The client cycle – lowering risk, raising rates

Assuming you secure a handful of new clients (various techniques for this to follow) over the coming year, what are your options for managing these alongside existing clients?

Considering the overall health of your business, let’s look at this as a process to strengthen the long-term chances of survival and continued growth. We can group the actions to take into two categories: lowering risk and raising rates.

The risks we are aiming to lower are those of poor payment practices and poor project management. Both of these present significant risks to your business in terms of cashflow and unbillable hours spent fixing mismanaged projects. Ways to get around these are:

-         Requesting upfront payments

-         Doing credit checks online

-         Double-checking POs and payment terms

-         Confirming project scope in advance

-         Making it clear that additional services will be invoiced

-         Showing clients your own terms of business

Once you’ve done all you can to minimise the risk of working with a new client, the process of raising your rates across the board can begin.

-         Reducing workload with the lowest paying clients by quoting new jobs at your higher rate

-         …Or being too busy if you’ve not been overly impressed with them, but have relied on their income

-         Taking on projects offering new specialist experience where possible as these ‘opportunity projects’ can pay dividends later

-         Diversifying your client base over various industries and structures, such as a mix of the best agencies and direct clients

-         Consider charging less per-word projects to direct clients, in favour of per project or per day pricing

-         Take responsibility for the business results your projects create – note any measurements you’ve taken or that are reported

-         Pick up any new industry terms in your specialism from client literature, trade publications and so on

-         Use these in your communication with clients and prospects via your site and marketing material

-         Develop a brief sheet that clients can fill in (online or by email) to flesh out their project requirements (see example brief in appendix)

-         Use the brief to negotiate on scope, not on price

-         Rule of thumb: entrust no single client with more than 1/5th of your time/revenue (imagine losing that much of your projected income if the single client went out of business!)

-         A wide range of low-volume clients can work well, as just a couple of calls per year from 50 clients can mean 100 projects

-         Obviously with 50 clients, some are bound to call more often than this, so your waiting list or outsourcing strategy can be applied if you so wish

Remember that agencies market to direct clients, and while they remove the hassle of you needing to do this, they take a large cut of your work for the privilege. Get into the habit of marketing regularly in order to secure your own selection of higher-paying direct clients.

A good agency mailshot can generate hundreds of thousands of words of work for little to no cost. This has happened to me several times in the past. I receive translator applications on a regular basis for my own agency operation and there is a clear distinction between the experienced professional and the opposite.

The professional always includes their key specialisms, qualifications and experience, rate (not always) and CV (with filename that helps to distinguish it from the other 100). Their messages are brief yet informative, respectful of the reader’s time. This might be obvious to you, but it’s worth mentioning to cover all bases.

When targeting direct clients, if you call one prospect every working day and only one says yes per week, that still adds up to 50 new clients a year. Even if you don’t hit that rate, 10 new clients a year would still be a great boost to your business. The key is in being consistent with your sales and marketing efforts, optimising them as you go. If targeting agencies, pick those that offer a specialised service, not the large generalists with interns as project managers and knock-down rates.

With all this in mind, how do you go about finding these new clients?


Thanks for reading. I do translation from French and Swedish to English, so if that's useful to you, feel free to connect and message me on LinkedIn or Twitter.