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Surviving the holiday lull December 29, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Marketing ideas.
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This is always the toughest few weeks for me, because most of my agency clients are closed between Christmas and New Year’s and checks simply don’t get sent out promptly in January (I think because companies are closing up their books). The only way to survive the holiday lull is to have a financial cushion you can use to pay your bills while your invoices are still outstanding. Most personal finance experts suggest setting aside a cushion of three months’ pay. I have worked my way up to one. I hope to achieve the three months’ cushion some time this year. At this point I have $2,300 in unpaid and overdue invoices.

I woke up early this morning from a dead sleep worrying about paying my bills, but realized that I had forgotten that I had the financial cushion to rely on and rolled over and went back to sleep. It doesn’t help that this is the month the expenses from the ATA conference come due on the credit card. It is so nice to no longer have trouble sleeping because you are worrying about paying your bills and buying groceries. I was in that situation six years ago, when my sister bought me a gift certificate at a grocery store so I could “treat [myself] to some meat.” I hadn’t had any work come in for the entire month of October back in 2002 and money was really tight. Once I realized that clients needed to know I was there in order to send me work, I started an e-mail marketing campaign and have been busy and overworked ever since.

But that doesn’t mean that things aren’t slow around the holidays for me either. I have been relaxing and allowing my tendonitis to heal, but I am now starting to get antsy and can’t wait until the work starts flooding in again. I hope you all had a relaxing holiday. Hopefully some of you newbies took advantage of the fact that most seasoned translators were on holiday and were swamped with potential new clients. I wish you all a happy and prosperous 2009. See you in the New Year!

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TGIF: Santa Claus and His Old Lady December 27, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Fun stuff.
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I know Christmas is over, but the local radio station is still playing Christmas songs and this was on tonight as I was driving home from the Akron Christkindlmarkt. It is without a doubt my favorite Christmas story. It wasn’t Christmas in our house without listening to this classic Cheech and Chong bit about “Santa Claus and his Old Lady.” This comedy routine was featured on the album “Where There’s Smoke.” Now my parents are and were not by any means ‘tokers’ (smokers of marijuana), but they found this comedy routine hilarious and shared their humor with my sister and me. When we were little we simply didn’t get the drug references. It never gets old for me.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Cheech and Chong, the comedy duo of Richard “Cheech” Marin and Tommy Chong was popular in the 1970s and 80s. Their standup routines revolved around hippie speak and the drug culture. Tommy Chong later starred in “That 70s Show” playing a drugged out ex-hippie, but in real life he is quite well-educated. Chong’s California-based company, Chong’s Bongs, was raided by federal officials in 2003 as part of a federal crackdown on “drug-related paraphernalia” and Chong was sentenced to nine months in federal prison as a result. Cheech Marin distanced himself from drug-inspired comedy in the mid to late 80s and went on to star in “Nash Bridges.” He recently appeared in a reality show called “Celebrity Duets,” which is the only reality show I watched religiously. The two are rumored to be planning a comeback together.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this little clip. The video is just pictures of them since it originates from an album.

Hanukkah song December 22, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Fun stuff.
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Hanukkah (Chanukah) started at sundown last night. Hanukkah is an eight-day Jewish holiday that marks the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by the enemy and commemorates the “miracle of the container of oil.” According to the Talmud, at the re-dedication following the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Empire, there was only enough consecrated olive oil to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, which was the length of time it took to press, prepare and consecrate fresh olive oil. (Info quoted from Wikipedia)

I live in an area that is heavily Jewish, so it’s kind of neat to see Hanukkah flags and Christmas lights on different houses. When I was younger Hanukkah wasn’t that big a deal. It was a minor holiday on the Jewish calendar. My Jewish friends would complain about getting socks and underwear as Hanukkah gifts but, as the Plain Dealer reported in How Hanukkah has become hip, that all changed when Adam Sandler performed his Hanukkah song on Saturday Night Live in 1994. So in honor of Hanukkah, I would like to introduce my readers overseas to a young Adam Sandler. Most of you probably only know him from his goofy movies.

Susanne asked me to post this link to Phoebe singing Happy Hanukkah to Monica on Friends.

My favorite Christmas episode December 22, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Fun stuff.
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I was watching TV last night, which was a treat because I don’t usually find time to do that. I even fell asleep on the couch! It was bliss… Anyway, one of my favorite TV shows from my childhood, WKRP in Cincinnati, was on WGN, and it happened to be my all-time favorite Christmas episode of any TV series I’ve ever watched. It was “retro night,” which made me feel old, but I realized that, even though it was thirty years ago, the humor still translated. WKRP was about a struggling radio station in Cincinnati, Ohio and had a bunch of fun characters in it, Johnny Fever the drugged out DJ, Venus Flytrap the smooth black DJ, Herb the smarmy ad salesman, Les Nessman the geeky and clueless newsman, Andy the programming director, Bailey the shy news assistant, Jennifer the hot secretary, and Mr. Carlson the bumbling but big-hearted radio station manager. Anyway, the premise of the Christmas episode was that everyone thought Jennifer, who was always super classy and had lots of rich admirers, would be alone for the holidays and so they all came over separately to surprise her on Christmas Eve. Hilarity ensued. Part 3 is my favorite part, but I have included all three parts in case you want to see the whole episode. Part 3 has a little foreign language, some hilarity, and lots of heart. I hope you find it as funny as I do.

If you want to see the episode from the beginning here are part 1:

and part 2:

But, as I said, my favorite part is part 3:

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Has anyone heard of Xelerity? December 19, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Tools.
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I just received the following interesting e-mail and was wondering if anyone knew anything about it. I’ve been looking for a tool to share availability with my clients, but this almost sounds too good to be true.

Hello,

There is a new tool on the Internet which allows freelancers to share their availabilities (in terms of dates/volume) with all their know [sic] clients. To access this platform, just go to:

http://www.xelerity.com

It’s only 2 or 3 euros for six months (payment with a telephone call or credit card).

For the translation buyers, it’s a free service: they can connect to their freelancers ‘agendas, invite others into the system, all this in a known-known basis.

Although not perfect, this is a useful and central tool for the translation community.

Please transfer this message! We will do our best to improve the system in the upcoming months!

Merry Christmas to all of you and your families.
Philippe

TGIF: My present for the ladies December 19, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Fun stuff.
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I stumbled on this video while searching on Youtube for the phrase “Frohe Weihnachten.” I wish I could get a present like this this year. 🙂 This guy cracks me up. Just a little somethin’ for the ladies… Merry Christmas!

TGIF: Banned commercial December 19, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Fun stuff.
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Do not click on this if you are one of those sensitive types. This video has crude language, but it is funny and the language is crucial to the video. It’s message is the importance of learning English. Enjoy!

Holiday greetings to clients December 18, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Marketing ideas.
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I’m updating my Christmas card database in Access and thought it would be interesting to share how I thank my clients with whom I have worked in the last year. I made a list of all the clients I have worked with this year. There were 32 of them, many of them returning or long-term clients. I think it is important to send out a Christmas card thanking your clients, even if you only worked for them once or twice or decided to part ways during the year for one reason or another. They still played a role in your success and should be thanked. I then do a mail merge and print out address labels, sign the cards and seal up the envelopes. I always make sure to thank them for playing a role in my business and wish them a happy and prosperous new year.

I also had my favorite Cleveland chocolatier mail-order a big holiday gift of chocolate and peppermint-covered Oreos and assorted chocolates to my favorite client. I know it arrived today, because I got a lot of fun thank you messages from the company owner and several employees via e-mail and Skype. I earned $35,000.00 from that client alone this year, so a little Christmas basket is the least I can do to show my gratitude for their continued business.

If you don’t want to send out Christmas cards, you should pick a holiday to send out cards to your client. One of my clients sends a Thanksgiving card every year. I think that is a great idea, because that way the cards don’t get lost in the Christmas rush of holiday letters and cards. In my case, I am already sending out cards to friends and family, so an extra 30 cards isn’t that big a deal. They just don’t get my holiday letter 🙂

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have address labels to print and cards to stuff. I chose a multi-holiday card this year with a Christmas tree, menorah, etc. to cover all my bases. Happy Holidays!

What would you do? December 17, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Random musings.
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I had a difficult client (unreasonable Trados levels – 5!, sending e-mail to my Gmail account [which I only use as a backup] despite multiple e-mails requesting he write my work address, etc.) until a few months ago, when the company owner sent me a proofreading job on a Saturday due on a Tuesday. Since I try not to work on the weekends and try to stay away from my computer when I can, I didn’t get the e-mail until Sunday night. I wrote him telling him I would be happy to accept the job and when I didn’t receive an e-mail on Monday telling me the job had been assigned to someone else I assumed I had the job. I spent Monday evening proofreading a text that had obviously been translated by a non-native speaker or someone who didn’t know what they were doing. It was a nightmare. When I delivered the job and sent my invoice I received a pithy e-mail response from his project manager telling me that she had never issued me a PO and that she wouldn’t be paying the invoice.

Needless to say I was upset by this and wrote them and the invoice off as “never again.” This afternoon I had another e-mail from the company owner asking me to proofread another job. Obviously I am not going to accept the job, but I am curious as to whether you would even respond to his e-mail. My gut is telling me to just ignore it, but my instincts as a responsible business person tells me I should at least let him know why.

So what would you do?

Handling clients who ask for lower rates December 15, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices.
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The number one question most translators have, whether they are new to the field or have been translating for a while and are looking to add new clients, is how to handle clients who ask for lower rates. I stumbled on this discussion on Translatorscafe a while ago and wanted to share it with you all. I agree with the woman who originally cross-posted it from the ATA Interpreters Division. She strongly recommends that all freelancers read and follow its advice, especially those new to the field. I couldn’t agree more. Even though it was originally written for dentists, this advice is universal and invaluable.

Editorial
by Jim Du Molin

Negotiating Fees with Patients

“Doctor, your fees for this treatment plan seem awfully high to me. I called Dr. Slipshod’s office down the block and they said they could do it for a lot less.”

For many doctors, this statement leads to the ultimate test of self-confidence. When a patient questions your fees, you may feel that they are questioning your personal and professional integrity, your technical competence, and/or the value of your services.

You have invested years of education and financial sacrifice to master your craft. Yet, invariably, you continue to encounter patients who question your right to be adequately compensated.

In addition, the patient is making you feel that you are overpriced for the market place and can’t compete. You worry about losing the time you’ve invested in preparing the treatment plan, if the patient goes to another practice that’s willing to cut fees to compete.

While all of these thoughts and emotions may come to mind, the reality of the situation may be entirely different. In reality, the patient is setting the stage to negotiate.

The patient is saying that in her opinion, your fees “seem awfully high.” The reality is that the patient hasn’t the slightest clue of what it costs you to provide the treatment. Her only justification for her statement is that she called Dr. Slipshod’s office for a comparative bid. Did Dr. Slipshod perform a complete exam and prepare a treatment plan over the phone?

When a patient makes this type of statement, she is really making her opening move to negotiate a lower fee. She is “bottom fishing” for the best deal.

You have several choices at this point.

Cave in and cut your fee.

Become irate and lose the patient to Dr. Slipshod.

Play the game, understanding that the stake is the patient’s personal health care.

The first thing you must understand is that choice number one is never acceptable. Cutting your fee is cutting your throat. It is tantamount to telling the patient that your craftsmanship is overpriced and your fees are negotiable.

On top of that insult, you are adding injury to the basic economics of managing your practice. It costs money to deliver quality health care. Inadequate compensation can only lead to a reduction in qualified support staff, the use of lesser materials, and reliance on inadequate or obsolete equipment.

Choice number two is a lose/lose situation for both you and the patient. You become angry because you feel the patient has attacked your personal and professional value. Rather than deal with the negotiating ploy, you send the patient to Dr. Slipshod for what could possibly be inferior treatment. This reaction denigrates you and embarrasses the patient.

Even worse, you have lost the patient and the patient’s health care may have suffered. Again, an unacceptable alternative.

Your final choice is to play the game, understanding that you and the patient are really negotiating on the quality of the patient’s health care. You must structure the negotiation so that both you and the patient can win. Remember that in the psychology of negotiating, the person who blinks first often loses. With that in mind, let’s replay the dialogue:

Patient: “Doctor, your fees for this treatment plan seem awfully high to me. I called Dr. Slipshod’s office down the block and they said they could do it for a lot less.”
Doctor: “Mrs. Bottomfisher, we are very proud of our fees.”

At this point the doctor must be absolutely silent. What you have just said is that you feel good about your fees and that they are correctly calculated. At this point, eighty percent of the patients will stop negotiating and accept treatment.

The worst case is that the patient asks: “What do you mean by that?”

Your reply is, “Our fees are based on the quality of the materials we use and our experience in performing this treatment.” And don’t say another word.

It is rare that a patient will persist in questioning your fees after this statement. The implication to the patient is that if you want your treatment performed with lesser quality materials or by a less experienced doctor, you are welcome to go elsewhere. In any case, you have made the statement in such a way as to reinforce your personal and professional integrity without embarrassing the patient.

If Mrs. Bottomfisher persists in arguing about fees, the question now becomes: is this the type of person you want in your practice? Assuming you offer a full range of payment alternatives to make the treatment plan affordable, the persistent bickering over fees indicates the patient places a higher value on money than health care. In this case, you end the conversation with this statement:

“Mrs. Bottomfisher, we appreciate your concern over the cost of your treatment plan. If you like, we’ll be happy to send your x-rays down to Dr. Slipshod’s office.”

This statement tells the patient the negotiation is over and that you are confident in your position. It should always be followed by, “If for any reason you would like to return to our practice, please don’t hesitate to call us. We’ll be glad to have you back.”

The final statement graciously leaves your door open to the return of the patient. Plus, there is a good chance that she will return within a year, after having thought about the possibility that she is receiving poor materials or inexperienced treatment at Dr. Slipshod’s office.

In developing financial strategies for our consulting clients we are often asked, “What should my fees be?”

Our answer is invariably, “Whatever you feel confident in charging.” There is essentially no limit to what you can charge for your services. (We will discuss the issues surrounding insurance companies and your fees in my next editorial.)

The basic premise is that you are confident that your fees are representative of the quality of the materials you use and your experience in performing the treatment.

The key word is confident. Any lack of confidence or hesitation will be detected by the patient and exploited in the negotiation.

One of the most successful doctors we know accepts no insurance and requires all fees be paid in full prior to beginning treatment. The cost to a patient for a single gold crown ranges from $950 to $1,250.

He presents his treatment plan by saying, “My fee for performing this treatment is $950. I will attach a copy of the lab bill detailing the materials and their preparation cost to your bill.” His case acceptance level is in the 90% range.

Patients immediately perceive that this doctor knows his worth. I must also add that every stage of the patient’s interaction with the doctor’s staff, facility and post-treatment care are of the very highest quality. This high level of quality supports the 90% acceptance level and reinforces the sense of value the patient perceives in the doctor’s capability to deliver the treatment.

The best confidence-builder to help you feel comfortable with your fees is very simple. Just remember that quality treatment must be supported by commensurate fees.