What to write and what not to write as well as how to express oneself and how not do it in letters to a prospective client are all important things and you should not lose sight of them. As already mentined in my previous post, I have developed a sort of letter template. Yet, I do modify it now and then for the sake of variety.
For example, once I introduced myself as an electrical engineer taking up translation work in deviation of my usual introduction as a translator with engineering specialization. In reply, I got this wonderful letter:
With reference to your application for the post of Sales Engineer, we request you to attend an interview on bla, bla, bla.
Regards and all that."
At first I was flabbergasted. Nevertheless, I met the CEO of the company in question and explained to him about the mix-up. He was initially amazed and then burst out laughing. And it seems wonders never cease. He had a German text, which he had initially kept aside for the moment. As I was already there, he gave the text to me for translation. So nothing was lost. Here I learnt two lessons. One is to put more emphasis on my being a translator and mention the fact of my engineering experience only as a support to my translation activities. The other lesson is to never miss an opportunity of meeting a client, however hopeless the situation might appear to be.
Letters should be brief. Yet they should not miss anything important. And they should kindle the client's curiosity. They should focus on the client's requirements. You should always address the letter to the CEO of the firm. All my letters were hand-written and this fact gave them a touch of originality. I lived till July 2001 in New Delhi, the Capital of India. All my translations were delivered in manuscript form. In the bargain, I wrote thousands of pages and my handwriting improved a lot.
OK, you got a letter from the company to come for a face-to-face discussion. Now what?
Before going further, let me make one thing clear. Whatever I mentioned so far and am going to mention in subsequent instalment on this topic are applicable to any venture. Since I am tapping my personal experiences, the activity of translation is emphasized, that's all. It is for the readers to customize the points suited to their requirements.
Now you have entered the company premises. You are asked to wait as the CEO is busy. Even awaiting the call is an art. Some people needlessly become tense. They resort to nail-biting, looking often at the watch etc. Avoid all these manifestations of nervousness.
For just such occasions I go prepared. I take a book with me. I will sit calmly and be reading the book. Time will fly. While reading the book, I will be rehearsing in my mind as to how I could present my case to the CEO. I will think of the possible questions that might be flung at me and rehearse the answers to the same. I will create a few openings of my own and try to keep the conversation under my control.
Keep your eyes open and have a good look at the enterprise's environment. Keep a cheerful face and smile a lot. You don't lose anything by being cordial to all. It is absolutely essential to get as much goodwill as possible. Hence practise this appproach right from the beginning.
Nowadays smoking is strictly prohibited in offices. But the situation was entirely different in the eighties. Whenever the CEO offered me a cigarette, I never refused the first time. Just for these occasions I had fixed myself a quota of 12 cigarettes per year. The moment I accept the first cigarette, rapport is immediately struck between me and the CEO. Here is a small point to remember. An average smoker lives always with a compulsion to kick the habit. Were I to refuse the first cigarette, I appear to him as a show-off having a will stronger will than his. This will not do. Hence my strategy. Anyhow, nowadays such occsions become rarer and it is good.
Listen carefully as the CEO speaks. Understand the company's needs. Only then you can talk about your services in a confident manner.
In my particular case, a typical CEO will always be curious to know as to how an engineer is also a linguist. It is so because, an average engineer is not much good in languages. Well, this is a case of hasty generalization but then this impression persists. Hence you should talk in fluent English. Never neglect anything as being too obvious and/or too small. Don't forget that all these small things join together to create a good impression about you.
Exercise utmost care while agreeing to deadlines. For the client, his work is always urgent and he would like to get the translation yesterday itself. Do not be cowed down to accept unreasonable deadlines. You should keep in mind the other commitments agreed to for other clients. You can translate only so much words per day (2000 words in my case). While declining to accept the deadline as demanded by client, don't forget to be polite.
How do I handle such situations? Suppose I can comfortably give a deadline some 5 days hence. I will ask for 7 days' time. If the client harps on the urgency, I will offer to do the job for 5 days by working extra hours per day. I will also be asking for a premium of 20% over and above the normal price. More often than not, the client will suddenly realize that his job is not so urgent after all. If he is really in a hurry, he may accept the conditions for extra payment and it should not be unwelcome to you. That's all. But one thing, you should honour the deadline agreed to. There can be no two opinions about this.
I will talk about rate negotiations in my next instalment of this post.
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