Bad Client?

Made on 
Today's  post is about something that comes up in our industry quite often. The scenario is this: the highly talented translator delivers a world-class translation, only for the clueless client (we mean this tongue-in-cheek, in case you haven't noticed) to destroy it by "editing" it when the client should stick to his or her area of expertise and leave the translating to the talented translator. The resulting edited translation is not improved at all: quite the contrary. It's a disaster. Now the translator is  indignant and complaining to all her colleagues and friends about it. Does this sound familiar? Let us suggest a different way of looking at it.

After the client pays for your work, he or she owns it. Period. They are free to do with your product as they please, because you now longer own it (yes, we got a legal opinion on this). A translator can certainly insist that his or her name not be listed as the translator on a mutilated translation, but the reality is that most translators can't get their names within 10 miles of most translations anyway, so this shouldn't be a big concern. We are not saying that the client is right in destroying a perfectly good translation with good intentions but bad language skills, but that's life. Translators are no different than lawyers, doctors, interior designers, stylists, etc. We hear our stylist when she tells us black is not our color, but we love it anyway. We hear our doctor when she tells us to lay off the fatty Mexican food, but it's so tasty.  Our CPA is right that we should be more organized in our charity donations, but we aren't. Sometimes clients buy a Mercedes and put gaudy rims and license plates with rhinestones on it. The dealer probably cringes, but if the client's money is good, what can be done? Not much. 

We have had this scenario happen very infrequently, but when it does happen, we just make sure to detail in writing why we think the translation should be published/going to print as is and list the reasons. Then we say that we are happy to give our professional opinion, since that's in part what we are getting paid for. If the client insists to use the mutilated translation anyway and our names are on it, we respectfully ask to have our names removed. We think it's important to stick to your role of professional advisor and not become too indignant when the client doesn't follow our advice. They pay us for it, so they are free to take it or leave if after they've paid for our services.

That said, we are on our way to the tailor to have her add some ruffles to a gorgeous black Jil Sander suit. While we are at it, we might stop by the hairdresser's to see if she can turn us into redheads. Just kidding! 

What do you think, dear friends and colleagues? We'd love to hear your thoughts. 


Dmitry Kornyukhov on May 11, 2015 at 3:28 PM said...

Oh, yeah. I think every service provider had to deal with clients like this:
- Hi! I need this and that done, but I'm no expert so I'd like to hire you because you're.
- Sure! This is how it supposed to be. That's my expert's opinion.
- I disagree!

It happens. I'm always trying to explain why it is better to do it this way. But, like you've said, you can't really tell people what to do. Just be patient and move on to the next client who appreciates your professional opinion.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on May 12, 2015 at 1:25 AM said...

@Dmitry: Thanks for your thoughtful comment. We wholeheartedly agree. Being patient is key, and sometimes you will have clients who pay but don't appreciate your professional opinion. But as long as they do pay, that's still basically enough. And yes, we are also huge believers in the fact that the only attitude you can change is your own. Thanks for reading and for commenting.

Unknown on May 20, 2015 at 12:13 PM said...

An employee of my client decided to use an MT for a part of her brochure because she couldn't find it in their files. This company is quite large. I personally know that they had the translation for this because not only have I done it, it had been done by the previous translator. This brochure now has a professional translation with one paragraph that is a machine translation. My goodness, there's much work to be done out there.

Jesse Tomlinson on June 7, 2015 at 7:21 AM said...

This is a very common problem/concern in Mexico because there are people who think they know English better than a native speaker which can be challenging, but you are right in that you should never be lippy what have you. What's hard is when you have to convince people why in the areas they have pointed out, that they are wrong. But backing up your writing is always good.
Two recent examples: a reviser suggesting changing a Strategic Planning document to passive tense, and a recording where I was hired to translate and then record a text. After translating it, they returned it completely unintelligible. But they paid, and well, so that was what I recorded! And with good tone and energy.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on June 10, 2015 at 2:35 AM said...

@Jesse: Thanks for your thoughtful comment, as always. We love your attitude here about the example with the horribly botched translation that you had to record. Oftentimes there's only so much you can do to convince your client, and sometimes you just have to roll with the punches, which is what you appear to have done here. Well done. And getting paid is good indeed. :)

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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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