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Should I tell my client about a problem with the agency?
Thread poster: Kristel Kiesel

Kristel Kiesel  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:45
Italian to English
+ ...
Apr 8, 2009

Hello all,

I had a translation project that put me in a quandary not so long ago. It was clearly outlined from the start of the project that all communication was to go through the project manager who was assigned by the agency. Through the project manager, the client made a complaint along the way about my efficiency. What the client didn't know was that I wasn't paid for 3 months, due in first part to an oversight I made in submitting an invoice, and in second part to the agency's oversight in cutting me a check at all the following month.

I kept in close contact with the project manager, and each time it seemed like checks were supposed to be coming in just a couple more weeks, so I buckled down and waited...and waited.... A month before Christmas I was still waiting to be paid for work I had done in July. I was finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate on my work due to the fear that it was all for nothing. I finally received a check after canceling a trip to Japan and living on a shoestring for weeks.

My question is, would it have been inappropriate to have informed the client about my pay issues, even though it was not a client problem? This would have required me to go outside the system of communication that was stringently adhered to and communicate directly with the client. I didn't feel comfortable doing it at all.

I'm a young translator who has been working with foreign languages for over half my life. I have just taken my skills into the world of the paid professional in the last couple of years, and I'm afraid this experience has soured me somewhat. I don't mean to complain about the agency. Outside of the accounting department, they were great to work with. Perhaps it's just that I am ridiculously bad at defending my own business interests. What should I have done?

I mean to write a thank-you note to the client and to our project manager, since I learned so much from them and felt truly grateful and privileged to be working with them.

Thanks in advance for your advice,

Kristie

[Edited at 2009-04-08 07:19 GMT]

[Edited at 2009-04-08 07:26 GMT]

[Edited at 2009-04-08 07:31 GMT]


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Tomás Cano Binder, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:45
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Direct contact would be inadequate, but... Apr 8, 2009

In my opinion, your client is the agency, not the end client. So contact with the end client would be inadequate. If I was the end client and got word from the translator of problems with the agency, I would start wondering who else knows (unrelated third parties? friends? my competitors maybe, via fora?).

I also want to comment on the relationship with the agency: No matter how nice and kind the project managers are, your relationship with the agency also includes payments at the agreed times. Delays like the ones you describe are unacceptable, and we should not be lured or confused by PM's kindness: we must be paid as agreed, the same way we deliver as agreed.

As for deliveries without being paid: There would be lots of theories about whether you should continue deliveries without being paid the previous chunks. I am not really sure what I would have done, to be honest (I would not contact the end client, that's for sure). I would have probably done one more delivery, and continue working but hold the rest of deliveries until I was paid as agreed.


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Kristel Kiesel  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:45
Italian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
My concern, too Apr 8, 2009

Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:

If I was the end client and got word from the translator of problems with the agency, I would start wondering who else knows (unrelated third parties? friends? my competitors maybe, via fora?).



Hmm...are you saying that this topic might be inappropriate to discuss in a forum? I was worried about that, too.


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Hynek Palatin  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 21:45
English to Czech
+ ...
Do not contact the end client Apr 8, 2009

Hi Kristel,

Tomás is right. You should stick to the original agreement. This could even apply to sending the thank-you note, unless the end client already knows who you are.

On the other hand, you should also defend your own interests with the agency. The PM may have been nice, but you had to wait four months for your money and the payment is all that matters business-wise.


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Hynek Palatin  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 21:45
English to Czech
+ ...
Forum discussion Apr 8, 2009

Hmm...are you saying that this topic might be inappropriate to discuss in a forum? I was worried about that, too.


I think it's all right, as long as you don't mention the agency name (which is against the ProZ rules anyway). Actually, it's important to discuss these matters publicly.

[Upraveno: 2009-04-08 07:33 GMT]


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Kristel Kiesel  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:45
Italian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Clarifying on communication Apr 8, 2009

Hynek Palatin wrote:

Hi Kristel,

Tomás is right. You should stick to the original agreement. This could even apply to sending the thank-you note, unless the end client already knows who you are.

On the other hand, you should also defend your own interests with the agency. The PM may have been nice, but you had to wait four months for your money and the payment is all that matters business-wise.


Thanks for your advice. Let me clarify about the lines of communication: My communications to the end client were to be copied to the PM, which is of course perfectly reasonable. I had plenty of communication with both the PM and the end client.

I can understand what everyone has said so far about not bringing my issue up with the end client, however. I am glad I didn't speak to them about it. Looking at it now, I think the system is designed to deal with problems in the best way for all concerned so that everyone can get their work done in a timely manner. It was because my financial concerns were beginning to affect my output, which was in turn affecting the end client, that I thought of contacting them directly.

Thank you all for your advice so far. It's good to have a community of colleagues, even if the only way to reach out and help each other is online.

--Kristie

[Edited at 2009-04-08 08:47 GMT]


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Kristel Kiesel  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:45
Italian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Gutsy! Apr 8, 2009

Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:

As for deliveries without being paid: There would be lots of theories about whether you should continue deliveries without being paid the previous chunks. I am not really sure what I would have done, to be honest (I would not contact the end client, that's for sure). I would have probably done one more delivery, and continue working but hold the rest of deliveries until I was paid as agreed.


Tomas, I would not have thought of that. I'm not sure it would have been practical or advisable in this case, but I will certainly think of it the next time!

--Kristie


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Tomás Cano Binder, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:45
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Don't worry! :-) Apr 8, 2009

Kristel Kiesel wrote:
Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:
If I was the end client and got word from the translator of problems with the agency, I would start wondering who else knows (unrelated third parties? friends? my competitors maybe, via fora?).

Hmm...are you saying that this topic might be inappropriate to discuss in a forum? I was worried about that, too.


No, I don't think your forum topic is inadequate as you don't mention any names or information that would make the project identifiable. Just mentioning what the end customer might end up thinking if you had contacted them directly...


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Mohamed Mehenoun  Identity Verified
Algeria
Local time: 20:45
Member (2008)
English to French
+ ...
Don't freak out ! Apr 8, 2009

Kristel Kiesel wrote:

Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:

As for deliveries without being paid: There would be lots of theories about whether you should continue deliveries without being paid the previous chunks. I am not really sure what I would have done, to be honest (I would not contact the end client, that's for sure). I would have probably done one more delivery, and continue working but hold the rest of deliveries until I was paid as agreed.


Tomas, I would not have thought of that. I'm not sure it would have been practical or advisable in this case, but I will certainly think of it the next time!

--Kristie


Hello Kristel,

I think you should have forced them to pay you ! you could have used a lot of ways to make them pay even using legal threats. As for the fact that you went on doing jobs for them without being paid, I truly would have advised you to stop any ongoing project till they pay which would have avoided you a lot of stress.

Contacting the end client isn't an option. But you could have used it as a threat regarding your payment especially if you didn't sign any nondisclosure contract i.e. whether you pay me or I complain directly to the end client as you don't seem trustworthy and as you are being unprofessional.

I'm a young translator who has been working with foreign languages for over half my life. I have just taken my skills into the world of the paid professional in the last couple of years, and I'm afraid this experience has soured me somewhat. I don't mean to complain about the agency. Outside of the accounting department, they were great to work with. Perhaps it's just that I am ridiculously bad at defending my own business interests. What should I have done?


All in all work with them wasn't great ! You shouldn't think that ! You are running a business and your main concern should be that they pay you on time. So if they don't do, the work isn't great ! It wasn't your fault for being young, it was theirs for being unprofessional, you are human and it's normal that you get stressed if something goes wrong...So it's definitely not your fault ! Never think that if people do things wrong it's your fault, especially in business !

You should be more flexible about your way of working. You could have went to Japan and dealt with the job there as you can work wherever Internet and a well equipped laptop are available...

I really believe that you should be a little bit more pushy regarding the payment...Even if the agency is friendly, this is business and you have to get food on the table...

That's my point of view anyway....

Regards,


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 16:45
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Setting limits Apr 8, 2009

Kristel Kiesel wrote:
...
What the client didn't know was that I wasn't paid for 3 months, due in first part to an oversight I made in submitting an invoice, and in second part to the agency's oversight in cutting me a check at all the following month.
...
A month before Christmas I was still waiting to be paid for work I had done in July.


I have my own set of "house rules", mostly on ethical issues. Some of them are so rigid that clients are often amazed, but it's always for everybody's good.

I think I've lost more than one job because I would not give "references", i.e. disclose my clients' contact information. I know for sure that whenever an agency gets obstreperous about references it's a telltale sign that they have a client poaching program in place. I also want to protect my dear clients from being spammed with offers to the tune of "Whatever this jerk does for you, we can do it better, faster, and cheaper!"

I won't contact an end-client unless specifically authorized or instructed by the agency in-between. I've been serving an international client long enough through an agency, and saw on their web site that a local division of that same end-client is getting substandard translation services. So I asked the PM clearance to contact them directly. As the answer was "please don't", that division will continue getting that substandard service.

However ethics must be mutual, or it will be pointless to keep them. So, if you met all deadlines, and an agency fails to pay you on the day agreed, the mutual commitment will have been broken on their side. Why should you keep yours, if they haven't kept theirs?

So if my invoice to an agency is past overdue for more than one month, I feel no obligation to refrain from contacting the end-client, if I know who they are, preferably through their compliance/ethics department, which will investigate the facts first. Maybe some lazy employee of theirs forgot to approve payment to the agency, which should be blameless. Maybe not.

Therefore I wouldn't wait until November to get paid for something I did in July. Of course I would go to the edge with the agency for payment or a justifiable explanation (e.g. your inadequate invoice) before contacting the end-client, and definitely forewarn the agency before doing so.

For the past 36 years I've never let a client down, but my ethics demand that they fulfill their part of the deal too. It should be fair play for all involved, all the time, every time.


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John Rawlins  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:45
Spanish to English
+ ...
Blame the accountant Apr 8, 2009

I would tollow the advice from Tomás and stop deliveries. If asked to explain why, simply state that your 'accountant' has advised you to stop. This approach is non-confrontational, yet everybody will understand the real reason.

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Mervyn Henderson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:45
Member
Spanish to English
+ ...
End client lateness? Apr 8, 2009

Kristel,

It occurs to me that the reason you were paid late is simply that the end client is a serial late payer who paid your agency late and will probably chuckle until late in the evening over a "late payment" communication from a late payee whose agency paid her late because they paid her agency late. They are late people for sure.

If you are secretly hoping they will say "Kristel, that's terrible, I have just been talking to our Department of Deontology, we are outraged and refuse to work with this agency again", you have another think coming.

What they MAY do is say "Hey Kristel, that's terrible, we are outraged, I have just been talking to our Department of Deontology, we are outraged and refuse to work with this agency again - hey, I know, why don't we work direct with you next time?"

Ahem. In short, my perfectly ignorable advice is to take the money, say thank you - always very important - and run the proverbial mile.


Mervyn


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Tomás Cano Binder, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:45
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Exactly Apr 8, 2009

John Rawlins wrote:
I would tollow the advice from Tomás and stop deliveries. If asked to explain why, simply state that your 'accountant' has advised you to stop. This approach is non-confrontational, yet everybody will understand the real reason.


Late payers always blame someone else. They always act as if they eagerly want to pay (if they did want to pay, they would have; what are bank loans for?), and the big cruel world out there is forcing them to hold the payment. You are surely entitled to blame somebody else!


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Kristel Kiesel  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:45
Italian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Great advice! Apr 8, 2009

Thank you, everyone, for all your great advice.

I hope I have been sufficiently vague for the protection of both the agency and client. This end client was working very closely with its translators. At the beginning I wondered why the agency even wanted to be involved, as it just seemed to throw an extra layer of complication into things. However, it was useful to have that layer of protection in communication between me and the client, particularly when problems came up. The agency decided the most diplomatic and expeditious way of dealing with them, which in the long run made for smoother relations.

It was quite an adjustment for me, however, to work so closely with an end client and then be unable to contact them privately without sending my message through the PM, who seemed to be simply hanging about on the fringes of things. I had a fear from the start that the PM was working more in the interests of the agency and client than the translators. It took me a long time to figure out exactly how the relationship between translators, PM and end client was supposed to work, and in the meantime I kept wishing I could just take my issues to the client privately, since I barely knew anything about the PM or her role in things. She seemed to be torn between the interests of her own company and those of the client, and I wasn't sure where translator interests fell on that spectrum. She also seemed young and anxious to protect her client. I thought that perhaps she didn't realize the power she had within her own company to fight for translator interests.

Kristie


[Edited at 2009-04-08 15:09 GMT]

[Edited at 2009-04-08 15:10 GMT]


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Dinny  Identity Verified
Greece
Local time: 22:45
Italian to Danish
+ ...
If the agency doesn't respect the rules, why should you? Apr 8, 2009

I particularly agree with what José stated. Fair play for everybody.

If an agency doesn't pay me for my work, I would first of all tell them that the copyright to the translation in question belongs to me until it is paid for in full, and if that doesn't help, I would contact the end client and tell them that they are not entitled to use my translation since it has not been paid for. Well, actually, I would ask a lawyer to do this part, and the very few times I have had to do it, it has worked wonders. Meaning, I've got my money. It goes without saying that I have never worked with the agencies in question again. But maybe I have worked for the same end clients again through other agencies.

[Edited at 2009-04-08 22:20 GMT]


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