How to Build Healthy, Long-Lasting Relationships with Project Managers
By Meghan McCallum, MATI Director
Arguably, our main goal as translators is to provide excellent translations. We ensure that each translated text is accurate, consistent, and error-free. Many more factors come into play in a translator’s day-to-day business interactions, however. Beyond providing spotless translations, what can a translator do to build healthy relationships with his or her translation agency clients?
This is the first installment in a series focused on the translator-agency relationship, and how translators can ensure they are providing a complete package of excellent service.
Getting Your Foot in the Door
Q. With more and more translators marketing their services across a variety of platforms, how am I supposed to stand out from the crowd?
A. Getting your foot in the door with an agency can be tricky, but it doesn’t have to be!
- Be visible. Set up profiles on Proz, LinkedIn and on the websites of professional associations (including ours!). Keep them up-to-date with language pairs, experience, specializations, contact information, and a professional headshot, if possible. A project manager’s first impression of you may come from one of these profiles, so you want to be sure to make a good one!
- Be active. You may not have the opportunity to meet your project manager in person, but he or she can still “see” you participating in online forums, webinars, blogs, and social media. If you have an active, professional online presence, you’re more likely to get noticed.
- Be available. List your contact and social media details (e-mail, phone, Skype, website, Proz, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+) across platforms. A project manager shouldn’t have to spend time figuring out how to get a hold of you! While you’re at it, does your e-mail signature need a makeover? Be sure to include at least the basics (phone, website) in your signature.
- Start with baby steps. PMs will likely not send you their biggest and best projects until they know they can trust you with the small stuff. That is not to say that you should accept projects well below your rates or with impossible deadlines, but if you make it a habit of rejecting all but the very best projects, PMs may stop reaching out to you all together.
- Take advantage of networking opportunities. Participate in events offered through professional associations, such as MATI’s webinars and annual conference. Not only will you make some new contacts, but with active participation in an association you also show potential clients that you are committed to the profession.
Mastering the Art of Online Communication
Q. My relationship with project managers exists almost entirely online. How can I approach communication to ensure that I will get repeat work from a project manager?
A. Project managers can receive hundreds of e-mails per day, and communication etiquette (or lack thereof) can make or break your relationship with them. Here are some tips for successful communication.
- Respond in a timely manner. One of a project manager’s most important tasks is to keep his or her projects running on schedule. With multiple projects happening at once, they need to be able to communicate quickly and effectively. You’ll make a PM’s life easier if you respond to messages quickly. Even a simple “Thanks for the project offer, but I’m unavailable for the rest of this week.” will do.
- Use (but don’t abuse!) instant messaging. Many translation agencies use Skype; consider using it yourself if you don’t already. This way, if a project manager has a quick question for you (“Hi, could you please confirm you received the source files?”), they can receive your answer right away. On the other hand, some messages are still better via e-mail; if you have detailed questions on a specific project or anything that a PM isn’t able to answer instantly, it’s probably better to e-mail.
- Keep messages concise. With hundreds of e-mails flying around every day, a project manager can’t afford to spend time decrypting drawn-out messages. Of course, your PM does want to know if you have questions or issues with an assignment! Always notify the PM as soon as possible when you encounter an issue. When composing your message, make it as easy as possible for the PM to figure out what your question or problem is and what information you need from them to resolve it.
- Stay positive. Although we’re all working behind computer screens, don’t forget that there is always a live person on the other end of your messages. PMs will remember the way you communicate with them. Don’t like a rate or deadline that a PM is offering? Did the PM accidentally offer you a job outside of your area of expertise? No problem; you’re not required to accept it! If you’re not able to take a project, a quick e-mail politely declining the job will go a long way.
Learning the Ropes of Translation Technology
Q. How can I master translation technology to improve my relationships with PMs and bring in more business?
A. In today’s translation industry, professionals cannot afford to not master their own technology. PMs tend to remember translators who accept their projects on a regular basis, so if you regularly turn down projects because you can’t work with CAT tools, you may fall off of a PM’s radar. Of course, you have the ultimate choice of which technology (if any) to use for your translation services. Once you do choose to use a certain technology, however, you should take responsibility for learning how to use it correctly. Hurdles are bound to come up when working with technology, and troubleshooting skills are a must.
- Take advantage agency-provided discounts and training. Some agencies offer discounts on their preferred translation environment tool, and many provide basic instructions and training for how to use the tools within their specific project process. Take advantage of these offers!
- Keep an eye out for training offered by your tool vendor. Webinars, YouTube videos, and other training materials are often offered at no cost directly from translation software vendors.
- Encountering an issue? Google it first! You’re wrapping up a project due tomorrow, and suddenly an error message pops up. Don’t panic! First, Google the specific error code and/or message in the pop-up window. Chances are, someone else before you has encountered this issue and discussed resolutions online. Many technology issues can be resolved independently with a little online research.
- Ask a colleague for one-on-one help. Some of your fellow translators may be willing to provide individualized training sessions for specific tools. This allows you to learn the ropes at your own pace and ask a trusted colleague for insight. Trainers may charge a fee for this personalized service, but it’s certainly worth the investment.
The above tips are sure to get you started on the right foot with your project managers. Remember that among a PM’s many duties is to serve as your advocate to the client, and the best way to ensure successful projects and a mutually beneficial relationship with your PM overall is through open and timely communication.
Do you have specific questions on fostering positive relationships with your translation agency clients? Visit our Member Forum to discuss questions with your colleagues or to request specific topics for future articles.
Meghan McCallum is a freelance French to English translator based in Milwaukee, WI. She worked in-house at a Milwaukee LSP from 2010-2015 before starting her freelance business. Meghan currently serves on the MATI Board of Directors.