5 Tips for Communicating with Clients (and Prospective Clients)

(This post is based on a talk I gave in Hebrew earlier this year at an Israel Translators Association short lecture event. It’s available on YouTube here.)

Several years ago I went to a translators gathering, with a few dozens of translators. My friend, who also came, described this event as “a party where everyone are wallflowers”. Sounds familiar? Most of us translators work from home, and part of the reason we do what we do is probably because it’s more comfortable for us. We like being alone. It’s great when we translate, but the problem is that as business owners, some parts of our job requires contacting other people, such as marketing, networking or collecting, and that’s when it becomes harder for us. We avoid it because we’re shy, afraid of rejection or hearing “no”, or just because we don’t feel comfortable.

If we want to succeed in our business, we have no choice but to get over it. It’s not easy, but I’ve developed a few strategies that have helped me cope with this, and I’d like to share them with you.

1. Don’t decide for the other party what they think/want – This may have been the most helpful insight for me: When contacting others, they usually have two possible responses: either “yes” or “no”. Usually we’d like to hear “yes”, with no worse answer than “no” possible. So, for instance, when we avoid approaching a potential client, we decide for them that they won’t work for us. If we do contact them and offer our services, they might say “no”, but they could also say “yes”. For that chance, as small as it might be, we should try, instead of making this choice for the client. If these are the possible answers, you have nothing to lose if you try to ask. You might even get a “yes”.

2. Buddy system – I have a colleague and friend I chat while working, consulting her on professional issues. She’s a great help when I have to contact someone, because, first of all, when I tell her I’m going to  call a client , I’ve committed to it and I have to make the call. Also, we can talk about what I should say, or discuss the call after it’s over. Make sure your buddy is a translator, or some other freelance professional, so they understand your situation.

3. Emotional detachment – First of all, we have to understand that when a client rejects us, it’s not personal. There could be a 1000 hypothetical reasons why they rejected our services, and only one of them is about us: maybe they don’t need any translations; maybe you were their 15th call in the past two hours; maybe they’re going through something personal. So when you’re rejected, don’t be discouraged! Just move on to the next prospect. It’s not about you.

Also, sometimes it’s easier to make requests that benefits other people and not ourselves. So if you find it hard to call clients and remind them of overdue payments, you can have an agreement with another translator or freelancer to take care of each other’s collection calls. You can also practice requesting things for other people or for a good cause, until you feel comfortable enough contacting other people on behalf of your business.

4. Be assertive – Assertiveness is a communication attitude that’s right in the middle between passiveness and aggressiveness. When we’re passive, we don’t respect ourselves and our boundaries; When we’re aggressive, we don’t respect others and their needs. When we’re assertive we respect both ourselves and others. Assertiveness helps us express what we want without forcing others to comply and without making others guess what we want (which is passive-aggressiveness). Assertiveness isn’t only about our business – it’s about every time we contact others.

Assertiveness is like a muscle, and developed gradually. This about when you felt awkward, so when you encounter these situations again, you can practice being assertive – you can return your salad because the greens aren’t fresh, or tell the salesperson you don’t like the shirt they’ve suggested you try on. Remember: it’s not about attacking them and saying that no self-respecting chef would use such poor lettuce, but say you don’t like or want it, while stating the facts. Start with situations you feel more at ease in, and gradually move on to more difficult ones. It will get easier. There are many books on assertiveness – just browse your favorite online bookstore!

5. Know what you’re going to say – If you’re worried you’ll be so nervous the words won’t come out, plan what you’re going to say. Write down a script, if it helps. Since we’re avoiding being aggressive, stick to the facts and don’t accuse the other party. If a client didn’t pay, I always say I didn’t get my payment. You never know – maybe they made the transfer, but the server went down?

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