Unprofessionalism in the industry January 18, 2012Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices.
I received the following e-mail today and have to say I am speechless at the behavior of this “freelance translator.” I’ve heard of some unethical and unprofessional behavior on the part of colleagues in the past (telling a fellow translator to “go suck a lemon” is one example that comes to mind). But this just crosses the line and is all kinds of wrong. If I were to ever act like this I would never be successful. The industry is a small one. People talk to one another. I don’t know where the entitlement against test translations comes from. I see nothing wrong with a test translation to prove to a potential new client what you can do.
As you might remember from our previous correspondence, I work as a project manager at an agency in England as well as a freelancer. I have an issue I’d love to see in your blog, to get other freelancers’ takes on this:
About a month ago one of my project management colleagues sent an e-mail to translators asking for interested freelancers to choose any of the different test translations attached (different areas of specialisation) and submit them along with their CVs and rates if they wished to be added to our new database (our old one is being scrapped because it and the information in it are out of date). One translator replied with just two words: Fuck off [emphasis mine].
When our manager wrote him back to make sure the aggression wasn’t about a non-payment issue or some other valid grievance, he wrote back a long rant about how our “Wal*Mart approach” to translation was killing the industry and how he, as a qualified professional, should not be subjected to test translations.
First, I take offense to the Wal*Mart comment. I know that some agencies have automated systems and send around mass e-mails about potential jobs that never seem to come to fruition (and as a freelancer I send those messages straight to the “Deleted” folder), but we don’t. We are seven project managers and four in-house translators, we try our best not to bother freelancers until we know a job is confirmed, and we send out availability requests to ONE translator at a time unless there are urgent time constraints that make that impossible. Every job we handle is proofread or checked in some way by us ourselves, not just sent on without a second thought for quality. We are not some big corporate machine churning out high word counts at low rates with no thought to the translators or the individual projects. We never tell translators what to charge, although sometimes we may give fair warning if a translator’s rates are so high that they might not see much work from us (not in a threatening way, just as a fact in case they were counting on getting a lot of work from us). We try to keep to reasonable deadlines where possible.
Second, there are benefits that agencies bring to the industry. As an agency, we invest quite a bit of money into our marketing, which means freelancers don’t have to. We handle the administrative side of the projects, asking for reference materials and specific instructions beforehand so that freelancers get all of the information in one e-mail at the beginning of the job. We act as a buffer between difficult clients and hardworking professionals. We do the face-to-face contact to maintain good working relationships with clients, something that many freelancers are happy to avoid. These are some of the benefits that people like this translator should remember before being so rude and unprofessional. If he doesn’t want to work with us, or any other agency, that’s fine; he is well within his rights to ask us never to contact him again. But there’s no need to be so aggressive just because he has an overinflated sense of self-worth.
I have never been so shocked in my life at the sheer unprofessionalism. If you are running your own business, why sabotage it by offending complete strangers? Other freelancers who balked at the request for test translations (but were professional about it) were told they could send samples of their previous work if they preferred. If neither of those options suited them, we wish them all the best but have to respectfully pass them up when we look for translators to send work to. We just want an idea of the quality the translators are providing. As you know, our industry is not very well regulated and potentially anybody can walk around claiming to be a translator, without the quality or professional training/experience to back it up. Even a client you don’t want should be treated with professionalism at the very least. That sort of aggression is uncalled for, and not only does it mean that he will never be offered any work from us (OK, fine, clearly he didn’t want it in the first place) but word-of-mouth may well end up affecting his reputation and potentially have an impact on work from other clients. I can tell you now that after that e-mail he went straight onto our black list and no matter how desperate we get, that translator will never see an offer from us. We also warned a few of our colleagues outside of the company about him.
Is there ever a point where you and your readers would consider that level of rudeness and unprofessionalism to be acceptable or, at the very least, understandable? One colleague of mine said she might consider it understandable if we owed him money and were giving him the run-around about it, but that was definitely not the case here, and we even went out of our way to check that we hadn’t inadvertently forgotten to pay an invoice somehow.
This reader is not alone. As one of my colleagues (who is the owner of a small boutique agency) stated so eloquently on Facebook the other day in frustration because one of their favorite translators is also severely lacking in social graces:
Rant: Why are so many of the best and most talented translators complete and utter sociopaths?
The post generated 74 comments. My favorite comment in the thread was:
I get so excited when I can exclaim to one of our project managers that so-and-so is such a pleasure to work with. I wish that more translators would realize that that small thing can really move them way up the list. Pleasant or miscreant? Twelve e-mail exchanges or two? Hmmm..
Note: the same person wrote both comments!
So, fellow translators, what say you? Would you ever treat an agency this poorly? I don’t understand why some colleagues are hell-bent on viewing “agencies” as the “enemy.” Obviously not all agencies are alike. This agency is a smaller, more personal agency like the ones I prefer to deal with. I have never used this kind of language in correspondence – even towards the non-paying agency I like to call Dear Client:. I thought it, but I certainly never wrote it down and sent it. So, as the reader asks, “Is there ever a point where you and your readers would consider that level of rudeness and unprofessionalism to be acceptable or, at the very least, understandable?”