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Can you find the best translator?

25 Aug

Have you ever noticed how unpopular is the concept of “the best product ever”?

Although some marketer and manufacturers are trying to make use of this slogan, it seems odd that this concept has never gained much popularity among advertisers. What can be more natural? You claim you are the best (or you product/service is the best), and people will instantly join the queue to get it.

But there must be some sort of explanation why such an obviously brilliant idea does not get the popularity it (certainly?) deserves.

The thing is that “the best” is an adjective. Like almost any other adjective, it has descriptive nature. In other words, people can`t measure the portion of “best-ness”, otherwise they would have already employed the concept long time ago. So, when someone says that something is the best, they always compare the thing they are talking about with other similar objects/products/etc. One-of-a-kind objects can`t be the best or the worst.

In other words, people tend to compare things, and, based on their requirements, they can find the best expert for the text they are going to translate. Quite often these requirements include price (budgets are tight, which is why clients have to screen out translators whom they can`t afford. Although some may claim that the best translators are the most expensive ones, for these clients they are obviously NOT the best ones). Or, a lot of people will only search for native speakers of the target language, filtering out those who claim they can do it both ways.

Many prefer experts with strong translation skills and will never let translators per se with some knowledge of the specialization touch the source text, etc.

My point is that clients can`t find the best translators for every project. Without clear requirements and criteria identified prior to the search it is more like chasing a mirage. In other words, it is quite ineffective to try to make prospects believe that you are the best one for them. Some of them will (of course) take the bite, but the probability that this relationship will last much long is minimal. It is far better to let clients match their requirements related to their specific project your expertise and experience, or, yes, to let them pass you by in case they don`t need your profile. This is the only way to let them “stay by” you if they choose you.

BTW the same goes for the concept of “the best translation” (to be elaborated in another post of mine).

Words are just words, and it is a very bad when clients (attracted by catchy slogans) don`t see the profile they were thinking about – not because you are a bad translator, but because you are not the best for THEM. Defeated expectancy.


Try to get as many references as possible. Why and how?

1 Jul

In this age of online marketing it is vitally important to get marketing tools which can help you instantly convince potential clients that you are the expert. Neither you nor your leads don`t have time for lengthy introductions. People usually tend to go with the crowd – just because. And when leads see that a lot of similar businesses once left a lot of highly positive remarks about the quality of your work, they (once again, usually) won`t look for others (IN CASE price is not the only question they ask about – but you don`t want to get this kind of clients, do you?)

So, what is the reference in a nutshell? Usually it is a short comment left by your clients on-line on your web-site, web profile (like WWA entries at, or just a laminated letter of reference hanging on your office wall. What are the most important elements of a good reference? Well, the one that I consider the most important is the availability of the full particulars of the person who left this or that entry. That is absolutely vital. References left by a John Smith from nowhere look like a fake. There should be at least name of the person in charge, her position, name of the company, and date when this reference was made. Ideally all online references should be linked to the respective web page of the company. There is nothing bad – it will only attract new visitors to the website of this company.

I strongly believe that brevity and clarity of any letter of reference are the pillars of success. That’s why it should not be more than several sentences long (if posted on-line), or one page long (if this is a hard copy). Once again, your potential clients don`t have time for lengthy lists of projects you have completed for this client.

When can you ask for a reference? Well, just after your first translation project completed for this client. Just wait several days to allow your client to get a full picture of the quality you have delivered. Then send her a short e-mail asking for a reference entry. Sometimes clients won`t reply – just don`t be too intrusive in this case. Send another e-mail within several days. If there is no reply, just let it go. Usual reply rate is about 70/30 (i.e. you contact 10 clients, you usually get about 7 references).

Don`t ask your old clients for repeated entries. Why should you ask for another one if you already have good reference?

In conclusion, I would like to once again emphasize the importance of a robust list of happy clients. This list should be «replenished» regularly. There is nothing more disgusting than a web page where the last reference entry is several years old.

Arbitrary change of payment terms: how to deal with it?

8 Oct

This post is about payment terms and their change in the middle – or at the end – of a project. I know a lot of translators sooner or later faced this challenge. It happened to me twice – both clients were seemingly reputable Western companies (one from Netherlands and the second one from the US). Before taking the project, I thoroughly studied their websites and had long conversations with the respective representatives of these companies. These two companies were direct clients.

The first company from Netherlands had to pay me within 10 days after the date of the invoice. On the 10th day I was contacted by my contact person in the company and was told that they would pay me within 20 days, which was apparently a material change to our payment terms initially set (this is a very “popular” issue BTW ). The onlyway to deal with it was to take a firm stand, as Mike Monteiro (Design Director and co-founder of Mule Design) put on his video “F**k you. Pay me” (full video is available at

You must take a form stand, otherwise they’ll try to take advantage of you in this case. Send a polite but firm reminder that you once agreed to a 10-day payment term. If this does not help, you are free to send a threat if you like. After all, it was your client who tried to steal your time= money. But never agree on something less comfortable when the payment is about to come due.

The other client of mine happily accepted the translation. And again, once the payment date had been reached, I was told that the company was in serious trouble. “We can’t pay you right now”, I was told. “Let’s wait a couple of weeks, and see what we can do”. Just as simple as that.

That won’t do. After two and three emails I realized that this person could not resolve the issue. No problem. The next step I took was to find emails of CEO, CFO, etc. of the company. At the end of the day I was paid 75% of the amount. The rest came within 10 days. Once again, I was firm and accepted nothing less than full payment of the amount due ASAP.

General recommendations: watch the video I mentioned above. Second. Be firm, polite, optimistic. Third. Contact management of the company if the issue can’t be resolved between you and your contact person. A lot of companies list emails and phones of managers who have much more power and authority to help you get what you earned. Just remember: you are not a bank or a financial institution. You can’t provide loans to people who didn’t ask for that right from the start.