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Client insists I take an assignment that is too technical for me
Thread poster: Paula Borges

Paula Borges  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 03:24
Member (2010)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Nov 25, 2010

Dear colleagues,

I could really use your input now. Lately, I've been having a lot going on as some clients recommend me to partners and people they know. I'm finally starting to get more and more work I really enjoy doing, while making sure I don't neglect my other clients. It's been a struggle to juggle it all, but I've been managing.

There's this agency I've been working with for years and know the owners, with whom I have established a really good relationship. They recently got a new big client, and as usual I do all the publicity/communications/press release work, as that is my main area.

I do a lot of work with this agency, and they represent a good part of my income.

A few weeks ago they told me this company would need a new technical manual translated (over 50,000 words) and asked me if I was interested. Of course I had to decline, explaining I do not do that sort of technical work and that they'd be better suited finding someone with experience in the field.

They asked me if I knew someone I could trust to do the work, but I don't.

A few days ago they started calling me about this job again, insisting I do it. They say there's no one else they can trust more, they have a lot of material for me to use as guidance, they are willing to help me etc. etc. I don't understand why they'd insist when I already said I am not able to do it, it puts me in a very awkward position.

I must say even if I was capable of doing it, it's too much for one person and I'd see myself forced to let other clients down. Also, considering TM and discounts, this wouldn't pay much.

I don't wanna lose the client, but how do you politely decline something once, twice, three times?

Thank you in advance for your help.









[Edited at 2010-11-25 17:02 GMT]


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Ivan Rocha, CT
Canada
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Regardless... Nov 25, 2010

...of you good relationship with the client, I would never take a job I didn't feel comfortable doing, for the risk of displeasing a client is outweighted by the risk of ruining your professional reputation (which could occur as a result of a bad translation).

My 2 cents, anyway.

Boa sorte,

Ivan


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Yasutomo Kanazawa  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:24
Member (2005)
English to Japanese
+ ...
Whatever you do, don't touch it Nov 25, 2010

My advice from you is that you shouldn't take this job, since the job is not in your working nor specialized field, am I correct?

I see a lot of people crossing the line to take jobs which they don't have the slightest clue, and asking tons of questions on KudoZ, and people ranting about same askers flooding with questions apparently coming from the same source text.

My advice to you is:

Tell them clearly and precisely that you cannot take the job, since it will jeopardize your beautiful relationship with your client. It's too risky, and money is the second or third thing here. A good business relationship has priority over payment. And they will contact you again for the usual jobs you do for them, since you've already built trust in that field which is an asset for both of you. But this trust could be down the drain once you mess up with a project which you are inexperienced or have very little knowledge. Why not honestly tell them what I wrote here? From my experience, when I tell them this story, what they say may be a compliment, but they won't insist furthermore.

If they do really trust you and don't want to break up the relationship, they will listen to you, since you won't be the only one who would be in trouble delivering poor quality translations, but them too to their clients, risking your business relationship with your agency and their business relationship with their client(s).

Edited for typo.



[Edited at 2010-11-26 04:12 GMT]


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:24
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Be firm about it Nov 25, 2010

I am sure you are well able of explaining your customer that, although you would really love to help them, it would be irresponsible to do so since it is not your specialty and you cannot guarantee the final result or the time it would take you to complete the job.

A possible approach is to suggest that they look for a couple of technical translators (for instance via Proz.com) and you help your customer analyse the quality of these people by examining the translation of a fragment of the job from each pre-selected translator. This way you show your willingness to help and share your expertise in the language pair without venturing into the unknown of a technical topic you know little about.


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Maria Lila  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 08:24
French to Spanish
+ ...
Politely I have to inform you that... Nov 25, 2010

... I cannot carry out this sort of work.

Hi Paula!

It's not a standard sentence. I'm sure you can express it better. Anyway, as Tomás and Yasutomo adviced you, don't take this job. It takes ages to build professional reliability and a second to destroy it. It's obvious that your client is finding some problems to get a suitable translator to do so. Understandable. But your attitude is very professional. If you are not a technical translator, you shouldn't get involved in tricky technical translations (IMHO for non technical translators). After all, your clients rely on you, mainly because of your quality skills, and in this particular case, you cannot keep them.

If it's a good client be polite, but firm. Money is secondary in this case.

You could think about outsourcing, but if it's the first time, with such a volume and field, I would better not.

Best,
Maria Lila.


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Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 07:24
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
The best solution, in my opinion! Nov 25, 2010

Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:

I am sure you are well able of explaining your customer that, although you would really love to help them, it would be irresponsible to do so since it is not your specialty and you cannot guarantee the final result or the time it would take you to complete the job.

A possible approach is to suggest that they look for a couple of technical translators (for instance via Proz.com) and you help your customer analyse the quality of these people by examining the translation of a fragment of the job from each pre-selected translator. This way you show your willingness to help and share your expertise in the language pair without venturing into the unknown of a technical topic you know little about.


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Paula Borges  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 03:24
Member (2010)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for the replies Nov 25, 2010

I did tell them that I could not dream of doing this twice!

I understand their reluctance to send a project like this to someone they don't know, but I think it has more to do with the fact specialised translators generally charge a lot more. It's either that or they couldn't find anyone willing to take it in these two weeks.

I'm gonna have to be really assertive about it and tell them that I am not willing to do it, and I simply don't have the time. I can't afford to interrupt ongoing projects with other clients - I know it's usually a "rule" not to even mention you have other clients - but I guess this is something they'll be willing understand since every other argument has failed.

Everything Yasutomo suggested has been said - I said I could not do it in a million years, but they respond by offering "help".

I'm guessing my work with them might slow down for a while, but they'll eventually come back - in my experience that's what usually happens.

They were open to the idea of finding a translator - but they implied they wanted me to recommend someone I could guarantee in terms of quality and delivery, of course I cannot take any responsibility over someone elses's work! I do know some people, but none would accept their discounts for repetitions, and I didn't want to be in the middle of that sort of situation.



[Edited at 2010-11-25 18:10 GMT]

[Edited at 2010-11-25 18:12 GMT]


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:24
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Do not outsource! Nov 25, 2010

Maria Lila wrote:
You could think about outsourcing, but if it's the first time, with such a volume and field, I would better not.

Personally I think that outsourcing would be enormously risky. If something goes wrong and the translator(s) make(s) a mess of it, you will be responsible. It is best that you help them choose the translator but then step out of it. This way, the client will be responsible.


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Maria Lila  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 08:24
French to Spanish
+ ...
Yes, Tomás I do agree on not outsourcing Nov 25, 2010

Someone could be tempted with outsourcing, but I wouldn't think about it. I also find it too risky, and if Paula doesn't know anyone to recommend, well, better not to do it.
Best, María.


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Paula Borges  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 03:24
Member (2010)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Outsourcing Nov 25, 2010

I've had my share of bad experiences with it, wouldn't even dream of doing something like that in this case.

Actually, I did try to find someone, but none of the translators I know and trust were willing to take it. Someone told me certain agencies specialise in doing technical work for other agencies, so I got a few phone numbers.

Sometimes it's worth it spending a bit more to keep the client, right?

The email has been sent. I explained it would be unethical of me to take this job, and could potentially harm our business relationship and even their relationship with the client. Also, even if the work wasn't that technical, I have a lot going on right now and can't simply let other clients down.

Since they have tried changing pay, deadline and even offering help to try and convince me, I had to make myself clear and state that different conditions would not change my mind.

Nothing to do now but wait.


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Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:24
French to English
+ ...
A slightly different approach Nov 25, 2010

I'm going to suggest a slightly different approach to some of our other colleagues. If the client and agency between them have made the decision that a good all-round translator that they trust, even though not a specialist in the field, will do a better job than a specialist translator that they don't trust, and if they are happy to take the responsibility for this decision, then I'd say there's nothing terribly wrong per se with you taking on the job, PROVIDED of course that other conditions make the job viable for you, in particular, allowing additional time for research, and possibly extra budget in case you need to consult with a specialist and pay them for that consultancy.

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Sonia Hill
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:24
Italian to English
I did this recently Nov 25, 2010

Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:
A possible approach is to suggest that they look for a couple of technical translators (for instance via Proz.com) and you help your customer analyse the quality of these people by examining the translation of a fragment of the job from each pre-selected translator. This way you show your willingness to help and share your expertise in the language pair without venturing into the unknown of a technical topic you know little about.


One of my clients asked me to do a legal/financial translation recently despite the fact that I really don't feel comfortable working in that field. I turned down the job, explaining why I couldn't do it. They appreciated my honesty and asked me if I could assess some test translations by other translators, which I was happy to do for them as a favour.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 07:24
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Be firm Nov 25, 2010

Hi,

You seem to me to feel you are under some sort of obligation to them and that's what's making it difficult for you to say "no".

You clearly have a good working relationship with this agency and of course you would rather not jeopardise that. But you don't have any obligation to them aside of finishing all current work in a good and timely manner. This is a business relationship of independent partners, after all.

It would be a different matter if you had responded to the offer at first with "well, perhaps, ...". That could have made them think you could be persuaded. But if you've been firm so far there's no problem that I can see, apart from the remote possibility of their terminating the partnership. But you don't seem to think that's likely and neither do I.

As for hiding the fact that you work for others, I don't understand it personally. The most inadvisable thing for a freelancer to do is to have too few clients: you MUST have others so why make a secret of it.

I wouldn't make a lot of excuses, personally. I'd tell them why I can't do it (as you've done) then, if necessary, I'd end up by telling them: ... I don't want to do it, ... I won't do it.


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Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.)  Identity Verified
Thailand
Local time: 13:24
Member (2004)
English to Thai
+ ...
Technical documents Nov 26, 2010

I met with translators who were forced to do technical translation when they preferred not to. The client stopped the next orders to those translators: it is client's responsibility, I think.

Soonthon Lupkitaro


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Paula Borges  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 03:24
Member (2010)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you everyone Nov 26, 2010

It went well - they even said my honesty makes me even more trustworthy in their eyes. Can't understand why they didn't appreciate it as much the first time...

I've never had to say no more than once before. It has been a long relationship, so I'm always willing to help even if that means working weekends or all night long, which has happened quite a few times. I suppose that made them think I'd eventually say yes to anything, but I have to draw a line somewhere.

I was shocked: why would someone insist when you already said you don't do that kind of work? I felt cornered.

Unfortunately, I could not help this time. If I wasn't so busy with work I'd probably get more involved with finding someone to do the work, but I simply do not have any time to spare at the moment.

Thankfully, they admitted they were overlooking how technical this assigment was and perhaps being way too pragmatic about it.


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