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Monday, August 17, 2009

Translators and the Recession

For us translators recession means not only that fewer translations are being done, but also that clients are making an extra effort to cut costs, usually at our expense.

You can almost measure the severity of the recession by the delays with which invoices are getting paid. This means our clients are using us as a source of interest-free loans.

Clients are also becoming quite imaginative in requesting (or outright demanding) discounts for a variety of reasons or for no reason at all. Quantity discounts have been discussed in several translators' mailing lists. Although a quantity discount may sometimes be justified if a large technical translation job with repetitive terminology saves the translator research time, most translators refuse to give quantity discounts requested just because of the size of the job. The situation is similar in the case of discounts expected for total or partial matches when the translator uses a translation memory tool. We buy and learn to use TM tools to save ourselves time and money. If the client provides us with a reliable TM, which will save us research time, it's only fair that the savings be shared. But no one should ask us to give away the product of our investment in time and money.

Then there are clients who don't want to pay for numbers (they don't have to be translated, do they?). A colleague of mine replied to such a request by offering to deliver the job without the numbers, to be inserted by the client himself. I've even heard of a case where the client wanted to deduct all the occurrences, except the first one, of the word "the."

There are clients who want to save money by requesting just a "quick and dirty" translation. Of course, they don't specify whether "uncompromising quality" translated as "calidad sin compromiso" (quality without commitment) would be acceptable for the discounted price.

Another way of clients attempting to get more for their translation dollar is asking the translator to provide, for free, services that should be paid for: extra formatting, even DTP, glossary (compiled by the translator), or rush job without a rush surcharge.

What can the translator do when faced with unreasonable demands for discount or for extra unpaid work? There are basically three ways to handle such demands: 1) accept them without discussion; 2) state your own terms and refuse to make any concession; and 3) negotiate. Of course, the success of any negotiation depends on the strength of the translator's position vis-à-vis the client. If you're the only legal translator into Inuit, your chances of gettihg the job on your terms are better than if you have to compete with dozens of colleagues, some of whom are willing to work for peanuts. But even in the common language combinations, your relationship with the client will largely determine your negotiating power.

Have you found any creative and successful strategies to deal with unreasonable clients or to discourage your client from delaying payment due to you? How can translators best face the challenges posed by economic recession?