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Caution is good, but trust is better July 23, 2010

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Random musings.

I was sitting at my computer the other day and received a Skype message from one of the agency owners with whom I work, out of the blue, thanking me for being such a professional. I believe the quote was, “THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for being such a professional.” Turns out she was filling in for her Director of Translation, who is out on vacation, and was having all kinds of troubles with the vendors. The incident that was making her want to bang her head against the wall – hard – was with an into Spanish translator. The job had been assigned on Tuesday and two days later (on the due date) the vendor told her he wouldn’t do the job because “we never sent a contract.” She had sent him all the preliminary stuff she had sent me when I started working with them and told him “if you have something else, we’ll sign it.” He told her flat-out “I don’t trust your agency.” In fact, his response was: “I am paranoid of not getting paid. If you are reputable agency that is in this type of business you would have had an agreement ready. I asked you that several days ago and you played games with me. I really do not trust your agency.” She had to scramble to find someone who could translate the file that day in order to meet the deadline and told him “Next time, please let us know sooner.  Your paranoia has discourteously cost another translator two days.” This is one of the most upstanding agencies I know. They bill themselves as being a socially conscious agency. The fact that he doesn’t trust the agency shows me he doesn’t know them very well at all.

I understand that some translators have heard the horror stories about agencies that don’t pay, but, folks, they truly are very rare. For every Ursula Bull or Language Promotion, there are tons of reputable agencies like CETRA, Syntes Language Group, Partnertrans, Geotext, Schofield & Partner, etc. Caution is good, but trust is better. It is so important to build a good working relationship with your clients. By establishing a relationship with your clients you get to know each other and they come to rely on you – and most importantly come back time and again.

I have all kinds of clients with all kinds of different business practices. Some make me sign a contract before working with them. Some send me a P.O. for every job. And some send me an e-mail in which they tell me I have the job and when I need to deliver the file(s). In my eyes, an e-mail telling me I have the go-ahead to do the job is just as valid (and in most cases legally binding) as signing a contract. Because I know the people I am working with and have established a good working relationship.

I’m not saying you should implicitly trust everyone who contacts you, but try getting to know or learn about your contact and his/her agency before automatically painting them with the “Big Bad Agency” brush. Caution is a good attribute to have, but by being paranoid you may unnecessarily alienate a potential long-term client.



1. Chris Durban - July 23, 2010

“”Next time, please let us know sooner.” Gulp.
Am I the only one surprised to hear that a client treated this shabbily would even *consider* a “next time”?
Your post reminds me that a big factor working against some translators is their lack of social interaction smarts. Maybe it’s a chicken & egg thing: people who don’t mesh well in a team/staff environment can be tempted by a profession that allows them to work in the comfort of their home/cave, on their own, where their people/social/business skills get even rustier as they labor away in isolation. Thanks for the post, Jill!

Jill (@bonnjill) - July 23, 2010

I honestly don’t think there will be a next time. At least I most certainly hope there won’t be! I think she was just being overly polite. Thanks for the comment, Chris. It’s an honor.

patenttranslator - July 30, 2010

Not all translators are without social interaction smarts. You, for instance, have some, right? And you are a translator too.

Although it is true that some attrition of normal human interaction skills is probably unavoidable if you have to sit on your behind staring at the computer screen for decades without being able to meet anyone in person (the story of my life in the last 23 years, pretty much). But I was able to work as a member of a team for a number of years, in different cultures and on three different continents. I only became a self-employed translator because I can make more money that way, not because I can’t work with other people (mesh well in a team.

However, my main point is that the translator mentioned in the post was not only rude, which is not such a big deal as far as I am concerned, but dumb as well.

He should have a PayPal button or something like that on his website and ask for upfront payment, for the first job only, until a certain measure of trust is established between the two parties. That’s what I would have done.

Best regards,

Steve Vitek, with fond memories of Compuserve

2. Mandlanne - July 23, 2010

Thank you for a positive view on agencies. When reading a lot of translators’ blog agencies seem to be the devil to avoid at all cost and which ultimate goal is to pay you peanuts.

I am translator and I recently crossed the dreadful line of working as a consultant (not a translator) for an agency. Not an easy choice but it is interesting to see what happens on the other side.

I agree that all agencies are not good (I have given up on being paid for a job I did in January for one of these) but not all agencies will try to get translators to lower down their prices to a minimum.

The agency that I work for pays what should be paid and tries to make an income from a profit at clients’ cost not at translators’ cost.

3. Philippa Hammond - July 23, 2010

Thanks for reminding us of this fact, Jill.

There are so many ways of checking out an agency’s credentials if their name is unknown, so there really is no need to resort to being unhelpful, unprofessional or downright rude (seems like this particular translator was guilty of all three).

Have a great weekend!

4. Tess Whitty - July 23, 2010

So true! You can usually tell by the first email if it is a good agency or not and if in doubt you can research the company online. This takes only a few minutes and then you can reply and get started with the job. No need to be unprofessional or rude to a client, even a “doubtful” one. Just do your homework. Have a great weekend!

5. Lucinda Brooks - July 23, 2010

Agree with Philippa. I started work with a new agency today. Checked Blueboard – great feedback. Since it was the first time I was working with them, I assked for a job number, and a PO was sent by return, together with an agreement to MY terms and conditions, rather than an imposition of theirs.
And in future, an email go-ahead will be quite enough to form the contract between them and me.
In my view the translator in your story was rude, unprofessional and stupid.

6. Beatriz Bonnet - July 23, 2010

Good post, Jill, and thanks for the shout out. And Chris, I couldn’t agree more….

7. Kevin Lossner - July 23, 2010

You’re quite right on this one, Jill. Life’s too short to let paranoia gnaw at you all the time. I believe in due diligence, and I’ve learned some interesting and useful lessons (for risk management) in that regard recently from an attorney who works with an agency partner of mine, but if someone intends to scam you, I don’t think a few pieces of paper will stand in their way.

Said attorney is slightly appalled by my relaxed approach to contracts (he insists on signed, faxed letters of agreement for everything I think), but in ten years I’ve only lost twice: once to a rip-off artist with a phony name when I was a naive beginner and once to an art gallery’s unexpected insolvency filing. Both losses added up to about two days work total. No need to pump up my blood pressure over two days out of more than 3000. With a little applied common sense, you really can trust most people, so relax dear troglodytes….

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