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What are the challenges of working with direct clients?

May 24, 2020 / by Mike Donlin

Editor's note: This blog post was written by Andrew Morris - and posted as part of the Translators and Interpreters (ProZ.com) group on Facebook. It has been edited for use here. Direct clients also might be known as end clients or end customers. They provide language work directly to the translator without use of an agency, LSP or other intermediary.

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Photo by Alyssa Ledesma on Unsplash  

In an earlier post, we looked at five benefits of working with direct clients. No doubt there are more, but those were the ones that leapt immediately to mind.

What about the challenges? Here too I can think of five, to begin with: acquisition, understanding, expectations, language and payment.
 
Acquisition
Let’s look at acquisition first. We know where to find translation agencies – there are places like ProZ.com for a start where many of them hang out. Direct clients are potentially everywhere and nowhere at the same time. There are many ways to find them, and we’ll explore them in greater detail as this series unfolds, but none of them is immediate, or obvious. They take a little time, a sprinkling of hope, a lot of energy, and a dash of luck. So if you want to go for these bigger prizes, you need to be prepared to invest more effort, more of yourself as a person, and open up to a more businesslike approach.

Understanding
Then comes understanding of what we do, or sometimes the lack of it. Agencies can be expected to know more or less how long 3,000 words take, whereas many direct clients don’t have a clue about translation, drafts, timing, tools etc. And why should they? We don’t know that much about their working lives either. It can be a minor source of frustration at times, but in my experience most clients are respectful, see us as fellow professionals, and are open to a little education about how things are done best when the time is right.

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Expectations
Third is expectations. Agencies deal with translators and have systems in place to check quality and ensure that what gets delivered is optimal. But direct clients are dealing with many different service providers at the same time. Graphic designers, copywriters, printing services, IT suppliers and many others besides. You’re just one more, and you’re not at the centre of their world, however much you’re the centre of yours. They therefore expect you to get on with it and do so independently. Of course, they are usually on hand to answer any terminology questions, and this can be made clear from the outset, but otherwise you’re on your own.

They also expect an impeccable finished product. Unlike a PM who might understand you’ve had a bad day, when your errors got picked up by the proofreader, a direct client who is in any way dissatisfied will let you know, may well ask for a discount, and is unlikely to return to you for more, unless you have an outstanding track record. The pressure to deliver is higher therefore, as there’s no safety net in place. That means you need to work with another translator as a reviser, which of course affects your budget, or outsource and revise yourself, unless you are totally sure you can deliver something which is 100% perfect.

Language
Fourth is language. Direct clients expect you to communicate in their language, which means mastering different levels of register, formality, humour (where appropriate), and general business interaction. Many non-native-speaker members of this group display all these on a daily basis in English, but over the years I’ve seen many translators saying how comfortable they are with translating from a language, but not so much when writing in it. If you’re not up to it, it’s key to team up with a native speaker of your source language to fine-tune what you say, until you improve. Alternatively, you can marry someone from that language. Worked for me. (Not the only reason I got married!!) :D
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Payment
And finally direct clients have their own rhythms when it comes to payment. (Then again, so do many agencies). This can work in your favour of course – I have at least 5 direct clients who pay on delivery, and one who pays within an hour. But if you’re dealing with big clunky institutions like museums or universities, you get paid according to their timelines, not yours, no matter how clear your preferred terms are. It’s not a huge hassle, but it means you need to have your cashflow in a good place. Only very occasionally in 11 years has this led to clashes of any kind, but it’s worth knowing about.

So after reading about the benefits and the challenges, what’s your overall reaction? Are direct clients for you?
 
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The Facebook group (Translators and Interpreters) includes over 37,000 members as of this posting. Joining is free for those registered at ProZ.com. Andrew, a published author, translator and agency owner, moderates the group and often sparks discussion with posts like this one.
 Andrew_Morris

Topics: freelancer, directory, membership, translation industry, facebook, marketing, rates, finances, direct clients

Mike Donlin

Written by Mike Donlin

ProZ.com

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