Beauty is in the eye of the beholder; urgency is not
Thread poster: José Henrique Lamensdorf

José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 13:57
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Feb 12, 2011

Last week I had yet another instance of a recurring situation. This time it didn't happen to me, but to a long-standing client of mine, a business/corporate video producer.

A client approched them with a most urgent video subtitling project. They wanted a video translated on a Friday, and dubbed over the weekend, to be ready by Monday morning. Though they have been in the film/video business for decades, they are not used to the currently globalized translation "fish" market ("sell'em before they rot"). Nevertheless, the studio guy was smart: "In this case we'll have to surcharge you 50% for the people who will have to work on the weekend." Half an hour later the end-client called again, to say "If it is so, then there is no urgency. Doing it at your regular rates, when can you get it ready?"

This was the outcome a previous conversation we had, when he consulted me on my availability and rates for translating it immediately and quickly as soon as they got that 'urgent' order. I took the chance of telling him then that surcharging for urgency would more likely make him lose the undesirable urgency request, but not the order. My assertion was proven true.

However this video producer was dealing with the end client. If it were a plain text translation, not involving video, this - or any other - end client would look for the cheapest but still adequate translator for one or two weeks. Upon not finding one, they'd outsource it to a translation agency, which says they are faster and cheaper than anyone else. The end-client thinks... if they are cheaper, they should be cheaper than any translator we've found so far, so we have a yardstick to set the price... if they are faster, they must have many translators available, so we can set a mandatory turnaround of one week, though we'll only need that translation in two weeks, pretty safe for us.

So the translation agency gets the order, deducts their gross profit per word from that end-client-imposed rate, and in turn impose the remainder to the translator. They also impose the end-client's mandatory deadline, after subtracting a couple of days (one for time zone difference, another for checking) and a weekend from it. Now the actual deadline of two weeks (end-client's) has been downsized to one week (agency), and further cut down to three days (translator).

The translator is not getting any extra for the rush. First, the whole week the agency has is ample time for one or two translators do such a job, an urgency surcharge wouldn't be justifiable. Second, translation agencies don't pay urgency surcharges, as they say they can split a job among one or two dozen translators, if needed. Nevertheless, the agency has a unique system that sends the translator periodic follow-up messages to tell them that the clock is ticking, and advising on how much time is left.

Okay, everything goes well. Translator delivers to agency, agency delivers to end-client, end-client pays agency. What I failed to mention before was that upon hiring the translator, the agency imposed a 30-day payment term. They reasoned that, If this guy goofs, or otherwise fails, we'll have enough time to get things fixed, so this client will be happy enough to have paid us by then.

When translator payday comes, all that urgency has become ancient history. Most often a gentle reminder one or two days later will be needed. An accountant may reply apologetically, "I'm working alone here, and still have 264 translators to pay. Your invoice is probably in the pile I have on my desk. I understand it's past overdue, however I'd have to stop everything else to locate it now. This would delay the process not only for you, but for the other 263 as well. Please have some patience, you will get paid as soon as I get to your invoice."

So where is the urgency now, 30 or more days later?

I wonder what would happen if translators took clients/outsourcers' urgency requests as seriously as the latter take payment due dates.


NOTES:

1. I'm not referring to all translation agencies. A few pay quickly. Several pay on the dot, without any reminder. However too many still require action from the translator. The amazing thing is that most (I've had only one exception so far) agencies that have heavily computerized project management and accounting systems always pay a few days late, usually after the translator has sent a reminder.

2. I see too many translation job ads to the tune of "URGENT job: we need 8,000 words translated within the next 12 hours", and where the payment will be 30, 45, or 60 days later. This led me to conclude that, in translation, urgency is not in the eyes of the beholder.


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Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:57
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Freelancers need to attempt to engender an attitude of reciprocity Feb 12, 2011

There is a fundamental disparity between many agencies' attitude toward delivery deadlines and payment deadlines.

My own thought about how to combat this is to simply include the following in every message in which I confirm acceptance of any project:

EXPECTATION OF RECIPROCITY RE DELIVERY AND PAYMENT DEADLINES

I will deliver the translation of the project I am accepting by the stated deadline and, should unforeseen circumstances intervene to prevent delivery, I will immediately notify you and attempt to resolve whatever problem has arisen as quickly as possible. Under no circumstances (save force majeure) will I let the deadline pass and wait for you to contact me to remind me that a project is due.

I expect a reciprocal promptitude and urgency on your part regarding the agreed payment terms. Thus, I will expect to receive payment on or before [DATE], which is 30 days following the delivery and invoicing of this project. And, if you should become aware that, because of unforeseen circumstances, I will not be receiving payment at that time, I would expect you to 1.) notify me immediately that payment is delayed, and 2.) to resolve whatever issue is impeding payment as quickly as possible.

***

Do you think that agencies would accept such an agreement? To me it seems fair.

I previously addressed this issue along similar lines. See:

http://www.proz.com/forum/business_issues/188756-draft_of_*reciprocity_of_obligations_agreement*.html


P.S.
Another idea would simply be to include the above statement in the reply, without requesting "acceptance" of it. If the recipient has an issue, then he or she can respond and state what the issue is.

The statement could then be referenced should there be any delay in payment.

[Edited at 2011-02-12 18:01 GMT]


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Rachel Fell  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:57
French to English
+ ...
Nice Feb 12, 2011

Good posting José

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Susan Welsh  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:57
Member (2008)
Russian to English
+ ...
@Robert - good idea Feb 13, 2011

I think it's a good idea. (But I don't think "promptitude" is a word. I'd go for "promptness.")

Susan


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Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:57
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Thank you, Susan Feb 13, 2011

"Promptitude" is a word but perhaps, as you say, "promptness" would be a better choice.....

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Steven Capsuto  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:57
Spanish to English
+ ...
Urgency... or not Feb 13, 2011

I find that about 3/4 of the time, when I quote a rush fee the clients' dizzying urgency suddenly evaporates and they agree to a reasonable turn-around time with no rush fee.

[Edited at 2011-02-13 21:33 GMT]


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Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:57
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
@Steven Feb 13, 2011

I have found this to be true in a number of cases myself. (Another possibility is that they find someone else who gladly accepts the unreasonable terms in the absence of a rush rate. I've seen this happen as well.)

I think it really bad for the profession for translators to accept rush terms without concommitant rush rates. It is one of a number of things that gives certain outsourcers the impression that translators can be had on the cheap, and without the need to acknowledge any reasonable limits re freelancers' other obligations, whether professional or personal.

[Edited at 2011-02-13 23:48 GMT]


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Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:57
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Alternative text to be submitted on invoice Feb 14, 2011

Perhaps it would work best to simply include a version of the "expectation of reciprocity" text on the invoice itself. That way, the translator is able to state that timely delivery of the project has already happened, and that timely payment is expected in return. The text would then read:

EXPECTATION OF RECIPROCITY RE DELIVERY AND PAYMENT DEADLINES

I have delivered the completed project to you by the agreed deadline date.

I in turn expect a reciprocal urgency on your part regarding the agreed payment terms. Thus, I will expect to receive payment on or before [DATE], which is 30 days following the delivery and invoicing of this project. And, if you should become aware that, because of unforeseen circumstances, I will not be receiving payment at that time, I would expect you to 1.) notify me immediately that payment is delayed, and 2.) to resolve whatever issue is impeding payment as quickly as possible.

***
Such a text could perhaps be used for new clients. I see its function as serving notice that you take payment deadlines seriously and are prepared to act swiftly to recover any outstanding debt. It can also later be referenced if problems do arise later.

Once again, there is a creeping tendency for some outsourcers to treat payment deadlines as "loose guidelines" and to habitually delay payment a week or two. Freelancers' firmly stating their own expectations in the ways I've suggested in this thread might help combat this tendency.


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