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Incensed by the attitude of a fellow freelance translator today, I’ve finally been driven to write my first blog post. As a former in-house translator for a major UK company and freelancer for the past 24 years, although I still outsource a small amount of work for my former employers, I feel pretty well qualified to see both sides of the fence. The lesson being that it costs nothing to be civil and will probably lead to more work in the long run.

It might seem obvious that common courtesy should be so important, but my experience is that many freelance translators overlook this simple fact. Here are some pointers to what is and is not acceptable:

1. Don’t send terse (rude!) staccato replies to work enquiries. A little bit of chit-chat, even if it’s just “Hope you are well” or “Isn’t it a lovely day?” goes a long way to oiling the wheels of customer relations. I have a much more chatty relationship with certain clients, but you have to be guided by them – however, the fact that they know your dog’s name might make them so much more likely to think of you when a job comes in!

2. Reply promptly to e-mails, i.e. within a few hours. If I’m going to be out of the office for more than a day, I notify my regular clients so they don’t call or e-mail unnecessarily. Also consider an e-mail auto-responder (but watch out if you subscribe to e-groups and haven’t deactivated them whilst you’re away!), or changing your settings on sites such as ProZ so that anyone contacting you receives a note to the effect that you’re not available between certain dates.

3. Think about getting a Smartphone so you can keep up with e-mails if you’re just out for the day. I think it’s almost become an essential piece of kit for any self-employed individual. Like it or not, the world has become used to getting a quick response and if you’re not available, you’re liable to miss out. I certainly don’t think we should be accessible 24/7, but a quick note saying when you will be available is quick and easy to send.

4. Acknowledge receipt of e-mails – yes, by all means tick the automatic read receipts, but also send a quick e-mail to say you’ve received the work and you’ll get it back by the set date. For the client it’s so frustrating if you don’t do this and they’re much less likely to come back to you if they’re annoyed by your behaviour.

5. Be professional at all times. When I worked in-house, I could barely hear one translator on the phone one day for the background noise of screaming children. When the work finally arrived (paper copy – this was in the days before computers!), it was scruffy and messy, and that particular translator never heard from us again. I’m a mum myself so I know what it’s like trying to work with a young family, but if you can’t work to a professional standard, you might as well not bother.

6. If you have to turn work down, don’t just say no – do offer the client a reason, be it on account of the wrong field, deadlines or language variant. Suggest a different deadline (you never know!), provide details of a colleague specialising in that particular area or offer to post the query on your specific professional network. It’s all about providing added value, which will make the client much more likely to come back to you.

7. Do ask questions – your client will appreciate the fact that you’ve taken the trouble to seek clarification of a technical term or phrasing, or pointed out a possible error in the source text.

8. Finally, treat clients as you would like to be treated yourself! Your work may be excellent, but if the client can’t stand communicating with you, you will definitely be bottom of the pile.

Having got that off my chest, I’m sure there must be lots of other bugbears that really irritate fellow professionals: I’d love to hear about them!

P.S. This picture tickled me – so true! Nocturnal creatures, translators…

So true...

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