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How to say "Sorry, I am not available" to a good client
Thread poster: MariusV

MariusV  Identity Verified
Lithuania
Local time: 00:07
English to Lithuanian
+ ...
Jul 25, 2007

Hi folks,

I have a kind of a small problem that appears to become not a small problem. I made some intensive marketing some time ago that resulted in a big turnaround (too big). The essence of the problem is that I have both new clients, and the ones "good, reliable old clients" with whom I work on a permanent basis and who give the greater part and stable income (without delays in payment, with a good and fluent work organization, professional attitude and evaluation of my work, and etc.).

What I noticed (thanks God I still notice that) and other people say more and more often to me, is that I either work (sit) at the computer, or sleep (well, working 12 hours per day, and most often - 7 days per week) taking all jobs offered. This I already find not normal because I started feeling health problems (just minor yet), I have no free time as such, just live in my world of work (read the symptoms of a workaholic on the internet and it seems that these were not symptoms, but a description of me. The key of the problem - I do not know how to refuse part of the work I get offered. Well, new clients, OK, can ask for a big (too big) rate instead of saying "I cannot take this job". But what shall I do with the "old good clients" with whom we work for years, whom I fully trust. The worst case - when they offer "continuations" of some projects done by me, some updates to previous projects where hiring another person could cause them a lot of fuss (some projects are very specific), and so on. I tried to raise the rates hoping part of the clients will go away and that the best paying will remain. Actually, that did not work. They are back.

Maybe it would sound funny as the usual problem with workload should be vice versa. But for me it is not funny. It is the 3rd night in turn when I work from 9,00 am till 4,00 am non-stop confirming jobs as "just not to make my good clients upset"...Last weekend I had free (Sunday and Saturday) was during the New Year...Worked on Easter too on a full-scale...

Would appreciate some help before going to a psychologist (and hope will not have to go to a psychiatrist some time in the future)


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James McVay  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:07
Russian to English
+ ...
Try just saying I'm too busy (politely) Jul 25, 2007

First off, let me say I wish I had your problem. With me, it's either feast or famine. Right now, I have time on my hands, or I wouldn't be writing this.

But last week . . . different story. I accepted two rush jobs at the same time, knowing I could finish one quickly and then start the other, longer one, that was due later -- hoping I could finish it on time. (I did.) Then a customer I had recently worked for asked me to take an even bigger job. I told them I would be busy on a current project until a date after their project was due and said I would have to decline "this time." I figured that gave them the opportunity to say they could wait until I was free, if they had the flexibility. They didn't, but they did reply saying they would still like to use me again.

I think the thing you need to realize is that you're in demand because you're good. And if you're good, your customers will keep coming back. A reasonable person will understand you can only do so much. And if they aren't reasonable, you probably don't want to work for them anyway, right?


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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 00:07
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Rise your rates and lean back Jul 25, 2007

Dear Marius, congratulations.
But stop in time before your health is ruined. You are your own boss, so say no to him as you would say to a real boss making you work 7/7.
It seems to me your rates are too low if you get too much work. Remember the rules of market ekonomy, if something's in demand prices go up!
Take only work that you find interesting and that you can handle efficiently and leave the rest to fellow translators. Currently the market is growing probably due to German economy gaining speed. Translators are needed more than ever.

Cheers
Heinrich


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MariusV  Identity Verified
Lithuania
Local time: 00:07
English to Lithuanian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
well... Jul 25, 2007

Dear Heinrich,

Thanks a lot for your advice that is really much appreciated.

However, I have raised the rates (by around 10 %) to the "old" clients (just like a psychological perparation for a rise of at least 10 % again soon) and now I ask a maximum rate for the new ones. Last time I asked for a rate that is much above the usual market rate for our lang combination free-lancers without having a will to take on that job (just physically). But they agreed without negotiation. So, I am working overnight to manage it. I know that it is 1001 time that I say to myself "that is really enough - I will never ever work like that again". The job I did before was for an old client and I asked for a rate that was 25 % bigger than the usual rate. They agreed too. But I know what will happen - I will plan a weekend for rest, or a week for a holiday, but on the next days I will take a job again...

Well, raising the rates (even drastically) can really help to solve out some things. But it is more like a psychological thing - like from a joke when an alcoholic tried to train his will by putting a bottle on the table telling to himself "I have will, I will not drink". And how it ended? He drank the bottle and said to himself "My will is really strong - I do not want to drink, but I drink")) Here the principle is the same - I will not take any jobs to work 7 days per week, 14 hours per day any more, but the result is just the opposite...


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Jurate Janaviciute  Identity Verified
Luxembourg
English to Lithuanian
Plan your time Jul 25, 2007

I understand you very well, since I've had a simmilar problem with refusing to do favours (and it's worse because they are not paid ).

I would suggest you to compromise between suggesting a client to "get lost" and agreeing to the every single job offered by planning your time and queuing the offers. Let's say you'd prefer to translate X words a day and have a Sunday off. If you already have a project of X words for Saturday, you may inform the next client that you are busy on Sunday (or taking a day off) but would gladly take their project on Monday; the subsequent on Tuesday; and so on. In this way, your clients will be left to decide whether they prefer to wait or give the job to someone else.

Beware: not knowing what to do with your free time might bring you back to the same situation you are in right now. It needs to be planned as well. It should be pleasant and preferably outside your home (to avoid subconsciously getting back to the computer screen).

I hope you will find this helpful. Good luck!


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MGL  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 23:07
Russian to English
obsessive compulsive job acceptance syndrome! Jul 25, 2007

here are some of my thoughts.

I have this with some clients, too. Particularly the ones who don't seem to understand that they aren't my only client.

For your own sanity, boundaries must be defined, or redefined.

Practice saying "Unfortunately I'm booked up today and tomorrow. But I'm available again on X day."

Usually deadlines are not negotiable - but sometimes they are! Never hurts to ask if they might consider X day instead of Y day after you mention you're all booked up.

And when you schedule your own vacation - you're booking yourself.

I send my availability to some clients who plan ahead, and it helps me plan ahead, too. I reserve blocks of days for their projects and then I try to let other regular clients know that I will not be available on those days. It doesn't always work - but I think some clients just never stop to think that hey, you've got a lot going on, too.

Another option you might want to consider is expanding instead of cutting down, i.e. outsourcing to other translators and becoming kind of a "mini agency." You can add quality control to your list of tasks, but you will then be able to delegate many of your jobs to others, leaving you with more time (one would hope) for yourself.


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Indra Sofyar  Identity Verified
Indonesia
Local time: 04:07
English to Indonesian
+ ...
Recruit your troop! Jul 25, 2007

It seems that you're already one of those luckiest translators, to whom better paying clients are addicted. If I were you, I would not decline any one of those generous clients. Never! But instead, I would start recruiting my co-pilot and crew. Sharing with those less lucky qualified fellow translators is not really a bad choice though. With this way, you can regain your 'normal' life without losing your loyal clients. You can take control of everything because you're the BOSS.

Hope this worth a penny -:}


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Gillian Searl  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:07
Member (2004)
German to English
Congratulations onreaching this stage in your business! Jul 25, 2007

I have been there and it's a great feeling. The key now is to reach the next stage - which is picking and choosing jobs and agencies. Learn to say no and stick with it! Every new client that you take on must pay the higher rates - no excuses. Check the Blue Board and if you don't like their rating tell them so. Enforce 30 day payment terms brutally - any new client who says 45 or longer or who you know from experience doesn't pay on time, refuse their jobs and tell them why. Good, experienced translators are busy and agencies will have to get used to that fact. Your health is more important than work - so enhance your social life and stick to it. Don't succumb to the 24 hour "gotta be online" - you don't any more. It's a new phase - and this one should be fun - earning enough (hopefully) to enjoy the freedoms of being a freelancer. You hae to enforce the boundaries - nobody else will.
Enjoy!!
Gillian


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MariusV  Identity Verified
Lithuania
Local time: 00:07
English to Lithuanian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
crew is hard work Jul 25, 2007

Indra Sofyar wrote:

It seems that you're already one of those luckiest translators, to whom better paying clients are addicted. If I were you, I would not decline any one of those generous clients. Never! But instead, I would start recruiting my co-pilot and crew. Sharing with those less lucky qualified fellow translators is not really a bad choice though. With this way, you can regain your 'normal' life without losing your loyal clients. You can take control of everything because you're the BOSS.

Hope this worth a penny -:}





Dear Indra,

Well, to be fair, I do NOT want to be "THE BOSS" at all. I want remain a freelancer (to do the job what I do myself and what I like myself). Administration of workflows (esp. during the "transition stage" from free-lancer to the "boss", when one will have to do two functions at the same time) can be really not so easy. I do not want this headache. The work then will become even MORE intensive. Also, if I make a problem myself, then I know who is "guilty". And you know, when you do from your side all the best possible (spend time and energy), and someone spoils all the situation for you (being late, providing poor quality, and so on), it would be the worst of the possible "scenarios".

+ Coining a fully reliable and professional team takes time (can take a year or even more). Playing with those who are not professional has a risk of losing the existing clients (from a totally cleaned client list with all those late payers and other dumb and non-respecting clients deleted long ago). I do not want a solution of the overwork in this way...To put it simply - I still do not want to trust my jobs to be done by someone else...It again has a mix of real and personal (subjective) reasons...






[Edited at 2007-07-25 05:10]


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MariusV  Identity Verified
Lithuania
Local time: 00:07
English to Lithuanian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
new clients - agree, but what about the "oldies"? Jul 25, 2007

Gillian Noameshie wrote:

I have been there and it's a great feeling. The key now is to reach the next stage - which is picking and choosing jobs and agencies. Learn to say no and stick with it! Every new client that you take on must pay the higher rates - no excuses. Check the Blue Board and if you don't like their rating tell them so. Enforce 30 day payment terms brutally - any new client who says 45 or longer or who you know from experience doesn't pay on time, refuse their jobs and tell them why.


Dear Gillian,

For the new clients I just do 1:1 as you say. "This is my rate and these are my conditions" on a "take it or leave it" basis. BUT how to find the best wording for those old good clients who actually made me a translator during the recent years giving me income, helping me to gain experience, and where the majority of them are almost like friends. Just cannot say "Sorry, people, I am smart now, and I will not work for you any longer - get rid of me"? Moreover, there are many projects that were going for years, with TMs and so on, where the translation area is already known as "2+2" because of the volumes of materials translated, and so on ? Raise the rates? That did not help. Raise even more without saying anything? Or some other solutions ???



[Edited at 2007-07-25 05:28]


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Giuseppina Gatta, MA (Hons)
Member (2005)
English to Italian
+ ...
Other preferences? Jul 25, 2007

Hi Marius,

Have you ever thought of choosing jobs based on the subject?
I always do it when I am too busy, I only pick the subjects I like, and in that way I work with less stress and more enjoyment, plus more productivity.


Good luck!
Giusi


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Endre Both  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 23:07
Member (2002)
English to German
Propose your own deadlines; reduce range of subjects Jul 25, 2007

Marius wrote:
how to find the best wording for those old good clients who actually made me a translator during the recent years giving me income, helping me to gain experience, and where the majority of them are almost like friends. Just cannot say "Sorry, people, I am smart now, and I will not work for you any longer - get rid of me"?


No need to do that. In my experience, the advice offered by Megan and Giusi works just fine:

Practice saying "Unfortunately I'm booked up today and tomorrow. But I'm available again on X day."

Works 100%. You can also refer your clients to your availability indicator on ProZ.com (you do not seem to be using it yet).

Have you ever thought of choosing jobs based on the subject? ... less stress and more enjoyment, plus more productivity

Exactly. You can always explain to your clients that you want to provide them with even better and more consistent quality and even quicker turnaround times, which means that you have to concentrate on what you're best at. The same goes for language pairs – maybe you have a preference for one or two of them, while being either slower or less happy with your results in others.

Endre

[Bearbeitet am 2007-07-25 07:33]


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Gillian Searl  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:07
Member (2004)
German to English
No is a hard word to learn Jul 25, 2007

But you need to learn how to use it. "Dear friendly agency with whom I have been working a long time. I am really busy and cannot agree to a deadline of Monday 9am. Would Wed 12 be ok?"
If you have made yourself essential to their business they might just say yes. If not you haven't lost anything - except the stress of taking on too much work. You try to accommodate them as best you can but you don't kill yourself in the process. You set your limits and stick to them - e.g. I never work Sundays and you have to work very hard to persuade me to work Saturdays. If I am in the gym then you have to wait for an answer to your email - and I am not apologising. I just bought a Blackberry, which is great for emailing back "will be at the PC in 30 mins". Don't kill yourself - its not worth it!
Gillian


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Claire Cox
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:07
French to English
+ ...
Be firm Jul 25, 2007

I very much agree with the comments made above. I think the key is to be firm. Once you reach the stage where you've got work coming out of your ears, you can afford to pick and choose. I see your point about not alienating long-standing clients, but equally well, perhaps they need to be thinking about not alienating you! If you are that valuable to them, they will be prepared to accommodate you.

I make it quite clear that I am not prepared to work at weekends, as it's not fair on my family. I always offer an alternative deadline if I can't accommodate the requested deadline. I try and suggest a colleague who might help if I can't. All in all, I try to be as helpful as I can, but there is a limit to what I personally can fit in and I'm not prepared to go beyond that. I've done my share of late nights and still do, when things don't work out as planned, but to work on that basis constantly is definitely not a good idea.

Good luck!

[Edited at 2007-07-25 10:18]


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Evija Rimšāne  Identity Verified
Latvia
Local time: 00:07
Member
English to Latvian
Don't be afraid! Jul 25, 2007

Think of your health and personal life -- who else will live your life and will care for your health? It's you and only you:) No agency will do that for you.
I completely understand your concerns because I was in the same position a while ago, and one day, I said to myself "Stop! It is NOT normal!"
And I started refusing jobs if I couldn't take them; I just kept a normal work-flow. And you know what? -- nobody complained and nobody abandoned me. Agencies understand my situation completely because I am a freelance (meaning, independetly working with many agencies) translator and simply cannot be available all the time. I just say them: "Sorry, I am not available by xxxx, or Sorry but I am booked with another project to be completed by xxxx" and they understand it.
However, they return to me again and again because they know I will provide them with high quality translations and still, I am the primary translator for most of my clients, even if I am very unavailable for them sometimes...
So don't be afraid:) They will still "love" you!
Evija

P.S. Oh yes, regarding your own deadlines (somebody mentioned them) -- feel free to suggest your deadlines. Mostly, agencies do not mind if they want the job to be done by you. If they cannot agree, oh well -- there will be other projects, many of them.

[Edited at 2007-07-25 10:13]


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