ATA Pricing Webinar Questions: Answered (Part II)

As promised, here is the second part of Judy's answers to questions that were submitted during her American Translators Association Webinar on February 29. Due to large amount of questions received, she wasn't able to answer all of them during the live session, but she answered the first part of the questions here. Read on for part two. If you'd like to purchase a recording, please visit the ATA's webinar section. The questions are unedited.

Q: I do not think it makes sense to refer a cheap customer to a colleague with lower rates. (This is in response to Judy's suggestion that you send a customer who's not in your price range to a colleague who charges a different rate than you do.)
A: Well, ideally, all translators and interpreters would charge adequate and professional rates. The reality is another, so I don't see why you wouldn't want to make both your customer and your colleague happy. If the price doesn't work for you,why not send the potential client to a linguist who does offer the requested service at the requested rate? If you can't get the business, why not give it to someone else? I think it makes sense, but I'd love to hear your perspective on it as well. The customer will only be forced to pay the adequate rate if no one is willing to work cheaper, which is not the case at the moment (nor do I think that will ever be the case).

Q: Response to request for translation test:  make it part of a paid assignment at regular rates, with the proviso that if you "fail" the test, the assignment is off -- either you then get paid for the test or not, depending on negotiation -- what do you say?
A: I knew it! My opposition to free translation tests (=free work) always generates a lot of interesting questions. While I think your proposal is interesting, it's still a risky undertaking. Evaluating the quality of translation is a highly complex and subjective matter, and you are taking a monetary risk by letting the non-linguist client determine if your work passes muster. I still think that clients should pay for work performed -- any work performed. It's not like you can ask your CPA for a sample tax return and then hire her if you, as the non-expert, deem her work correct. At some point, customers have to trust the expert they are hiring to do the job for them. There's risk inherent in any purchase, and the purchaser traditionally has to bear that risk. You, as a provider, can alleviate it by offering references and samples of previous translations (with the existing client's permission, of course).

Q: This is about free test translation: what about for an existing client=agency, trying to win a new account?
A: Good point. Providing great service to an existing client and helping them win new business is great, but it doesn't change the facts. If the agency wants to win a new client, they might have to invest something (hiring you to do sample translations). You, as the freelancer who has no say in that business relationship, should not have to make that investment. This is an investment that the entity trying to win the customer should make -- in my opinion. You are not responsible for your customers' business relationships, nor should you be. After all, you are not an employee. You are a contractor.

Q: A particular agency in my area charges truly peanuts for its work and they are driving all business in the city down. How do I reach out to them so they stop doing that?
A: Ah, that's a good one. Unfortunately, it happens all the time. Put them on your black list and don't work with them. The best thing you can do is to stay clear of that agency and let the chips fall where they may. I wouldn't necessarily reach out to them to ask them to stop their behavior. My guess is that they won't, but if you are not afraid of confrontation, it's certainly worth a phone call. Let's hope that the market forces will, at some point, eliminate bottom feeders. But you know how bottom feeders can really, truly be eliminated? If no one works for them. So rather than convincing the agency to change its ways, the real job is to convince colleagues to stop working for them. It's a tall order, but we can start now.

Q: How do you feel about giving commission to people who refer you other jobs and vice versa? For instance, 10% of contract price?
A: Excellent question. We don't actively look for work we cannot handle ourselves, but we do get so much work that we outsource to others on a regular basis. Many times, we will just send on the project to the superstar colleague we have selected. Other times, if the client asks us to coordinate the translation, we will take on the role of mini-agency and make a little bit of money off the top. More often than not, we just refer projects out. We don't charge commission nor do others charge us if they send work our way (which happens a lot). It's only Wednesday, but this week I've already sent work to three colleagues. I don't expect anything in return, but they can always buy me coffee if they want!

Q: Can you give webinar for pricing strategy for Translation Agencies working with direct my biz? That would be great, Judy!
A: Thanks so much for the suggestion. Unfortunately, as we are not an agency ourselves, I don't think I am the right person to give such a webinar. Be sure to contact the American Translators Association to see if they have an agency owner who could give this webinar.

Q: How do you suggest dealing with clients who send your work for review - to non-translators who get nit-picky (and the problems lie with the source documents)?
A: That's a difficult one, and it happens more often than you think -- because everyone is a translator, right? (Insert sigh here). I suggest gently educating the client on the process, sending them one of the great ATA brochures (Translation: Getting it Right) and to point out that you have been hired as the outside expert to do the work. Ultimately, after the client has paid for the translation, they own it, so they may modify it as they please, but it would be reasonable to request that your name not appear on a translation that's been tinkered with. We have a long way to go before our services are truly respected in the larger marketplace, but we are on our way. Whatever you do: try not to take it personally and resist the urge to engage in finger-wagging. It's  annoying to have your work challenged, but it happens to other professionals as well. Stay calm and collected and show a willingness to cooperate -- up to a certain point.

Q: How do you handle customer-initiated revisions after the project has been started?
A: I would solve this off the bat by having a strong translation contract that specifies exactly what your services will include and what they will not include. Professional translation typically does not include customer revision, but you have to play it by ear: if a client just wants your input into why you selected a few specific terms, then that's certainly a reasonable request. However, if the customer wants to challenge every sentence, then you may gently point out that revisions are beyond the scope of the contracted services. You could offer to do revisions at an additional charge. I think it's paramount for the customer to know which services are included before translation commences. It's important for both sides to know what the expectations are. This will help prevent a lot of headaches, so be sure to have a solid translation contract.

Thanks for all the great questions! Any other questions or comments? We'd love to hear from you.


Oliver Lawrence on March 27, 2012 at 1:46 PM said...

As regards referring cheap clients to cheap colleagues, I think that there is a risk in referring to someone whose work standard is either unknown to us or is inferior to our own. When we refer, we may be seen in some way as associating ourselves with and perhaps even tacitly recommending the colleague (because surely no one would ever refer to a person that they actually distrusted).

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on March 27, 2012 at 8:54 PM said...

@Oliver: good point. We usually just recommend folks we know really well and for whom we can vouch. We do not refer someone we do not know, unless the client is looking for an exotic language combo. In that case, we will say something along the lines of "we have never worked with this person, but got her/his info from the ATA directory; here is the info." And you are absolutely correct: when linguists refer someone, they are vouching for them/recommending, so it is essential to know the colleagues(and their work) well before passing on their info.

Oh, and these clients are not necessarily cheap -- they are just looking to perhaps pay a little bit less than we charge. We don't traditionally send very cheap customers to colleagues.

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