Happy 2011 to all our wonderful colleagues around the world! We figured we'd start 2011 with discussing one of our favorite subjects: direct clients. As many of our readers know, we work exclusively with direct clients, and our experiences have been overwhelmingly positive. We frequently get questions about direct clients, some of them based on some erroneous perceptions/beliefs about direct clients. Keep in mind that our experiences are not always necessarily representative, and that we have been working with direct clients for roughly ten years -- and educating your clients is also a big part of the equation.
Here are the 5 myths that we hear the most often:
- Direct clients are difficult to work with. Sure, some clients are more challenging to communicate with than others, but the vast majority of our clients are accessible, easy to talk to, and very professional.
- Direct clients don't pay on time. Based on our substantial historical experience, that has not been the case. In ten years, we have only had one client who never paid (he filed for bankruptcy). What is indeed difficult is finding payment data about direct clients, as the fantastic translator databases, such as Payment Practices, only track agencies. When in doubt, ask for partial payment up front.
- Direct clients are never happy. That also hasn't turned out to be true for us. It's your job to make the client happy; whatever it takes. Without an agency as buffer, you are fully responsible for the customer services experience, and if you want repeat customers, you have to ensure that the experience is outstanding. You will need an editor to proof all your documents. Direct clients expect outstanding work -- as they should. We have a five-step quality assurance process, and we make sure that our clients know how thorough it is. If there is a problem, direct clients expect it to be fixed promptly.
- Direct clients are impossible to find. While it is true that they are challenging to find, it's not impossible. Growing a translation business is like any other business: you need to combine an offline and online strategy with outreach and social efforts. The more people know about you, the better. This will, however, take time. There's no such thing as immediate gratification when it comes to direct customer acquisition, and it requires some patience (which is not our strongest suit).
- Direct clients are too busy to answer the phone. It is true that most of our clients are extremely busy, but they are typically very much vested in the projects we translate: they have either created the documents or are responsible for their publication. Hence, it's in their interest to move the project forward. Of course, some clients might be too busy at a given time, but it is your job to try to get the question answered, perhaps by an assistant or by e-mailing or calling a few times.
Perhaps 2011 will be the year that you start working with more direct clients? Either strategy -- direct clients, agencies, or both -- has advantages and disadvantages. Our ideal situation includes long-term repeat direct customers for whom we do projects on a weekly (and oftentimes daily) basis: they are the bread and butter of our business.