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The extra mile
Thread poster: Andrew Morris

Andrew Morris

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Tesco or Tiffany? Apr 30

Chris S wrote:


You don't go into Tesco and start haggling over the price of their custard creams. Or ask for them to be gift-wrapped. Or tell them you'll pay at the end of the month. Or ask them to chuck in a free Mars bar if you promise to do your weekly shop with them next time. Or ask them to stay open late for you, or use a particular brand of trolley.




Yes, but that’s it in a nutshell. I don’t operate a mass-consumption supermarket. More of a specialist boutique, for the discerning client.

Funnily enough, if you buy a £1,000 guitar in Denmark St in London, or an expensive car, or any kind of luxury product, there is wiggle room for all kinds of little gestures, extras and freebies. It’s very much part of service at that level.

So are we Tesco or Tiffany?

Up to each of us to position ourselves.


Kay-Viktor Stegemann
 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:22
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
So true, and so sad Apr 30

Chris S wrote:
many freelance translators seem to be in a pupil/teacher relationship with their clients where they're too frightened to stand up for themselves on pretty much anything and end up being walked all over.


It's not about being adversarial, it's about boundaries and respect - and common sense. Obviously we can and should be flexible from time to time, but we are running a business, not a charity.

I think the elders of the profession should be preaching a more assertive approach.

So many of the problems afflicting our industry would disappear if we just collectively said no.

I absolutely agree with what you say, Chris, except that I don't see it as a teacher/pupil relationship. Pupils expect to be taught by their teachers, so they can mature and develop, and learn to think for themselves. I think a lot of freelance translators don't even have that good a relationship with their clients. Many are in a boss/employee relationship, but without any of those comfortable perks that an employee enjoys. They expect to get told what to do, and the only feedback they expect -- or get -- is in the form of complaints, which generally take the form of discounts (imposed by the buyer rather than offered by the supplier) and even fines!

I'm afraid it's simply too easy to become a freelance translator. Anyone can get in. And if you really can do the job of translation half decently, you'll get good volumes of work from agencies. But if you don't have an ounce of entrepreneurial spirit, and very little self-respect, you'll never get past the stage of being that employee with an abusive boss. The barriers to entry somehow need to be raised, so that freelance translators can only succeed if they have both translation skills and some business acumen.


Josephine Cassar
Andrew Morris
Rachel Waddington
 

Jo Macdonald  Identity Verified
Spain
Member (2005)
Italian to English
+ ...
all extras included Apr 30

Chris S wrote:

So, rather than holding them up as examples of successful relationship-building, how about - for the sake of discussion - we view them as failures?



The impression I get is that whereas in the past it was considered an "extra" to ask someone to work nights, weekends, etc. today many clients expect you to be always available, have no plans for the weekend or holidays, and work through the night. It's become almost impossible to apply what used to be considered a totally reasonable supplement for urgency because everything is now urgent so that's the new norm you charge a standard rate for isn't it?

I think a lot of this comes down to agencies turning the screw ever tighter, and (perhaps new) translators behaving like a puppet on a string for their client to jerk whenever they like, accepting the client's times and prices no questions asked, extras all included, and technology/cultural changes like mobile phones and social media making us look like amateurs pretty much always readily available online instead of professionals working office hours.

I would love to hear some ideas on how to counter this, or maybe I should just embrace the change, knuckle under and get set to work weekends, nights, holidays for rates dictated by my clients, all extras included.


Chris S
Robert Forstag
 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:22
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Here's one Apr 30

Jo Macdonald wrote:

I would love to hear some ideas on how to counter this....



Here's one: if you are a really good translator, and the agency knows it, then you are in a position to negotiate with them. If they have a job that only you can do, and if it's urgent, then you can offer to work over the weekend for an increased rate. I have often done that.

If, on the other hand, you're just any old translator, then you're powerless.


Chris S
Helen Shiner
Jo Macdonald
Andrew Morris
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Rachel Waddington
 

Kay-Viktor Stegemann
Germany
Local time: 19:22
Member (2016)
English to German
Pupils and teachers Apr 30

Chris S wrote:
But many freelance translators seem to be in a pupil/teacher relationship with their clients ...


Secretly, I agree with you, Chris. But I believe that most clients will not be happy when they realize that you see them as pupils and yourself as the teacher. I think that a relation of mutual respect is what we need, all of us.

The ideal relation between freelance translator and client/agency/PM would be that the client/agency/PM knows they can rely on the translator when they are really in urgent need of something, and at the same time the client/agency/PM has so much respect for the translator that they do not exploit this knowledge and abuse it to cover their own organisational deficits.

Relations between freelancer and client should be long lasting, for mutual benefit, and over the long time, both sides should be able to learn from each other how to accommodate the other one better, and about best practices.


Chris S
Andrew Morris
ahartje
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P.L.F.Persio
 

Thomas Pfann  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:22
Member (2006)
English to German
+ ...
Analogies Apr 30

Chris S wrote:
You don't go into Tesco and start haggling over the price of their custard creams. Or ask for them to be gift-wrapped. Or tell them you'll pay at the end of the month. Or ask them to chuck in a free Mars bar if you promise to do your weekly shop with them next time. Or ask them to stay open late for you, or use a particular brand of trolley.


Of course not. But as individual freelancers or small agencies, we are hardly the Tesco of the translation industry. We are probably more like Tesco's small suppliers, and Tesco is the one haggling over the price of our custard creams, wanting them gift-wrapped or telling us they'll pay at the end of the year and demanding freebies and extras left, right and centre.

Personally, I like to spend my money with professionals who go the extra mile – be it the plumber who finds time to fit in a quick visit when I am worried about a funny noise from the boiler, the mechanic who refuses to charge me for the ten minutes it took him to fit the new headlamp bulb I was struggling with or the greengrocer who always has a free apple or strawberry for the kids and who routinely rounds down amounts to the nearest pound.

These little things make sure I remain a loyal customer because I feel valued and in good hands. Everything else (weekend/overnight work, unfair rates, exploitation etc.) has nothing to do with going the extra mile but is a completely different topic altogether.


Chris S
Christine Andersen
Andrew Morris
Sheila Wilson
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Nadja Balogh
Adam Jarczyk
 

Jo Macdonald  Identity Verified
Spain
Member (2005)
Italian to English
+ ...
In the past Apr 30

Tom in London wrote:


Here's one: if you are a really good translator, and the agency knows it, then you are in a position to negotiate with them. If they have a job that only you can do, and if it's urgent, then you can offer to work over the weekend for an increased rate.


That worked just fine, but recently it looks like there is much more emphasis on finding anyone available right now rather than finding the best translator who can do the job in a reasonable time frame.

Personally I'm starting to think it might be time to come up with a new strategy that is more than just "Hey, I'm the best at that, can do a great job, top quality, on time too....."


Robert Forstag
 

Katalin Horváth McClure  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:22
Member (2002)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Right now, no matter what Apr 30

Jo Macdonald wrote:

...recently it looks like there is much more emphasis on finding anyone available right now rather than finding the best translator who can do the job in a reasonable time frame.


This is a tendency I see, too. The larger the agency, the stronger this approach.
Various online platforms are being utilized to support this type of outsourcing - a whole group of translators are notified at the same time about an available job that is up for grabs. They are often scooped up within seconds. That is not possible if one would actually look at the job description, the files and consider whether the budget and the timeframe are reasonable. So I can only conclude that there are many people who simply click “Accept”, regardless of what is involved.
I am doing a lot of editing/review and QM. The inconsistencies I see in terms of quality as a result of this model are astonishing. And of course, I am only one of the possible goalkeepers, so there is no way to apply overall consistency at the final stages either. The most worrying is that oftentime these projects are for the same end client - how could they be happy with this?


Robert Forstag
Rachel Waddington
Michele Fauble
Robert Rietvelt
 

Chris S  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Swedish to English
+ ...
Dodgy analogies aside... Apr 30

Andrew Morris wrote:
Yes, but that’s it in a nutshell. I don’t operate a mass-consumption supermarket. More of a specialist boutique, for the discerning client.

Funnily enough, if you buy a £1,000 guitar in Denmark St in London, or an expensive car, or any kind of luxury product, there is wiggle room for all kinds of little gestures, extras and freebies. It’s very much part of service at that level.

So are we Tesco or Tiffany?

True. No, we're not Tesco. But I for one am definitely not Tiffany either. Aren't Russian oligarchs the opposite of discerning? A discerning client would source the same gems without the frills straight from the artisan (moi!) at sensible wholesale-plus prices...

Dodgy analogies and stereotypes aside, I do think it important that we don't get above our station. Artists we may be in our own eyes, but let's face it, most of us are more Artex ceiling than Sistine Chapel.

I'm happy to be more BMW than Bentley.

Thomas Pfann wrote:
Personally, I like to spend my money with professionals who go the extra mile – be it the plumber who finds time to fit in a quick visit when I am worried about a funny noise from the boiler, the mechanic who refuses to charge me for the ten minutes it took him to fit the new headlamp bulb I was struggling with or the greengrocer who always has a free apple or strawberry for the kids and who routinely rounds down amounts to the nearest pound.

Good point, me too. But I'm also aware that I'm paying for these freebies. And I would say it's a bit different in a B2B context - the relationship tends to be less personal.

Kay-Viktor Stegemann wrote:
But I believe that most clients will not be happy when they realize that you see them as pupils and yourself as the teacher.

Ha!

*************

The thing is, the reason I'm able to debate this today is that I've had a job delayed until tomorrow so I have nothing to do.

Now the acquiescent translator would have lost a day's pay.

Whereas the deal with my client is that they pay me for today anyway.

Which one of those is right?


 

Andrew Morris

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Stepping stones Apr 30

Enjoying the layers of this debate.

But much of the above is predicated on agencies. Fair enough, they form most of the client base on ProZ.com.

However, if we think beyond them to direct clients, the whole game changes: the rights (and responsibilities), the rewards and the relationships.

In which scenario we ARE B2B.

For me, agencies were only ever a stepping stone to having clients of my own, but I realise that is very much an individual p
... See more
Enjoying the layers of this debate.

But much of the above is predicated on agencies. Fair enough, they form most of the client base on ProZ.com.

However, if we think beyond them to direct clients, the whole game changes: the rights (and responsibilities), the rewards and the relationships.

In which scenario we ARE B2B.

For me, agencies were only ever a stepping stone to having clients of my own, but I realise that is very much an individual point of view and will not suit everyone.

Whatever our choice, they are two very different worlds.

Edited to add:

Plenty of freebies and perks when you buy a BMW, Chris. Still way above Trabant level.
Collapse


 

Tina Vonhof
Canada
Local time: 11:22
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Heart and soul Apr 30

Kay Denney wrote:

I would perhaps not do it straight away, I'd explain that I'm on my way out but will deal with it when I can sit down in peace and think carefully. I can't just come up with something off the top of my head! But I'd definitely get it done quickly. I have so often put my heart and soul into a translation, only to have it ruined by the client adding in his own title, or the layout guy deciding to just type the title in himself instead of copying and pasting as he did for the bulk of the copy. Then I can't use it to show potential clients what I'm capable of. (Anyone wanting to point out that I have samples on my profile here. I don't necessarily want to direct clients here in case they find someone else who's cheaper!)


Your post struck a cord with me, especially the sentence "I have so often put my heart and soul into a translation....". I had a similar experience. First, the editors never asked me a single question. I didn't take this as meaning I did such an excellent job; on the contrary it worried me and, sure enough, once I saw the finished product many months later, I recognized some things I could have said better. Where were the editors? I wish they had called or emailed me, any time day or night.

Note added: this was a private client, a publishing company.


[Edited at 2019-05-01 14:06 GMT]


 

Katalin Horváth McClure  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:22
Member (2002)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Chinese walls Apr 30

Tina Vonhof wrote:

First, the editors never asked me a single question. I didn't take this as meaning I did such an excellent job; on the contrary it worried me and, sure enough, once I saw the finished product many months later, I recognized some things I could have said better. Where were the editors? I wish they had called or emailed me, any time day or night.


Some agencies have an actual policy about having a "Chinese wall" between (i.e completely separating and hiding the identities of) the people who work on the same project in various capacities. I can see some advantages of this, but I think in most cases it causes problems and less-than-optimal outcomes. My favorite clients use a collaborative approach where the translator and the reviewer can communicate and go back-and-forth about certain terms or phrases and ideas. The outcome is considerably better, both in terms of the quality of the finished product and the sanity of the participants. It feels like you actually matter, not like being a small commodity cog in a large machine.


Kay-Viktor Stegemann
Teresa Borges
Sanghyo Lee
Gloria Teixeira
P.L.F.Persio
 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:22
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Every time Apr 30

Tina Vonhof wrote:

....sure enough, once I saw the finished product many months later, I recognized some things I could have said better. Where were the editors? I wish they had called or emailed me, any time day or night.


That happens to me every time. That's why I avoid going back to read old translations I've done. I always find something.

But at the time everyone - including me and whoever was checking my work - thought it was a good job well done.

With passage of time, it seems, the whole world changes, and looking back on something we've done, we will always see how it could have been better. There's probably a law about that. Some sort of universal principle.

[Edited at 2019-04-30 15:30 GMT]


Andrew Morris
 

Katalin Horváth McClure  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:22
Member (2002)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Direct clients: yes, please Apr 30

Andrew Morris wrote:

But much of the above is predicated on agencies. Fair enough, they form most of the client base on ProZ.com.

However, if we think beyond them to direct clients, the whole game changes: the rights (and responsibilities), the rewards and the relationships.


I think most of us know that very well and wish to acquire more direct clients. Do you think ProZ could make some actual improvements in helping us do so? It has been a topic for years.


Sheila Wilson
Mirko Mainardi
Robert Forstag
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Andrew Morris

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TOPIC STARTER
Home Alone Apr 30

Katalin Horváth McClure wrote:

I think most of us know that very well and wish to acquire more direct clients. Do you think ProZ could make some actual improvements in helping us do so? It has been a topic for years.


I can certainly look into that, but at some point in this process we need to spread our wings and face that challenge on our own.

At least that’s been my experience.

For me it was like this:

1) find first agencies on ProZ.com.
2) find better agencies on ProZ.com and ditch the old ones.
3) rinse and repeat
4) now you have a springboard, more confidence, more self-belief, more money in your pocket, more time, and you’re in a better place to scan the horizon for direct clients.

You need that base, that bedrock, or even that trampoline (pick your metaphor) in order to bounce higher and look further afield.


 
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