Running a successful business can mean having to successfully negotiate around landmines, and oftentimes there are no right answers. Every client is different and most situations are unique. One issue we've been thinking about lately is whether or not you should ask the client about questions you have concerning the source text, formatting, the intended use of the translation, the audience who will read the text, etc.
Again, there are no hard rules, but we try to solve this potential issue ahead of time by:
- Asking the client about where the translation will be used before we accept the project. We also ask about any specific requirements the client might have and then list those in our price quote, which the client will sign.
- Some clients will not react the way you'd think, and they will tell us to "just translate this document." We tend not to work with those clients, because clear communication and expectations are key. We can't meet expectations if we don't know what they are. We don't want to set ourselves up to fail. Great translations are always collaborative efforts, and that includes the client. We know they are busy, but their participation might be necessary to guarantee the result that they want.
After we've started the project, we generally follow a few guidelines before we ask the client:
- We do some brief research into the issue using our high-level dictionaries and some basic internet research skills. It might be something obvious that we are not getting, or it might be something very tricky.
- We discuss it to see if one twin has the answer, which is oftentimes the case.
- If that doesn't solve it, we ask the client.
- If need be, and if the client wasn't able to fully answer the question or explain it well (or doesn't have the time to answer), we ask one of our resident subject-matter experts (legal and IT) to see if they can shed light on the issue. Many times, many of our clients work in the marketing department and didn't write the text, so occasionally it's quite a bit of work for them to track down the answer.
- Alternatively, we post the issue on a translator listserv. Our colleagues are truly wonderful.
We usually prefer to ask the client rather than post too many terms on translator listservs, because many times the client can solve something in 10 seconds that would waste our colleagues' time. For instance, no fellow translator in the world knows what "TCM"' stands for, but the client does: it's an internal acronym for a content management software that's named after one of the company's software developers. We did the right thing by not spending an hour researching the term, as we would not have found it anywhere.
In general, we think asking the client (legitimate) questions is a good thing, because it shows the client that you care and that you are putting some serious thought into your work. On the other hand, asking too many questions makes you look like you are not trying hard enough and don't have sufficient resources or research skills. For instance, you don't want to ask your client what FMCG is (you can find that in three seconds). Many clients really welcome questions and go out of their way to answer them, while others might be slightly annoyed that you are "wasting" their precious time or might not answer at all. We try to make it easy on customers by collecting our questions and sending them in one easy e-mail, which clearly details and references the questions.
What about you, dear colleagues? Do you have any rules on how you handle this tricky subject?