Rules for dealing with translation clients
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Here are a few tips for dealing with direct clients
and translation agencies (based on personal experience
and accounts of colleagues):
1. Always get your
client to sign a Purchase Order. A written confirmation
by fax or e-mail will do the trick in most jurisdictions.
2. If the agency
requires you to sign a contract for subcontractors,
read it carefully. If there is only the slightest
doubt in your mind, don't sign it. One example
of a "delicate" clause that some agencies
use is the "time of payment clause",
as I call it: in it, the agency states that the
translator will get paid once the agency has received
payment from its end client. Under contract law,
this is completely wrong and should not be signed
by any professional translator. As a matter of
fact, this "transaction" involves two
contracts: one between the agency and its client
and another contract between the agency and the
freelance translator. The latter is completely
independent of the former, and whether or not
the end client ever pays the agency is of no concern
to the translator. In other words, the agency
has to pay the translator according to the contract
between them, even if the end client defaults
on its payment to the agency. Therefore, withholding
payment until payment has come in from the end
client is highly unethical and violates contract
"Train" your clients: explain to them,
in simple language if necessary, what translation
is all about. Do not accept any unrealistic demands
from them (eg, 5,000 words within 24 hours). Many
people out there still believe that translation
involves nothing more than replacing words of
language A with words of language B. Emphasize
that the translation of 1,000 words usually takes
longer than writing those same 1,000 words.
Be strict about your terms of payment: upon initial
contact with the agency (or direct client), explain
your terms to them. Be polite, yet firm. Inform
them that they will be subject to late-payment
interest if they don't pay within the period of
time stipulated. Remember: it is the seller (=
YOU) who sets out the terms of payment, not the
buyer. When you go into a store or order something
online, you have to abide by the seller's terms
and not your own. Most agencies will pay you within
30 days, but there are some, especially in the
Benelux countries, that define payment terms of
45, 60 or more days. Explain to them that the
seller defines those terms and not the buyer.
Sometimes, an agency may tell you that they cannot
pay you on time because of cash flow problems
- that is, after you have already sent them several
reminders for payment. ALARM BELLS! This means:
a) they have lousy clients themselves that don't
pay them (which is not exactly a ringing endorsement
of the agency and its business acumen); b) their
management is really sloppy; c) they are not professional;
AND d) things can only go downhill from there
==> so stop accepting any new jobs from them;
tell them that you may consider working for them
again if and when you have been paid and if and
when they have set their house in order.
6. If you do get
into trouble with an agency, again, be firm. Inform
them that you will have to charge late-payment
interest and that they will also be responsible
for any legal or collection fees you may incur
in the process. You may also want to point out
to them that you will post information about their
payment practices to several payment practices
7. Avoid any agencies
that post jobs on the Internet or contact you
by e-mail but fail to give detailed background
information on themselves (phone number, mailing
Avoid clients that use free e-mail accounts such
as Hotmail or Yahoo - if an agency uses such accounts,
you can rest assured that they are not legit and
professional. A professional agency can afford
either its own server or a professional hosting
9. Avoid agencies
that require an excessive number of words to be
translated by way of a "test" - it could
be a way for them to have a document translated
for free. Remember: standard translation tests
should not exceed 200-250 words.
10. Regarding tests:
even if the sample is only 200-250 words in length,
make sure it is a self-contained text; otherwise,
it might be that they are sending out small portions
of a larger text to a number of translators as
"tests" - again, for the purposes of
getting the translation for free.
11. Beware of UNSOLICITED
e-mails you receive from agencies ("we have
recently come across your name and would like
to invite you to join our team of translators.
Please send us your CV, rates, client list, etc.")
- this is often a trick to "scan" the
competition (they want to know who your clients
are), so if you provide them with 2 or 3 professional
references, they will contact them, not to verify
your work, but to solicit business from your clients!
12. Regarding references:
never, under any circumstances, give out references.
Giving out 2 or 3 references is common practice
when applying for a permanent position, but as
freelancers we cannot do that: we are legally
and ethically bound to keep any and all information
regarding our clients confidential. Therefore,
suggest to the agency that they could send you
either a 200-word test or a small job for which
they would have to pay you a minimum fee ("the
proof of the pudding is in the eating").
This way, the agency does not take on too much
risk and you would not have to breach your clients'
confidentiality. Remember: when you see a new
doctor, you cannot ask the doctor for his/her
patient list either!!!
13. It is always
better to forgo a potential job (in case of any
doubt about the client) than to go through the
hassle and headaches of chasing after your money
14. Stay away from
"telemarketers": if you receive a phone
call from an agency, and that person talks as
fast as a telemarketer or used-car salesperson
and does the whole "sales-pitch dance"
(even though that person may strike you as being
very personable), be polite and end the conversation
as quickly as possible, because, in all probability,
no good will come of this conversation anyway.
15. For larger projects,
charge a "retainer", or down payment,
of about 25%. Demand to be paid in various stages
as the project moves along. Don't beat about the
bush: tell your client that you will still have
to feed and clothe yourself for the duration of
the project (e.g., 2 months) and that you
will not be available to other, regular, clients
for the duration of this project, for which you
need to be compensated. For example, 25% upfront,
another 25% halfway through the project and the
remainder upon completion of the project.
16. Speaking of
"retainer": Do not be afraid to charge
new clients upfront. Depending on the volume of
their first job, you may require as much as 100%
to be paid in advance. Credit is a privilege,
not a right, that must be earned. Asking for payment
upfront is the best way to separate the "wheat
from the chaff" or, put differently,
to separate the crooks from the honest ones.
17. If a client
asks you to acquire special software or any other
product (as a requirement for receiving work),
please check and double-check the facts before
you agree to anything. In most cases, these people
are not real clients, but merely "telemarketers"
or scam artists trying to sell some useless software,
product, etc. Remember: as a professional translator,
you should never have to *PAY* your own clients
.... that would be ridiculous and insane, wouldn't
18. Never, under
any circumstances, accept work sight unseen. When
an agency has a rather difficult or unpleasant
project, they will either call you or send you
an e-mail without any attachments. The idea is
to get you to agree to handle the job without
having had a chance to take a look at it. Some
agencies pull this stunt with unsurprising regularity
around 4 or 5 PM on Friday afternoons. "It's
an urgent job, and we need it ASAP, but no later
than Monday morning." Something like that
gets really "fishy" if the
call comes from an agency you have never worked
with before. Fishy because no professional agency
would ever hand an urgent and important job to
an untested translator. This can mean only thing:
they are trying to set you up and have no intention
of ever paying you. In cases where you do know
the agency, different motives come into play:
they know that most translators would not want
to handle the file because the file format is
awkward (e.g., source text is available as a hardcopy
or, worse, fax copy only) or because it is a generally
difficult text. By just "cold-calling"
you, they hope you will give them a quote and
agree to do it just like that ("Hey, that
agency is calling me. Man, that makes me feel
really important! Can't say no now!"). Then
you receive the file and have the shock of your
19. Volumes: In
Europe, many translation agencies go by the following
standards: 1,000 words a day (normal volume) and
2,000 words (express/rush). Personally, I believe
that any professional should be able to handle
2,000 words a day, and 2,000 words is the standard
most commonly applied. Never agree to any volumes
that you cannot handle.
20. Always deliver
on time or ahead of schedule. This will not only
ensure repeat business; it is also the professional
thing to do. Too many translators today deliver
late sometimes as much as 48 hours after
the deadline has passed. Tardiness is a growing
"disease" in our profession these days,
and many clients are already painfully aware of
this trend. S0, by delivering on time or early,
you can score some major "brownie points".
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