Language service providers come in all sorts of shapes and sizes ranging from the super professionally PRO with capital letters to the carefree creative types. They speak different languages. They have dissimilar interests. And they don’t always agree on the fundamentals of translation.
But whether they know it or not, they have one thing in common: They are business people. And, as such, they need to price, negotiate, and close, just like every other business person. Some language professionals are naturals when it comes to pricing, negotiating, and closing. Others could use a little help. (Side note: Those who feel they could use a little help can check out our Money Mastermind webinar series. There’s a very special treat for our newsletter subscribers).
What makes pricing, negotiating, and closing so easy for some and so hard for others?
One argument is personality type. Many people are familiar with Carl Jung’s and Isabel Briggs Myer’s typology. According to these researchers, people fall into 16 personality types identified by way of 4 letters. I, for example, am an ENFJ. And this, in theory, affects my career and my professional decisions on several fronts. It’s a well-researched and popular theory. And if you’ve ever picked up a business book, you’ve probably read all about it.
Solid though it is, there’s something about that theory that just bugs me. According to WorldMeters, there are 7.6 billion unique individual human beings on the planet. All scattered throughout 195 equally unique individual countries, communicating their cultural values in different languages and geopolitical settings. If we stop and think about the vast cultural, historical, linguistic, and philosophical richness of this little rock we call Earth, why would we want to fit all 7.6 billion of our individual selves into 16 tiny boxes? Why label at all?
But let’s give these brilliant academics the benefit of the doubt their scientific rigor deserves. Let’s assume there are such personality types. And some people simply fit into just the right four-letter combination that makes them natural movers and shakers. Then, what about the rest of humanity? Should they all just throw in the towel?
I think not. I think knowledge, training, and practice (combined with often painful but no less essential) trial and error makes perfect. We can all obtain the necessary skills to price, negotiate and close winning deals.
Pricing Takes Strategy
If you talk to any relatively experienced, well-trained, and professional translator, you know that translation prices in any given language combination can range from 0.01 to 1.00 USD or more per word. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably asked yourself at least three questions:
1) Where in this price range am I now?
2) Where do I want to be in the near future?
3) How high can I go and what do I need to do to get there?
Regardless of where you are now, moving upmarket in the near future and continuously upping your fees until reaching the “price ceiling” (i.e. the equilibrium price determined by market forces of demand and supply) requires a rational well-thought-out strategy. And that strategy may have little or nothing to do with your four-letter personality type.
It requires an all-out effort on many different fronts:
1) Studying: There are two things you really need to know and understand (and not just from blog posts, I mean hit the books!).
- How clients choose between different service providers.
- How to align price with the service you deliver. I recommend becoming very familiar with leading experts on pricing and business strategy, like Michael Porter, Kevin Doolan, Mark Kramer, Leslie Crutchfield, and John Kania, only to name a few. Whatever you do, don’t believe there is a “going rate” for your language pair. That belief is based on sheer ignorance of market economies.
2) Preparing: You need to make sure all your processes run like a well-oiled machine. The last thing you want to do is earn your first higher-paying client and disappoint them.
3) Planning: You need to have a realistic plan that takes into account your financial needs and is based on a thorough SWOT analysis. Not sure how to develop a business plan? Check out this course by the Israel Institute of Technology taught by Professor Emeritus Shlomo Maital, Sr. Research Fellow, S. Neaman Institute, Technion.
4) Marketing: No matter how much you know, prepare and plan, if you don’t actually make time to market your services, you won’t move upmarket either. But be warned. Marketing is not just something you do during slow seasons. Your marketing efforts need to be strategic. They need to speak to your market niche. And they need to be continuous.
Is marketing not really your thing? Check out this course by Professor Ramon Diaz-Bernardo, Associate Professor at IE Business School.
5) Executing: While most language professionals claim to deliver top quality work, very few actually deliver on that promise. Be among that minority that delivers top-notch work, on time, and is easy to work with. That person gets referrals. And referred clients are deals that practically close themselves.
Negotiating Like a Pro
Whether you’re aware of it or not, negotiating is something you do on a daily basis. Research conducted by Harvard University has shown that most people adopt one of three negotiating styles: soft, principled, or hard.
The outcomes of those negotiating styles can be statically predicted, at least in game theory, on the basis of the adopted style of each player. Better outcomes are reached when both negotiators are principled negotiators. For more on that, I recommend reading “Getting to Yes” by Roger Fisher and William Ury.
The question is how to win a negotiation. The answer is not that simple. First, you need to calculate your Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (or BATNA). Not sure what that is? Check out this post by Harvard University’s Program on Negotiation.
Second, you need to research your potential client and then measure your Zone of Potential Agreement accordingly (ZOPA). More on ZOPA by Harvard here.
Third, you need to develop your three core negotiating strengths: listening, questioning, engaging. For more on that, I strongly urge you to read pretty much anything ever written on the topic by Gill Ann Rider, CB, Ph.D., CCIPD, who served as the President of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).
Fourth, you need to master the art of creating value through trades. In Professor Doolan’s world, that’s creating swappable items. A topic we will discuss in depth in my negotiation webinar and business masterclass in Canaries.
Closing the Deal
To most people, closing means getting that coveted yes. As a lawyer, I know getting a yes from a client is just the beginning.
Once you’ve figured out the big stuff, closing means getting them to agree with the less obvious but equally important matters of business: Who’s going to cover transaction costs? What interest rate applies to late payment? What if they cancel the job after you’ve already started working? When is copyright transferred (US) or licensed (EU)? And that’s just scratching the service.
When it comes to closing, there are two dangerous misconceptions that play against language professionals:
1) “If I try to get them to sign a contract, they won’t want to work with me”: Why not? In absolutely every other business transaction some kind of contract is closed. Why do language professionals think their service is any different?
I’d argue it’s the exact opposite. Business people are used to working with contracts. In fact, they expect it. Not closing with a contract creates an unleveled playing field between you and your client. One where you appear far less professional than any of your competitors who’ve gotten their business process down to ironclad contracts.
Business people understand that contracts are aimed at protecting both parties. It gives them the peace of mind of knowing that their language professional is willing to put their money where their mouth is. It tells them that you are serious about making good on the promises made during the negotiation phase. So, if anything, contracts make you look more appealing to your clients.
2) “I live in a codified country. I don’t need a contract”: You do know that whether you live in a Common or Civil Law country, that code also says there is such a thing as freedom of contract, right? Also, codes are not designed to take into account every possible little scenario between every single person in every transaction ever. That’s sort of why your lawmakers came up with that freedom of contract thing in the first place.
While the law will regulate many of the rights and obligations between you and your client, whatever is specific to translation needs to be contained in a contract to be enforceable.
Moving upmarket is a choice. A choice that is absolutely available to anyone no matter where in the world they live and regardless of how rich or poor their country is. The only thing standing between language professionals and higher paying markets is the misconception that there is such a thing as a standard rate and that said standard rate is low. So, we, at the Biz Muses, encourage you to learn, plan, prepare and train at your own pace and in a way that is consistent with your own individual circumstances and needs.
If you haven’t already, sign up for our newsletter! Don’t forget there’s a special treat coming up for our newsletter followers as a way of thanking you for your continued support. And if you loved this post and want to learn more from me about pricing, negotiation, and contracts, join me in our Money Mastermind webinar or Business Masterclass.