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Ideas on handling presumptuous clients May 8, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices.

Presumptuous: overstepping due bounds (as of propriety or courtesy) : taking liberties (Merriam-Webster)

We’ve all had to deal with them – clients who have unreasonable deadlines, clients who expect you to do their work like prepping files or formatting files to meet their standards even though the source text didn’t conform with their specifications, clients who change terms in the middle of the job, clients who expect you to translate 2000 words in one hour. Here are two very real examples that just happened today (one to me and another to a colleague who is ready to tear her hair out).

Example 1: Client sends a binding job order for a job due Monday morning at 11 a.m. German time without even asking if I am available.

Example 2: Two separate clients contacted my colleague on Wednesday with 4600 words and 7700 words respectively. Both clients initially asked her to deliver on Monday and she agreed – and then they started putting on the pressure for Friday. One even had the audacity to send her a PO with a Friday deadline instead of the agreed upon Monday deadline (for the 7700 word job).

Example 1 was resolved by sending an e-mail stating that I wasn’t available over the weekend. Hopefully they can find someone else. It’s not my problem. They should have had the common courtesy to ask if I was available. I have worked the last two weekends and two weeks straight without a day off. I need some “me” time.

Example 2 is a little trickier, and I would love to hear what you all would do in that situation. The nightmare PM has simply ignored her e-mails stating that the agreed upon deadline was Monday. The PM instead sent her an email asking her if she (colleague) wanted her (the PM) to convert the Excel glossary into a Multiterm glossary. She ended up delivering the 7700 word job 3/4 finished and is powering on with it today. In the meantime she is completely stressed because, like everyone, she hates delivering a job she hasn’t finished working on and hasn’t polished. I told her I would simply deliver the jobs as agreed upon on Monday and not stress out so much about it. But of course you have to keep the client happy…

She is seriously thinking about quitting freelancing and getting a different job altogether. Her final sentence says it all: “I love translation just not some of the business aspects of it. Which is sort of weird, because I think I did really well dealing with the business aspects when I was a PM. I would never have put “my people” under that kind of pressure.”

So how do you handle presumptuous clients? Any advice for my colleague?

Update: Client in Example 1 responded asking when I could deliver by because she definitely wants me to do it, so I now have a Monday afternoon deadline. See, clients can be reasonable if you stick up for yourself. Oh, and if you are reading this through an RSS feed I highly suggest clicking on the link to visit the blog itself and check out WordPress’ third suggested post for a good laugh.



1. Riccardo - May 8, 2009

I would answer to the e-mails putting on the pressure for Friday by stating that the agreed deadline was Monday, and that I would deliver on Monday as agreed. That if they wanted to have part of the job by Friday, it would be charged at an extra rush rate (BTW, I hope your friend was charging a rush rate for working over the weekend?), and that they would have to agree that they take the responsibility for any error due to the partial delivery, as for the conversion from Excel to Multiterm, sure, why not… but not as a part of the job, but only as a separate one charged at my terminology rates

2. Corinne McKay - May 8, 2009

I agree with Riccardo, I think there’s nothing wrong with saying “I can either deliver the whole job for Monday as agreed on, or feel free to assign part of the job to someone else for Friday if you’d like” or something along those lines. For those of us who are established in the business, it’s easy to get smug about these situations, and I’m just as guilty of that as the next person. However, when I first started freelancing I bent over backwards in all kinds of ways in order to keep clients happy and keep the money rolling in.

Partially, I think that when clients start encroaching on your boundaries, you just have to handle it professionally and firmly. “I’m not available/That deadline won’t work with my schedule/I would have to charge you for that at my overtime rate, etc.” are not criticisms of the client, they’re just facts.

3. Matthew Bennett - May 8, 2009

Great post. I’ve been translating for a ten years now and I don’t think it has to do with being a rookie translator or a bad client so much – it’s just the way it is for many jobs.

It seems translation is far nearer the bottom of clients’ lists of things to do than we would often like as translators but that’s just life and at the end of the day I think it’s more important to be professional about it. While it shouldn’t need to be an urgent, rush job if it were thought about and managed a bit more, it frequently seems to become one.

I agree with Riccardo about rates though. I have used an urgency/weekend rate (50%) for the last couple of years which keeps both my clients and me happy.

If it’s not really urgent, then telling them it will cost 50% more in the time frame they’ve asked for is enough to push back the deadline to a more normal time. If it really is urgent (for whatever reason) then they willingly pay and I feel like I’m properly rewarded for my efforts.

If I additionally feel overworked at any time, I just keep going or juggle things until it’s all done and then programme in an extra day off when nobody needs any translations doing the following week.

4. Kevin Lossner - May 8, 2009

I can’t see the problem in either case. With regard to Example 1, I have a number of clients that send “binding” e-mails like that with jobs. All that means is that the job is mine if I want it, I don’t have to ask for the PO, etc. However, if I’m booked out I just send a short reply saying “no way”, suggesting alternative deadlines if I’m interested and leave it at that. With a case like the second example, a firm reminder of the agreement coupled with something like a 100% surcharge proposal (assuming that Friday is even possible) and a disclaimer regarding quality usually settles things without difficulty. I don’t have a lot of patience with the pressure game: after having my health destroyed a few years ago and taking nearly a year for a full recovery, I am brutally direct. So much so that a neighbor boy who dropped by to walk the dogs with me and overheard me “negotiating” a deadline went back to his mother (who is also a translator) and said to her “Mummy, you need to be rude to your clients like Kevin. Then you’ll get better rates and reasonable deadlines.”

jillsommer - May 8, 2009

ROTL! Kevin, that is awesome. It’s good to know that the “binding” e-mails aren’t as binding as they come across. Must be a German thing…

5. Judy Jenner - May 8, 2009

We are pretty direct with those things and it actually hasn’t happened to us before that totally unreasonable deadlines get imposed upon us (or that the deadline gets moved). We send detailed quotes with the delivery date, and if that client signs it, they are agreeing to that deadline. Any change to that is completely voluntary on our part, and yes, we charge a 100% rush fee. We hope your friend charged it too.

We are with Kevin about being very straightforward and honest. We don’t like to be under enormous time pressure and compromise on quality. Agreed with Matthew — once clients hear about the rush fee, they are frequently motivated to find a more generous deadline — money talks. In example #2: deadline is a deadline. Any change to the signed price quote means that a new negotiation needs to start, with a new quote, etc. You essentially have a valid contract if your client has initially agreed to your terms. Anything beyond that is a courtesy (deadline-wise).

6. Kevin Lossner - May 8, 2009

> It’s good to know that the “binding”
> e-mails aren’t as binding as they
> come across.

I don’t know how your client views it unless this happens to be one of mine too in this case, but really – most of the time this is just the agency trying to be efficient about assigning the job. I take it as a positive thing: we know the rates (if I see a problem with a specific job, I say so and give a special quote), and the stated deadline is only real if I send back a message saying “OK”. Not one of the half dozen or so clients I have that do this act like I’m tatooed as their property, and I probably end up taking only about one in four of these “binding” jobs.

Where I do have problems though are with customers who are too dependent. Literally in tears asking for a project to be taken on when business is bad and they are worried about losing a major account or are trying to land a good new one. I really, really like most of the clients I work with and I’ll go the extra mile whenever I can, but when I tell them that I am close to the limit and can’t take any more, I expect them to respect that and back off. We try hard to suggest good alternatives. But then there are cases like the dear client whom we’ve told for the past two weeks that we are unavailable who sends at least a dozen questions a day on other translators’ work, distracting us so badly that it’s hard to get anything done. *That* is truly presumptuous, and it’s hard for me to draw the line when it’s someone I like and respect for their competence and commitment to quality.

7. Tom Ellett - May 8, 2009

I have one client that occasionally sends a PO without asking first whether I’m available. Like Kevin’s clients, I think they are just trying to be efficient and save time later; they are a regular client that I rarely turn down a job from. Nonetheless, every time it happens, I do find it presumptuous and feel a little taken for granted.

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