Archive | December, 2013

Translation rates, quality and experience: a “golden” combination

19 Dec

This new blog post will be about a “golden” combination of rates, quality and experience. Although a lot of things have been already said and written, my case is quite unique, since I didn’t pay attention to things I speak about frequently.

Generally speaking, people tend to ask for referrals. Although I don’t like to compare translators to plumbers, I will now do exactly that.

Last year I bought a car (a used one actually). As any car owner, I soon realized that certain parts started to vanish (someone unscrewed the fuel tank lead, etc.). The first thing I thought about was to just drive to the closest car service center where experts would take care of my six-year-old car. But it was obvious (for me only, as it turned out) that the price would be twice higher than the price offered by self-trained (and single) amateurs.

So I called my friend who had a very old Soviet car. As far as I saw, he managed to breathe new life into this scrap (I think you all saw similar shows on TV).

I asked him to refer me to any electrician who could help me install the equipment. Well, the first impression was quite standard. You see a man in dirty clothes, with dirt and litter all around in the garage.

The next moment he takes your car and your keys, driving you to the next semi-legal “trade center” where sneaky dealers sell you any car parts almost under the counter. A very unpleasant picture. Okay, it was my choice.

All went well. I paid the price and went off. Real problems started about two months ago. First the lamps stopped flashing when the anti-theft system was activated. Then the rear left door could not be locked any more. It is only natural that the “expert” whom I called the next day did not want to see or hear me.

Finally I had to go to a car service centre and pay extra money for maintenance. In the end I summed up two amounts and realized that I paid a standard rate of any car service centre in my city. They told me it was absolutely his fault, since he did not fixed one wire which was critical to the operation of the equipment.

What lessons did this situation teach me?

First, you have to put quality before price. This is a very important remark, otherwise such situations will occur more frequently. As one translator put it, translation budgets are a tiny fraction of overall product launch budgets, for instance. So there is no sense in haggling over 10-15 cents per word, since this would still be a very tiny amount compared to the quality loss you could face.

Second, people who don’t market themselves (in my case – people who don’t care about their impression they leave on the clients) ain’t experts. They are amateurs, sometimes quite talented ones. They don’t market themselves properly, which means they have only one differentiator – P-R-I-C-E. Which in its turn means that they are destined to stay in these dirty garages for the whole life.

And third, I’m very grateful for this lesson. I would have never written this article if my anti-theft system had worked properly.

Several ways to never face payment term change (well, extension) as a freelance translator.

12 Dec

Today I am going to speak about a very unpleasant situation when your client changes payment terms arbitrarily. I will also share my experience when dealing with this situation. I feel I’m forced to write this post, since I have come across the problem recently (for details see last paragraphs of the post).

First of all, I would like to say that any translator sooner or later is literally destined to face the problem. Your client may be a top-notch translation agency, with all 5s on the Blue Board. This also may be a direct client of yours you have been “serving” for several years now (this is a rare case though). Anyway, any serious professional was going to stay there for more than a year needs to have some info on how to prevent this situation from happening.

First of all, you have to screen your clients rigorously and thoughtfully. This is the first step you have to take when you are contacted by prospects. I would strongly recommend you not to take gmail.com or similar emails seriously. You may of course answer them, but it is highly improbable that this will end in any lucrative cooperation. The thing is that people can claim whatever they like and/or want using this free-of-charge-instant–registration-instant-access email address. In this case you’ll have to take the words at face value. A very bad start.

Once you get an email from people who once bothered to pay for a website, you can start negotiating terms and conditions. In case this is a translation agency, see their rating at, say, proz.com, or numerous Linkedin groups discussing translation agencies payment practices. There you can also see comments about the rates these agencies pay to translators. My experience is that the most “generous” agencies are located in Europe and North America, while agencies from China or India tend to use price as the main differentiator/competitive advantage, which means that the latter are constantly searching for cheaper translators. By the way, since the price they offer is rather attractive, they can win a lot of voluminous projects (thousands of pages, for instance). Usually low rates paid to translators are accompanied by longer waiting time for your payment and more frequent cases of non-payment.

Please do not forget  about such thing as an upfront payment. This is a very good indicator that the client is a serious one. Sad but true: upfront payment is a very rare case.

A formal contract/PO/confirmation email are a must when you start cooperating with a new client. There you have to indicate the price, payment terms, scope of work, etc.

A good indicator is the name and position of the person you are speaking to. Serious clients don’t hide their identities.

In my case the agency that changed payment terms arbitrarily seemed to be a very reputable company, with a separate website, good rating, friendly PMs, etc. The problem occurred when I contacted their accountant for more details about my payment shortly after the end of the project. She unilaterally extended the agreed payment term. The thing is that I had agreed the initial (=shorter) payment term with the CEO of the company. There was an apparent miscommunication (I believe) between those two positions. But who cares! In a friendly manner I reminded the accountant about my position and the written statements of her CEO. The result was that I was paid on time. Moreover, I am now aware of actual payment term of this company, which is far from acceptable; I don’t think I will take future projects from them. I believe they have lost a loyal professional always ready to go an extra mile. Yes, this is a two-way street – without professionals they won’t make money.