Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Tooth Fairy Dust

Much of my day today was consumed by a long-awaited and rather meaningful (and painful) visit at the dentist's. The bill was nothing like discounted or promotional or whatever. They realised it was rather heavy and sympathised with my need to pay it, but they didn't offer to cut it half just to get me or keep or anything of the sort. Even though they had been genuinely puzzled as to how I'd possibly have found their practice.

See, I went there because they'd been recommended to me by a a family member and not their whole clinic anyway but just that particular doctor I'd gone to. I had been warned the bill would be heavy but also informed the doctor was a respected specialisted in just the sort of painful doom she was going to inflict on me.

There was no posing or showing off, nor any gadgetry, at the clinic. On the contrary, the furniture was the moderately priced plain white clinics can get away with, the location was not exactly the strict city centre, nor was it even large. It was not the place where the doctor had earned her reputation anyway. There was simply competence, reputation and just the right tools for the job (those were actually somewhat hi-tech).

I did have the option to look for a cheaper dentist somewhere else — spending my time seeking them out, going there, perhaps waiting in queue, whatever. Who knows how the medical procedures would've gone. Where I went, it was expensive but reliable and painless and fast and sure and quick.

… All of which a translator can achieve. The translator can certainly be a highly valued specialist in his field coming with good recommendations from the prospective client's family members, friends or business partners. The client may value the benefit of closing the transaction — and solving his problems — fast and assuredly, as opposed to a protracted process with an uncertain outcome. There is satisfaction in moving on and setting to work on new tasks, perhaps more rewarding.

Also, you shouldn't neglect a 'warm contact', i.e. somebody already expecting to be called and professing interest in your services and you as the provider of them, perhaps already prepared to pay your rates. Because from the position that person is in, your rates are more acceptable than to someone who is meh about the whole thing and only tentatively evaluates your free sample and asks you to fill in a questionnaire with the same data you've already provided in your CV or in the e-mail exchange.

How to tell such potential clients apart from the other folks, though?

The answer is that you can't, usually. Neither did the dental clinic from my example until finally some names started popping up at the conclusion of my first visit. Remember how I said they asked me how I'd found them? They had no way of knowing.

The moral of this story connects with the fact that no advertising or marketing can beat good old word of mouth in general, and satisifed and talking clients in particular, and that you never know if the potential client you are talking to right now hasn't been specially groomed for you by your existing happy client.

Big chances are you don't need to play any shenanigans with your rates or fill in a lot of paperwork to get such clients. They already know they want to work with you, or at least they are seriously considering it and being favourably predisposed. Just live up to the tale they have already heard.

Finally, doing what doctors do is not exactly a novel notion for lawyers, the business side of whose services is so similar to our own. Law marketing blogger Larry Bodine blogged about this in 2011 at Lawyerist.com, which is, by the way, a splendid source of knowledge for translators, as almost everything said there is transferable from the legal sector to our own with no or just minor adaptations. I'm pretty sure he can't be the only person who has noticed it, especially considering that a lot of emphasis in marketing these days is placed on focus on the client, facilitating things, solving problems, not just selling a service.

One more thing perhaps: If you place the 'centre of gravity' in your marketing and business approach on the problems you solve for your clients, the way you facilitate things, the opportunities you help them take advantage of, you will move it farther away from just looking at your services from the perspective of a commodity which — all the worse — comes with a very small and cheap unit of measurement, a source or target word worth a couple of cents. In the long run, you might even get to work for an hourly rate (like many lawyers and consultants) or set transactional prices or at least use billable pages or even larger blocks of text (e.g. publisher's sheets) instead of words.

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