Interestingly enough, I’ve been asked more than once, “How does a freelance translator fire a client?” Although “part ways with” might be a better term than “fire,” this phenomenon definitely exists, and is a customer relations issue that translators have to deal with. I think that there are a few reasons for this: the supply and demand situation in our industry means that highly skilled translators may be interested in raising their rates and leaving their lower-paying clients behind; raising rates often means looking for new clients, and unfortunately there are translation clients out there who are very problematic to work with. To be fair, we’ll agree that the same is true of freelancers, and that clients are also sometimes forced to sever the relationship with translators, but in this post we’ll look at when and how to politely write a Dear Client letter.
To me, the primary rule of client interaction is “act with class.” Regardless of the issue you need to address, remain professional; don’t get personal, don’t get nasty, don’t sling mud. At the same time, I think that it’s fine to tell the truth about your reasons for severing the client/translator relationship if you want to, and that it’s also fine to say as little as possible, this is really a personal decision. Always keep in mind that the translation industry is a small one and is also very word-of-mouth driven; avoid burning bridges whenever possible. Let’s look at a few scenarios and possible ways to communicate with your client.
Scenario: A new client contacts you with an offer of a project. You look them up on your favorite translation client rating list (you have one, right? and you always check it before working with a new client, right?) and find that they are a known non-payer or late payer.
Possible responses: 1) Very brief “no thank you” message, not addressing the issue 2) I’ll admit that although I don’t give specific information in this type of message, I do let the agency know why I’m declining the offer, for example “Translation industry ratings of your company are such that I must decline to work with you at this time unless you are able to pay in advance by wire transfer or credit card.”
Scenario: You have raised your rates beyond what a long-time client will pay, but the client continues to contact you with offers of work at your old rates; let’s assume that other than the rates, you enjoyed working with this client. For what it’s worth, this is the scenario that I’ve been asked about more than any other.
Possible responses: I would address this politely but directly, for example: “Thank you for your message. While I do appreciate your ongoing offers of work and have enjoyed working with you in the past, I have, as you know, raised my base rate to X cents per word. Please feel free to contact me if you have any projects for which you have a budget of X cents per word and I will be happy to take a look at them.”
Scenario: A client has become very problematic to work with. We’ll assume that this client doesn’t owe you money, but that you no longer want to work with them in any capacity.
Possible responses: 1) Brief and to the point: “Effective immediately, I no longer wish to be considered for assignments from your agency. Please remove me from your list of available freelancers.” I wouldn’t advise this unless you really, really don’t want to ever hear from this client again, but it gets the point across effectively. 2) Addressing the issue in some way while remaining professional: “Due to some differences between your work style and mine, I have decided to focus my translation work on other clients. Please remove me from your list of available freelancers. Best regards, etc.”
Scenario: A client that you otherwise enjoy working with cannot pay you more than what you are currently charging, and you have decided to raise your rates.
Possible responses: To me, this is the hardest type of situation to handle, especially if you have been working with the client for a long time. In this scenario, I would always leave the door open for working with the client in the future; emphasize that you are terminating the relationship at this time, but that you are open to renegotiating in the future. For example, “Although I have always enjoyed working with your agency and hope to do so in the future, I understand that my new base rate of X cents per word is outside the range of rates that you are able to pay at this time. If in the future you are able to consider higher rates, please let me know and I will be very interested in working with you again.”