At first glance, the title of this blog post might appear to be discouraging to newer translators (or for more experienced translators wanting to make a next step, or big leap.) I assure you, it’s not. This isn’t a post about how you have to have years of experience before you can “make it” as a translator (whatever your definition of “make it” might be.) It’s about the experience your clients have with you, and how it can make all the difference in their decision to work with you…and keep working with you.

I did a course on customer experience recently and found it to be incredibly enlightening. I’d been trying for a while to cultivate a truly great experience for my clients, and the course made me think about how, for translators, this was a no less valid consideration.

I talk to translators all the time who labour under the illusion that they’re not running a “real business”.

Sometimes, this is because they enjoy the act of translation so much that making money from it seems somehow duplicitous. Still others don’t treat their translation business as a real business because they’ve undergone zero training on running a business, and feel it’s a bit too late to learn. And then there are those who feel that, because they’re running a solo operation, doing anything remotely marketing or sales-related (and a lot of items apparently fall under these categories) would be edging into too-big-for-boots territory.

So where does client experience come in?

Regardless of where you sit on the “real business” scale, you want to have clients (clue: if people pay you money you’re a real business…try telling your tax authority otherwise.) And, probably, you want to keep those clients, and get others. I’m guessing you’d like the process of working with those clients to be as pleasant as possible for all concerned. Contrary to popular belief, the way to do so does not involve racing to the bottom on the rates front. It also doesn’t mean bending over backwards and being available 24 hours a day.

It means having respect for yourself, and your clients.

On the course I learnt that there were six stages to client experience. I think many translators (and small business owners) would be surprised to learn that “purchase” was the penultimate stage. So there’s a lot that you can get right (and wrong) before you even get to the point of purchase. It’s worth thinking about how you can make the journey as seamless as possible. But, and this is a big but, this doesn’t mean you sacrifice your own standards to make things easier for your client.

So what stages should we set?

I think when we start to think about the experience we want our clients to have, we need to first look at the types of clients we want to attract. I talk about ideal client profiles a lot (check the blog post here from April’s webinar) as I think that pinpointing the exact types of companies and individuals you want to work with will save everybody time, money and energy in the long run. In this attraction stage of the client experience, get clear on who you want to attract, then you can plan:

Your website copy

Your networking events

Your pitch letters

Other client-facing material (e.g. Linkedin profile – here are some tips)

Social media strategy

Articles or blog posts you write (either on your site or on other outlets – tips here on guest blogging)

When I say plan these, I mean that you need to ensure your ideal client sees themselves in your material. Whether that means they find you more easily because your SEO is up to scratch (some tips here) or because when you contact them, or they read material written by you, they can clearly identify which of their problems you can solve. Speaking of benefits….

What are the benefits of working with you?

Gaining clarity on your benefits and having them feature in your communications means that ideal clients are more likely to discover you. It also means that, when you happen upon your ideal clients, whether on your online travels, at networking events or just during random, serendipitous social gatherings, you’ll not feel like you’re giving them a spiel, or worse, experience that awful desperation when you can’t choke the words out.

Because the best pitches don’t sound like pitches.

Setting boundaries

As a parent, I’ve read a considerable number of parenting “bibles” – some good, some bad, many a few still unread. One of the things that comes up again and again is that children respond well to knowing what’s coming next. In a nutshell, they’re less likely to have a complete meltdown if they’ve been briefed. And you know what? Adults are the same. We all like a degree of spontaneity in our lives, but when it comes to business, knowing what to expect goes a long way.

However, before we start letting our clients know what they can expect, we need to know our own limits. I think this is strongly related to our goals for business and life; without knowing these how can we know what our own personal deal-breakers are? These can relate to…

Working hours


Services offered

Payment terms

Technology/software used

Discounts considered

Document types

And probably a whole host of other things, which will depend on your own personal circumstances. So how can you incorporate these into your communications with your clients? A lot of these items can be covered off on your website. For example, you can let them know about working hours (including whether you accept evening or weekend work) and the time zone you operate in – this can save a lot of back and forth on deadlines. I know a colleague who includes her working hours within her email signature. This is a great idea if you work in a different time zone to many of your clients, or if you work unusual, or perhaps more limited, hours.

Whether or not you publish your rates is up to you. It often depends on how you charge (sign up to the rates chat this Wednesday for more insight on this!) If you charge by the word or by the hour/day, consider including a rates sheet on your website, or you could always provide it to clients who get in contact directly. If you charge by the project, it’s trickier to do this. Payment terms can be communicated in the same way, and should always be discussed during negotiations and included on your proposal. That means no nasty surprises for either party. Whether you use any CAT tools, if you’re a whizz at Photoshop or InDesign, and what your policy is on translating non-editable documents are all items you can clearly outline on your site. Again, it saves people wasting their time getting in touch only to find out handwritten PDFs are on your no-no list.

Giving a taster

One of the ways I give clients a sample of how I work is in the documentation I send over. That can mean different things, depending on what they’ve requested, or the stage our relationship’s at, for example, if I’ve initiated contact. If, on the other hand, it’s a potential student who’s considering my course, I’ll be providing something else again.

Client experience

Example proposal

As I often work with creative clients who place importance on design, my proposals reflect that they can expect the same sort of service from me as they expect from other partners. My quotes contain:

Project outline (with overview, background & breakdown of text)

Project timeline (when they can expect to hear from me, receive drafts etc)

Pricing breakdown (I price per project)

Contract terms (project duration, start date, payment terms, quote validity, content amendments & delivery format)

Proposal acceptance (needs to be signed & returned to me)

Company registration & financial details (to save separate emails from their finance department)

For long-standing clients with whom I work with regularly, I don’t always need to issue the entire proposal, so I just send the pricing info and the proposal acceptance section, which is 3 pages (including cover), as opposed to 7 pages (including cover) for the full-blown document for new clients or big projects.

Providing this level of information to clients has proved to save us both time and stress, and, importantly, gives both parties something to refer back to during the project. It provides them with a sample of my work (a mini-experience, so to speak) and all-important information, for making a decision.

Everyone knows where they stand.

I feel strongly that the process of working with clients should be smooth and fluid. Just like the translation itself. Before your clients even sign the acceptance they should feel reassured that everything will be handled, and that you are their secret weapon for looking good, whether that’s to their customers, to their boss or to their board of directors.

In the next installment of this blog series, we’ll look at the experience you can provide clients when they’re “on-board” with you, to set you apart from the rest of the field.

How do you get your clients on board? Do you have any techniques you’d like to share for providing a seamless customer experience? As ever, I’d love to hear in the comments!



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