5 Myths About Direct Clients

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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. 


Corinne McKay on January 5, 2011 at 8:44 AM said...

Thanks Judy and Dagy for this insightful post! I think that the more translators who spread the word about direct clients, the better. I love my agency clients too, but so many people have these misconceptions about direct clients. In my experience, most of my direct clients are lower-maintenance than most of my agency clients and in general they are highly appreciative of our work. Direct clients might need a bit more hand-holding at the start, but for the increased income potential it's a good investment.

I think that the real reason many translators eschew direct clients is that they cannot or will not leave their comfort zones; and you aren't going to find lucrative direct client gigs by hanging out with other translators. Make 2011 your year to go for it!

Kevin Lossner on January 5, 2011 at 4:05 PM said...

Those are certainly odd myths. While I've certainly seen some difficult direct clients, on the whole I would rank most at or above my better agencies for the ease of working with them. Quick access to answers when I need them is more typical than not, and I appreciate that very much.

I don't think the average direct client requires any more hand-holding than most agencies. Often they are more open to efficient solutions.

But I don't really like any of these generalizations, because any business relationship depends a great deal on the individuals involved. There can be capacity issues with direct clients, but these can also be managed in a number of ways.

Rien on January 6, 2011 at 5:07 AM said...

Thanks from me as well. Great post again on a very useful subject. I don't have many direct clients out of sheer marketing-laziness mainly, but the ones I have are, as you say, better than agencies. They pay better and are definitely more loyal, patient, forgiving. And don't get me started on communication - what a difference!
2011 is going to be the year with my first big local marketing effort, that's my resolution.
Thanks again!

Steve Vitek on January 8, 2011 at 3:27 PM said...

Good post.

I would add that one good direct client is worth more than a dozen agencies. For one thing, they pay me quite a bit more, double as much on rush jobs, than what I can get from an agency. And their deadlines are usually much more lenient, especially if you have a policy of charging more with a short deadline.

I believe that most translators end up working mostly for agencies mostly because they are lazy. And then they complain about low rates.

It takes a lot of work to develop direct clients, but it can be done and it really makes a whole lot of sense to at least give it a try.

But so many translators simply keep sending resumes to agencies, year after year, decade decade.....

Steve Vitek

Rob on January 19, 2011 at 12:57 AM said...

Good points.

I find my direct clients far easier to deal than just about all my agency clients put together (granted, not actually that many), although the best thing about them is being able to see what I'm contributing to (e.g., them getting their products out there), rather than just translating random documents in a vacuum as quickly as possible, which often seems to be the case with agency clients (in my experience anyway).

I’ve also found that the focus of direct clients is nearly always on the quality and the purpose of a document; CAT tools, discounts, rates and even deadlines are, at the most, secondary.

While agencies are good for translating and forgetting, working with direct clients has the potential to be more satisfying. You also stand the chance of producing better translations given that you generally have direct access to all the context you might want.

Unknown on January 19, 2011 at 2:54 AM said...

Thanks for the post. I didn't know these "myths" existed, on the contrary, I thought everybody wanted direct clients...

I agree with everything Steve wrote, I'd much rather have direct clients, which I work with for the brunt of my work. Agencies are much less reliable and operate with "impossible" deadlines and much less respect for the translators (and lower rates), in my experience. But of course, the most important are the individual customer relations, whether they are direct clients or agencies.

Margaret Hiley on January 21, 2011 at 1:28 PM said...

I also only work with direct clients at present. One of the things I enjoy most is the collaborative approach this allows - you can have an exchange of ideas and opinions on any issues, and queries can be addressed speedily. I think clients enjoy this too - and they feel much more included in the process, which is important if their stakes in the text are high. One recent client of mine referred to the finished translated article as "our paper", which I found really satisfying. So yes everyone, go for direct clients! :-)

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