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In my previous post How to write an estimate and sell for translators and interpreters (Part I), I highlighted the steps I think translators and interpreters should follow to craft their estimates including – inter alia – listening to clients’ needs, focusing on an offer that is priced correctly and wisely, and being sure the clients can understand the value of the offer, even if the fees are higher than the competitor’s.

An estimate is just one of the steps in the sale process. Now, if you ask ten marketing experts (which I am not) what the most important step in this process is, you will get ten different answers. Personally speaking, as far as translators and interpreters are concerned, I consider the estimate as THE step leading to a sale. Educating customers to read through the estimate, and not just jump to the bottom line, can really make the difference between signing a contract or receiving no answer at all.

Part II – In the client’s shoes

Go with figures

As a general rule, whatever the care you have put in crafting your estimate, 100% of the clients will go straight to the bottom line to see what the total cost is as soon as they receive it. According to my experience, a few clients will go back and read through the estimate to actually understand it. Since $500 is more than $450 (well, that’s quite obvious, isn’t it?) you may loose a job opportunity for bidding just a few dollars higher than your competitor’s, which is indeed a disappointing and frustrating experience.

However, whenever you answer a call or a first contact by saying “the cost won’t be high and you can trust the job will be of the utmost quality”.

Before I proceed, let me draw a line between small and big clients.

Who are you talking to?

Whenever a small firm or another professional contacts you, it is likely you will talk to the client himself, who may have not used language services before. This has pros and cons. First of all, you get a chance to explain how things will be planned, organized, and delivered, that is, you state the value of your offer.

The old refrain is that there is no second chance for a good first impression, which applies well to your first contact with a client. Clients know little – if not anything at all – about non-billable time. They may not know that transitioning from the annual convention of Aluminum Suppliers Association to the interview of a top seller novel author is not uncommon for interpreters, and yet requires strong ability to adapt and demanding preparation efforts on their part, let alone the time required to do it.

Clients are more likely to associate the price they pay to the time they SEE you working, not to the tasks you fulfill before, during, and after the assignment. This is also the likely reason why many estimates are often rejected by clients on the basis of the cost-to-working time ratio. “It’s just 4 hours, I cannot pay XX dollars for that!“, some say. But it’s not just…that!

During my professional career, I have taken assignments where I charged more than my competitors. Yet, I got the job because I was able to promise, explain the value of, and deliver higher standards of service. Afterwards, the client recognized she had no idea a good interpreting service included so many “details” (in fact, she also referred to substantial issues as details…). Anyway, the point I want to make is that guiding the client to understand where value lies is as important as preparing your estimate well.

Talking to big firms, however, is a different story. In this latter case, it is likely you will have to deal with contracting officers, budget branches, authorization processes, audits, and so on. Your interaction with the client – e.g. the CEO – will be limited or non existent, and your counterpart will be the project officer. Multilayered complexity is the expression I would use to define this not so uncommon situation.

The larger the number of people who have to understand where value lies, the harder the game. In those cases, experience suggests to look for the person in charge, explain things one time, agree on the course of action, and rely on him/her as a single point of contact for all issues. Make sure that person has authority to make decisions, or you will find yourself stalled sooner or later. There is nothing worse to discover that the person you have been talking to has no possibility to change things when and where you need it. As a rule of thumb, big fish, big power; small fish, well…good luck!

How to Help Clients Understand the Estimate Process

In How to write an estimate and sell for translators and interpreters (Part I) I have repeatedly stated that listening to your client carefully is the first step in the estimate process. As soon as you have the elements you need to prepare your offer, make sure the client listens to you.

First of all, prepare a a clear and concise offer and highlight all the results you want to achieve with and for your client. Let’s say you will provide interpreting services in three languages. The least the client wants is:

  • A flawless language service.
  • Hassle-free installation/removal of booths and other equipment.
  • Prompt and seamless technical support.
  • Quick resolution of emerging issues.

And this will be your basic level of service. Believe it or not, not all companies are able to offer the four things at once, but still they get jobs. Now we could discuss the issue of quality at length, but I prefer to deal with it in another post.

Having said that, consider what you as a professional interpreter may give for granted and think what may happen if you remove it from the picture (hold on to that thought, for we will need it later on).

For example, are you offering the following quality enhancers?

  • Interpreters who are native speakers in the language they translate to;
  • ISO-compliant booths;
  • Consoles, microphones, and earphones that are also ISO-compliant;
  • Additional equipment, e.g., bidule;
  • A team leader to coordinate the interpreters;
  • A consultant interpreter to talk the client through the options that are available for the event; explain how to make the best use of interpreters’ services; recruit professional interpreters; liaise between conference organizers, speakers, chairs and interpreters before and during the event; and provide advice on interpretation equipment.

The reason I am asking is that each and every of these items adds value, and therefore a cost to the estimate. Just explain the client the difference between having and not having what I called quality enhancers and what their absence would mean in terms of performance, service to listeners, and eventually, event success. That is the field the battle of estimates is fought on.

Clients often know what they want to achieve, but they don’t realize how much they are willing to pay for it. As you prepare the estimate, explaining the value your offer will bring to their event is of paramount importance to both your business and theirs.

What Should an Estimate Include?

Since you have been listening to your client, you already know what information he is looking for. You should present those information in the most readable and transparent form and add your explanations. Just do not create a bulky document as nobody will read it. What is more, they will likely swipe left…

Here is what, in my opinion, everyone should include in their estimates:

  • Information collected as a result of the meetings/calls/e-mails exchanged with the client. This is the basics and what the clients expects to see with a price tag on it.
  • The work you will perform: explain this in details. State any limitation/supply that depends on the client, e.g., if the best location for the boots is point A, electrical power must be available at point A for equipment to function. Again, clarity prevents confusion and misunderstandings.
  • Job Description: Describe the job as mentioned by the customer. Also, offer your observations or inputs regarding the nature of the job. Whenever you include a quality multiplier, just explain why you did it and what happens if you don’t. Don’t write “we use native speakers as interpreters because their delivery is better, and therefore they cost more“. Rather, use comparisons with the client’s experience to create a rapport. “Just as speakers will use the language they are more comfortable with, our interpreters will translate into their native languages – that is, the language of the audience they are translating for – to ensure you get the best service possible. Would this cost more? Yes, but we are at your side to deliver quality, not just a translation. This is what you pay for, and you and your audience deserve nothing less.”
  • Total Cost: State the total cost of the job, including any taxes. There is something you have to resist to, though. Some professionals think that hiding the bottom line in the text may help the client focus the on other information in the estimate, including all the explanations to justify the price. Well, this will actually piss the prospect client off. Seriously, people, just don’t do that. You can further break down the cost in detail so that customers have an exact idea of what services they are paying for, but do not hide the price. An adage says “When you cannot hide it, put it in plain sight.” and that’s exactly what you have to do.
  • Terms: This is an important part, as everything you write in this section will have to be reflected in the contract. Contracts are usually binding and more specific, but make sure the client will not find terms in the contract other that those you have included in this section of the estimate. Clarity, transparency, and good reputation are signs of professionalism. Don’t forget to specify the duration of the estimate, when the final payment should be made by the client, and if you require a deposit before starting the work. Include the type of payments you will accept, i.e., credit card, PayPal, Swipe, checks, wire transfer, and so on. If you apply condition-based clauses, just state them in plain terms. For example, some colleagues charge an additional price if the client does not provide the conference documents early enough to allow the interpreter prepare the conference or event.
  • Notes and remarks. Explanatory notes will help the client understand what lies beneath a cold figure, have a better idea of the estimate, and see your terms as reasonable. You may, for example, format your estimate as a table with rows for expenditure items and the last column to explain details.
  • Contact Information: Always use your company or professional stationery and don’t leave your telephone number as the only contact information under your signature block. You should include your email, and don’t give it for granted that people will obtain the address by simply clicking on “Reply”. Adding a cell phone number is also key to let clients reach you in case they have quick questions or are on the move with no time to sit down and send an email.

After the client receives the estimate, ask questions about it to see if they understand it. Opening the door to clarifying your estimate can give you more opportunities to talk to the customer and close the deal.

How to Make Sure Your Estimate Stands Out

The presentation of an estimate can really make the difference between getting a job or not. I am referring to both visual and personal presentations. Not only your estimate should reflect your style visually – I cannot think to a logo, layout, or color palette that is not already on your website or business card – but you should be prepared to explain it in a convincing manner. That is when your public speaking or break a deal with a customer. The idea is to present the information the customer is looking for in such a way that you close the deal. Here are some techniques that will make sure your estimate stands out and gets noticed by the client.

1. Be courteous and introduce yourself
Courtesy is your best business card and guess what? It needs no fancy graphics or eye-catching font. Give a good representation of yourself and let them remember you for it. Courtesy, or the lack thereof, always leaves a trail.
Also, prospects are interested in more than just your name or business letterhead. Introduce yourself by telling them what your expertise is, specifying the special qualifications or credentials that you believe will make the difference, giving examples of your work, be they big clients, or small clients but very similar to the prospect you are dealing with.

2. Be professional
Now, the concept of being professional is very vague and may require a term paper to be explained properly. It may include anything from:
– having business cards;
– taking care of your appearance;
– providing an itemized estimate to clarify where the money the client pays goes.
Itemizing estimates is very important, as some clients may consider hiring you as a contractor even if your estimate total is above their budget, provided they can identify items they can remove to lower the total cost.
This also adds to the transparency of your estimate, that is, explaining why you apply that fees or prices to that event.
At most, present two or three different options for making payments. Assess the requirements of the customer and provide them with different solutions to their problems at different price points. By giving the customer options, you can help them to feel in control of the deal.

To make a long story short, just give the prospects the more reasons possible to convince them that they should hire you. You may also ask probe questions, such as Have you spoken to other companies?
And then, if the answer is yes and they say the total of the other estimate is lower, offer them to compare it with yours and explain the differences, and why your fees are higher.
This is the moment when you take the lead and ask the questions that make you stand out versus your competitors.
Don’t be afraid to say: “that is why I am the right person for this job, this is why I am better than my competitors.
Of course, you will have to prove it through your competence, your experience, your portfolio, your reviews or referrals, your website, etc. Let those speak for you.

Frame your value around you and the client being the co-creators of value. It is not just what services you provide to your clients but how you provide them that will differentiate you from other professionals.
This means aligning your strategic priorities with those of your clients. Therefore, you should find the right formula to meet their unique goals, align your fees with the value you deliver, and be fully transparent so your client can appreciate that value.

After you have sent your estimate, check in regularly with your clients to find out what they think is working in the estimate, what is not and why they feel this way. This not only gives you valuable information to improve your practice but also lets clients know you’re responsive and interested to their needs. Don’t be afraid to conduct your own marketing research with your clients through probe questions. It can give you an understanding of what they’re looking for and how well you’re delivering on those objectives. It can also provide insight on everything from whether or not to add additional services to what macro trends are on your clients’ minds.

Communicating your services and fees (and the relationship between the two) clearly is about much more than just money.
It’s about building trust, demonstrating value and proving to your clients that a partnership with you is a wise long-
term investment. Clients are thinking about your services and fees, but often do not see the link between them. Your breadth of experience, the lessons learned, the consultative approach, and the certifications and ability to support clients in their choices are an important part of the value you bring. Estimates are the best way to do that. For most clients, money is secondary when it comes to getting a job done in the best manner possible. They are looking for a trustworthy contractor that can deliver the most efficient services.

Trust, however, rests on delivered promises. Most contractors make the mistake of promising the world to customers. When they can’t deliver on those promises, your project (and reputation, and future business opportunities) are ruined. So, don’t oversell and only make promises that you are absolutely sure you can deliver within the scope of the project.
Remember: always think from the client’s point of view and be honest in all that you can offer to the customer.

By talking comprehensively about what you can and do deliver with your services — the possibility every event attendee has to understand, the hidden opportunities uncovered, the security of having a reliable language service provider and much more — a client will see your value to him or her in its fullest extent.
Clients who understand the fees they pay are more likely to think positively about their supplier than those who don’t.
They are also more likely to believe the fees an interpreter or translator charges are fair and that they provide objective advice without regard for his or her earnings. Additionally, more well-informed clients are more inclined to refer friends and family to you because of the trust relationship you built. They will also help you achieve an enviable reputation among your peers and attain continuity in your practice.

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