If you’ve ever found yourself struggling to avoid asking a client “How much did I say I was going to charge you?”, you need a client preferences file. The client preferences file (which could take the form of a spreadsheet, a text file, index cards, a notebook, just as long as you keep the records!) is especially crucial if you experiment with different rates or if you work with clients who have specific/unusual requirements for their translations.
Personally, I think that rate experimentation is a very useful way to test what the market will bear without risking your relationship with existing clients. Say that your base rate is X cents per word and you’re very busy at that rate. The next time a new client approaches you, try X+10% or X+20% and see if the client bites. If so, you’ve got a new, higher paying client, but you need your client preferences file to help you keep track of this. Then, you can simply refer back to it and say “We had talked about a rate of Y cents per word, can you confirm that this is acceptable?”
For my client preferences file, I use a three-column OpenOffice.org document; in the first column I put the client’s name, in the second column the name of the person who contacted me and in the third column information about rates, stylistic preferences, etc. Obviously you don’t want to paste the client’s entire style sheet into that cell in your table, but for example I have one client that uses the European floor numbering system in English (i.e. ground floor, first floor, etc.) and I include that information in the preferences file because it comes up a lot and is totally different from any other client’s style preference. Or, if a client sends me a reference document such as a list of company-specific abbreviations, I’ll just note that fact in the preferences file so that I remember to look at the reference document when I’m translating.
I also find that the preferences file helps me avoid asking “Who are you again?” with a client that surfaces only once in a great while. When the client contacts me initially, I’ll make a short note about who they are, i.e. “Writing and editing company expanding into translation, specifically mentioned that they want people to work on marketing documents” or “Referral from X colleague who does German, mentioned that they might need French in the future” so that I don’t look completely clueless when the client pops up again in a year and references our previous contact.
Any other systems out there for keeping track of client rates and preferences?