Saturday, May 20, 2006

Selling Your Services and Negotiating

At the conference I attended last weekend, Ulla-Lisa Thordén gave an enthusiastic, energetic talk about selling your services.

She started off by mentioning two myths about selling. The first myth is that you have to be a born seller. Ms. Thordén said that you aren’t born anything; you have to become something, and being a good seller is really just being good at speaking and good at listening, both of which are skills that can be learned. The second myth she mentioned is that quality sells itself. Ms. Thordén said that unfortunately, quality has to be sold, and translators need to be able to explain what their particular abilities and skills are and why they are different from those of all the other translators out there.

Based on what she said, the two secrets of marketing and selling are persistence and clarity. You have to be persistent and keep trying to reach people, keep telling your family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, and whoever else about what you do and why you are good at it, and keep in touch with the customers you do have and be available for them. You also have to be clear about what you do and you should spend time thinking about exactly what you are good at (as has come up in other posts, specialization can make you stand out from other translators and can add to your credibility). You should also be able to explain to customers what you can do for them and why they should work with you. Remember that people are easily overwhelmed by information, so being succinct and clear about your services is very beneficial.

Selling your services and negotiating prices are two related areas that are often difficult for translators, and Ms. Thordén also gave some advice on negotiation. Few translators, or other freelancers, want to argue with customers about price. We want to be friendly and liked by our customers, so when they complain about the cost, many of us get nervous or scared and try to appease them by hurriedly offering discounts or agreeing to lower the price. Ms. Thordén doesn’t agree with this approach.

Customers always think translators are too expensive (part of this may be because they don’t understand what translation really is or why it is necessary, so they don’t like paying for it, and also, of course, it is natural that companies want to keep their costs down). When faced with this situation, a translator should be clear and simply explain why his services are valuable. If clients complain, take control of the conversation. Either sit there quietly while the customer talks, which admittedly is quite difficult to do, or else say something such as, “I hear that you are hesitant. Why?” Respond calmly and clearly to whatever concerns the customer brings up, again explaining what you can do for him and his company, If the customer still doesn’t want to pay, say, “It’s too bad you can’t afford me.” Don’t lower your price just because others are good at negotiating or complaining; you should only lower the cost if it is strategically important for you to do so. Make sure you have decided in advance how much you are worth and what the absolute lowest price you will take for the project is.

And, finally, though it may sound obvious, when the assignment is finished, thank the customer. Say, “Thank you for choosing me” or “Thank you for working with me.” Being polite never hurts and it usually helps!

In other words, be clear about what you do and why you are good at it, and be able to explain this to others firmly and politely.

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