Wake up! How to Deal with Time Differences in Contact with Clients

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Written by guest writer and freelance translator Joanna Diez. Her native tongue is Polish, she has a Master’s Degree in Applied Linguistics and has lived and studied in Poland, Germany and USA. Currently an Arizona resident, translator, mom and part-time writer:

As a translator living in the Southwest United States and spending six weeks a year in Europe, I have to deal with a lot of issues regarding time zones. Here are a few tips for translators who want to keep all of their global clients happy and remain sane and rested as well.

The reality is, most agencies have regular office hours that are more or less the same in the whole world. Only the biggest agencies offer 24/7 live services and one can always contact a project manager who can help out at any given time. Usually upon receiving a project the translator is told precisely who to contact at a later hour regarding any details. On the other hand, medium and small agencies, not to mention direct clients, can be contacted from 8-9AM till 4-5PM local time. It is very hard to get a hold of someone at their offices on weekends.

As freelance translators, most of us does not set strict working times and often upon receiving an assignment thinks “It’s Friday afternoon, I’m going to take care of this project over the weekend”. Or: “The client is in London, I am in New York and it’s past noon, so I have lots of time to get the job done”. Yes, but what if we have an urgent question for the project manager, one that cannot possibly be answered by Google but only by the client? For example: “What does the abbreviation BGMS-X2 mean?” Therefore upon receiving and reviewing the translation project, consenting and realistically assessing the time needed to translate, the translator has to reread the project from a soon unavailable client/agency representative right away and ask any and all questions as soon as possible, to avoid scratching his or her head on a Sunday afternoon. So our first rule would be: Communicate immediately and do not leave solving problems for later. Even a simple task like downloading a TM from a client’s ftp server can pose a problem later, so all tasks of this kind also need to be performed right away. Make sure the project file opens and saves without problems, the TM is the correct one and the instructions are clear before the client goes home.

The translator also has to determine where his or her potential clients are located. The optimal situation would be of course to solicit clients from the same time zone we live in, but we all want to be global, competitive and mostly work over the Internet, so this is not always possible.

The second rule is therefore to realistically assess communication possibilities when acquiring a client. For example: If a translator who resides in Hamburg likes to work only in the morning and goes to bed early, he or she will not be able to communicate with an agency located in Los Angeles, California that as a rule distributes projects only in the afternoon. Agencies do not appreciate translators replying to emails with a 12-hour delay – usually the project is then assigned to someone else or even already translated. Therefore we have to be more realistic than greedy – even in the current difficult economic conditions – and ask ourselves, if we want to set the alarm clock for 1AM to check on our new client, or should we just say sorry, but this relationship is not going to work out.

And finally, when traveling, we have to keep in touch with existing clients. Of course, everyone has the right to go on vacation, but if this vacation is longer than a week or so and the translator plans to work in a different location in the world, we have to make sure the clients know how to contact us – unfortunately – during their own business hours. This sometimes means getting up at night or very early to be able to respond to job offers. Some clients also forget about where we are located and call us at odd times of the night, demanding us to “confirm file reception”. Make sure to either unplug the work phone before going to bed or leave the answering machine on. Getting clients used to the fact that the translator can be bothered at any given time is not always a good idea. A polite and humorous remark in the next e-mail often does the trick.

As a translator located in the Southwest United States, I have made a habit of getting up very early every morning to communicate with my European clients. These relationships are important to both parties, so I try to reply to their e-mails first thing in the morning, and they are aware they cannot expect an answer to their e-mails before early afternoon. Our long-term collaboration is possible because both parties have realistic expectations and adjust their schedules to make sure a quality job is performed by a rested translator. And this is what I wish to all of my colleagues out there.

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