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Should a translator cover (any part of) the damage caused by an agency PM's incompetence?
Thread poster: José Henrique Lamensdorf

José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 21:34
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Jun 11, 2012

I'd like to have my esteemed fellow Prozians' opinion on this situation.

This agency - a new client for me - had a huge project, several translators involved. They had a good reputation everywhere, I saw no trouble there.

As soon as I got involved, I noticed that the PM was managing the overall workflow in a rather ineffective way, so I pointed them a better alternative. The PM replied that I must do it exactly as specified, and don't argue, or simply bail out. All right, the client rules!

I delivered it as requested, well before the deadline, and got paid as agreed. Then I got in another stage of the same project, and that new part of it, at least the part assigned to me, showed that same potential problem, enlarged. Well, I had my instructions already, no point in asking again.

The translation work for me was the same, as instructed, however it left a tremendous amount of work in terms of otherwise (I mean, if done in the way I suggested) unnecessary reformatting before delivery to the end-client. My guess is that the PM was doing it personally. Again, I delivered the translation as requested, before the deadline.

Btw, I have no idea on what happened with the other translators involved, apparently what some of them delivered caused even more trouble there.

At this time, the PM was fired, and the agency took on the immense finishing work to be able to deliver the job. Of course, the end-client received it late, so they probably invoiced late, and will be paid later.

Now my invoice for the second stage is past due, and they are have unilaterally decided to pay me half of the amount they owe after having extended their own imposed payment term (longer than my usual - however I accepted it) by 50%, the remainder TBA, if ever.

I mean, is that fair or even acceptable? I didn't (and would never) hire such an unskilled PM who won't listen to reason, i.e. it's "their way or the highway", and now that PM is on the road, and I'm holding the sack.

Should I explain all my creditors, utility companies, etc. that an incompetent PM in another country is to blame, not me? Or should I get a loan myself to fund that agency to go on paying their bills?

My opinion is that the agency should bite the bullet, find their way to pay me in full immediately, get a loan if necessary, because if all this ever happened, it was because they hired the wrong employee; I didn't.

Opinions and suggestions are welcome.


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Tina Vonhof  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 16:34
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Agree Jun 11, 2012

I agree that you should be paid as agreed upon when you started the project and you should not be expected to suffer the consequences of their mismanagement. Whether they will do so is another question. As a way to still get what they owe you, maybe you can negotiate payment in installments, with a fixed deadline for each installment.

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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 21:34
English to Portuguese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
The very point: Why should *I* negotiate? Jun 12, 2012

We negotiated at the outset, and I accepted their rates (slightly lower than mine) and their payment term (twice my standard, my max. 'acceptable'), so it was a closed deal. I fulfilled my part of the deal. If I delivered before their deadline, it's my problem. Why can't they fulfill their part of the deal exactly as they stated it?

If they want to pay in installments, or maybe at a later time, they should go to a bank and arrange it. Why me? I am a translator, I don't offer financial services. Meanwhile I've never seen a bank offering translation services.

What these people should understand (and too many don't) is that they shouldn't try to solve their financial ailings with translators. It's just as sane as taking your car to a dentist to get it fixed, or getting a mechanic to fix your teeth.


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:34
English to Spanish
+ ...
No Jun 12, 2012

Give them nothing. Of course, they may give you nothing as well, but do not deal with such people. You're much too good for that, and I am too. I never deal with such scum, and never will.

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xxxchristela
No Jun 12, 2012

Strange that you as a very experienced translator ask our advice. Do the agencies' strategy to have the translators feeling unsure even affects you?

Insist on full payment in writing, motivate it and sent it by a registered letter if that is possible in your country. If payment doesn't follow, have a debt collection agency hired immediately for the full amount.

Another example. Project, not soo big (40 000 words). After a few days, the agency decided to hire a second translator. I said that there would not be coherent, especially as the translations weren't proofread by the agency but delivered straight to the client. The two translators delivered, and after some days the PM, a trainee, came back and said that the client rejected the whole translation. I got it back. At that stage, it appeared that the other translator was living in another country, with another language variant (good translator, but different style). The translation was full of red comments. What happened at the client's office: they had a young person revise the translations, and she reworked the whole thing in a kind of baby language. What we got back was: her text, her style, and fully corrected by four or five other persons, in different colours. End client screamed. Agency (the boss himself, the PM had been "affected to other tasks") didn't expect this. He organized a three-party conference and had me explain myself. No avail. Client was sure it was crap. Agency boss handled the rest of the workflow. At that stage, client and boss decided to have a "test" done by three translators. They decided I was the right one. New translation refused again by the client. Client screamed again. Agency boss said he lost the client and refused payment. Then it appeared that I had signed a PO mentioning in small print that no payment would follow if client wasn't happy. I let it go, and still regret that I felt unsure, and that I let them walk over me. PS: agency has a great reputation.

[Edited at 2012-06-12 06:39 GMT]


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Joakim Braun  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 00:34
German to Swedish
+ ...
Why you Jun 12, 2012

Because they can. Because too many translators accept business behavior that would end up in court in other sectors.

In the real world terms may sometimes be renegotiated if the customer can't (or won't) pay. But that's if the outstanding amount is very large or the customer relationship very valuable. The default destination of unpaid minor bills is a collection agency or the court. There is no discussion because the excuses or explanations for not paying are irrelevant. Otherwise, who would pay up?

You have an order, have fulfilled that order and now have a claim. What you do with it is your affair, but it certainly appears collectible and the customer relationship of no value.

[Bearbeitet am 2012-06-12 06:53 GMT]


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Radian Yazynin  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:34
Member (2004)
English to Russian
+ ...
Just another lesson Jun 12, 2012

We can't foresee everything. You did your best so for future, under similar circumstances of inadequate PM's behavior, you may wish to cc all your communication to the agency's top management to be on the safe side ("I warned you well in advance!") and exclude such feeble efforts. Anyway regardless of what seniors may say there is every indication that their work-flow is poorly organized which itself is the reason to not teach somebody but to make a proper conclusion.

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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 07:34
Chinese to English
I am frequently very lenient on payment terms... Jun 12, 2012

...because I get a lot of work through colleagues rather than from agencies. With agencies there is no reason to grant them any leeway whatsoever. It's a business, it has to take on the risks associated with being a business.

Having said that, I'm a friendly type. If a company *proposed* a revised payment schedule and *requested* that I help them out - I might go with it. Bu they have no standing to *decide* to pay in half. If you've got a demand for payment form letter, send it instantly.


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:34
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
They should honour their part of the deal Jun 12, 2012

You honoured your part of the deal, and they should do the same on their side. Any other attitude would mean that they are an unreliable business partner, and that should be reflected in their Blueboard so that other translators are warned.

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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:34
Spanish to English
+ ...
My way Jun 12, 2012

I hope you get paid in the end. My standard procedure is to avoid anything with PMs or "huge project, several translators involved" like the plague in the first place.

"Hell is other people"...


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Radian Yazynin  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:34
Member (2004)
English to Russian
+ ...
By the way Jun 12, 2012

neilmac wrote:
My standard procedure is to avoid anything with PMs or "huge project, several translators involved" like the plague in the first place.
"Hell is other people"...

It's true.


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 21:34
English to Portuguese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Some comments Jun 12, 2012

Thanks for the time being folks. Some comments on the points raised so far...

Henry Hinds wrote:
You're much too good for that, and I am too. I never deal with such scum, and never will.


Actually these specific ones are not scum, they have a good track record, and apparently worked years to earn it. IMHO this should justify upholding their accountability in rough times as well. I've kept mine, never delivered a job late, no matter what. I think they should do the same, keep paying timely every translator they ever hired, no matter what.

christela wrote:
Strange that you as a very experienced translator ask our advice. Do the agencies' strategy to have the translators feeling unsure even affects you?

Insist on full payment in writing, motivate it and sent it by a registered letter if that is possible in your country. If payment doesn't follow, have a debt collection agency hired immediately for the full amount.


It's not their 'strategy', just a sad incident arising from having hired a PM too incompetent, kept them for too long, and having discovered it too late, in a project too large. They are not in my country, and they are not refusing to pay. Any legal action, anywhere, would supposedly take much longer than actually getting paid in their unilateral terms. They are simply shifting the burden of the consequences of their own mistake to me.

Joakim Braun wrote:
Because they can. Because too many translators accept business behavior that would end up in court in other sectors.


Very true. I simply turn down any job offer from outsourcers that may apparently cause me trouble later.

However while I am generally a flexible individual, open to negotiation, I am utterly intolerant regarding two things: my delivery on time, no matter what; and my clients' paying as agreed, no matter what.

Phil Hand wrote:
I am frequently very lenient on payment terms... because I get a lot of work through colleagues rather than from agencies. With agencies there is no reason to grant them any leeway whatsoever. It's a business, it has to take on the risks associated with being a business.


I also get a lot of work from overloaded colleagues. Surprisingly, they are the fastest payers around. Of course, as I'll be ghost-translating for them, they'll bear all the other costs than translation work itself, including taxes, so I give them considerably lower rates. They are happy with the reassurance I give them that, if time gets really short, they can safely splice my deliverable as-is to their work, without fearing later complaints on quality. They usually pay faster than agencies, first because these jobs are from direct clients who gave them an advance, and secondly because they want to make sure I'll be available next time they are in a fix.

Interesting, this client here's CEO wrote me about the risks of being a business. What risks, if they dump'em right away on their vendors, huh?

Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:
You honoured your part of the deal, and they should do the same on their side. Any other attitude would mean that they are an unreliable business partner, and that should be reflected in their Blueboard so that other translators are warned.


My entire point, Tomás. I'll be posting an entry on the BB after the whole affair is over, so in case they fail to pay any part of it, a formal complaint to Proz will be filed.

BTW, the bad entry I'll be making on the BB this week is not about this client, but another one. An astrologer would say I've been through a rough patch lately.

neilmac wrote:
My standard procedure is to avoid anything with PMs or "huge project, several translators involved" like the plague in the first place.


For clarification, it was not advertised as such. Yet I saw the actual size of it, and happen to know personally a couple of the several translators involved.


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Elizabeth Rudin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:34
Member (2005)
Hungarian to English
+ ...
Demand payment in full Jun 12, 2012

Dear José, I really feel for you, this is grossly unfair and totally unacceptable.
This translation agency has been in business for a number of years and should know that they always run the risk of a client not being satisfied for one reason or another, not paying for a project, or going bankrupt. They should have adequate reserves to cover such risks, i.e. pay translators for their work and bear any losses if a client fails to pay.

I am also looking at it from the other side of the fence, because some years ago I had a translation company and subcontracted work to a high number of fellow translators. One of our on-going projects was the translation of leisure magazines into Scandinavian languages for a client in the printing industry who had always paid on time and was very pleasant to deal with. After more than a couple of years of working with this client payments started to be delayed. They told me they were having a temporary cash flow problem, but payments would be resumed shortly. In the meantime there was more work to be done, which I accepted, in view of the client’s previous track record. A few weeks later I received a letter from the official receiver advising me, along with other creditors, that the company went into liquidation. I knew at this point that I wouldn’t see a penny of the 4,000+ pounds I was owed, because they had huge debts with their bank, who, as ever, was a preferential creditor.
This was a very painful loss for me, but it never occurred to me not to pay the translators involved in the project, and settled their invoices in full. After a while I decided that I wasn’t prepared to take such risks any longer, and was also fed up with admin work and wanted to spend more time on translations, so I downsized and gave up subcontracting. As a translator I still face the risk of a client not paying, but at least I don’t have to pay colleagues from my own pocket if a client is unable to pay.

This is a matter of integrity: if a translator supplies a translation commissioned by a translation agency and delivers according to specifications, the translator must be paid, no matter what. Any translation company that thinks otherwise is unprincipled and dishonest, and does not deserve the support of professional translators.

As the agency is in another country and legal action would be too expensive, I would advise them that unless I am paid in full, I will publish their name and whole sorry saga on translators’ internet forums, to warn other translators of their unfair practices and make sure that their latest actions ruin their so far excellent reputation.


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Attila Piróth  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 00:34
Member
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Offer them a helping hand Jun 12, 2012

Hi josé Henrique,

It is perfectly clear that you did your part - and more. I would write something like this:

I understand that the project did not work out perfectly. I always take full responsibility for my work, so if the damage to your company is proved to be due to serious negligence on my part, I am ready to discuss a remedy.

Below you will find the entire correspondence with the PM representing your company - whose professional conduct is solely your company's liability. The correspondence proves that I performed my tasks as per specifications, and went beyond the requirements by pointing out the potential flaws in the workflow. Having received clear instructions to proceed as originally agreed, completing the task in any other manner would have been unprofessional.

Due our the long-standing and good relationship [if applicable], I can grant, exceptionally, an extension of the payment deadline by [date], but cannot agree to a reduced fee. If your views on my responsibility are different, I am open to discussing those issues and eventually to arbitration, as outlined in the American Translators Association's service agreement model http://www.atanet.org/careers/translation_agreement_guide.pdf [or similar].

Once the payment issue is settled, I will be pleased to provide my analysis of how similar project management errors can be avoided in the future. These tips will help your company quickly recoup the losses incurred in this mismanaged project.


I know that you have an admirably strict policy on payment deadlines, but perhaps a one-off extension is something that can grant - whereas a 50% reduction is clearly not. Your expert help on project management can be very valuable for them. Mentioning the ATA procedure may be well worth, as it shows openness to negotiation - but only if they can substantiate any specific claims (which is probably not the case).

Best of luck.
Attila


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 21:34
English to Portuguese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Good points, Elizabeth and Attila Jun 12, 2012

It's good to know that I'm not taking an oddball attitude regarding this. While I fully endorse all Elizabeth said, I did what Attila suggested ahead of time, but they chose to handle it unilaterally.

As I said, I am flexible. Once an employee from my best client ever, direct and local, called me: "We really screwed up on one estimate here. Could you do an urgent job for free, and deliver it tomorrow? We'll make up for it on the next one." I said 'yes' even before asking what the job was, and told them that they had already made up for that in advance, during the previous 15 years (at that time) or so. This is OUR game, we play it together.

The present outsourcer has chosen to force me into playing THEIR game, so there is no room left for me to compromise; my only option now is to accept whatever they decide to give me, and take action later.

Upon delivering the job, I took the chance and made some 10 pages of how it would have come out if done in the way I had suggested, and sent it to illustrate my point. But it was too late already.


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