You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours? That’s not quite how it works when you refer colleagues to clients, or vice versa, yet it is an eminently sensible thing to do. In fact, many of my best work sources came originally as a result of referrals from colleagues or other clients. So when you’re thinking of ways to attract new clients, don’t dismiss the simple stratagem of making your presence felt and networking with colleagues AND clients.
I have spells when I receive lots of translation requests for subjects I don’t specialise in, even those I wouldn’t touch with a bargepole – I’m thinking particularly of legal and financial here, but medical also comes into that category for me. Strangely enough, I seem to get more than my fair share of medical requests; whether it’s because I describe one of my specialist fields as health & safety, I don’t know, but I certainly don’t translate hospital reports, medical research or medicine in the broader sense.
This week I received a couple of requests for specialist medical texts and, as ever, rather than just saying a bald no, I always try and refer trusted clients to trusted colleagues. The client is usually thrilled, as on this occasion, as she had a large number of words to translate for a prestigious end client in a very specific field and in a fairly short timescale. Fortunately, the colleagues I recommended were able to help and were pleased to have the recommendation for a high-quality agency – without the usual anxiety when you are approached by a new client and aren’t sure whether or not they’re reliable, pay well, on time – or at all! If the lead comes via a colleague, you can usually rest assured they’ll be good. This particular client had initially been passed on to me via a colleague in the ITI French Network for translations in another of my specialist fields, nuclear technology, so I was only too happy to return the favour for other French Network members.
Deciding who to recommend is key, of course. It’s not just a question of looking up your professional association directory or choosing someone from a Facebook group or forum. If I don’t know the client at all, I might suggest they look in the ITI Directory, or I might even offer to post the job on the relevant language network myself if I have time and inclination. I like to recommend either colleagues whose work I know and trust, or people I’ve met, often in person at conferences or events, and formed a good opinion of. I may even recommend colleagues I’ve met online and had good exchanges with over a prolonged period – I’ve rarely been let down. This is where networking is so important: yes, translation can be an isolated profession, but by putting yourself out there and meeting colleagues at workshops and conferences, you’re not only learning from the presentations and seminars, and finding out more about the finer points of our profession, but also meeting prospective clients, or at the very least referrers of clients. I’ve lost count of the number of colleagues who’ve passed on work to me, or outsourced jobs to me themselves after we met at an event – but it’s certainly been well worth the conference fee every single time!
You can usually tell a lot about people from the way they behave and interact, both in person and in online forums – in both positive and negative respects. There are many people who have unwittingly crossed themselves off my prospective referrals list due to inappropriate behaviour in e-groups: being aggressive in group situations, riding roughshod over others’ opinions, even asking repeated questions that demonstrate they they’re way out of their depth and really shouldn’t be translating in a particular field at all….. We all occasionally need help with isolated parts of longer documents that are off-topic, but I’m talking about persistent offenders who always seem to be asking comparatively straightforward questions.
Of course, if you do recommend a colleague, you need to be pretty sure that they will do a good job, so it’s important not to be swayed by the kind of people who blow their own trumpet or constantly brag about their achievements. If they don’t come up with the goods, it will inevitably reflect back on you to some extent, so do be careful! I’ve only once been caught out by this, when someone I recommended ended up being much more expensive than anticipated and not really fulfilling the brief, although this wasn’t a translation task per se and I was doing the client a huge favour passing on names at all. Still, it left me wishing I hadn’t got involved – better to be safe than sorry.
So what’s in it for you, as the passer-on of names? Hopefully, clients will appreciate the fact that you’ve made their lives easier and passed on excellent colleagues. It’s also to be hoped that they’ll come back to you next time they have a job that is in your specialist fields. Equally, your colleagues may one day return the favour and think of you when they’re overstretched or have something outside their comfort zone. If you’re passing on work because the deadline is too tight, not because it’s outside your field, I always think it’s good to give a ball-park figure for price too – good colleagues won’t want to undercut you or put themselves out of the running by quoting too high, so may well ask for guidance anyway. And even if they don’t have the opportunity to refer back, it really doesn’t matter: your client is happy, you’ve done your bit, and you can enjoy the feeling of karma while it lasts :-). Don’t just say no; say, let me see if I can think of someone who can help – you know it makes sense.