It’s a Courtesy…

Translator mailing lists and message boards are full of translators asking, “Can you charge extra for…?” (formatting, translating from a poor-quality PDF, talking to the client’s staff on the phone, and so on). If the client is an agency, you have to negotiate those extra charges (or extra unpaid work) directly with them. But here’s my solution for when you’re working with direct clients (and of course you can agree, disagree, or offer your own solution).

  1. Charge the client an all-inclusive rate that’s high enough to cover the occasional unexpected “extra” service: for example the client needs hard copies of a translation with your Certified Translator stamp on them, necessitating an impromptu run to FedEx. What’s that you say…you passed the ATA exam and you never downloaded your Certified Translator seal to have a stamp made? Well, you’d better take care of that right now!
  2. Then, don’t nickle-and-dime the client for these small extra services. Of course if you spend hours on an extra task, you should charge for it. But the FedEx run, the 15-minute phone consultation, the 33-word e-mail that the client forgot to ask you to translate…don’t make a big deal out of those.
  3. But don’t let the client simply forget about them either; it’s a good reminder of the value of a professional translator, and of why the client pays you a premium rate in the first place. My solution: put those items on your invoice, and in the column where you would normally include the cost, write “Courtesy.” “Overnight delivery of hard copies: Courtesy.” “Press release headline suggestions: Courtesy,” and so on. This will jog the client’s memory, remind them of how you helped them out in a pinch, and hopefully help you retain them as a premium client. To me, adding an extra charge for a task that took 10 minutes looks a bit petty and desperate; better to charge a higher rate overall and then do those Courtesy services without additional billing.

I’ve been wanting to add some videos to this blog for a while, and my very courageous colleague and friend Karen Tkaczyk agreed to be my test interviewee. Karen has an Ikea Bekant sit-stand desk that she really loves. Note from Ikea: The BEKANT sit/stand option is currently unavailable in stores. The delay only affects the sit/stand desk and does not affect the rest of the BEKANT series. There’s a labeling issue on the product, so it’s currently unavailable for sale until this issue can be remedied. Unfortunately we do not yet know how long this will take. IKEA is working this correction, but it is not a quick process. The other sit-stand desk that Karen mentioned in the interview is the Ergotron. Thanks Karen, and hopefully this is the inauguration of a series of interesting video interviews!

If you use SDL Trados Studio, you may have already upgraded to Studio 2014, or you may be thinking about upgrading. I purchased the upgrade a few months ago, and here are some thoughts on it:

  • I use only the basic features in Studio (create projects, use TMs and glossaries, use the concordance and filters), but in general I like Studio 2014. I don’t use SDL Language Cloud or any MT or QA plugins, or any of the project management features, so I can’t really comment on those. But for the features I use, the upgrade to 2014 was fairly painless, and the ribbon-style interface is easy to use.
  • My biggest mental block with Studio is still the darned dynamic menus. Multiple times, I’ve been beating my head against the desk, trying to figure out why the “Add files” menu item was greyed-out or impossible to find, only to remember that you have to be in the source language view for that option to show. I know that this is a deliberate decision by SDL, but I’m still getting used to it.
  • Blessedly, the Java applet associated with MultiTerm is being eliminated in SP2, which SDL plans to release in about a week. This will be great; the Java applet is slow and aggravating (and I have a slow computer, so it’s really, really slow) which creates a disincentive to add terms on the fly.
  • I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if you’re switching to Studio from a simpler tool, or if you’re learning a TM tool for the first time and starting with Studio, do not try to learn to use it on your own. Think of it like learning Photoshop or InDesign; it’s not something that you just install and learn how to use in a couple of hours. Either hire a trainer (Tuomas Kostiainen offers remote training on your own computer; several of my students have used him and raved about it) or buy the manual (see below) and go through it step by step.

I’ll reserve a special mention for Mats Linder’s Trados Studio Manual. It’s truly awesome. Disclosure: Mats provided me with a free review copy of the manual when he released it. You can purchase the manual for US $49 from Mats’ website or for the same price from the SDL OpenExchange website. It’s no wonder that this manual has *all* five-star reviews on the SDL site and has been downloaded almost 1,800 times. Whether you’re wondering where you type the translation (as I wondered when I first opened the software), or how to write regular expressions for use in Studio, this manual literally has it all.

Readers, other thoughts on Studio 2014?

ATA55: the highlights

I’m back (physically at least!) from the 55th annual conference of the American Translators Association in Chicago. By all measures, the conference was a great success. We had 1,842 attendees, which is our second-largest conference ever. It would take a lot to top the 2,400 attendees we had for our 50th anniversary conference in New York, but we did top San Francisco, which was the previous second-largest. With the huge volume of session proposals we received this year (I think over 400 for about 125 slots), conference organizer David Rumsey was able to winnow them down to the very best sessions, and many of the new features (translation Tool Trainings as preconference seminars, a business brainstorming mixer to replace the speed networking session, a Tool Bar where people could get 10-20 minutes of free, one-on-one tech support) were very well received. We also added comment cards to the annual meeting so that if people didn’t want to or didn’t have time to speak during the open comment time, they could still give feedback to the Board. But don’t take my word for it…watch this great highlights video and see for yourself! And if you’re wondering where/when ATA is meeting in 2015, 2016 and 2017, here’s the future conference sites page. See you in Miami next year!

You also might be interested in:
Jill Sommer’s wrapup post on attending and presenting at ATA55
Nicholas Sturtevant’s post on attending ATA55 as a newbie
Erin Rosales’ post on following ATA55 online
Jeff Alfonso’s post on the social aspects of ATA55

Off to ATA55!

I’ll be out of the office for the rest of the week, to attend the 55th annual conference of the American Translators Association in Chicago. If you’re a blog reader and we haven’t met in person, definitely come shake hands! I’ll be speaking on a panel (The Freelance Juggling Act) on Thursday morning, and one of my goals for the conference is to get lots of photos of people doing a “five five” (holding up five fingers on each hand; or two people can do it together and each hold up five fingers) in honor of 55 ATA conferences! My good friend and colleague Eve Bodeux even awarded this a hashtag, #fivefive. So, get your #fivefive on and we’ll see you at the opening reception tomorrow night!

Addendum 1: It’s sometimes difficult to write lengthy blog posts during the conference, but I’ll definitely be posting updates and photos on Twitter.

Addendum 2: I noticed today that my blog reached its one millionth view (over the course of almost seven years, but still exciting!). So, literally, thanks a million for reading!

A student in my online class asks: how do you know who the “big payers” are in a given industry, and how do you find them or help them find you?

That could be a whole course in and of itself; but here are my thoughts in a nutshell:

Every industry or sector has “big payers.” For example, when I tell people that I do mostly international development translation, they often say “But isn’t it all small NGOs run out of someone’s garage on a shoestring budget?” And yes, there are *tons* of those small “garage” NGOs out there that always need pro bono translators. But the real “big payers” in the development sector are companies that get huge contracts from USAID and other entities like that. For those clients, a contract of $50 million would be considered medium-sized. A big grant from an entity like the Gates Foundation would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars; so these clients are much more concerned with quality, consistency and confidentiality than with saving a few cents per word.

Here’s another example: another student in the class is interested in art-related translation, and I suggested looking at art law. Like my example above, you’re going to find tons of small players in the art sector who have little to no money, and might be a good target for pro bono translation. But envision if a large museum in the US is doing a major exhibit on, let’s say, Frida Kahlo, and they’re going to borrow a bunch of paintings from museums in Mexico. Again, here, we’re talking huge amounts of money: paintings that are insured for millions of dollars and have to travel under certain conditions and with an attendant from the “home” museum at all times; and they have to be displayed only under certain conditions, and hung a certain way. And they have to be evaluated by a curator before they leave the home museum to check for damage and all of that stuff, but all of that stuff is in Spanish. Same with the books and brochures associated with a traveling exhibit; they probably already exist, but in Spanish. So again, there would be a lot of translation work there, with an enormous cost of failure for the museum.

So, how do you land those kinds of clients? A few tips: first, you make sure that if they are just blindly looking for someone online, they find you. You are on LinkedIn and you have a website that clearly describes your services. Also, you have a large network of other translators who refer work to you because you are ultra-trustworthy and never let down the clients who someone refers to you. Also, you hang out in places where your target clientele hangs out; you are a member of their professional associations, and you go to their conferences and things like that. But, you also do not wait for them to find you; let’s say that you see a notice in the local press that a museum in your city is doing that big Frida Kahlo exhibit; they just signed the contract! So you fire off an e-mail that’s low-key but well written, and say something like this to the person who’s listed as the contact: “Dear Ms. Simpson: I just read the news in the local paper about your upcoming Frida Kahlo exhibit. How exciting, and what a great cultural opportunity for the art community in town. I’m a professional Spanish-English translator specializing in fine arts, and I can envision that you might need someone to help with translations related to this exhibit. If so, feel free to keep my contact information on file. In any case, thank you so much for bringing this incredible event to our city, and I’ll definitely be looking forward to the exhibition!”

So, that’s very brief, but there’s the basic concept of how the “high payer” world works, in my experience. Readers, other thoughts?

A student in my online course asks, “What do I respond when a client comments that my rates are really high?” Good question, student! Because if you’re running your business the right way, someone, someday, and maybe even lots of people almost every day, will think that you’re too expensive. Which leads us to rule number one of pricing: If no one ever thinks that your rates are too high, that means that they’re too low. Or at least that you could be charging more. Also remember that numerous wise people who have gone before you (in my case, my accountant) have commented something like “Your rates should make people sit up and take notice, but not jump across the desk at you.” Point being, as long as you have enough work, you want a decent percentage of potential clients to find your rates expensive.

But back to the question: what do you say to the sticker-shocked client? Well first, what is the client actually saying? Note that in this example, the client did not say, “You are an imposter and you’re not worth what you’re charging.” You may have heard that, but that’s not what the client said. So, let’s say that you’re on the phone and the client remarks that your rates are high/expensive/more than they planned on spending. What do you respond? Nothing. Zippo. The client did not ask a question; they simply made an observation, so you don’t need to say anything. All the client did was make an observation: that is more than we planned on paying, for example. But no one likes a big, awkward silence in a conversation, so you can either make a non-committal utterance (“Mmm?” “Mmm hmmm”), or you can quietly and slowly take an extremely deep inhale/exhale breath, to give yourself something to do while the client mulls it over.

Let’s say this happens over e-mail, and then you have to actually respond. Or it’s on the phone, and in addition to the “that’s really expensive” observation, the client actually asks if you can do the job for less. A few options:

  • In my opinion, the best defense is a factual one, like “Your project sounds really interesting and I’d love to work with you. But to be honest, I’m busy all the time at my regular rates, so I cannot offer a discount at this time.” You’re simply telling the truth in a respectful way.
  • Ask, “What budget did you have in mind?” If the client is honest about their budget, this gives you an idea of whether you’re 10% different or 90% different.
  • Educate: tell the client something like, “I agree, high-quality work is never inexpensive. Also, translation might be more time-consuming than you realize if you haven’t worked with many translators before. For example, your 10,000 word document would represent at least a week of work for me, and I would be working entirely on your project during that time.”
  • Be a little snarky. Not that I’m advocating this, but it’s an option, like “Then you might need to find someone whose experience is more in line with your budget.” I do sometimes tell potential clients, “To be honest, I don’t know any professional translators who work for that rate.” A potential client once asked me if I charged “for the little words,” and I responded “Only if you want them translated.” I don’t want to get sarcastic or condescending on clients, but I think that with certain people, a little humor can work.
  • Negotiate on factors other than price: if you do honestly want to work with this client but the issue is their budget and they’re not budging, find non-financial factors that might make a difference. How about a really long deadline so you’re not tied up for days/weeks with their project? Do they produce a product or service that they could offer you for free, as a trade for part of the translation fee?

Wise readers, any other thoughts here?


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