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1a98dcfd
Community Member

My client doesn't speak english, I can't understand what he needs

My client asked for a brochure for his jewelry company, so I did the work, but the communication is awful, he takes days to answer and when I ask questions about the drafts I make for him, he just doesn't answer, he isn't very familiar with the english language and the project isn't making much progress.. what should I do?

17 REPLIES 17
prestonhunter
Community Member

If this is a fixed-price contract, then immediately stop working for the client using fixed-price contracts and switch to an hourly contract.

 

Log ALL of the time that you spend communicating with the client or trying to figure out what he wants.

 

Tell the client:

"Jacques: I really want to work for you on this project and make it successful, but unfortunately I don't speak French. I think you would save time and money if you hired a project manager who is fluent in both French and English, and if you communicated through her from here on out."


Preston H wrote:

If this is a fixed-price contract, then immediately stop working for the client using fixed-price contracts and switch to an hourly contract.

 

Log ALL of the time that you spend communicating with the client or trying to figure out what he wants.

 

Tell the client:

"Jacques: I really want to work for you on this project and make it successful, but unfortunately I don't speak French. I think you would save time and money if you hired a project manager who is fluent in both French and English, and if you communicated through her from here on out."


Project managers have their place, but for one little brochure, not necessary. Not only that, I don't believe this client will even understand and/or agree to the need for a PM.

mtngigi
Community Member


Nick N wrote:

My client asked for a brochure for his jewelry company, so I did the work, but the communication is awful, he takes days to answer and when I ask questions about the drafts I make for him, he just doesn't answer, he isn't very familiar with the english language and the project isn't making much progress.. what should I do?


I've had clients like that - it's not easy. What I do is add a list of questions that can be answered with yes or no answers. If you can add sticky notes to a PDF, that's the best way to do it, but I'm guessing your client wouldn't know how to open and read them, or to make notes in response.

 

Do a layout with call-out questions in little boxes to check off yes or no. Do you like the colors? Do you like the layout as is? Is the copy proofed with no changes needed? If you don't request any changes, and have no feedback, I'll go ahead and prepare the file for printing and upload it to both our contract page and our message room. Upload the file, press "get paid now", and be done with it.

a_lipsey
Community Member

 


Virginia F wrote:

Nick N wrote:

My client asked for a brochure for his jewelry company, so I did the work, but the communication is awful, he takes days to answer and when I ask questions about the drafts I make for him, he just doesn't answer, he isn't very familiar with the english language and the project isn't making much progress.. what should I do?


I've had clients like that - it's not easy. What I do is add a list of questions that can be answered with yes or no answers. If you can add sticky notes to a PDF, that's the best way to do it, but I'm guessing your client wouldn't know how to open and read them, or to make notes in response.

 

Do a layout with call-out questions in little boxes to check off yes or no. Do you like the colors? Do you like the layout as is? Is the copy proofed with no changes needed? If you don't request any changes, and have no feedback, I'll go ahead and prepare the file for printing and upload it to both our contract page and our message room. Upload the file, press "get paid now", and be done with it.


This is excellent advice. I'm going to copy and save it for the future. Thank you, Virginia!

mtngigi
Community Member


Amanda L wrote:

 


Virginia F wrote:

Nick N wrote:

My client asked for a brochure for his jewelry company, so I did the work, but the communication is awful, he takes days to answer and when I ask questions about the drafts I make for him, he just doesn't answer, he isn't very familiar with the english language and the project isn't making much progress.. what should I do?


I've had clients like that - it's not easy. What I do is add a list of questions that can be answered with yes or no answers. If you can add sticky notes to a PDF, that's the best way to do it, but I'm guessing your client wouldn't know how to open and read them, or to make notes in response.

 

Do a layout with call-out questions in little boxes to check off yes or no. Do you like the colors? Do you like the layout as is? Is the copy proofed with no changes needed? If you don't request any changes, and have no feedback, I'll go ahead and prepare the file for printing and upload it to both our contract page and our message room. Upload the file, press "get paid now", and be done with it.


This is excellent advice. I'm going to copy and save it for the future. Thank you, Virginia!


You're welcome.

lysis10
Community Member


Virginia F wrote:

Nick N wrote:

My client asked for a brochure for his jewelry company, so I did the work, but the communication is awful, he takes days to answer and when I ask questions about the drafts I make for him, he just doesn't answer, he isn't very familiar with the english language and the project isn't making much progress.. what should I do?


I've had clients like that - it's not easy. What I do is add a list of questions that can be answered with yes or no answers. If you can add sticky notes to a PDF, that's the best way to do it, but I'm guessing your client wouldn't know how to open and read them, or to make notes in response.

 

Do a layout with call-out questions in little boxes to check off yes or no. Do you like the colors? Do you like the layout as is? Is the copy proofed with no changes needed? If you don't request any changes, and have no feedback, I'll go ahead and prepare the file for printing and upload it to both our contract page and our message room. Upload the file, press "get paid now", and be done with it.


This is great advice, and I would also suggest asking questions even if they seem stupid. I had a client where she would say something to me and what she was saying meant something to me in English but it wasn't what she meant. So I would do a thing and she'd say "no, that's not what I wanted." So I figured out that I needed to ask dumb questions like "So, you want me to do x, y, z" and she would either say "yes" or "no, that's not what I mean." It eliminated the language barrier.

 

Language barriers are a big deal. This is where native speakers have an advantage, because language barriers can cost a lot. But you can work with it by just asking lots and lots of questions even if they seem like dumb questions. It's also proof that words matter and why people often want natives for their writing. A non-native can use words that make sense but mean something totally different to the reader. There is no way for the reader to know that it's not what the writer means, because it might make sense but make the statement incorrect.

kinector
Community Member

The real question is, why did you take the job in the first place if you have no way of understanding what your client really needs? How can you expect to serve that person well enough to be proud of your work?

I must admit that one of my clients (not in Upwork) has a very awkward English and during our last video hook-up it took ages to clarify even the silliest detail.

He is a nice person and his project is interesting but the actual process is so hard.

I said "A" and he understood "B". I then had to clarify what "A" actually meant, and so on. He is a scientist and engineer but does not know anything about marketing and business development, fails to understand how I structure my work and why, which frequently happens and gives me room to add value, but if you add the language barrier to this then it's too much.

I was exhausted in the end. I am now sticking to written communication with him and completing the project, however, never again. I will be more careful in the early stage from now on. 

Deborah,

 

My native language is English. I speak other languages well enough to live and work abroad without language problems, but I don't represent myself to potential Upwork clients as fluent in any language other than English.

 

There are parts of the world where English is widely spoken, but I cannot communicate well via phone/Skype/Zoom/etc. with many people from these places. So I don't even send proposals to projects originating in these places. I do respond to requests for proposals from potential clients from these places, but if the first phone call doesn't go well I bow out from taking on the project.

That's wise, Will. I am flexible as my own English went through so many transformations over the course of my studies and career, from British to Pidgin to the commercial English used in trade and then to the Australian government language. 

There is always the chance for misunderstandings, even more so with native English speakers as the way a non-native English speaker structures and articulates his/her thoughts will always differ from the native's.

Actually the most unpleasant misunderstandings that I can witness occurred with native English speakers, as some of them assume that if your English is fluent you have no excuses if what they believe you said is not what you actually meant to say. It's about the language as well as the culture and personality.

As Italians, we have our own English too. I can comfortably communicate in English with people from many countries and adjust to their level in most occasions, but as you say a verbal interaction is essential to assess how your communication with a client is going to be. So let's use Upwork's Zoom feature as much as we can before entering in a  contract ๐Ÿ˜‰

It's certainly not about where people are "from," Deborah, but whether we can understand one another. I am surprised any freelancer would take on a project of any size with a client they have not spoken with. But I suppose there are projects where this is possible and safe.

 

I had a good friend in college whom I barely understood the first month or so I knew him. His first and only language was English and he was very well educated. He was also from greater Charleston, South Carolina, a place that has its own spoken form of English. The same happened with a Scottish friend.

Every Upwork client absolutely has the choice to hire ONLY people who he can communicate effectively with. If a client speaks no English or very limited English, but the client's native language is Vietnamese, then the client may wish to ONLY hire Vietnamese-speaking freelancers. Nothing wrong with that.

 

If a client doesn't speak a freelancer's language, but wants to hire a freelancer anyway, then one option would be to work with a translator. Doesn't need to be a full-on "project manager."


Or stick with visual communications.
I have worked with clients that I never really spoke to, but they sent pictures of what they wanted.

 

There are all kinds of possibilities.

You might be surprised to hear that there are other freelancing websites where speaking to a client is prohibited before and after entering in a contract, and if you ask information on how to be able to do that, the answer from other freelancers is "why would you ever need to speak to a client? ".... which is absolutely ridicoulous in case of the services that I provide.


Will L wrote:

The same happened with a Scottish friend.


Oh yes. I lived right at the top of Scotland for 3 years and they spoke something called Doric. Took me MONTHS to fully get to grips with it.

mtngigi
Community Member


Mikko R wrote:
The real question is, why did you take the job in the first place if you have no way of understanding what your client really needs? How can you expect to serve that person well enough to be proud of your work?

One of the first clients I had where communication was a problem was in the US. I had no idea how his English was until we spoke on the phone about the project - he had an accent that made speaking with him difficult. If only Upwork allowed more transparency and the ability to speak with clients first ...

kinector
Community Member

Virginia, are you telling me you started a contract with someone you cannot communicate efficiently with? ๐Ÿ™„

Screen your clients before starting a contract. Video call works best. ๐Ÿ˜‰
mtngigi
Community Member


Mikko R wrote:
Virginia, are you telling me you started a contract with someone you cannot communicate efficiently with? ๐Ÿ™„

Screen your clients before starting a contract. Video call works best. ๐Ÿ˜‰

No, I'm telling you that I did not know until we spoke, because the job post wasn't a problem and may have been written by someone else. I have enough (and many) years of experience to know how to work with clients professionally, no matter what the issue, because I have great communication skills. Unlike what Upwork seems to believe, there's more to freelancing than just signing up and stating you're a freelancer. But thanks for your concern.

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