking about their operations, not to yap on about yourself. Have an elevator speech in hand and use it, but move the spotlight to them fairly quickly. As a seasoned networker has pointed out, often a simple "tell me about your business" will be enough to unleash the floodgates.
The bottom line? Meeting clients in the flesh is good for you, your translations and your business. It can even become addictive.
FA & WB
Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,
I am baffled! A year ago, I met a fellow translator working in the same language combination and specializations as I do. He is a very good translator and a pleasant guy who began translating a couple of years ago after a 20-year career in the industry for which both of us translate most of the time.
I have been translating for 15 years and I was very happy to share information about resources, training, software, marketing and other tips, since I generally view good translators as colleagues rather than as competitors. I have also frequently referred my own clients to him since I have more work than I can handle and I knew they would be happy with the quality of his work.
I thought that all this information, as well as my complete transparency about the rates I charge, would gently entice him to raise his own rates which are abysmally low. Once I realized that "gently" was not working, I clearly and repeatedly explained to him that the quality of his work justified an increase in his rates.
Well, it has now been almost a year and the only projects for which he charges rates similar to mine are the ones which we share, and for which I am the client contact person. I don't think that he deliberately wants to undercut me, but he is lacking in self-confidence and tells me that he has to "pay his dues." He is also afraid that raising his rates would diminish the flow of work that he receives.
I have explained the very simple marketing tools I use which enable me to work as much as he does, albeit at higher rates. However, this otherwise intelligent person is always "too busy" (with lower paid projects, evidently) to follow through.
He has already attended four different conferences/translators gatherings, where he has met plenty of other successful translators, so he is not operating in a vacuum.
How can I convince him to stop acting like a scared nitwit? I am contemplating cutting off all ties with him, but it would be a shame because he is a very good translator.
Tired of Mentoring in Vain
Your account speaks volumes, and you appear to have tried just about everything.
If it's any comfort, we know people like this. And if you consult back issues of this column, you will see that some of our correspondents tell similar tales, in each case emphasizing the "little ol' me" angle, worrying about getting too big for their britches and swearing they are going to start putting their practice on a more professional leveltomorrow.
Suggestion: recommend that your skilled but clueless contact read the next issue of Translation Journal and check after a week or two to see if the penny has dropped.
So much for him. But your letter raises other questions, especially when you write "I have more work than I can handle." May we suggest that your own prices are too low? A mid-summer boost might be just the ticket.
FA & WB
Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,
Last year I saw some excellent work by a translator in my language pair and made a point of getting his details. But when I actually passed some work on to him he did a mediocre job. I said as much in my feedback, and asked him to take another look at the text he had delivered; I knew he could do much much better, I wrote.
Imagine my surprise when he blasted back a nastygram: sarcastic and superior, he cited the poor quality of the cient's source text and spoke of sow's ears and silk purses.
The cherry on the cake was that he threatened me with a lawsuit if I did not pay him immediately.
I was taken aback, and prepared a sharp email to put him in his place, but left it to decant overnight and the next day phoned him instead. Imagine my surprise when he turned out to be shy, pleasant and very conciliatoryoh, and he fixed the text.
Surely there is a lesson here. Would you care to comment?
Peace on Earth
Your contact sounds like a visceral cave dweller: quick to take offense, convinced that clients (or perhaps even the world) are out to get him, and deep down under, exceedingly insecure.
His first missive was a variation on the classic "garbage in, garbage out" defense, which is often trotted outalways after the factby translators who suspect they've goofed. Should you meet these folks in person you will notice that many walk with a limp. This comes from self-inflicted gunshot wounds in feet.
More interesting is the excellent result you got by phoning him. With that simple gesture, you cut short an escalating flame war that might have left you feeling you'd put him in his place ("and rightfully so!" harrumph harrumph) but would ultimately have been far less productive.
Many thanks for this reminder of how easily words on the page can be misinterpreted, especially among correspondents who have not met in person. Conclusion? If you sense a conflict brewing, be it with a fellow translator or a client, pick up the telephone. Even better: make an effort to meet up with both by regularly attending networking events.
FA & WB