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How to successfully work with people over long distances April 30, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices.

Freelance Folder features a blog post on How to Successfully Work With People Over Long Distances today that I feel is an important topic to translators and worth sharing. If you don’t live in the global metropolises of Washington DC or New York City, most likely you do not work very often with local agencies and clients. I have one client in Ohio, but most of my clients are spread all over the U.S. or Europe. One of the things that always fascinates people I meet when I talk about what I do is that I work with clients all over the world. This also presents challenges, and one of the biggest challenges we face as translators is that of working with people who we’ve never met face to face. Several of my clients call me on the phone, which I encourage since it allows me to build a good rapport with them and ensures they get an instant answer as to whether or not I am available to accept their translation job. However, most of my business negotiations and everyday communication occurs non-verbally via e-mail.

Communicating via e-mail can be difficult, because it is so easy to be misunderstood by the recipient. As Freelance Folder states, “Without seeing a client’s face or reading his or her body language, it can be pretty hard to know if you’re getting the full message.” One study found that 78% believe they were communicating clearly, 89% of those receiving the e-mail believe they were correctly interpreting what was written, and only 56% correctly interpreted the message.

Freelance Folder offers 5 Tips for Dealing with Long Distance Clients. They are:

  1. Check Your Emotions at the Door. It can be tempting to shoot out an emotional response to an e-mail that seems upsetting to you, but don’t fall into this trap. If an e-mail provokes an emotional response, then allow yourself enough time to recover from that emotion before you respond.
  2. Stay Professional and Businesslike. You’re running a business. Your client is also running a business. Communication between the two of you should reflect that. While it’s okay to be friendly, in general I’ve found that it’s best to stay away from overly personal communications with your client.
  3. It’s Okay To Negotiate. An online negotiator definitely has a more difficult job than one who can negotiate face-to-face. For that reason, I think that many freelancers avoid negotiating terms with clients. However, negotiations are an important part of doing business. Don’t be afraid to negotiate.
  4. Beware the Hidden Tone. When sending an e-mail occasionally an unfriendly tone creeps in. Usually, the tone is not at all a reflection of how I’m feeling at the time, but rather more a result of how rushed I am. If you have this problem get someone else to read your e-mails before you send them.
  5. There Probably Is No Hidden Agenda. Without nonverbal cues, it’s easy to fear clients who contact you through the Internet. This is where your due diligence comes in. Before accepting work, check the client’s reputation and background. In my experience, in most cases there is no hidden agenda.

The post is definitely worth a read if you work with people over long distances. At the least, it will definitely make you stop and think the next time you are drafting an e-mail to a client.



1. Judy Jenner - May 1, 2009

Good advice. A few months ago, we wrote about the importance of the good old phone calls, and we’ve now more actively tried to forego e-mail in favor of a simple phone call — regardless of the client’s locations (lots of inexpensive phone service options are available). We have found that not only does this save time, but it also builds better rapport and saves our wrists from the strain of all this typing we do. There really is something to be said for real-time, instant communication, at least over the phone (of course, in person is always best).

Agreed on #2: these are all B2B transactions, and we must behave like businesses and stay calm and level-headed, as difficult as that is at times.

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