As freelance business owners, we’re all assumed to be ultra-professional and efficient – as indeed many of us are – yet there are times when choosing whether or not to work with a new client or take on a new project comes down to nothing more than gut feeling. I always think of myself as being ruled much more by the head than the heart, but I still often trust my instincts when push comes to shove.
Of course, it isn’t just in the professional sense that instincts come to bear. Most of my major life decisions have boiled down to a feeling, deep down inside, that they were the right thing to do. You can assess the facts until the cows come home, but if something doesn’t feel right, it’s hard to persuade yourself to go down that route. Take that warm, fuzzy feeling when you go to buy a house, for example – somehow you just know when you’ve found your perfect home, even if it’s not quite what you’d planned. When we first saw my current house, I had a really good feeling about it, but was in denial about downsizing and dismissed it on the grounds of a tiny garden, small kitchen and not enough kitchen cupboards! In the end, of course, I came back to it because it was right for the new stage in my life – and I certainly wouldn’t have had time to tend a 2-acre garden as a full-time freelancer in any event!
Of course, there’s a difference between having the courage to push yourself outside your comfort zone, as I described back in October last year, and having the confidence to trust your instincts when you’re taking one of these major decisions. Often our instinct can be to lie low and not take those scary next steps, even if our head is telling us that it makes sense. In such situations, we just have to cast aside our fears and trust our gut! Managing risk is a huge part of running a successful business and of course you should always perform the necessary checks and safeguards. When all that’s done, however, it’s still up to you to take that last leap of faith and go for it.
Recently, I was approached by a new client, not quite a direct client, but a consultancy not in the translation industry, to do a large project in a field I’m passionate about. I duly gave them a quote and we discussed timescales and procedures, and the possibility that I’d need to outsource some of the work to get it all back on time. It was at this point that I realised that this could, theoretically, be quite a risky venture for me. Although I do outsource occasionally, it’s usually for my former employers or clients I’ve worked with many times before, so I’ve never been worried that I wouldn’t be paid or that payment might be delayed, causing me cashflow problems in paying my sub-contractors. If this new project were to go ahead, I’d be outsourcing a significant amount of work to a colleague for a client I knew very little about. And yet, I had such a good feeling about the whole project: my contact was professional and pleasant to deal with, and all sounded completely above board.
In dealings with translation agencies, of course, you can check out the ProZ Blue Board or similar sites, for agency ratings, or you can post agency queries on translation forums such as the ITI language networks. With a client outside the translation industry, it’s not quite as simple. If you are a member of the ITI (and presumably other professional translation associations too), you can perform free credit checks on UK companies via Experian. ITI membership also gives you 25% discount on access to the Payment Practices database, although again this is just for translation companies. I duly used the Experian check to look up the company in question and found nothing untoward, but still felt I was taking a leap in the dark. I then had the brainwave of asking a former colleague on LinkedIn, who works in the same sector as the consultancy, to see if he knew anything about them – and sure enough he was able to check with his own professional body and came back with glowing reports – which put my mind at rest. So having confirmation of your gut reaction is good, but I reckon I would still have said yes even without the verification – it just felt right! As it was, the client agreed to my suggestion of a 50% advance on the total invoice following delivery of the first two smaller files, and they have been as good as their word and a delight to do business with.
On the solitary occasion I accepted a job against my gut instinct, that was the one and only time I’ve had a client go bankrupt on me. I’d been approached via ProZ for a job right up my street in terms of specialisms, and there was nothing particularly untoward on the ProZ Blue Board other than a couple of slow payment notices in recent weeks, leading to a few 4s rather than the 5s I usually demand nowadays. The PM was very friendly and seemed perfectly nice when I spoke to him on the ‘phone, yet for some reason I had niggling doubts about the whole thing. In the end, I decided to ignore the niggles, take the plunge and did the translation – very quickly as it happened, since it was such familiar territory. I never received my £500 or so – the company went bankrupt soon afterwards and of course a mere freelancer is way down the pecking order in comparison with the big creditors like banks and other companies. Fortunately, I only lost a couple of days’ work, but I know other colleagues lost out to the tune of a lot more – a very sorry tale and definitely a lesson learned: if something feels not quite right, listen to those feelings and just say no!
The same applies to the kind of projects you may be offered. It’s very tempting when you’re quiet, or just starting out, to accept any jobs that come your way, even though you know that certain texts drive you to distraction. I was offered a huge 200,000+ word project a while back, but turned it down, albeit it reluctantly, because it was basically an extended parts list with just a few words on each line, plus lots of cryptic abbreviations and acronyms. Yes, it would have been nice to have the next few months’ work mapped out, but at what expense? It would have driven me potty! And of course we’ve surely all experienced the sensation of grudgingly accepting a job because there’s nothing better on offer, only to have three plum jobs land in your inbox immediately afterwards!
In a similar vein, I was offered the chance to bid for a large tender at the end of last year, and having agreed to collaborate with one agency, I was then approached by 5 or 6 other agencies regarding the same tender. My immediate reaction was that it wasn’t ethical to go in with more than one agency, as I would in effect be competing against myself – quite apart from the extra work of submitting all the necessary documentation again, albeit similar for each one. Things were further complicated by the need to do a timed test translation for the end client at the end of the process – you can’t be in two places at once! I’d had a good feeling about the first agency who’d approached me, a recommendation from a colleague, in fact, and was prepared to take the chance that I was putting all my eggs in one basket by only going with them. It paid off, the tender was successful and the agency is great to work with.
Since then, interestingly, I’ve been contacted again by one of the agencies I’d turned down, asking if I’d still be interested in working with them on the same tender projects. They’d won one of the lots too, but one of their translators was no longer available. I was on holiday at the time, so unable to help on that particular occasion, but said that yes, in principle, if I had spare capacity, I might be able to assist. Then came the crux of the matter: she responded offering me the rate all their other translators had allegedly agreed, which was two-thirds of my own rate and lower than I’ve charged for that particular language combination in years! The proof-reading rate she went on to offer was even worse! Thanks, but no thanks – which only goes to show that you should always trust your instincts….
Brilliant Dem Guts swimsuit picture courtesy of BlackMilk Clothing, Australia (no longer available, sadly!)