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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?


Blogger Vaclav Balacek said...

You say: But no one should ask us to give away the product of our investment in time and money.

Mind you - whenever you go and buy goods or services, you expect the price to correspond to the current state of the art. You don't want to spend extra money just because someone is unable or unwilling to keep pace with the technology. Whatever you buy, you want it to be better, faster, more reliable ... and cheaper than before, and this is exactly what happens in the translations business. CAT tools allow you to produce better quality translations ... faster and therefore cheaper, that's just something you cannot contradict, and the benefits must be equally shared between us, translators, and our customers. It's selfish to think that benefits are for translators only. Vaclav

5:38 AM  
Blogger Gio Lester said...

Vaclav, I was just discussing that same subject with a colleague. There is substance to what you say. However, when you go to the doctor who got the state-of-the-art equipment to give you the best diagnosis, you usually have to pay MORE for it :o) There are somethings that I will not do: lower my prices so much that I can't afford to live at the standard I am used to, give my TM away to a customer, for example. The fact that I can provide my client with better quality and faster does not automatically translate into "cheaper" for me. He should pay for the "better quality" and the "faster". Everyone else is charging for it, why not me?

I will give a better price to a client whose work is very repetitive (a spreasheet for an annual report, for example)and my TM does most of it for me. But that is my choice, not a given just because I have the proper equipment.

I prefer to follow the example of the doctors and lawyers out there: new equipment means better consistency, more efficiency, shorter turn around time which are reflected in my fees.

6:32 PM  
Blogger Gio Lester said...

Gabe, you ask: "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?"

I have a standard answer to unreasonable clients, "A prior engagement prevents me from meeting your deadline." I negotiate my terms with everyone else. And if I really cannot, due to deadline conflict, meet the requests of a good client, I refer them to a colleague in my professional network that meets their requirement.

I chose to become a freelancer so I could pick and choose who I would work for and what my work load was going to be. It took me some time, but I learned to say "No."

5:48 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I guess whatever the business we are in, we will almost have clients and customers who are not willing to pay for the service we provide.

At the same time, I was shocked when one translator requested $200 per 1000 words for a 250000 word project, and because he was one of the very few sho translates into this language, and all asked for lots of money, my client couldn't afford to pay and I lost the project.

2:04 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

"I chose to become a freelancer so I could pick and choose who I would work for and what my work load was going to be. It took me some time, but I learned to say 'No.' "

I agree with Gio. I've worked on the agency end and some client's requests are far more than I can compensate for. I had a client request two translations (9,000-11,000 words per each language -- there were two). With pricing, this project, on the lower end would have cost our company $1080.00 per language and that's for a translator and proofreader. That does not even cover our agency cost. The client wanted to pay $1,000.00 total for the entire project.

I politely estimated what our cost would be and explained to the client that I could work to reduce the eliminate proofreading etc..but I never heard back. I couldn't accept a job like that, our agency wouldn't have broken even. We would have been a loss.

- Kim,

12:07 PM  
Blogger Cagnoozo said...

I'm enjoying keeping a humour section called "transALtion" on a translation agency's blog.
As I began to look around for info to create some useful posts besides the humour ones, I realized that translators really are a politically weak category.
We allowed agencies and clients to structure the framework within which we look for jobs and work. Such framework is organized in order to force translators to compete among each other, rather than to create a social awareness and therefore to build some form of collective contracting power.

The nature of our job itself facilitates dogfighting among us: jobs come and go too quickly to cooperate among ourselves, or even to contact each other, as we mostly are anonymous digits on the application counter for a job we do need NOW.

It's a classic "divide et impera" strategy, but what seems to me really unfair, is that it is applied to crafters of a challenging, noble art, and not to unskilled workers.

We are faced on one side by the growing intelligence of CAT tools, which erode our contracting power and let glance at a nearby future where less and less of highly redundant translation are going to be profitable for us; on the other hand, there does not seem to be any will on agencies' behalf to side with translators rather than clients: actually, most agencies really are unnecessary and profit-consuming filters between tranlsators and clients.

Yet, the volume of work created by moder, web-based and globalized society has got to be channeled through joints like agencies.

I feel that unlike writers, poets, specialized workers, professionals of all fields, we lack the initiative of really starting to think the whole thing anew and begin to outline a collective approach to our issues, for the benefit of all.

What I find most depressing is seeing how we are being turned into language accountants without being able to put up any resistance, because we do need that work NOW.

Allow me a little shameless advertising: I'm writing this hoax essay-style section about the mysterious Guinea Free-Range Translator: besides relating to present topics, I hope I can win a couple of gigglish smiles out of you, if you take time having a look at it: I would also be very happy to receive some hints from other translators about what topics to cover, to make the study on our species richer.
here's the link to the first post:

7:34 AM  
Blogger Translation Agency said...

I do not think that the translators are facing any recession. I would say that translation agency is facing that as most of the clients contacting the translators directly to finish their work soon. Now a days the deadline of the projects are very tight. Just check the translators availability is, You can see most of the translators schedule marked in Rad color which means that they are busy in the current project. Especially FIGS languages.

- Cosmic Global Limited

3:00 AM  
Blogger addypotter said...

For me the document translation industry has definitely been hit by the recession. I don't have nearly as many clients as I used to. Business just aren't paying for those services because they are struggling financially as well. I hope we see a change in the not too distant future.

2:25 PM  
Blogger Leon Stephens said...

Vaclav Balacek says: "Whatever you buy, you want it to be better, faster, more reliable ... and cheaper than before". Well, what you want and what you can seriously expect are two different things. Some things become cheaper with an increase in manufacturing output, others because of the current global economic situation, but the normal course of things is that what you buy becomes more expensive with inflation. Car manufacturers demand ever cheaper parts from their suppliers, forcing them to the edge of bankruptcy, but this is a vile and certainly unreasonable practice. A lot of sleazy things go on in business, but I'm not willing to justify them.

5:35 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

This is a very thorough article. Thank you for sharing this information on health practitioners. Look forward to get more informative posts, Thanks!
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12:49 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

A very interesting post.

7:02 AM  
Blogger najamonline4u said...

I agree that some Translation service companies face this problem. I am glad to read the article. very well written and they way of explanation is simply superb. Thanks for the post

1:53 AM  

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