American Translators Association (ATA): Cultivating Clients

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American Translators Association (ATA): Cultivating Clients

Cultivating Clients

Not every project offer is equally attractive, and business owners are well advised to be selective among the project offers they receive. This is the best way to ensure that work continues to be interesting, rewarding, and open to further growth.

Dear Business Smarts:

Recently, I have been receiving many requests to lower my regular rates for specific projects. One agency wrote: "Also, as we are working on a budget, do you think you could lower your rate to xx per word?" What if I went into a grocery store, loaded up a cart, and then asked for a discount because I "am working on a budget?" Is it not an agency’s job to calculate a budget that will allow for covering all the work phases involved?
— No Discount

Dear No Discount:

While we understand your dismay at the request for a discount, negotiations are very much a part of doing business. In the U.S., we tend to accept prices without question, but this attitude is changing. According to a Consumer Reports survey of 2,167 people in November 2007, “90% of those who haggled over furniture, electronics, appliances, and even medical bills had received a lower price on at least one purchase in the last three years.”1 Accordingly, the strategy of asking for discounts seems to be successful, and the “budget” that is being mentioned probably allows for full coverage of everyone’s work and the owner’s profit, or else it would not be worth anyone’s time.

That being said, you are under no obligation whatsoever to grant a discount for the work you provide, particularly if the company is offering no special benefits in return. Remember that you are not selling groceries. You are being asked to provide a specialized service for which you have developed, based on your own criteria, a particular price. If a potential customer offers you less than that price, you can simply decline it without spending any more time on the matter.

Moreover, it is actually a much better strategy to pick and choose among the project offers you receive. It is a common misperception among small business owners that you have to accept whatever work comes along. While this may be true in the initial phase of establishing your practice, a business owner should become increasingly selective over time. Do not be afraid to turn down work that looks boring or tedious, especially if that response makes you available for new and more exciting material. The same applies to projects offered under unappealing conditions, such as expectations of discounts, long payment terms, or poor project management. Instead of stewing over offers that do not seem respectful of your professional expertise, cultivate a group of clients who are glad to place their projects with you and appreciate the value you provide.


1. As reported in The New York Times on January 19, 2008.

Reprinted from The ATA Chronicle: July 2008, p 46