End client disputes word count
Thread poster: Yulia Tsybysheva BA MSc MCIL

Yulia Tsybysheva BA MSc MCIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:48
Member (2011)
English to Russian
+ ...
Nov 18, 2013

Dear all,

I would appreciate your thoughts on the following situation.

A few months ago I applied for a job on Proz calling for translation of ca. 2400 words in the area I specialise in. I was selected for the project but as a proofreader/editor, not as a translator, to which I agreed. The job was advertised by a Dutch agency with no BlueBoard record. Also, we agreed upon the rate per character rather than per hour (I should've known better!)

I was advised that the files would come in batches. However, by the time I submitted my proofread version of the first batch a few changes were introduced to it by the end client and I was asked to read through them again. The same happened with another two batches.

The assignment which I reckoned I would finish in a day or two (it was urgent, of course) lasted more than a week as the end client sent more and more files, where bits were not translated (I had to translate them), pasted or cut. To make matters worse, at some point the client stopped using PPT files, which at least you can edit, and started sending PDFs, which were protected from editing, so I was asked to make an Excel file stating which parts of text needed changing (I couldn't even copy&paste it from the PDFs and ended up typing it!)

I lost count of how many revisions I've done in the course of the week and how much time I spent doing it when in fact I was supposed to start working on another assignment.

I sent my invoice stating the total number of words I've done - it came to at least 9000 words - to the agency, but the end client insists that the word count is 2400 words.

So far the PM at the agency has been very helpful and understanding and has been trying to reason with the client, but to no avail, and the invoice is long overdue. I agreed to 'overlook' about 2000 words, but I still haven't seen any money.

What would be the appropriate course of action? I cannot just slash the word count and pretend this never happened, and I want to be paid at some point in the future.

Many thanks in advance for your advice!


 

Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 13:48
Chinese to English
End client is irrelevant to you Nov 18, 2013

You have no contract with the end client. What they think or say is completely irrelevant to your work.

Obviously the above is not always strictly true, but when it comes to disputes, you have to stick to the legal details. Your contract is with the agency, and the PM representing the agency agrees that you have done much more than 2400 words. Therefore they have to pay you. If they then have difficulty getting payment from their client, then that is entirely their problem.

If you were doing translating, there must have come a point where you said, "This job has changed," surely? And had some acknowledgement of that from the agency?


 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 07:48
English to Polish
+ ...
... Nov 18, 2013

This is friendly advice, not lawyer-client legal advice: Litigation usually doesn't pay, and you typically lose more money in escalating disputes than in cutting the losses and moving on. Think about lost time and all sorts of bad feelings and emotions nobody's going to reimburse you for.

For the future, make sure that some basic terms are clear in advance and always protest significant unilateral changes. You have the right to do that, but the client also has the right to know that whatever he's asking you for is going to cost him e.g. 3-4 times the originally contemplated pay. You can't presume knowledge, foresight, willingness to pay according to your own time and costs etc.

There's a reason I don't accept proofing, revising and other related jobs: you often end becoming the cleaning person and the last one responsible for all sorts of troubles. The going back and forth with changes and the deterioration of source quality are also related issues.


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 07:48
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
I think the agency is partly at fault Nov 18, 2013

Julia Tsybysheva wrote:
I sent my invoice stating the total number of words I've done - it came to at least 9000 words - to the agency, but the end client insists that the word count is 2400 words.


Well, from the client's point of view, the word count is 2400 words. If you don't believe it, count it. There it is -- if you do a word count on the files, you get: 2400 words. The client did not realise, of course, that when you (or the agency) said that the charge is for 2400 words, it meant that the quote is for proofreading 2400 words *once*. The client does not regard 2400 words read twice as being 4800 words, but as... 2400 words.

The agency probably also got the files from the client "in batches", and did not think to tell the client that if he sends the same text more than once (each time with little changes), that he should expect to be charged for it more than once.

The agency's quote to the client was probably based on the word count and not on the amount of work. This is why freelancers such as web designers and graphic designers charge per hour and not per web site or per graphic. We translators charge per word because it makes it easier to calculate the total amount, but it has its downsides, particularly if the client believes he's buying a product instead of a service, or: if the client views our role in the process in the same way as he would view that of an inhouse staff member.

Unfortunately I can't offer advice on how you should have avoided this experience -- the ideal situation would have been if you could have noticed immediately when you exceeded the original 2400 word word count, and warned the client about it.

I often experience this sort of thing myself with some clients whose end-clients seem to be forever sending little bits of updates. Thankfully some of those agencies then say "we'll add this to the PO", but others simply assume that it is okay to re-query and re-query endlessly until the client is happy, and then pay only the originally quoted amount, as if the original quote includes "updates".

I have sympathy for the client also -- this was probably a job with short deadlines on several fronts where the client's employees ran around like headless chickens, trying to coordinate everything, and sending the edits to the proofreader as soon as they could, not realising that the proofreader is not an employee who gets a salary regardless of how long the job took, but a freelancer for whom every hour wasted is an hour's loss of income.


Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz wrote:
You can't presume knowledge, foresight, willingness to pay according to your own time and costs etc.


Sad but true.

Personally I think that you (Julia) are in the right, but this is perhaps one more example of why proofreading should be charged per hour.

The proofreader's job is "never finished", until the client's own time runs out, in contrast to the translator's job -- he is never asked to translate the same text twice (with minor updates), and if he is, then he just uses his CAT tool's fuzzy match functionality to speed things up.


[Edited at 2013-11-18 20:03 GMT]


 

xxxowhisonant  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 07:48
German to English
+ ...
Learning the hard way... Nov 18, 2013

Julia Tsybysheva wrote:

Dear all,

I would appreciate your thoughts on the following situation.

A few months ago I applied for a job on Proz calling for translation of ca. 2400 words in the area I specialise in. I was selected for the project but as a proofreader/editor, not as a translator, to which I agreed. The job was advertised by a Dutch agency with no BlueBoard record. Also, we agreed upon the rate per character rather than per hour (I should've known better!)

I was advised that the files would come in batches. However, by the time I submitted my proofread version of the first batch a few changes were introduced to it by the end client and I was asked to read through them again. The same happened with another two batches.

The assignment which I reckoned I would finish in a day or two (it was urgent, of course) lasted more than a week as the end client sent more and more files, where bits were not translated (I had to translate them), pasted or cut. To make matters worse, at some point the client stopped using PPT files, which at least you can edit, and started sending PDFs, which were protected from editing, so I was asked to make an Excel file stating which parts of text needed changing (I couldn't even copy&paste it from the PDFs and ended up typing it!)

I lost count of how many revisions I've done in the course of the week and how much time I spent doing it when in fact I was supposed to start working on another assignment.

I sent my invoice stating the total number of words I've done - it came to at least 9000 words - to the agency, but the end client insists that the word count is 2400 words.

So far the PM at the agency has been very helpful and understanding and has been trying to reason with the client, but to no avail, and the invoice is long overdue. I agreed to 'overlook' about 2000 words, but I still haven't seen any money.

What would be the appropriate course of action? I cannot just slash the word count and pretend this never happened, and I want to be paid at some point in the future.

Many thanks in advance for your advice!


There's the nice German expression "Lehrgeld zahlen...", which translates roughly to "learning the hard way...", which is what's happening here. Don't feel bad. Similar things have happened to me in the past, and many other translators I know.

In translation, as in any other business, the scope of work, deliverables, responsibilities and compensation must be clearly agreed upon before the job starts. This can be done per contract, or purchase order, or even, if one knows a client well enough, a brief email confirmation that such and such documents with x amount of words are to be translated/proofread at such and such a price, and delivered by a certain date. If there are changes to the original material and scope of work, these must also be documented and confirmed "in written form" - every single time - with stipulation of how and to what degree the additional scope will affect compensation. I assume you had some form of written contract with the agency, and received some kind of communication from them each time there was a change?

It's tempting to call this debacle the fault of the agency (and I don't think they're behaving well at all), but as independent business people it is our own responsibility to make sure that we adhere to business standards even when the agency and their client do not. It was ultimately your responsibility to keep track of the scope of work, changes, how often and how much you had to repeatedly revise, to advise the agency that working with non-editable PDFs added to time and cost, and to make sure that the entire process is documented.

As regards working with agencies: I can't stand it when, for example, payment is way overdue, and the PM at the agency begs off by telling me that "Oh, the client hasn't paid us yet!". Half the time I don't believe them, and the other half it's just not my business if they have problems managing their accounts receivable. So when you say "...the PM at the agency has been very helpful and understanding and has been trying to reason with the client, but to no avail..." in my point of view, he or she is just taking you for a ride. Agencies are in business to make money. They sign clients, sub-contract the work, and get paid the difference. It's your business to manage the relationship with the agency, it's their business to manage their own damn clients. The fact that they have not adequately done so should not be to your financial disadvantage.

In this case, I would focus my efforts at financial recovery entirely on the agency. Put together what documentation you have, re-invoice if necessary, maybe even assume a part of the loss (at your discretion). Don't pay attention to any stories about "the client did this or that...", it's really not your concern. If the agency disputes the invoice or refuses payment, send Past Due notices, initiate collections, etc. And next time you work with them or any other agency, clearly set your terms in advance. Best of luck!


 

Edward Vreeburg  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 07:48
Member (2008)
English to Dutch
+ ...
clearly a problem between the agency and the end user Nov 19, 2013

and not your problem.

The agency is aware that extra work costs extra, and by sending you more and more ongoing work they expand the original word count... nobody in the translation business is THAT stupid...

Now it seems the end-user is... somehow they think that corrected and re-corrected work is included in the original price... (unless the original quality was horrible and it had to be reworked, over and over again)...

So basically it's a business issue between the agency and the end-user. Now if you can agree with the agency on that = it is THEIR stupidity and THEIR stupid end-user, and you should be paid for your work - they should make up their mind on wether they want to be taken serious in the business (the Netherlands is a small country - they can be out of business very quickly if no translators want to work for them)..

===
Ed


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 06:48
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Don't takes this advice for ALL payment issues Nov 19, 2013

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz wrote:
This is friendly advice, not lawyer-client legal advice: Litigation usually doesn't pay, and you typically lose more money in escalating disputes than in cutting the losses and moving on. Think about lost time and all sorts of bad feelings and emotions nobody's going to reimburse you for.

I do agree, Łukasz, that there are times when you need to give up, to move on. BUT, and it's a big BUT, there are a lot of inexperienced, perhaps rather naïve, translators out there who might think they just have to accept not being paid for their work. And that just isn't right. In fact, there are simplified procedures in many countries for just this type of legal action (the small claims courts, etc) where clients who are just trying to get out of paying you for work can be made to pay - at little cost or time but normally after quite a long wait. Provided that you can prove the work was ordered (even if only by an exchange of emails), and provided that the client didn't come up with clearly defined quality complaints within a reasonable time, then non-payment cases are the easiest for the courts to deal with: being paid for your labour is a fundamental right in most countries.

But that's for clear-cut cases of non-payment for a clearly defined job. This one wasn't defined at all clearly, and that's the real problem. The word-count only reflected payment for the first read-through. If the end client has a few queries, then it's quite acceptable for the agency to pass them to you and expect you to deal with them, IMO. But "a few queries" certainly doesn't include proofreading rewrites of the entire file. As Łukasz says:
For the future, make sure that some basic terms are clear in advance and always protest significant unilateral changes. You have the right to do that, but the client also has the right to know that whatever he's asking you for is going to cost him e.g. 3-4 times the originally contemplated pay.


But as all posters have agreed on, this is really a question of shared blame, and the agency has accepted that, in writing. Personally, I think it's totally unacceptable for an agency to have put itself and you in such a situation - nobody should set up an agency if they can't manage an outsourcing business correctly; it's totally irresponsible.icon_mad.gif You've overlooked payment for 2000 words so you've accepted your part of the blame in this; the agency must now accept their part by paying you for the rest. Whether the agency can recoup their losses from their client or not is absolutely none of your concern.

I hope that you make that totally plain and clear in your formal demand for immediate payment of your long overdue invoice.


 

Yulia Tsybysheva BA MSc MCIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:48
Member (2011)
English to Russian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Many thanks for your thoughts and advice Nov 20, 2013

Thanks a lot for your feedback!

I have resent an invoice to an agency with a formal reminder, though I'm still waiting to hear from them.

In the process I did have a confirmation from the PM that I needed to translate the bits that were left untranslated and I counted them separately using a translation rather than proofreading rate.

And yes, next time round I'd be using a rate per hour to avoid similar situations - I learnt my lesson!

Also, I have a habit of being nice to people and in this situation I've been too nice for too long with the agency.


 

Natalia Mackevich  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:48
English to Russian
+ ...
What you need is... Nov 20, 2013

an hourly rate for revision and proofreading assignments. If the work takes 8 hours (in small batches), it won't matter that the initial wordcount was 2400 words. You invest your time, and time is money.
And yes, next time round I'd be using a rate per hour to avoid similar situations - I learnt my lesson!

Exactly.

[Редактировалось 2013-11-20 10:33 GMT]


 

Lorraine Dubuc  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 01:48
Member (2013)
French to English
+ ...
Trying to play it smart Nov 21, 2013

Hello,

After reading some nightmare stories, I have decided to suggest both a per word rate of say 18 cents a word or 55$ per hour and I charge what is cheapest of the two. This way, I really get paid for the time that I spend working.

I hope for you that you will get paid at your satisfaction.


 


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