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It’s part of a professional translator or interpreter's life. An email drops into our inbox from someone we don’t know. The job looks attractive, but we hold back. Who are these people, anyway? Are they legitimate? Scammers? Bad payers? Dream clients?
Vetting a potential client is mainly a matter of combining common sense with a few online tools. So let’s take a look at a few ways to vet these potential opportunities.
Who is the email to?
Is the email sent only to you, or are there multiple addressees? Multiple addressees may mean the requestor is shopping or has a rush request. On the other hand, spam filters often block emails that are sent to a large number of people at once. Because of this, spammers harvesting addresses from directories may split addresses into batches. If you’ve never heard of the sender before and don’t recognize any of the other addressees, exercise caution.
If they address you by name, is it done correctly? I’ve received emails addressed to “Dear Shaw” or “Dear Mr. Carol”. Neither salutation convinces me that the sender actually knows who I am.
Who is it from?
A name with no company or contact information should be treated with caution (but not outright rejected on that alone).
If there is contact information, check it out. Pull up the address on Google Maps. Check for reviews of the company. See what their primary business is and how long they’ve been in existence.
Do they have a website?
Check the “Contact Us” page. Is there any way to contact a human being, or is everything automated? Does their “About Us” provide specifics about the company and the individuals behind it, or is it generic? Are there significant spelling or grammar errors?
If there isn’t much information, search for their domain through whois.icann.org. Even if the registrant uses a proxy (as I do), you can at least find out when the website was created.
The more anonymous a company is on their website, the more caution is required on your end. Significant errors on their page suggest a lack of professionalism. A site that is advertising-supported is likely a very small, new company.
Ask your peers. Join translator and interpreter groups online (Yahoo Groups, Google Groups, Facebook, TranslatorsCafé, to name a few) and ask if anyone else has dealt with the potential new client. Make sure to follow the group’s rules for this type of post.
Check the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org).
Some of these sites can require membership fees or a subscription.
The big picture
One red flag alone doesn’t always warrant walking away from an opportunity. It often comes down to how the pieces fit together.
If they are a small or new company, you might want to wait until a relationship has been established before accepting large jobs that could cause cash-flow problems. Very large companies may offer streamlined payment systems but less flexibility in terms. The T&I professional needs to look at all of the pieces and decide what he or she can live with.
For instance, I received an email once that simply read, “I was told you translate Spanish documents to English. How much do you charge for birth certificates?”. It was signed only with the person’s first name. There was no telephone number or company name. On the other hand, the sender was very specific about their need and identified my languages correctly.
They turned out to be a great client for whom I did several jobs over the space of two years.
Another email that dropped into my inbox looked professional at first glance. The company referenced a possible upcoming project and asked for my rates and turnaround time. The project manager provided little information on the company.
When I checked their website, I found a) no contact information – not even a city and state; b) a very generic “About Us” page, along the lines of “We provide top quality translation and interpreting services using only the best professionals”; c) numerous spelling and grammar errors.
I answered with a courteous rejection. The pieces of the picture just didn’t fit together well for me.
When all is said and done…
In the end, not only are we each responsible for vetting our potential clients, but we are the only ones who can decide what to do with the information we unearth. Don’t be afraid to ask for more information. Know the level of risk you’re willing to assume. Read the company’s payment terms carefully, negotiate if necessary, and make sure you have recourse in the event of a dispute.
Do your due diligence. If it’s not a good match for you, politely walk away. If it is a good match, nurture it. The choice is yours.
-Carol Shaw, Editor