We have seen who the project manager is, what he needs to do, what he wants and does not want, but how does he think and work with respect to translators and how should we go about him?

Alphabetical list – When a PM needs a translator for a specific job, he usually has a vendor database at his disposal. Translators are listed either per price or alphabetically (or alphabetically per price). So having a private name or business name that starts with an ‘A’ may be beneficial. I say ‘may’ as it is only one factor of many why a PM would choose you.

Fixed list of translators – PMs with different accounts usually have a list of translators per account (a so-called pool of translators) that they prefer to work with. They rarely change the translators in a pool, unless it is really necessary. Reasons can be: no longer happy with the quality of the translator, client/company insists on lower prices and translator is too expensive, etc. So if you suddenly start getting projects from a specific PM in a specific agency, it’s either because your quality is better or because you are cheaper. Granted, there can be plenty of other reasons, but these are usually the most common ones.

PM to other agency/job - When a PM quits the agency and goes to another agency, he usually takes his preferred vendors with him. If you’re one of them, feel grateful.

But often a PM leaves the agency to do something completely else. If this is a planned event, then you will get a message from the PM well in advance. If you know who will replace the PM, introduce yourself to that person and offer your services. Sometimes the PM announces this on the last day of his employment with the agency. That is when you definitely need to take action. If you do not, you may lose the client altogether.

Nothing obliges new or replacement PMs to use you for subsequent projects, not even if you are in the pool of translators for a specific client. Don’t take anything for granted. Make sure all PMs in an agency know about you. One way to do this is to be extremely professional and act accordingly. PMs do talk to one another often about translators and will tell each other about translators they are very happy or unhappy with. In some agencies this information is exchanged in special meetings.

Your branding – One can often read about the presumed importance of branding. Although it’s nice to have a nice company name and ditto logo, the PM could not care less about it. The PM will not choose to work with you because you have a nice company name or beautiful or inspired logo, he will work with you because you are a professional, trustworthy and especially providing excellent quality. The same goes for end clients. You may have the best branding in the world, if your quality is not good, it will not help you.

Personal relation – Project managers are human beings. This means you not only have a business relation but also a personal relation with them. You do not have to become close friends at all, far from it, but on occasion expanding the business messages with some personal information or chitchat can be a big asset to your personal relationship with the PM.

Christmas cards & alternatives – Many translators send out Christmas cards. I do not (except virtual ones or a personal message rather than a Christmas wish) as it is a complete waste of time, money, and effort. Let’s face facts: Christmas cards are sent out just before the Christmas holidays, exactly the time of year that the PMs are most busy and barely have time to look at them. The cards rarely end up on the PMs’ desks, most of the time they are gathered on a common table for all PMs. And a day after receiving them, the PM has already forgotten you sent him a card (or gadget, or whatever).

Will the PM make more use of your services because you sent him a card or gadget? Big NO. It’s the same as with the branding issue, the only reason a PM will continue working with you is because you provide professionalism and excellent quality.

Hang on, I’m not saying you should not send out cards or gadgets, but why not do it at another time, when people are less busy? Take the starting date of your company or another important day for you. Your card (or whatever) will get noticed a lot more and will not so easily get lost among the many other cards the PM receives around Christmas. You can also send out regular newsletters. Be creative!

Deadlines on Friday PM – Ah, we all know them. The projects you get and need to be finished by Friday at 4PM. Most of the time this is nonsense of course and you can just as well deliver on Monday morning. Have the nerve to ask the PM. Most of the time it will be OK, sometimes it is possible that weekend DTP work is actually scheduled.

And what about the projects you get on Friday afternoon that need to be ready by Monday? Well, that means weekend work, and if you are prepared to do that, the client should pay a weekend fee (25-50% extra is quite all right). If he does not accept that, refuse the project! Again, there may be exceptions, but do not let those become a rule.

Lies – Don’t ever expect to understand completely what is going on in a translation agency. Project Managers are excellent liars. “The client has just cancelled the project” (We found someone else who is cheaper), “the client has moved ahead the deadline” (We need it earlier so we can still invoice this month), “you may not use another TM” (We don’t want you to profit from your own work), etc. There’s no way of checking whether something is true, but I can guarantee lies are abundant. Some other nice examples:
  • The pay is low, but you’ll make up for it with the following projects. (You will not.)
  • All our other translators have a lower rate. (They have the same or a higher rate but we want a lower one.)
  • It’s a new client with a relatively low rate, but an enormous volume. (Your discount is bigger than ours so our margin rises.)
  • A purchase order? No, no paper work, we work with trust. (Don’t expect us to pay you.)
  • It’s a very simple text that you can quickly translate. (I have no clue what it’s about, but you’ll figure it out.)
  • You’re a life-saver! (You saved our nice margin!)
  • There is no budget, but it is a very nice project! (You should do it for free, really.)
  • The client does not need the very best quality. (If you are cheap, we can be too, the client won’t mind and pays big!)
  • Ah, I forgot to tell you that our rates have fallen a bit since last time. (I forgot to tell you, we have a higher margin now.)
  • The accountant is on holiday (yes, for the 8th time this year) and he is the only one who can make a payment. (We’re not really planning on paying you and try to stall.)
  • etc.

Proactivity – Being proactive with your own business is great and wonderful, but never be proactive with a project. If you are not to check full matches but need to deliver a consistent translation, do not start correcting the full matches anyway and use the terminology you believe is right. The best thing you can do, is do to exactly as the PM has asked and write your issues in a separate file (e.g. translator_remarks.txt) that you deliver along with the delivered files. Do not simply put them in an email. Sometimes the files go straight to a QA department or even the client himself without the information you put in your mail. If you include your comment file in your delivery, at least you have done your professional duty. It is then up to the agency or client to decide what to do with it. If things need to be changed due to your comments, then this will be a new project for which you need to be paid separately.

(c) Alta Verba