Have you ever slaved over a translation, sent it off to a client all proud-like, and then get the text back with a curt, "Are you sure that this translation is okay?"
("Yes, that is indeed how all speakers of my language say this," you write despondently.)
And then the next week, the same client comes back to you, about the same text, with, "Are you sure you can't say this in the target language? We would really like to say it this way."
(And you tell your client, "No, if you said that, people would probably bust a gut laughing. For reals.")
I've been there. It's frustrating.
This client behaviour makes you want to close up shop at 9:00 a.m to get right down to the pub for beer o'clock. (That's a thing, right?)
No matter how frustrating, though, you need to deal with clients and their concerns if you're going to have a successful freelance translation business.
Let's look at why translation clients give feedback like this and come up with a strategy to help you prevent it altogether.
Translation clients are like worried parents
When clients get back to you with the translation nit-picks, it's generally from fear.
Their document is important--for their company, for their reputation--and they care about it.
However, they often don't fully master the target language (i.e., your mother tongue), so they worry over any detail that triggers uncertainty.
That's why, as a translation professional, you need to show that you care, and in ways that go beyond language.
How do you do that?
By proactively treating their texts like babies.
Empathize with the parent
So many translators act like casual babysitters who just sit their charges in front of the TV, feed them some junk, and relax.
This is why translation buyers get so antsy about your service. First, you need to recognize these signs for what they are: anxiety.
This anxiety has nothing to do with you, so you need to avoid taking it personally.
And you don’t get rid of your prospect’s anxiety by pretending it doesn’t exist, or worse, by complaining about or badmouthing your client to others.
Instead, you act like a professional and meet that anxiety head on.
How could you, if you were a daycare provider, assuage the anxieties of a worried parent?
Give a quick tour of the daycare facilities
Provide a list of rules and expectations
Show the escape route for emergencies
Tell them about your great childhood development reports and updates
Describe your constant improvement plan
In other words, you put everything on the table with a list of clear expectations, activities, logic, approaches, and Plan B's.
And you can do the same with your translation practice:
Give your client a tour of your translation approach (your goals with your text, the kinds of business outcomes you help with)
Provide them with a list of clear expectations (hopefully in the form of a contract)
Have other translators back you up if you get sick or have an emergency
Explain how you will proactively update your client about your milestones
Tell them how you will update a database with their preferred style and terms
This approach goes a long way to easing your client's anxiety.
When they feel reassured, they won't feel the need to nitpick.
Be your client's best caregiver
As a translator, you can’t just act like the casual steward of your client’s text.
You need to be a very caring, attentive, thoughtful, creative, enriching caregiver whose texts, like children home from a happy daycare, come out better for the experience.
If you get your professional process out in the open and treat your texts like the developing children like they are, your client will appreciate your professionalism.
They won't think about nit-picking again.