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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Who Goes First?

The other day I needed a gallon of milk, so I stopped by my favorite convenience store, picked up a gallon of low-fat, and headed toward the cashier. When it came to my turn, I told the cashier: "I'll pay $1.20 for this." She pretended not to hear me, but answered, in a polite but firm voice: "Two-ninety, please." I could describe the exchange that followed (the whole story is imaginary, anyway), but it should suffice to say that I ended up paying the price asked for by the cashier.

If it sounds unusual that the customer proposes a price he or she is willing to pay in a store, why is it accepted without discussion if a translation client tells the translator up front what rate is to be paid for a translation job. We see announcements even in "translation portals" looking for a translator to do a job in a certain language combination at a certain rate. And many of those rates are at or below the level that prevailed in the U.S. in the 50s or 60s.

Of course, the price of any merchandise is determined by mutual consent between vendor and buyer. In principle, it doesn't matter who "goes first" naming a price. The practice becomes questionable when the buyer attempts to give the impression that the price he is offering is immutable, non-negotiable, as if handed down by God as the eleventh Commandment.

Translators should not accept any condition imposed by their clients, and that includes the rate to be paid for their work. A client's offer should be considered a first bid in a negotiation that is ultimately to result in a rate that is acceptable and advantageous to both parties. Even if the client is offering a rate that is a fraction of our normal rate, we shouldn't be afraid to make a counteroffer: "Sorry, but my rate for this kind of work is $XX.00." If the conversation stops here, the translator has lost nothing (compared with the alternative of shutting up in disgust), and the client has received a piece of information that he could use in his offer to the next translator.

And if there is a sufficient number of translators unwilling to accept an unreasonable offer, but the client needs the translation badly enough, the scenario at the cashier's counter in the convenience store may repeat itself: The buyer may ultimately accept the vendor's price.

17 Comments:

Blogger shivakumar said...

I like the comparison to a negotiation in a supermarket. In fact, I always try to get paid at my standard rate. That's why I have different rates for different subjects and it works for me and for most of my clients. For a scientific medical translation I charge more than for a general text. And if the client wants to know why I explain to him that the higher rate is due to the more complicated terminology and sentence structure. Most of the times they accept that and pay the price I offered.

6:08 AM  
Blogger markowe said...

I understand where you are coming from - I have been both a freelancer and an outsourcer - but I am generally OK with the client, especially an agency, proposing a price. Having my own agency, I know pretty much what my margin is and how much I can offer for a particular job and there is no point my soliciting offers for some jobs if I know to begin with that I do not have the leeway to negotiate further, or if I want to offer a good price to ensure I get the best applicants. I hear the shop comparison every now and then, but this is a different type of industry - there are plenty of industries where the client IS more likely to make an offer (oh, I dunno, used cars - OK, bad example :)).

Mark
IWantToBecomeATranslator.com

7:04 AM  
Blogger Fred Fowler said...

LOVE the idea you should walk up to the counter and say, I pay THIS amount of money for a bottle of milk. haha. Surely you didn't really do it, did you? Completely agree with the remarks about negotiating though. Most translators are linguists not economists. But EVERY BUSINESS needs to follow some guidelines or they'll be run over.

4:57 AM  
Blogger Korean Translation said...

To me this is a very simple matter. I'm a professional translator and it is hard to make a living out of it. As much as I want a higher rate for better living, I understand the ongoing lower rate than my standard. Even if, I believe, we translators mobilize and create a global union to exercise leverage on price negotiation, there will always be some who are willing to lowball not out of mean spirit but due to different standard of living. Take Korean translation, for instance. The rate for North American translators is, and I'm not kidding, twice as high as that in Korea. With internet getting more and more prevelant to every corner of the earth, we cannot and shouldn't stop those who can live on a few dollars a day. Movie and music industry did not do good to accomodate to the advent of the internet. They tried hard with their massive economic power to find and punish those who don't follow the traditional rule, rather than come up with a very novel idea.I dare to question: aren't we following the same path? "I don't care what's coming. I just want what I had before or better." This idea needs some correction. Otherwise, market determines not ideals.

12:51 PM  
Blogger Bugle said...

We have had this situation before with the company I work for in the UK. When you offer professional translation services people seem to see this as more of a negotiable service, as opposed to something like buying a carton of milk (like in your example).
This is something I really don't understand and obviously isn't a British mentality. If I offer 3 hours translating, I don't want to be paid for 2 and to be honest, it is a little insulting.

I am glad that somebody else has noticed this and hopefully if we all stay vigilant on our prices then clients will learn eventually!

8:57 AM  
Blogger Stealth Translations said...

I hear what you are saying regarding the rates some customers are asking translators to accept and I think you've made a good analogy with the supermarkets. However, I reckon you just simply have to turn down any offers that are too low rather than getting annoyed by them. Running a translation agency myself I see both sides of the coin as we have to negotiate with customers and translators but I can tell you that some of our customers are paying twice as much as other customers for exactly the same service. Set your prices and stick to them. If you suspect the customer will likely try to bargain you down, start slightly higher than your minimum rate and leave the customer thinking they got good value for money. You don't have to get annoyed about the low prices being offered... just use some business tact. :)

4:07 PM  
Blogger Stealth Translations said...

I hear what you are saying regarding the rates some customers are asking translators to accept and I think you've made a good analogy with the supermarkets. However, I reckon you just simply have to turn down any offers that are too low rather than getting annoyed by them. Running a translation agency myself I see both sides of the coin as we have to negotiate with customers and translators but I can tell you that some of our customers are paying twice as much as other customers for exactly the same service. Set your prices and stick to them. If you suspect the customer will likely try to bargain you down, start slightly higher than your minimum rate and leave the customer thinking they got good value for money. You don't have to get annoyed about the low prices being offered... just use some business tact. :)

4:08 PM  
Blogger Angie said...

I used to be a Spanish to English translator for the government in the 70-80's and the financial award was top dollar in those days. Unfortunately, the general public would rather use machine translation tools or skimp on the localization of their projects.

9:02 AM  
Blogger Lionbridge Vendor Management said...

I have another analogy. I’d love to have a massage but I’m not willing to pay $100/h for one, but it is worth to me $70. However, I can only afford to spend $50. I will shop around for a massage therapist that charges (or takes) $50 for one hour massage. If there are any, I will go back to that therapist every time I need, even though I could get a better massage from someone else, because I can only afford paying $50. The price of a service or product is worth a price that is a balance of what people are willing to pay for it and what people are willing to provide it for. Even milk. Japanese restaurant owners are willing to pay a plane ticket everyday to buy fish in Hawaii to make sushi that day in their restaurants in Tokyo. This is because they have customers willing to pay a high enough price that covers their expenses and ensure them a decent profit margin. Back to the milk analogy, as the expiration date approaches, the store will be willing to take less for the same gallon of milk because people don’t want to buy milk that it is close to expire. The periodical sales in retail are to address the inventory that no one wanted to buy at the regular price. The lesson to take here is that we should not mix emotions (take a personal offense by a low offer) with business (what I have to accept to keep my business running). The low offer is likely not to be a reflection of what the buyer thinks of one’s professional value, but a function of a market dynamic.

1:25 PM  
Blogger Tfazlani said...

There should be some sort of industry standards for translation rates. Either by country or language in order to ensure translators are able to make a good living. This way translators can increase their rates with experience and expertise.

Talha
Language Connect

5:21 AM  
Blogger Tfazlani said...

The translation industry needs to develop a basic rate structure for translations. Either by language or country in order to ensure that translators can earn a respectable amount.

Talha
Language Connect

5:24 AM  
Blogger Gabe Bokor said...

Testing comments

8:26 AM  
Blogger maryjohnson570 said...

i like your story of super market. and written excellently.keep it up.
prize bond

3:18 AM  
Blogger Bruce Dyson said...

This is a great site. I have been looking for a site I can turn people to who don't understand how intricate and difficult the job of translators can be.

2:30 PM  
Blogger Gary said...

Our company has a different way of paying translators which is by the hour rather than by the word. Not all translators are equal and our theory is that if you are more productive this should be rewarded, we know this model is not for everyone but it does work really well for a lot of the translators who work for us. It’s only possible as all the translators work inside our online workbench so we can track time and efficiency (again not for all). There is more information on this model on our website http://www.strakertranslations.com if you wanted to read up on this new approach.

6:28 PM  
Blogger Tank said...

I believe that the key here is that translators are those who are buying the job paying with their time for money. There are too many milk sellers (some of them give their milk almost for free) and too little people who are willing to purchase their milk.

12:06 PM  
Blogger berlotranslations said...

Thanks to the growing companies offering these services making communication gap lesser and for making understanding each other better. These are not only helpful for organizations, but to individuals as well.

Translation Service.

5:10 AM  

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