- Professional image. This might sound like a no-brainer, but many freelancers don’t have some of the elements in place that would set them up for success. For instance, I believe all services providers need a well-designed website, a professional e-mail address (read: not free), a proper e-mail signature with contact information, formal and complete price quotes, especially if you work with direct clients (an e-mail with a price in it is not a quote), a rate sheet (if you choose) and information on terms and conditions. There are many other important elements, but those are the basics. In addition, answering inquiries in a timely fashion is paramount, as time is often of the essence (get a smartphone). It’s essential to make a good first impression with customers, even if you are not a “traditional" business in the sense that you don’t wear a suit and don’t have an office outside the home. It’s perfectly acceptable to be wearing your bunny slippers while you communicate with your client, but you need to come across as the professional that you are (no barking dogs in the background during phone calls). What matters is giving your client the reassurance that yours is a professional business, even if you haven’t changed out of your Snoopy pajamas.
- Fess up. Humans make mistakes. Translators are human. Therefore, translators make mistakes. No one expects you to be perfect, but if a client points out a mistake, accept it, apologize, offer to correct it – and do it quickly. As difficult as it may be, try not to get defensive. If your mistake is serious enough, offer a discount or send a small gift. However, don’t ignore the issue. Acknowledge the mistake and honor the client’s concern, whether he or she is correct or not.
- Follow instructions. If the client wants the translation as a hard copy on salmon-colored paper in 11.5 font, Calibri, margins 0.23 on all sides, with a drop of your blood (OK, kidding), mailed to Minnie Mouse at Disneyland via DHL and not FedEx because she hates that company, you should follow those instructions. Make sure you charge for your extra trouble if it’s appropriate. Don’t needlessly question your client’s preferences: clients are queens and kings, and as long as you are getting paid for it, you should comply with all (legal) instructions. And one more thing: read all instructions.
- Go the extra mile. Without clients, you don’t have a business. Your clients are the reason you can make a living, so make sure you treat them like the center of your business world. Perhaps some requests might be unreasonable, but try to be as accommodating as you can. Never treat the client like they are an inconvenience. My rule is that if the client is good and the request is reasonable and doable, I will do it, even if it’s not too terribly convenient for me (for instance, an interpreting assignment at 6 a.m.) Give your clients the feeling that you are the go-to person for all their linguistic needs, even if they are complicated.
- Solve your own problems. If you don’t know how edit a PDF, your client is not the right person to ask for advice. Google it, ask your colleagues or post it on an industry listserv. The client hires you to solve problems, not to create new ones. Use the resources you have in order to deal with any challenges you might encounter. Of course, if your problem is something that only the client can solve (for instance, defining a company-internal acronym), then by all means, go ahead and ask.
In summary: keeping your clients happy and trying to turn them into repeat customers should be your number one business priority. As you probably know, it is infinitely easier (and less expensive) to keep a current customer than to acquire a new one. Here’s to much business success for all of you!