The Basics of Qualifying Prospective Translation Clients

Regardless of whether you are out there selling your services or take a more passive approach by preferring to wait for inquiries, you will likely waste a good deal of time (and risk losing both time and money) if you do not quickly judge whether a prospective client is “real,” which is really actually just determining whether working for the client will be rewarding in the way you expect to be rewarded for your work.

Because there is a wide spectrum of expectations, depending largely upon a translator’s position in the food chain, a single translator’s view of qualifying a client might not seem reasonable to another translator. Hear me out, however, as I have been around the block a number of times with clients who held and did not hold promise of being rewarding to work for. I will set forth some attributes for qualified clients, categorizing these as essential or important. Some of these are simply common sense, but it is surprising how many translators never go through this process of client qualification.

Additionally, I will boldly assume that readers want to avoid payment problems and wants to have some form of recourse should problems arise, including but not limited to payment.

True physical location disclosed (essential). This should be a given, and is particularly important if the client is (or is suspected of being) too distant to directly visit.

Entities with no substance to speak of (some of them kitchen tabletop translation brokers) will often not disclose a physical address and some will fake up an address in a prestigious-sounding location. The latter can often be found out for what they are with just a bit of searching on the Internet. Simply Google the address to find out what is at the purported address. Often you will discover that the address houses a shared work space or mail-drop service. Bingo, you have outed the “company” as having essentially no substance in the location in which they purport to have an office.

Indication that they are a registered company (essential). Some translation brokers have websites that make them look like companies, when in fact they are individuals. If you run into problems with such a translation broker, your chances of getting restitution are greatly reduced, compared with the case of dealing with a registered company having more substance.

Use of a company-owned domain email address (essential). A place purporting to be a company should not be using a Gmail account or similar free mail service. Even paid email services riding on an Internet provider’s domain are not an indication of substance; they do not demonstrate that the entity takes the business seriously. What is called for is a unique domain name owned by the entity. And it is also advisable to Whois the domain to see who really owns it. It could be that the company is not a company and that the domain is owned by an individual whose name–unless a proxy is used to assure anonymity–could be revealed by using a Whois search.

My personal approach is to have an auto-reply note sent to every inquiry that comes to my inquiry address, stating that we do not even reply to email sent from free email accounts.

No requirement to use a specific translation “platform” or a specific CAT tool (essential). Such requirements (and certainly the requirement to use a platform) are usually indications that you are looking at not much more than a translation broker feeding at the bottom of the market and looking for translators who are also down at the bottom.

Location in a country having at least either the source or the target language as the official language or main language spoken (important). This is particularly important with translation between Japanese and English, since many bulk-market translation brokers have sprouted up in India and China. The ones in China are often subcontractors to translation brokers in the US that sell discovery document translations to their law firm clients. They offer very low prices but not much more. For this reason, my auto-reply note states that we do not deal with entities in places such as China and India (and as a matter of fact, with brokers in any country).

Personalized email greeting (important). Many translation brokers shotgun inquiries and do not personalize their emails. This is another sign of a bulk-market bottomfeeder. If they cannot take the time to address you in their inquiry, you should think twice about taking any time even to respond to their inquiry.

Full name of the sender disclosed (important). Although expectations regarding formality in communication depend on the particular local business culture, it is not unreasonable at least to expect to learn the full name of the sender of an inquiry without having to ask for it. Things like “Hi, this is Sandy from … ” are not what you would expect from a prospective client that you wish to treat you like a professional.

Location that you can directly visit (important). This is important for two reasons: a visit can verify the prospect’s substance (or lack of it), and proximity makes trouble resolution easier.

Even with the Internet and the ability to work at a distance from the translation demand location, if trouble ever arises, you will likely be out of luck dealing with an entity in a different country. Unscrupulous agencies know and use this in their treatment of their vendors. A good approach is to look for clients in your country of residence before extending your sales efforts to places that spell potential trouble.

It is very likely that, depending upon where you are in the translation food chain, you might be reading this and thinking that even the few common-sense conditions noted above would disqualify most of the inquiries you receive. For people hanging out on reverse auction sites such as Proz, the percentage of disqualified inquiries might be very high. If that is unacceptable, the only solution is to hang out somewhere else, and ways to do that will be discussed in another post in the near future.


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