Thoughts regarding how people choose professional services – including translation
By Stephen Rifkind
With some 15 years of experience and an MBA in marketing, I still find marketing my services a bit of a search for the holy grail, i.e. a never-ending quest with insufficient results. Recently, I decided to approach the issue from the opposite direction. I asked myself a question: How do I find and choose a provider of a professional service whose quality I do not have the knowledge to assess? For example, most businesses, large and small, require an accountant, who works in mysterious ways to reduce tax burden and keep the tax authorities at a distance at the same time. How can an entrepreneur know which accountant is the most effective and cost effective?
The most common technique is asking for recommendations. Sources include family, friends, business associates, and providers of other professional services. The words “I am satisfied” coming from any of those individuals is often enough of a reason for a person to request a quote or even stop searching. The lesson for translators is that it is vital that everybody in your environment, including your friends, people you buy from and colleagues, know exactly what you do for a living. Life insurance salespersons systematically practice this technique. These references cost little or no money to attain and generally lead to at least one chance to prove ourselves, which is all we ask for.
Location, both physical and virtual, is a major factor in customer choice. The office next door or easily accessible is the most convenient. Likewise, people generally choose options among the first or, at the most, second page of sites appearing in any Google search. Therefore, a translator must be present in both forms. Unfortunately, many translators are invisible in their own community, without a sign or listing. Likewise, freelancers must constantly strive to create a presence in the Internet not only through a website but through social media and publishing articles. In this way, translators create their own opportunities.
Most clients request several quotes for any professional job. The most important basis for any decision is generally price. That said, potential buyers do not always pick the lowest price. In regards to unfamiliar services and goods, low prices often equate to low quality. How do we know that one untried restaurant is better than another untried restaurant? The more expensive option, within reason, is assumed to be better, especially when more options are also provided. Therefore, when pricing, aiming at the mid-level, preferably with additional services, for that market is often a more successful technique than low-balling it since the client perceives reasonable quality in that quote.
No less important is the visual aspect of the place of business. Potential clients expect to see order in the place of business of the service provider whether that is real or virtual. Customers have a higher opinion of physical and Internet sites that create an image of success and show investment. In terms of website, this image requires periodical updating and cleaning up. They also look for any professional certifications in order to feel more confident of their choice. So, translators need to ensure any certifications from either translator organizations or government bodies are clearly visible as well as any membership in such organizations since they provide “proof” of a professionalism.
Potential customers, as all humans, place a heavy weight on their first impressions based on the initial contact. A professional services is foremost a rational, not emotional, decision and must be communicated in a business-like manner. One factor is the quality of our written language. Therefore, besides perfect spelling and syntax, any written communication must carry the tone expected from a serious enterprise. When talking with prospective accountants, we unconsciously judge them according to their tone of speech and breadth of knowledge. Accordingly, freelancers must remember to conduct phone calls with potential customers in a professional manner, respecting the time of the person and recognizing that they are not interested in your personal life but asking relevant questions. The proper approach to communication, as dictated by the culture of the client, creates the impression of proper skill in translation.
As business tends to run close to or beyond deadlines, potential customers often seek the first company that can provide the service in the available time. These clients seek immediate availability and flexibility even at an increased price. Just as banks give new customers priority in their queue systems, translators need to allow for and accommodate new customers. The actual size of the job is irrelevant. Once the translator demonstrates the overall quality of the service and product, larger projects will follow.
In some cases, some customers choose not to search for quality or price but choose the first service provider they see. This laziness or time allocation choice, as you choose to view it, can play into the hand of the translator that promptly reacts and responds to the post or email. This requires constant monitoring of emails and phones so as not to miss an opportunity. Playing hard to get is not good marketing.
Lastly, some customers choose service providers based on serendipity. They share some common and irrelevant characteristic that creates some emotional bond. These factors include studies, place of birth, hobbies and favorite team, to name just a few. For this reason, the CV’s of freelancers should be complete as far as space allows to create such opportunities.
The lesson learned is that marketing goes well beyond advertising. Requiring mainly constant effort, effective marketing for a translator involves establishing a physical and virtual presence, creating an impression of quality and communicating the image of success as well as seeking and grabbing opportunities. The magic words that every translator wants to hear are “I want you!”
Stephen Rifkind – Gaguzia Translations – has been translating since 2005. He translates from Hebrew, French and Russian to English, both US and UK, specializing in legal and financial documents, in particular contracts and official documents. He is a member of the ATA and SFT (France) and a Recognized Translator by the Israel Translators Association. His eclectic education background includes a BA in Russian, Teaching Credentials in French, an MBA and legal studies. He has also been a Lecturer of English at Braude College of Engineering in Karmiel Israel for over 25 years.