Adventures in Pricing

A few weeks ago, a dear friend who is also an entrepreneur in another line of business referred a new direct client to us.

The client, who had never worked with a translator, contacted us and asked for more information, which we gladly provided. Then they mentioned that the rate that they had in mind for translators was roughly seven times lower than our rate. We took the opportunity to do some gentle client education, explained the process, how time-intensive it is, how much in-depth knowledge is required, etc. We also added that unfortunately our rates were simply not in line with what they were willing to pay, and that we understood if they did not want to move forward. We carefully pointed out that high-quality services are usually not available at very low prices, and mentioned that we'd be happy to recommend qualified colleagues who charge slightly less than we do.

A few days later, the client got back to us and accepted our original rate, which was seven times higher than what they were originally willing to pay. They said that they appreciated the fact that we took the time to explain the process and that they would prefer to work with us than with a colleague because we came highly recommended. We are still quite stunned at this outcome, as we didn't think we could reach an agreement with this particular client: we thought their ideas of pricing simply differed too much from ours. The lesson: take the time to educate your client, stand your ground, and good things might happen. 

The Ethical Dilemma: What Would You Do?

After many a client request, the European side of our business, for which we also hold a license as an advertising agency, recently started offering Facebook advertising services (via our German-language site It includes purchasing ad space, copywriting and, if applicable, translating the ad, reporting on the success of the ad, etc. One of our clients is a charming swim instructor with whom we have great rapport. However, she seems to have fallen for one of the many obscure “get rich on the internet” schemes. While there are many respectable affiliate programs out there (e.g. Amazon), the personalized horoscopes she tries to sell are not among them. (It took us a while to realize who is behind this specific scheme.) It works like this: some shady self-proclaimed internet gurus promise easy wealth on the internet by becoming a reseller of their products. They then urge people to purchase overpriced websites, databases, accounting software etc. from them. It’s the same old story: the ones digging for gold are not getting rich, but the one selling the shovels are.

As an affiliate partner, you “just” have to attract people to your new website selling these personalized horoscopes. So the swim instructor turned to us. Obviously, she has a limited budget for Facebook ads. Right now she’s attracting about 50 persons a week to her external website (to which the Facebook ad is linked). Problem is: the conversion rate for purchases on the internet is no more than 5 percent. To date, she has sold nothing. To increase her sales, she would have to spend a substantially higher amount of money in advertising, but she would end up not making any profit.

She wants to continue placing the ads, but we know it’s useless. During an hour-long (!) conversation last Friday, Dagy tried to diplomatically phrase her reservations. However, the client didn’t seem too receptive. She seemed indoctrinated by this business idea. She would like to continue placing her ad in December, but we strongly believe it is time for her to quit. Not just Facebook, but this whole horoscope thing altogether. While we do not want to tell clients what to do, we do feel the ethical urge to keep clients from getting exploited.  The client is very happy with our copywriting work and with the ad placement and advice we have given her thus far. However, her desire to get rich fast might be keeping her from seeing through this rip-off scheme.

What would you do? And if you refused to continue the Facebook ads, how would you explain that to the client? We appreciate your thoughts on this tricky matter.

On another note: happy Thanksgiving to all our colleagues, friends, clients, and family in the US! We know it's just another Thursday in Europe, so Dagy will be working while Judy will work on increasing the amount of food on her plate without looking like a glutton.

Wanted: Translation Instructors at UC San Diego Extension

We recently received a note from the friendly folks at the UC San Diego Extension Spanish/English translation program, where Judy serves on the advisory board. We are happy to help them spread the word about their openings for part-time instructors, both online and offline. Unfortunately, there is no online listing for this, but the gist is: must have M.A. in translation studies and relevant work experience, and teaching experience is preferred. The on-campus courses meet for three hours once a week for ten weeks in a row (Saturday morning courses are also available). Online courses require instructors to post weekly lesson plans. Applications will be accepted until positions are filled.

For more information, please contact:

Mary Anderson
Program Representative
Foreign Languages Program
Arts, Humanities and Languages Department

UCSD Extension, 0170A
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, CA 92093
Phone: (858) 534-6660
Fax: (858) 534-6630

Think of Yourself as a Customer

Like all entrepreneurs, we make mistakes, but we try not to make the same one twice. Our loyal readers will know that customer service is very important to us, and our long-term customers keep on coming back because they like our service. We'd like to keep it that way. However, earlier this year, Judy failed to see an important customer service issue. Luckily, Dagmar stepped in and resolved the issue. Basically, as service providers, we need to think: if I were the customer, what would I want?

A potential client from South America contacted Judy in the spring. They were looking for a two-day escort interpreter at a tradeshow. Judy promptly submitted a bid (copied Dagmar on the message), and, because she was unable to find any detailed client information online (even their website was down), she asked for a 50% deposit, to which the potential client readily agreed. That's where things got interesting.

Potential client: We'd be happy to pay the deposit. My boss would like to pay via PayPal. Can you give me your account information so I can process the payment today?

Judy (early in the morning in Vegas): Thank you so much for your message. Unfortunately, we do not accept PayPal, but I will gladly give you account information for both our American and European accounts so you can go ahead and make the deposit.

No answer from the client.

Dagmar (working evening shift in Vienna) to Judy via instant message: Good morning, business partner! Quick question: did the customer service portion of your brain not yet get up? :)

Judy (yawning): Hi my dear twin! What do you mean? I am confused. I just woke up.

Dagmar: I can tell. I am referring to your e-mail to the potential customer in South America. You told her we don't take PayPal. What's wrong with you? ;)

Judy: Well, hm, we don't take PayPal last time I checked. Too many fees.

Dagmar: That's true, but remember that we own this company. We can make exceptions when needed! Think about it: we made a reasonable business request by asking for a deposit and the client was kind enough to agree. And now they make a reasonable request, and you tell them that won't work. That's not very good customer service there, girl! It's not like they want to pay us in seal fur or something like that -- PayPal is a reasonable business request.

Judy: Hm, OK, I feel silly now. I think I blew that. I am sure I have managed to annoy the customer.

Dagmar: Yep, if I were the customer, I wouldn't want to work with us. They are offering us payment and you tell them "no, we don't want your money?" Even if we have to pay some fees with PayPal, it's so worth it.  Let's make this transaction easy for our potential customer. E-mail them right now and tell them you are sorry, etc.

Judy to customer: Please accept my apologies for my temporary confusion regarding PayPal. We will certainly process your deposit (thank you!) via this trusty international payment method. My account information is XYZ. Again, I am sorry for any inconvenience my previous e-mail may have caused. We'd love to work with you and hope you will still entrust us with your project.

Client to Judy (5 minutes later): Great! I was indeed a bit confused, but I figured you'd find a way to take our money. :) Payment is on the way; see you in a few months.

The lesson: find a way to make your customer happy, even if it might not be the ideal solution for you, as the provider, on all fronts. In this case, if the transaction costs us $20, so what? It's a business expense, and if $20 is the price you have to pay for two days' worth of work, that seems reasonable. If you make a mistake, admit it and fix it promptly.

Update: the project went very well, the customers were charming, and everyone was happy. The client has just contacted Judy again for the same escort interpretation service during the same tradeshow that is coming up in early 2011. No deposit is necessary this time!

Google Adwords: $100 Up For Grabs

We just received a coupon for $100 to be used to buy Google Adwords ($100 Google AdWords Gift  card). It can only be used by new users of this advertising service, so we don't qualify. We earned this coupon by making rather large purchases on Vistaprint, and instead of tossing the coupon, we wanted to share and are making the $100 coupon available to one lucky blog reader. 

A quick overview of Google Adwords: after signing up for a free Google account or using an existing one, you can register for the adwords service. Detailed online tutorials show you how to buy keywords that you can use to help promote your website via the sponsored links on the margins of the Google search results pages. You will select a few terms related to your business, then determine what you want your daily budget to be (you can easily cap it $100 and not spend a cent beyond that) and the amount you would like to pay every time someone clicks. Once customers search for one of the terms you have purchased, such as "Farsi translator Brisbane," your ads may appear next to the search results. Read more about Google AdWords here. Getting started is quite simple and straightforward. 

In order to win the $100, please leave a comment and tell us why we should pick you. You'll also have to tell us what Judy's dog's name is and correctly identify who is who in the picture on the left (taken during our 30th birthday trip to the Riviera Maya, Mexico). Good luck!

The coupon has to be used before December 15, 2010, so the cut-off date to leave a comment and win the prize is November 25. Here's some legalese: we will be giving the $100 to a freelance translator or interpreter (no language service providers, please) who already have a website.  Once we choose a winner, we will e-mail him or her the access code to get started.

Business Risk, Reallocated

A dear colleague just shared this gem of a business risk story with us. The following is an excerpt of an e-mail that our colleague received from an agency (which shall remain anonymous):

As I'm sure you are aware, the global economic situation is still very problematic and we have experienced the following effect:

- The majority of our clients have extended their payment terms from 30-45 days to 60-90 days. 
- Clients have been requesting big discounts in rates.

All language service providers are experiencing similar difficulties.

Due to all this, we have been forced to take some measures to remain competitive in this market, but do not believe that reducing vendor rates is an appropriate action to take. So, we have decided to adjust our providers' payment terms to more closely match our clients' payment terms. 

Effective immediately, our vendor payment term is changed from 30 days to 60 days. 

This is a measure we very much regret to take, but we hope that you can understand our situation and why we have taken this decision. 
What's wrong with this picture? It's simple: the language service provider (or agency) has a payment obligation to the contractor. That payment obligation is independent of the agency's contractual payment agreement with the end client. Language service providers need to have funds available to pay contractors what they are owed on the day of the agreed-upon payment. It's possible that the language service provider's situation might have changed between the time when the project was delivered and when payment is due (usually 30 days), but the payment obligation remains.  Running a business comes with some risks. Passing that business risk on to the weakest link -- in this case, the freelance linguist -- is unacceptable. 

If a freelance linguist enters into a contractual agreement to provide a translation of a contract with XYZ agency and the linguist delivers in accordance with the terms, she is legally entitled to payment. XYZ agency can't come back and say "Sorry, the dog ate our client," "The client went out of business," "We are so poor, we are barely covering our costs and the client hasn't paid" or similar non-sense lines. Even if these lines are true, the payment obligation doesn't magically disappear.

We do not work with agencies, but our response to this would be the same as our colleague's: request to be removed from that particular agency's database. We'd love to hear your thoughts. While these are certainly tough economic times, language service providers need to find ways to prosper without alienating their most important asset: their people. 

Virtual Watercooler

As many of our readers know, we have mixed feelings about large, catch-all, welcome-all translation sites as While we applaud their efforts to put on virtual and in-person conferences (and are happy to donate to their raffles) and think they have solid terminology databases (with many not-so-stellar entries), the site tends to attract a lot of newbies and folks who translate "on the side" or "as a hobby," which is not good for the professional linguists in our profession. The problem is a basic one of economics: lack of barrier to entry. We rarely participate in online discussion groups and forums because there are so many folks who are just looking for basic advice (that they should consider paying for, or taking a class, or buying a book). Don't get us wrong: hundreds of our top-notch colleagues are on Proz as well, but the true professionals seem to be outnumbered by the folks who are willing to work for peanuts and ask for advice on whether they should use Google Translate instead of Wordfast (really). Thus, we've shifted our focus to the listservs of professional associations, which are limited to paying members (ATA, UNIVERSITAS, NITA) and to Watercooler. Many times, you get what you pay for, right?

Judy discovered the Watercooler Network, run by affable Brit Andrew Bell out of Australia, when he invited her to join earlier this year. Back then, the well-designed site was still free of charge. Since then, Andy has had to shift to a modest fee-based model, which has yielded, in his words "mixed results." What Judy likes about the site is that it creates a real barrier to entry (read: $24.99 every six months) to keep out the folks who are not serious about our profession. It's the same idea as the one behind listservs: they are only open to members of the particular professional associations. Judy is a regular paying member of Watercooler, and has recently started contributing content to the site. The layout is simple, easy to navigate, and the site is equivalent to a listserv on steroids: you have your own Facebook-like profile page, can post video, comments, articles, participate in contests, etc. At the moment, the site has roughly 100 members, and many are coming around and realizing that this is a site worth re-joining (unfortunately, many left once they had to open their wallets). So consider supporting a fellow linguist in his quest to continue building a private network that will benefit us all. Try the free 30-day trial. See you at the Watercooler? 

Photos and Links: ATA Conference

After the opening session. 
This year marked the first year that Dagmar was able to join Judy and all her friends and colleagues at the ATA Conference! We had a fantastic time in Denver spending time with our favorite people, making new friends, mixing and mingling, doing a book signing at the exhibit hall at InTrans Book Service's booth, attending many fantastic sessions, going to the Spanish division dinner, all official ATA sessions, and Judy enjoyed giving her "Entrepreneurial Linguist" pre-conference seminar. Dagmar, in her function as the assistant secretary general of UNIVERSITAS Austria, had many representative duties to take care of -- and delicious Austrian chocolates to distribute. The ATA had graciously invited her to Denver to strengthen ties between the Austrian and American associations.

At our book signing.
Our fellow bloggers had many interesting posts about the conference, so as to not reinvent the wheel, please have a look at our friends' Corinne McKay's and JiIll Sommer's posts. Jill has a great report of  of the bloggers' lunch, which we were unfortunately unable to make because of a previous commitment, and fellow author Fabio Said's wrote a detailed and informative conference review (part 1 and part 2). We had the pleasure of finally meeting him this year after running each other in the virtual world for several years. Also have a look at the official ATA pictures, artfully taken by Jeff Sanfacon. Thanks to our dear friends and to our inner circle (you know who you are), for making this another fantastic event. And yes, we will both be in Boston next year. See you there! 

Court Interpreter Accused of Fraud

Thanks to our friend Álvaro Degives-Más of Reno Languages for digging up this troubling story and video. Many times, interpreters and translators fall prey to those trying to take advantage of their services (scams, non-payments), but court interpreter Milagros Rosa of Florida is actually the one who is guilty of illegal activities. Read and watch her story -- it's an egregious breach of, well, everything, and we certainly hope that there are very few Rosas in the world. 
Join the conversation! Commenting is a great way to become part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media is all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

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The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

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