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Not all clients are created equal July 14, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Random musings.
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Maybe I’ve been spoiled by my wonderful clients, but I am always surprised when a less-than-wonderful client contacts me. Maybe I reacted differently than I usually would because I had just finished translating 3,904 words in six hours and was looking forward to some time off, but I like to think I would have reacted in the exact same way on any normal day. A client with whom I have never worked before called me at 5:15 p.m., which isn’t that unusual, about a potential job that they were looking to fill. I agreed to check my e-mail, take a look and get back to her. If I had heard the name clearly and not assumed it was a call from the client to whom I had just delivered the job, I probably would have told her I was busy. I was surprised to see it was from this other agency (BTW, why do all translation agencies have names that start with Tech, Trans or Lingo – and why can’t project managers speak slowly and enunciate their words on the phone?). Anyway, I received the following e-mail with four PDF attachments:

We have a new potential order that we need a translator for. This will be from German to English, and the turn around time will be for 7-16-09. I need a word count to determine the price for our client, please let me know as soon as possible.  Thank you.

Do you see what irritated me? Trying to be diplomatic, I wrote back stating that she had not specified a deadline when we spoke on the phone, I was already booked for tomorrow, and I would need at least two days for the job. I then not so subtly (or I guess subtly because she missed it) referred her to ABBYY FineReader or PDF Transformer and Practicount to determine the word count, but estimated the files to be around 3,300 words. What can I say? I was feeling generous…

She responded with “Let me see if I can get an extension, but in the meantime if you can provide a word count that would be great.  Thank you.”

Um, how can I put this diplomatically? Dear clients, it is not your freelance translators’ job to do the word counts or other project manager duties for you. If you want us to do word counts you should offer/expect to compensate us for our time. Also, if you want Word files back it would be very much appreciated if you could OCR the files yourself and send source Word files to us. Otherwise we reserve the right to charge you a surcharge.

As one colleague put it so eloquently on Twitter: “PDF xl8 – plus 20%. Doing her job counting? Your minimum fee. :)”

Translators should read Kevin’s eHow article on How to Profit from PDF Translation to get some good ideas on how to negotiate rates that involve PDFs. I personally prefer to OCR the files myself, because then I know what the source document looks like and can fix any potential incorrectly scanned words. If you don’t know how to OCR files and are attending the upcoming ATA conference, I invite you to attend Tuomas Kostiainen and my presentation, “Making Portable Document Formats (PDF) work for you” on Saturday, 10/31/09, from 9:00-10:30 a.m.

In the meantime I had accepted another job from another long-standing client and was no longer available for the rest of the week. I then politely let her know she should find another translator. I am so glad that I did not spend time OCRing the files and then running them through Practicount, because that would have been an uncompensated waste of my time.

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Comments»

1. Justin B. - July 14, 2009

As the one at my job who is in contact with the vendors, I find it absolutely nuts that the PM you mention above asked you to do the word counts, and expected you to do it right then as she asked. I mean, simply, that is nothing I could ever ask my vendors for. I would never dream of it, plus I would have to pay the vendor more- sans question!

Of course, there are the dumb clients no matter where you go and they have unbelievable demands, especially in this down economy. I mean, I had a request for a technical translation of cycling marketing material (1500 words) using a pre-approved vendor, of which there is only one per language pair for this client, who was already working on a 4000 word project for the same client- with overnight delivery, no heads up, and with a tool that no one uses for translation.

Hell to the no, dipshit. We aren’t just typists copying papers from one page to another!!!

2. Ryan Ginstrom - July 15, 2009

Needless to say, this is pretty poor behavior by the PM. It’s part of a bigger problem of translation-agency employees who somehow think that their translation contractors are their employees.

The PM could have been a bit more crafty, and just asked for an estimate with word count included. I guess she got in a rush, and blew it. 😉 Now I’m wondering how many “requests for estimates” by agencies like this are just lazy PMs who don’t want to do a word count. 😦

If I was dealing with such a ham-handed PM, and was feeling particularly evil, I’d eyeball the document, give a word count about three times what I thought it would be, and warn:

“Note: this word count may not be accurate. I did not have enough time for a more careful count, because I am very busy with paying work.”

jillsommer - July 15, 2009

Good one, Ryan! I’ll have to remember that for next time.

3. Kevin Lossner - July 15, 2009

Even some of my “old timers” get lazy about word or line counts and fail to state the quantity of a text clearly when sending it. Of course I always re-check the numbers later, but I really appreciate seeing their figures so I can make a quick judgment of available capacity. Those PMs who do remember to show this courtesy are among my favorites.

If I don’t have a clear idea from the e-mail how much I’m dealing with, it might take hours or longer before I can find the time to look at the project in detail. If people are in a hurry, a little time invested can lead to the quick answer they think they need.


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