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Managing unprofitable work
Thread poster: Claire Titchmarsh
Claire Titchmarsh  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:31
Italian to English
+ ...
Apr 3, 2007

Coping with interruptions, small files and persistent clients, et al.

Hello everybody. I hope you're having a more productive day than me today

Having spent all of yesterday getting very little work done because I was fending off trivial phone calls and e-mails with requests for six-word translations on outlandish and diverse topics, I am just curious to know how other translators organise their time.

Do you have a minimum order (based on price or no. of words)? If so, do you manage to make it stick? I find that after a while clients tend to "try it on" and expect you to interrupt whatever you are doing and send their incredibly urgent two-liner on some topic you did 3 months ago. It seems churlish to refuse but I have come to realise that this kind of thing can affect the quality of my "real" work, as I constantly have to break off and lose my train of thought. How do you deal with this?

Also, how do you deal with (low-paying) clients who won't go away? I have recently cut down the number of agencies I work for, saying that I would no longer be available, but they keep phoning me. I find it hard, on the phone, to refuse without seeming rude, especially when I am concentrating on something else. Anyone had any similar experiences?


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Sonia Hill
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:31
Member (2010)
Italian to English
I have exactly the same problems Apr 3, 2007

I introduced a minimum charge (set quite low) last year and most of my clients have respected it. However, several of my clients still interrupt me for one-liners, which I generally translate for free. While I don't mind doing this if it is occasional, I have one agency who has been contacting me regularly and doesn't even say thank you!

Another agency often contacts me through Skype to ask for advice about jobs that have nothing to do with me. I don't like to say no, but it does interrupt my chain of thought.

I keep trying to get rid of low-paying clients, but like you have several who just won't go away. I am often made to feel rude/ungrateful if I turn their jobs down, but then regret it if I do take them on as a better paying job is bound to turn up if I do so.

I'm going to be going on "maternity leave" for a few months from August onwards, so my current plan is to put my prices up significantly when I return to work and refuse to accept anything less. However, I generally find that this is easier said than done!


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Daina Jauntirans  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:31
German to English
+ ...
Do the two-liners / Still looking for ways to optimize Apr 3, 2007

Hi Claire,

Yes, I have the same problems. As far as the interruptions, I don't get many calls after 10am or so due to the time difference between the US and Europe, so I have a built-in buffer there. I usually do the two-line requests to keep customers happy, but not too many ask for those. Two suggestions on how to keep the interruptions to a minimum: let the answering machines take calls during certain times, and only check e-mail at certain intervals (my difficulty - I check all the time).

Lower paying customers seem to be amazingly persistent, and I'm still working on "optimizing my client base." I have a few clients like this who were good clients when I was building my business, but as my rates have crept up, theirs have stayed the same, so I can't justify continuing accepting low-paid jobs when I could get higher-paid ones. What I do is regularly send them e-mails or let them know on the phone that I am booked (which is true). But I do fit small jobs on occasion. When I am tempted to cave in, I remember how I dread extra work when I am tired and how I love writing the invoices for the higher paid work. You could also write up a short script to post near the phone ("Thank you for calling. I am booked at the moment and cannot take any more work." - whatever works for you!) Anything to steel your resolve!

Now I have to get back to the two little interruptions coloring on my office floor...

[Edited at 2007-04-03 15:23]


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Burrell  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:31
Member (2004)
English to Latvian
+ ...
You are too nice for your own good Apr 3, 2007

I do agree - these things take the valuable time one can spend doing "real" work. There is also another category of time wasters - the ones who want your details on their data base or who want you to enter your details in their newly established online data base even if you have never done a single job for them. They are just time wasters.
Speaking about your particular category of time wasters (tiny jobs) I have a minimum fee for all jobs under 450 words long and charge it even if it is just a sentence because it does take time as you noted. I have one client who sends me loads of small jobs and this is the only case where I do not apply the minimum fee. Once the minimum fee is in force, it does become profitable actually.
As to the old clients that you are trying to get rid of - just inform them that as of yesterday your rates have gone up and you would be very happy to work with them, if they accept these rates. You can even explain that you have raised your rates for other clients already 6 months or a year ago and now cannot delay it any further. Usually that works, at least it worked for me. You are putting them off in a very polite manner.


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ST Translations
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:31
French to English
Avoiding phone calls! Apr 3, 2007

You could get phone screening - you can see who is calling and then ignore them if it's someone you don't want to speak to! I also like Burrel's idea of raising your rates, that should do the trick!

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Laura Gentili  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 13:31
Member (2003)
English to Italian
+ ...
Different kinds of clients Apr 3, 2007

For some reason, there seem to be two different kinds of clients: the ones who pay you a minimum fee (1 hour) even if it's only 1 word and the ones who bother you with small jobs for free, unpaid changes, etc. The ones who consider a post DTP proof of your translation included in the original translation fee, and the ones who consider it as a separate job (if they had to give it to someone, shouldn't they pay for it) and pay it accordingly. Weird, isn't it?

As for unreasonable, time-consumming requests, I have a client who is really unreasonable. She keeps asking me to help her finding translators in all possible language pairs. I keep telling her to use ProZ but... no way, she expects me to help her. We started working together in 1995 so I find it difficult to say no to her. At the beginning she would ask me to help her find, for example, Italian into English translators. Then German into Italian ones. Then English into Danish ones...
You see, with these people if you are nice and polite, there is no end to their requests. You have to be very firm.

Good luck!
Laura


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Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 13:31
Italian to English
Take the initiative Apr 3, 2007

Inform your customers that you have a minimum charge (your rate for a standard Italian cartella will be about right) and then when they ring - or worse, email without prior warning - to give you a fiddly, urgent little job, they will be expecting your email to tell them that you will be adding the fee to their month-end bill.

Actually, I have several excellent direct customers who do this sort of thing . They expect to pay the equivalent of a cartella for each phone call or email, which makes them think twice before doing so, and are genuinely pleased when I do a job for nothing now and again.

If customers value your work, they won't mind the charge and if they don't, you really don't want to know them anyway.

FWIW

Giles


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xxxBrandis
Local time: 13:31
English to German
+ ...
Minimum fee is the right approach... Apr 3, 2007

Hi!
Apart from call screening, min. fee regulation is necessary. I do it, but normally only in case of those clients that have proven collaboration experience with me (either over time or good projects and the communication is positive and there is a supportive collaboration document) but lately I am noticing even they are wandering away, it may be because of severe competition on the market or too many outsourcers selling the services a throwaway prices, would force translators working for a very low price down to further lower pricing. Lately I had recd. a Note from a known client (donot wish to mention the country here) , he was infact a noble client for many years, the note said "it is not that we have no english into german translators that do the job for USD 0.03 per word, we are willing to pay you one more dollar extra cent, because you are from germany" I had to write back, " then you should go for your local translators, you cannot go because you are bound by your local jurisdiction and your translators catch up with you. You are using internet trade as a matter of escape mechanism". I knew I was right, because of multiple issues lately, where I had delivered full work, and they had manimupated the target file, so that it comes to a lower word count or lower final payable." It is hence becomiing ever important not to base your work on known trust basis, but get everything in written form. May be that would help somewhat. Tell your customers also that you do not translate on the phone and that translation is about more than writing. Written agreements enjoy as in any or every court around the globe a special status, than the trust based business, unless you have a recurring / circular contract of some kind. Brandis


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Nicole Johnson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 13:31
Italian to English
+ ...
If you really want to get nitpicky... Apr 3, 2007

There is probably some form of Project Management billing software that you could install on your computer and whenever one of these clients calls or e-mails about a "short but urgent" translation ("Ma non ci vorrà niente!"), you could start the clock (including the time it takes for you to discuss the issue on the phone, read the e-mails, do the actual translation, send it off, etc. which I'm sure would add up to at least a half hour of your time, even for a one or two sentece request.

This is pretty much what the others have suggested with the idea of a minimum charge (measured by the hour, by the "cartella" in jelly beans or whatever) but at least the client would see in black and white how much of your valuable time they actually take up in each month with these types of requests.

Good luck Claire, and maybe yesterday was just one of those days!


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Jennifer Baker  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:31
Member (2004)
Italian to English
My coping mechanisms Apr 4, 2007

Hi Claire,

I've also been grappling with the same issues. I think running our own businesses is a hit or miss situation and you learn as you go.
For me, 2007 has been a year for raising my rates considerably and trying (sometimes in vain) to stop working for pesky, low paying clients, or those who take advantage of my willingness to make myself available whenever possible. I've been applying a minimum rate of one cartella for EVERYTHING. I also raised my rates to my current "high rate" with all of my clients. I don't make discounts for repetitions with new clients, and I try to be the one to set payment deadlines. I informed those who said they could only offer me a lower rate that I would accept jobs from them only after giving priority to my higher-paying clients. So far, I haven't had to do that yet this year, since I've been quite busy. I use Skype with almost all of my clients, so when I am totally booked I place a message next to my name on the contact list saying that I am fully booked until ...... . As far as the telephone goes, I despise it when it rings, so I try to do most of my business through e-mail and Skype. I spend quite a lot of time in the United States, and as one of our colleagues mentioned, that provides quite a buffer.
Having said all this, this has all been easier said than done. How I relate to your comment about feeling rude on the telephone! And it certainly wasn't easy for me to put my foot down in regards to rates and a minimum fee. One thing I've learned and try to remember is that in this business if I don't place a value on my services and time, no one else will.
Thanks for this topic-

Jennifer


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xxxMarc P  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:31
German to English
+ ...
The perfect solution Apr 4, 2007

...for those unprofitable clients:

www.proz.com/topic/69842



Marc


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Richard Benham  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 13:31
German to English
+ ...
What’s a cartella? Apr 4, 2007

I don’t have a great problem with small jobs. The one client who used to pester me with them has been blown away for quite different reasons. In general, however, I have a minimum fee of 50 euros which I don’t enforce for regular clients or first-timers. This means I hardly get to enforce it at all, but at least it’s there for when I need it.

You guys think you’ve got a problem with phone calls? I sometimes get called at 2am for jobs that are (allegedly) coming in 2 weeks’ time!


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Jenny Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:31
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Minimum charge, definitely Apr 4, 2007

Richard Benham wrote:

I don’t have a great problem with small jobs. The one client who used to pester me with them has been blown away for quite different reasons. In general, however, I have a minimum fee of 50 euros which I don’t enforce for regular clients or first-timers. This means I hardly get to enforce it at all, but at least it’s there for when I need it.

You guys think you’ve got a problem with phone calls? I sometimes get called at 2am for jobs that are (allegedly) coming in 2 weeks’ time!


Hullo everyone,
I've made a minimum charge for years, which is probably quite high - £17.50 - what I'd earn for about 350 words - and I stick to it firmly, because these fiddly little jobs are a nuisance, distracting, and I don't want them, basically. It seems to work. For a really good client who wants just a sentence translated in a hurry, I'd probably do it for nothing.

Like Richard, I too am mystified by "cartella" - sounds like a delicious Italian dish.

And don't knock the phone - I'd rather be telephoned about a job than miss out on it.

Regards,
Jenny.


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Jennifer Baker  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:31
Member (2004)
Italian to English
A cartella Apr 4, 2007

Hi Richard-
A cartella is an Italian page (1500 keystrokes).

Jennifer


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Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 13:31
Italian to English
A cartella is... Apr 4, 2007

Hi Jenny and Richard,

A "cartella" is Italian translationspeak for a standard page.

Like all interesting words, it has a wide range of meanings

Just as a standard line can vary in the German-speaking markets, a "cartella" in Italy can range from a legal page of 1,250 keystrokes to 1,800/2,000 for a publishing one, or even 3,000/3,300 for the "cartella" used by some universities. Simon Turner's useful "Tariffometro" explains it all (in Italian though):

http://www.turner.it/tariffometro.htm

The standard page most widely used by agencies and other commercial customers has 1,500 keystrokes.

Needless to say, aspiring translators in the fascinating country in which Claire and I are privileged to practice our craft quickly learn to ask for the number of keystrokes in the source document and then divide by 1,500 or whatever to make an offer per "cartella".

HTH

Giles

[Edited at 2007-04-04 07:43]


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