Improve your chances when sending a quotation
This article was originally published in the September-October 2018 edition of the ITI Bulletin, and you can download a PDF version here.
All freelancers have been on the receiving end of emails from potential new clients telling us about an upcoming project and asking if we wish to be involved. Sometimes we’re interested in what they have to offer, and other times we’re not. But how many of us have been on the other end of this relationship, responsible for recruiting freelancers for a project?
As a freelance translation project manager, I regularly contact translators on behalf of direct clients, and ask them to provide quotations. It can be eye-opening to discover what makes someone a preferred freelancer and what can be an immediate turn-off.
Covering the basics
First things first: if you know straight away that you aren’t interested in the project, respond to the Project Manager (PM) to tell them so. If they’ve addressed you personally in the email, that means they’ve looked you up and are waiting for a response. Let them know in good time if they need to keep looking for someone else.
If you are interested but don’t have time to go through it properly within a couple of hours of the email coming in, send a holding email to the client or PM so they know you’ve received it. You can then take all the time you need to read the information later without pressure to respond urgently, subject to any deadline the PM has given.
Then read the project brief thoroughly, as well as any other materials you’ve been sent. Make sure you understand what you’re being asked for and what the project will involve – if not, ask.
If you decide you want to take things further, provide your quotation in the requested format. If you’re asked how much you would charge for working on a text, give a total price rather than an hourly rate. A direct client probably isn’t very interested in how you reached the figure – they just want to know how much it will cost. If the client is an agency and they ask how much you charge per word, provide your quotation in that format. Make it easy for the PM to hire you.
Along with that, provide all the information you’re asked for. It sounds obvious, but it’s very off-putting if the PM has to remind you to send the information they’ve asked for in the first place. If it’s for a direct client, they probably aren’t very familiar with how the industry works. They need to know a bit more about you and your experience to be confident in hiring you. Ignoring such requests shows a lack of attention to detail and implies that you aren’t interested enough in the project to spend some time on your quotation.
Provide all the information you’re asked for. It sounds obvious, but it’s very off-putting if the PM has to remind you to send the information they’ve asked for in the first place.
Be clear and concise. Use headings or bullet points and don’t expect the PM to click on links to other sources. If the PM has to go hunting on your website to find out about your experience of similar projects, they most likely won’t bother. That’s especially true if others are providing that information directly via email.
Quote realistic turnaround times. If you say you’ll be able to do more than is realistic in a given time frame, the PM will probably think you don’t know what you’re doing or that the quality of your work will be poor.
Stand out from the crowd
Make your quotation look attractive. A professional quotation as a proposal in a separate document with all the information you’ve been asked for is far more memorable than a figure in the body of an email. A little colour can go a long way, too.
If you say you’ll be able to do more than is realistic in a given time frame, the PM will probably think you don’t know what you’re doing or that the quality of your work will be poor.
Summarise the client’s needs when you send your quotation and include your interpretation of what’s required. It will show you’ve really thought about the project and what you could bring to it.
Alongside that, be friendly and enthusiastic about the project. Showing your personality will make you more memorable than translators who are very matter-of-fact in their emails. By showing you are approachable and easy to work with, you make the PM more likely to champion you and choose your quotation over others.
If you have any questions, use this as an opportunity to pick up the phone and call the PM. Having actually spoken to you, they are much more likely to think of you when it’s decision time.
And some things to avoid…
Having said that it’s important to be prompt, don’t respond too quickly, unless you know you aren’t available to take the project on or you just want to let them know you’ve received their email and will reply with more detail later. Quoting within seconds could imply to the PM that you haven’t read what they’ve sent you.
If you’re simply not qualified for a project, don’t quote for it. Read the information you’ve been sent and be honest about your abilities. If the project brief asks for native speakers of a certain language with experience of a particular sector and you don’t fit the bill, don’t apply. The PM will respect your honesty and may contact you about a project that’s a better fit in the future.
It’s not a good idea to ask too many questions about the nitty-gritty of the texts at the quoting stage. If you’re asking about the meaning of certain words then, it implies that you don’t understand the context or detail. In practice, you’re wasting your time too, given someone else may be chosen for the project. Save those questions for when the job starts, if you’re hired.
Don’t undersell yourself or your services because you think you’re more likely to be hired that way. Some clients will focus most on price, but many are looking for the most qualified person for the job. In my experience, mid-range quotations are often accepted. Those freelancers who provide the cheapest quotes are sometimes seen as inexperienced, so they won’t be taken on. And if you have relevant experience for the project you’re being offered, charge for it accordingly.
Don’t undersell yourself or your services because you think you’re more likely to be hired that way. Some clients will focus most on price, but many are looking for the most qualified person for the job.
The same goes for estimating the time you think a job might take. If you really aren’t sure, give a broad range or be generous with the deadline you suggest. It’s not helpful to say you don’t know or it depends on other work. The client just wants to get an idea.
If you have any upcoming commitments that might become an issue if the project overruns, state that from the beginning. Bear in mind that some big projects don’t start when they’re expected to. This really isn’t something the PM wants to find out later when it’s a problem. They’ll appreciate you taking the initiative.
If you don’t hear from the PM, resist the temptation to keep chasing them. If you haven’t heard anything by the date you were told you would, by all means email to confirm that there’s no news. But if they say they need more time or there’s been a delay, leave it at that. It may be tempting to keep chasing, but the PM may be waiting for a decision from someone else. Receiving prompts from you every few days will just annoy them. They will be in touch when they know more; if you never hear anything, then you haven’t been hired. Repeatedly chasing the job may make you come across as desperate.
Keep it professional
Finally, be professional and friendly in all communication. If you don’t agree with something the PM says, take a breath, step away from your computer and respond once you’ve calmed down. Simply tell them you aren’t interested in working on the project if it’s a major issue. If it’s something minor, find a way to convey your difference of opinion without being offensive. The PM probably didn’t mean to offend, and an aggressive response from you will make them less likely to hire you. And most of all, don’t complain about other freelancers or rates of pay in the industry overall. Whatever your views, this really isn’t the time or place for that.
Efficient, accurate and enthusiastic: one translator who got the job
I was project managing the translation of a short educational marketing text into multiple languages. I found several translators who I thought might be a good fit in the ITI Directory and emailed them with the source text and project brief.
Within an hour and a half, one translator had replied to tell me that she was interested in the project. She didn’t give her quotation then, but told me when I could expect to receive it.
Within the time frame she’d stated, she sent me her quotation as a PDF document. It included a little bit about herself and her experience, explaining how she approaches each project. She told me what tone of voice she would use and the values she would convey in the translated text, based on her understanding of the source text. Then she asked for confirmation that this was what the client was looking for.
The translator was friendly and professional in all her emails and showed real enthusiasm about the project. I received 10 quotations for her language pair and hers was right in the middle of the price range. However, price was not the most important consideration, and she convinced me that she was the best candidate.