Why We’re Getting Value All Wrong


(Well, for tomorrow.) This year I celebrated by taking part in a panel discussion titled “What’s my USP?” on Proz.com/TV.  It was hosted by the amazing Tess Whitty (you can check out Tess’s guest blog for Silver Tongue on defining your USP here) and I shared the panel with two rockstars of the translation and interpreting world, Nicole König and Dr. Jonathan Downie. We talked USPs, shared experiences, and gave some tips on what to think about when you’re defining yours (the recordings are still available for Proz.com users for another few days, if you’d like to check them out.)

What’s this got to do with value?

Well, during the session, the same issue kept coming up again and again: adding value for your client. It’s a concept that’s widely misunderstood in the translation and interpreting world, it seems. So I thought today’s post would be the perfect time to talk about it, and clear some things up. Why?

Because International Translation Day is supposed to be a celebration of translators. But it turns out we don’t really celebrate ourselves.

Time and time again we hear things like “race to the bottom”, “paid peanuts” and “bottom feeders” (friendly advice, don’t Google that last one). Does that sound like a group of people who value themselves and the services they offer? Does that sound like a set of individuals who know the value they can bring to their clients, and their clients’ clients?

Does that sound like anyone you know? *pointed look*

I’m not one for blaming circumstances, but general conditions would have you believe that’s an okay state of affairs. But it’s not. I mean, it’s really not. So what can we do about it?

What’s your value?

When I say value, what do you think of? If you think about what you’ll be earning, i.e. the value to you, then sorry, you’re wrong. If you think about the value for money you’ll be giving your client, i.e. charging a lower rate…wrong again. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the value you bring to your clients in terms of the benefits to them. We’re talking about your value proposition.

As you know, our Proz panel discussion was focused on defining your USP, but really, figuring out your Unique Selling Proposition and your Value Proposition are so closely linked, that you’ve got to do both.

Why do you need to understand your value?

In short, it’s one of the only things your clients (or potential clients) care about. In my experience, clients usually have three questions:

1. What’s the benefit?
2. How much is it going to cost?
3. How long will it take?

When I say benefit, that benefit is the value to them. You’ll also hear it called perceived value. That can come in the form of direct monetary value. I’ll give you an example from our session yesterday: you’re interpreting at a meeting between two companies, and, because of the discussions had, a deal of 1 million euros is struck. The value you provide there is crystal clear. Without your interpreting, the two parties could not have communicated, and the deal could not have been made.

They literally could not have done it without you.

Sometimes, the benefit is a little more abstract – perhaps you’ve localised a website for a company that’s moving into a new market. After the website goes live, the company observes an increase in engagement, clicks and conversions. Your input here is pretty clear too. However, a concrete value is harder to attribute because other factors come into play (where visitors came from, were they existing customers, was it through increased advertising, marketing or sales activity in the new territory…to name a few examples.) But still, these are tangible results from your service.

And then there’s the benefit of time. Otherwise known as the making-their-life-easier factor. Your skill means they’re freed up to do all the other things on their to-do list.

Do not underestimate the power – and the value – of people’s laziness time.

How many times have you said to yourself “I mean, I could do that….” and then ended up paying someone else to do it for you? Maybe it was your logo design, maybe it was your tax return, maybe it was the copy on your website. You could do it, but it would be hard, and it would take you a long time…and it might be boring. I’ll put my hand up and say I’ve done that more times than I care to count. So yeah, I don’t always like hard work, I’ve got the attention span of a gnat and I am (embarrassingly) easily bored. But you know what the good news is? The same goes for nearly everyone I know. And you know what else?

People pay for convenience, for peace of mind and for, um, not being bored.

The value you provide for clients is why they’re going to hire you to work on their projects. So why is it so difficult for translators to figure this out?

Who’s your client?

To figure out the value you add, you need to know whom you’re adding it for. In my experience, as a group we find this hard for two main reasons:

  1. You don’t know your end client
  2. You don’t know your ideal client

Not knowing your end client is usually because you work mainly with agencies. As a general rule, the agency-freelancer relationship operates on a need-to-know basis. Sometimes this is deliberate on the part of the agency, and sometimes this comes from fear of asking on the part of the translator. This fear of asking questions seems to extend to a fear of asking any sort of question, for fear of looking clueless or less of an expert….this is ridiculous, people, ask the questions!

Why does not knowing the end client matter?

Well, without this vital piece of the puzzle, translators don’t know anything about the end client’s business, its goals and how the project affects these objectives. Add this to the fact that agencies are often only differentiating themselves on price, then it’s easy to see how working with agencies can make it difficult to figure out the value you add to your clients.

Possibly as a result of this, when you do decide to complement, or even replace, your income from agencies with income from direct clients, you’re at a bit of a loss. You’re not sure how to market yourself, or who to market yourself to, never mind what value you add. Taking the time to work out your ideal client is essential for figuring out your value and your USP, because without knowing who you’re targeting (and knowing them well), how on earth will you know what they value? Your value proposition and your unique selling proposition are inextricably linked. After all, it’s all well and good being unique, but why does that matter to them? What’s the value?

For many of us, we’ve been getting value wrong for a long time, whether that’s because we undervalue ourselves or we underestimate the power of small business. We think we’re too small for these “fancy” marketing or sales techniques. I say these aren’t techniques, but rather they’re the building blocks for your business.

So let’s get building.

What’s your value proposition? How do you incorporate this into your marketing efforts? I’d love to hear what you’re doing in the comments. As ever, given my love of infographics, here’s a helping hand to get you started on your value proposition – feel free to share it. Happy International Translation Day!




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Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Oleg Gordeev says:

    Thank you for the great post, Jo! You are elaborating on the ideas that you outlined in the “Writing Copy for your Business Website” seminar. Based on that seminar, I made up value propositions that I currently use in the e-mail signature and at the website: “I help business and clients find each other” or “I am here to save you from a headache. To save your time and money”. Words like “help” are key in a value proposition, in my opinion.

    • Jo Rourke says:

      Thank you for your comment, Oleg, and I’m really glad you enjoyed the seminar too! And I agree, the language you use when communicating the benefit to a client are extremely important.

  • Chris Durban says:

    Hi Jo, to be perfectly honest, I got a little bogged down in the buzzwords in this post.
    That is, I enjoy your writing and have seen some of your podcasts, but my personal experience is that statements like “In my experience, clients usually have three questions: [benefit for them/cost/deadline]” describes what — this time in *my* experience :-)) — contradicts some of the post’s aspirations. That is, they refer to the bulk market.
    There is a whole other segment out there, this one built on genuine translator expertise (= true specialization, genuine (and demonstrated) writing skils, and ability to connect). And it is growing, which is encouraging. Which is why I experience a lot of the talk about USPs and such as white noise (just like the carrying on about “elevator speeches” and the like in the recent past).
    But I totally agree that knowing the end client and being willing to — and able to! — ask smart questions is key.

    • Jo Rourke says:

      Hi Chris,
      Thanks for taking the time to comment. You mentioned that there is a whole other segment out there, one which is built on genuine translator expertise, writing skills and ability to connect, and I agree completely. I guess what I perhaps didn’t make clear (perhaps it should have been another example of value) is that it’s this knowledge and demonstrable experience that is the benefit to these clients. That’s what they “get”, so to speak.
      I don’t believe that benefit-cost-deadline are solely the concerns of the bulk market; higher end clients still have deadlines to meet and budgets to stick to, it’s just that these timelines and plans may already account for translation being part of the project, rather than an afterthought. These sorts of clients know better than to rely on their “bilingual brother-in-law” (as you put it a few years ago!), so there won’t be the “convincing” that might be required otherwise, which is always good news, but they will still look forward to hearing how you personally can be of benefit to their business.
      Communicating with them in their language and being present in their circles will likely showcase your expertise without the need for any elevator pitches or catchy slogans, but understanding your value and feeling confident in why clients will want to invest in you is an important step towards a sustainable business practice. Thanks again for commenting, Chris 🙂

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