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Bad business practices
Thread poster: Claudia Alvis

Claudia Alvis  Identity Verified
Peru
Local time: 16:00
Partial member
Spanish
+ ...
Dec 2, 2008

Warning: Rant mode on!

Several months ago I outsourced a job for an old client of mine. The documents were somehow private, so the translator had to sign two NDA's, one for me and one for my client. The project went really smooth, the translator did a good job--the proofreader did find a few mistakes but nothing major, so I kept calling this translator for this and other projects.

This morning I got an email from this client, he wanted me to bold the only two titles in one of the documents (a 2-page document that is) ASAP. This file was delivered months ago but it was attached in the email. But I was at the doctor's office and somehow I couldn't open Word, so I called the translator and asked her if she could do it and she said yes--I couldn't have asked somebody else because of the confidentiality issue. Indeed, I forwarded her the file and I got it back in less than one minute.

Charging my client for something like this didn't even cross my mind because it was such a minuscule task, so was I surprised when, about an hour later, I got a very detailed, signed! invoice from the translator for her minimum fee: $35.00. I was blinded by such a display of pettiness, I was angry OK?, so that I didn't even want to deal with her, EVER. I transferred the money to her account and sent her a "have a great life" email. I see now that I could have asked her for a discount or something, but I was very upset and I wanted to say so much more, so I just shut up and paid.

Needless to say, I won't be calling her ever again for anything; she even used me as a reference (that's a phone call I can't wait to receive). I do see the point of minimum charges, but this was plain usury and stupidity. Writing, signing, printing and scanning the invoice took longer than the actual job! Besides it's a bad move from a business and a marketing point of view, I wasn't asking for a free job, but 35 dollars for less than one minute is insane. Besides, we talked on the phone and she didn't say anything about a minimum fee, let alone for the whole hour.

Sorry for the rant, but I needed to get it out of my system.

Claudia

PS. Do you have other horror stories like this to share?


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 23:00
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Was it a mistake recording the task? Dec 2, 2008

Although I completely share your views, I think that a discussion with the other person would have allowed you to clarify the clearly excessive charge. Maybe she made a mistake recording the task and invoiced more than she originally planned.

Yes, I know, I know. I played the Devil's advocate here. I simply agree with you. We do plenty of little tasks like that, even translating whole sentences and paragraphs, as freebies for our main customers. They are always very generous and do offer a PO and a payment and everything, but I think that if they are requesting tens of thousands of words every year, we can perfectly offer them some freebies worth a couple of hundred dollars, can't we?


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Claudia Alvis  Identity Verified
Peru
Local time: 16:00
Partial member
Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Definitely not a mistake Dec 2, 2008

Thank you for your input Tomás. At first I also thought that she (or me) had made a mistake, but I read and re-read her invoice many times. Her invoice included the service ("Editing") and the detailed description (four lines to indicate what was bolded, that I had called her on the phone, that this was part of a project that was closed months ago, and even the project number, which she HAD to look up because we used a project number back then but it wasn't anywhere on the emails). The invoice also included a note about the minimum fee which is for an hour. So no mistake.

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Mikhail Kropotov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 00:00
Member (2005)
English to Russian
+ ...
A possible rationale Dec 2, 2008

She expected you to charge your client a minimum/hourly fee for this job. She helped you out when you could not do the job yourself, so she should be the one receiving that fee (or HER minimum/hourly fee, at least).

Doesn't that seem rational?


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 17:00
English to French
+ ...
Partially agree with Tomàs - but... Dec 2, 2008

I agree with Tomàs that there may have been other ways to deal with this - but that doesn't take away from the fact that the translator acted out of bad faith. In any commercial dealing, whether it be in translation, sales of widgets, dentistry, even prostitution, etc., a service provider or merchant always names a price and has the client agree to it before carrying out work. Legally speaking (although I am not an attorney), there was no PO, so it follows that there should be no invoice either. It's just plain rude to consider there was a PO and act as though there was one when there wasn't any.

Then, there is also the question of sense of business. I am not saying that clients should take their suppliers for granted and bother them incessantly with small requests, but if a businessperson wants to be in good standing with clients, that businessperson needs to be helpful, that is, they need to give a hand when a small problem or question comes up. I do that all the time with my regular clients, and even when they offer to pay for term questions or assessing the translation quality of three sentences, tasks that take a mere three minutes out of my day, I still don't charge them. It's called loyalty. They give me business, that is, cold hard cash, and I am not going to bite the hand that feeds me. That's just me, and I realize we don't all see things that way. But I know that I always prefer to buy from businesses that give good service, and I shy away from those who want me to pay for support calls by the minute.

In any case, I make it clear with clients that I offer free after-sale customer service on all translations they purchase from me, forever. As long as requests are reasonable, I provide explanations, insight and corrections, even if the actual job was delivered a year ago. And clients react very positively to this, which gives me an edge. Maybe that translator should give this some consideration.


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Goran Tasic  Identity Verified
Serbia
Local time: 23:00
English to Serbian
+ ...
How come... Dec 2, 2008

...your client couldn't do this on his own???? I mean, to bold up a text even my 6 year son could do, once I show him how to do it. Really weird.

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Nicolas Coyer  Identity Verified
Colombia
Local time: 16:00
Spanish to French
+ ...
Bad communication? Dec 2, 2008

Mikhail Kropotov wrote:

She expected you to charge your client a minimum/hourly fee for this job. She helped you out when you could not do the job yourself, so she should be the one receiving that fee (or HER minimum/hourly fee, at least).

Doesn't that seem rational?


I agree with Mikhail. Was she expecting you to charge your client? Maybe more communication about this beforehand would have helped clear any misunderstanding. Usually, when my clients expect me to do them a "favor" (ie offer a freebie), they suggest it in their e-mail, and I can then accept that, charge for it (if I am comfortable enough with the client or if they already get a preferential rate), or say that I am too busy.
We all receive a lot of small adjustments/feedback, whatever you want to call it, every day, and although they are small, and often no-brainers, we sometimes have to set aside a bigger project to take care of those tweakings, and that means losing track of what we were doing, cluttering our screen with more windows, etc (spending time on it, not only for pressing Ctrl+B).
IMHO, both sides are to blame here: no clear expectations on one side, and no clear statement of minimum fee application on the other side. And I could surely add more, but it all boils down to miscommunication.


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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:00
French to English
Another devil's advocate! Dec 2, 2008

Viktoria Gimbe wrote:
Legally speaking (although I am not an attorney), there was no PO, so it follows that there should be no invoice either. It's just plain rude to consider there was a PO and act as though there was one when there wasn't any.


That might be true in Canada, but it is not true in the UK. A PO is not necessary to create a contractual relationship.
Edit to add the point being that it is a hazardous business making unequivocal assertions about matters of law on international forums - the law is not the same everywhere


Anyway, if the person is not simply a money grubber, then Mikhail's explanation seems likely to me.

One question remains, however.
What sort of client is unable to put a couple of headings in bold? Would it not have been easier simply to talk them through the procedure?
Are they gonna call in two months time and ask for the bold to be removed and for underlining to be added?
Do they have issues with shoelaces?
Would they like me to come round and chop some vegetables for them?

[Edited at 2008-12-02 21:21 GMT]


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tinageta  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:00
English to Latvian
+ ...
Was it the first request? Dec 2, 2008

I mean, if I had a client who often bothered me with such silliness, I would finally charge the minimum fee for educational purposes!

All in all, I'm with Charlie. LOL.

[Edited at 2008-12-02 21:52 GMT]


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Claudia Alvis  Identity Verified
Peru
Local time: 16:00
Partial member
Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
A little more information Dec 2, 2008

Just to clear thing up: this was an on-going project that lasted several weeks, a few months ago. I know that the company has, or at least had, a DTP team that was in charge of the most complex files like brochures and newsletters; since the Word files were very simple and we didn't have a lot of time, we (two translators, one proofreader and me) were in charge of doing the formatting of the Word files. This involved modifying the fonts, adding or removing pages, editing hyperlinks, translating the updated versions, etc. After delivering the translated files, I was told to add the modifications, sometimes the next day, sometimes after several weeks. When I couldn't do it, I asked the translators or the proofreader to do it. That time was charged, invoiced and payed by the hour, every two weeks, NOT after each modification--that was both ways. The proofreading+translation was a separate service. That was very clear from the beginning.

Now, this morning I called the translator, and told her I needed a quick favor ASAP, I briefly told her what I wanted, and I remember telling her something like 'it's just this one time thing' or something like that. We've worked together before, and for ongoing projects, I asked her to send me her invoice every two weeks. She agreed. There was no confusion on that respect, I'm 100% positive and the proof is in the invoice delivered almost immediately. I didn't plan anything ahead because the whole "process", from the moment I got the email until I delivered it, took less than 5 minutes.

Why didn't my client did it himself? I have no idea. But it wouldn't have been the first time with this client or with others. Maybe, like me, he had a problem with MS-Word, maybe he was too busy, maybe he didn't have a computer or Word installed, and he used his phone to send me the file. I really don't know but that's beyond the point, I think. I don't know if he was expecting me to send him an invoice, he seemed grateful when I told him that it was free of charge but I doubt he was surprised. I told him that not because I was feeling generous or because I wanted to go the extra mile or because I didn't request a PO, I didn't charge him because I would have felt stupid charging anyone for something like that. For the record, I do pay and charge minimum fees, but c'mon, one hour!

Viktoria said:
And clients react very positively to this, which gives me an edge.

I fully agree. Good translators are actually easy to find, so providing the better service is always a good idea.

Thank you all for your comments. The funniest (in a sad, sad way) is that the actual "job", that took less than one minute to do, has actually taken so much more time from all of us, so I really appreciate your time reading and posting your opinions.

Claudia


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 22:00
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
I don't see anything unreasonable here Dec 2, 2008

There may have been a miscommunication somewhere, and I am surprised that the subject of minimum fees had not come up before, but in principle I think the translator's billing was justified. We get a lot of little requests like this and have one dear client who can take a one-paragraph translation and pester us for five days with questions betraying his utter lack of understanding of English vocabulary, and there comes a point where one must attach a price to such fun to act as a filter. When all the "little favors" to a dozen people a day add up to several lost hours that have to be made up somewhere, where are we supposed to start making those "special exceptions". As an outsourcer, you should be pleased that the translator was able to respond and help you where you lacked the resources to do so otherwise. I assume you have made a healthy profit off her work in the past and might have continued to do so in the future. By cutting her off this way, you are only hurting yourself.

$35 is certainly not very much money, not enough to be worth ditching a productive relationship. It might have been better to pay and perhaps just tell her quite honestly that you were unaware of her minimum charge policy but that you appreciated her timely service so much that you were glad to pay her. Or would you have been happier if she walked the dog for a while before helping you?

The fact that you might not charge your end customer is no concern of hers. That is your business decision.

****

Edited to add:
Good translators are actually easy to find, so providing the better service is always a good idea.


Ah, I see. I forgot you do Spanish. Well, by all means, ditch her then and pick the next winner from the crowd. I'm usually in favor of resolving conflicts by other means and preserving relationships that have generally proved worthwhile, but this does not apply of course to a commodity language like Spanish. $35 is $35 after all

You and Viktoria are right about the good service, of course, and I probably would have handled it quite differently. My minimum for dealing with stuff like this is lower, and I do apply it selectively in some cases. I can certainly understand the surprise and irritation given the usual invoicing practice for the ongoing project. But I do think you lost the moral high ground on this one and - had you been working in a different language pair - wasted a good working relationship for nothing.

[Edited at 2008-12-02 22:44 GMT]


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Kaiya J. Diannen  Identity Verified
Australia
Member (2008)
German to English
Live and learn Dec 2, 2008

Claudia Alvis wrote: I wasn't asking for a free job, but ...


As others have pointed out, it seems that the lack of clarity was perpetuated by both sides, so you're both reaping the rewards, so to speak.

One factor to take into consideration here is that you state that this was an "ongoing project... a few months ago". The translator might have felt that her role in this project was finished at that time. So calling her now might give the appearance of only temporarily "re-opening" a closed project, providing the translator no motivation to hold off her invoicing.

If she had sometime in the past stated that she expected a minimum of an hour's pay for modifications, even if they didn't take a full hour, she might very well have expected you to understand that this is what she was going to do in this situation (especially since it sounds a bit like a "rush - drop everything" request).

I'm not defending this or grading it on a scale of reasonableness, only saying that you had one set of assumptions, perhaps perfectly valid, but that she may also have been acting under another, completely different and equally valid set of assumptions, and that both of you failed to verify these with the other party.

woops


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Cristina Heraud-van Tol  Identity Verified
Peru
Local time: 16:00
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Claudia, I agree with you! Dec 2, 2008

Some people just want to become rich as easy as possible!! For me it's amazing. Even when a client forgot a paragraph in a translation I've just finished for him, I never charge that extra. Amazingly, sometimes they insist on paying me, but it's always something like $5 or $10 extra, not more.

I don't know in other countries, but perhaps we are accustomed here that anything we do in our profession is a helpful service, and if we can do something that will really not bother us at all, sthg. that will not demand almost anything from us, a tiny bit, we never charge. My gardener takes cut twigs to a special disposal place for free, on his way back home; the flower seller in a good mood gives me a flower for free; and the dermatologist who checks me, and is a food friend of my father, never charges for the consultation.

Incredible to see that even among colleagues, this sometimes is not the case! Money is not everything in the world. Next time, do contact me! I will be glad to help you.


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This post is awaiting vetting. It was edited by the poster after being approved.
Amy Duncan  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 18:00
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Yes Dec 2, 2008

Goran Tasic wrote:

...your client couldn't do this on his own???? I mean, to bold up a text even my 6 year son could do, once I show him how to do it. Really weird.


This was my first thought, too, Goran.


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