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Translation Cancellation by the agency or customer: what to do?
Thread poster: Alexandre Chetrite

Alexandre Chetrite
France
Local time: 02:05
English to French
Aug 14, 2009

Hello,

What happens if a translation agency agrees to give a freelance translator a translation to do and signs the agreement but the agency's client cancels the assignment?

Would the freelance translator be entitled to ask for compensation?. Does it matter if the translator didn't start work on it or has already begun?
And what if the agreement hasn't been signed and the customer cancels but the agency had given clear signs that the translation was assigned?

I have done a terms and agreement document that I send to every agency/outsourcer I get assignment from and it must be read.

Maybe I should include a clause that says that a cancellation after agreement can't be accepted even if it's not under the agency's control? (and thus ask to be paid for what I have already translated?) The partiel translation would be worthless to the agency since the assignement has been cancelled, but I guess it's not the translator's problem who needs to be paid for the work already done.
Oh and also do you distinguish between the agency cancelling and the end client cancelling?

Clearly if the agency cancels then everything is clear: the translor must be paid. But if the end client cancels and because the translator doesn't have a direct contract with the end client,would the agency have to take responsibility for this incident?


Please give your advice.


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avsie  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:05
English to French
+ ...
End client can pay, too Aug 14, 2009

It happens from time to time that we have to cancel a project after the translator had already begun working on it. As end clients, we're asking the agency/freelancer to bill us for the work that has been done.

I don't really see the problem here, really. If the end client cancels a job that you accepted via an agency, it's logical to me that the agency bills the end client for the work done so far (that means YOUR work and THEIRS) and in turn, pays you for your work.

Unless you're dealing with a dishonest end client who refuses to pay for the partially translated work. But that's another story...


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Celine Gras  Identity Verified

Local time: 02:05
English to French
+ ...
work already done, but not only Aug 14, 2009

This has never happened to me, but what if you refuse other assignements to make yourself available for a project, which is finally cancelled? Even though you have not started to work on the cancelled project, its cancellation makes you lose other assignements as well, i.e. some more money... Don't you think the client should compensate you for this, and not only for the work done?

Céline


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Kata Koncz  Identity Verified
Hungary
Local time: 02:05
Member (2008)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
It's our decision (and risk) Aug 14, 2009

what if you refuse other assignements to make yourself available for a project, which is finally cancelled?


I think that's the translator's risk. I never do that.


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Philippe Etienne  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 02:05
Member
English to French
A common practice for agencies is to pay only the work already done Aug 14, 2009

Whether the end customer themselves cancelled or don't pay is not your problem.

I had a few such occurrences, and my agency customers usually ask me to bill whatever is already done. If they don't ask I raise the issue and charge.
I don't know if they charge their end customer and how much, and it doesn't enter the equation.

Let's imagine a disorganised agency who needs two hours to spread the news of the customer's cancellation to you (lunch break of PM, email down, whatever). Would you waste two hours worth of work just because of an agency's unresponsiveness or substandard capabilities? I certainly wouldn't.

On the other hand, I usually don't charge anything if the job is cancelled before I started or if I CHOOSE to book time in advance (and turn down other opportunities in the meantime) for a job that fails to materialise or comes up skimmed of half of its anticipated volume.
This is my own business, and I take such risks (or not) knowingly.

My standard terms and conditions state that I should charge 50% of the work ordered and not done and 100% of the work already performed (SFT template).
So far I have never felt that I should have charged work that I haven't performed.

I know some translators charge a cancellation fee even if they haven't touched the keyboard. It all depends on how you steer your own boat.

Happy trafic jamming,
Philippe


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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:05
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
This happened to me once Aug 14, 2009

The agency took the same line as marie-Claude's, so I was quite satisfied with the outcome.

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Dinny  Identity Verified
Greece
Local time: 03:05
Italian to Danish
+ ...
Never to "do that" is almost impossible! Aug 14, 2009

Dear Kata,
When you agree to do a job, you must necessarily adapt your schedule to reflect the time you intend to spend for that specific job. Never to do that would mean that you accept just anything that comes your way, even if you have to work nights, or double-time nights, to finish it. That is hardly a healthy way of doing business.
So, if you have accepted to do a job, you should have also freed your time to do it. Depending on how early the cancellation arrives... whether it is already into that "freed time" you have reserved for the job... should determine how much you can charge. It does not necessarily compare with the translation already done, because often before starting a job you would spend time on doing research, googling, checking glossaries available, and stuff like that. So, as far as I am concerned, I would invoice the (working) hours into the free time reserved for the job that had passed by before the cancellation arrives. The agency will have to deal with this and get their money from the end client. Your time as well as mine is committed to the agency.... as soon as they cancel and get off the hook, the minor damage, moneywise. But the agency will have to pay whatever time you have spent on the booked project.

Dinny


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:05
English to Spanish
+ ...
Agency - End Client Aug 14, 2009

Unless you cheerfully agree to take others' business risks, you are not responsible for anything happening between an agency and an end client. It matters not who cancels the job, the agency is the party you are dealing with and it is responsible to you.

If the job was clearly authorized by the agency and you have done part of it already, then the agency owes you for the part you have done before the job is canceled.

If you have not done any of the work yet, then the agency owes you nothing. And as Kata points out, you should never refuse other assignments to make yourself available for a project, because then you are assuming the risk that it can finally be cancelled with no compensation to you. As I tell everyone, "it's first come, first served, as soon as you authorize the job, then it has priority".


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Alexandre Chetrite
France
Local time: 02:05
English to French
TOPIC STARTER
About cancellation fees Aug 14, 2009

Hello,

So I guess that either one can charge a cancellation fee or not charge anything if work has not begun.

I should add that another factor is to be taken into account; it's the volume of work.

A translator thats gets more translations regularly than another one will have less trouble with a last minute cancellation.. Though it still can be a pain for both, the former one will more than make up for the loss of money by doing more translations

Whereas the other type of translator will feel that it's a real loss, especially if it was for a big translation.

Another factor is the size of the translation: missing a small translation is better (if one can state it this way) than missing a big one. The financial loss is smaller, but the opportunity cost of not being able to do another translations tends to make me think that one should at least make the agency aware that this should not happen again if possible.

As for using a cancellation fee or not, I agree. It's a personal choice.It's quite risky too in terms of business relationship.

Good-bye.

[Edited at 2009-08-14 13:37 GMT]


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Celine Gras  Identity Verified

Local time: 02:05
English to French
+ ...
Cancellation AFTER the agency has authorized the job Aug 14, 2009

"it's first come, first served, as soon as you authorize the job, then it has priority".


What if you have a firm agreement, all documents to be translated, a PO, you are about to start working, just refused another job to be delivered by the end of the day because you are supposed to be working on this (soon to be) cancelled project?

How can you never refuse a project when your schedule is already full? Even when quoting, I take into account other quotes that I have sent, so that I will not end up translating 4,000 words per day during 10 days because all of my quotes have finally been accepted.

As I said, this situation has never happened to me, but I regularly wonder how I would handle it. I don't imagine contacting other agencies saying "hi, I turned down your project this morning, but after all I can do it. Is it still available?". How unprofessional is this?

It seems to me that charging 50% of the order, as Philippe suggested, is a reasonable compensation, but of course clients should be aware of this term before they order a translation.

Also, as Dinny said, charging for the time spent for research purposes seems logical too.

[Edited at 2009-08-14 14:26 GMT]


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Lesley Clarke  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 19:05
Spanish to English
I don't know but... Aug 14, 2009

I just take it as one of those things that happens. So far any agency that has had to concel a job that I've already started has automatically offered to pay for the work done. As for cancelled projects, it is unfortunate but it happens. The agency is probably much more affected when a big job is cancelled having probably invested a lot of time and effort into getting the project in the first place.

It happened to me this summer, the job wasn't cancelled but ended up being a quarter the work I had been promised. But how could I get angry with the agency when they had been working since September 2008 to get the commission, from submitting the bid to going to regular meetings with the client. I felt sorry for them.


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Katalin Horváth McClure  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:05
Member (2002)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Look at the ATA model contract for a professional example Aug 14, 2009

First of all, the agency has its own agreement with the end client, the translator (subcontractor) has nothing to do with it. A professional agency would have a clause in the agreement it signs with the end client to protect itself from the negative business effects of a canceled or reduced contract. It is part of running a business, it is part of risk management. Some agencies may opt for not including this in their contract, and assume the risk of cancellations, but if they want to be successful, they need to compensate for this risk somehow, for example, build it into their general pricing model. After all, agencies charge their markups because they add value to the process, and assuming the role of this "cushion" between the end client and the translator is part of the value they add. Agencies that try to pass on such risks to their subcontractors are unprofessional, and do not deserve to earn their markups.

On the other hand, we freelancers are running a business, too. It is important to mitigate our own risks, just like as anybody else in the translation industry. Our contracts with our clients (agencies or direct end clients - it doesn't matter) should include an agreement about handling cancellations or other type of modifications in the contract.

The ATA model contract includes this is Clause 3:
3. Cancellation or withdrawal by Client. If Client cancels or withdraws any portion of the item(s) described in paragraph 1 above prior to Translator's completion of the service(s), then, in consideration of Translator's scheduling and/or performing said service(s) Client shall pay Translator the portion of the above fee represented by the percentage of total service(s) performed, but in any event not less than _____% of said fee.


I usually put 50% on the last line.

See the entire contract here:
https://www.atanet.org/careers/model_contract.php

I think this whole issue gets really important with large projects that involve blocking a longer period of time, and perhaps involves rejecting other business. You are not unprofessional, not greedy, not a "stinky capitalist swine" if you include a protective clause (such as the sample above) in your agreements with your clients, and apply it when the situation arises. It is part of running a professional business.
Of course, the translator can choose to simply assume the risk of cancellation for smaller projects, and absorb any losses, but again, this should be included in the overall pricing model.

Katalin

[Edited at 2009-08-14 16:40 GMT]


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Philippe Etienne  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 02:05
Member
English to French
Size does matter Aug 14, 2009

Celine Gras wrote:
What if you have a firm agreement, all documents to be translated, a PO, you are about to start working, just refused another job to be delivered by the end of the day because you are supposed to be working on this (soon to be) cancelled project?

Such situation is unlikely and unfortunate but:
the offer turned down is small: one day's work is max say 2000 words. Your max loss is a day's work. Such situation also means that you're successful and busy: a day's off is what you dream of. So take it and smile.
Let's also not forget that DEADLINES CAN BE NEGOTIATED to make your life easier.
How can you never refuse a project when your schedule is already full? Even when quoting, I take into account other quotes that I have sent, so that I will not end up translating 4,000 words per day during 10 days because all of my quotes have finally been accepted.

You quote should include "tentative delivery date depending on availalability"
With agencies, it is somewhat more comfortable to turn down jobs. They (should) have other resources, and again DEADLINES CAN BE NEGOTIATED.
I don't imagine contacting other agencies saying "hi, I turned down your project this morning, but after all I can do it. Is it still available?". How unprofessional is this?

I don't think I qualify as "unprofessional", and I did exactly that on a few occasions. Agencies understand what we do. I had my share of large planned projects cancelled or watered down, so mitigating loss has become a second nature. Nobody's ever laughed at me when I explained the situation.
When I am offered a firm large project (say from 10-20k) that overlaps a planned timeslot for another large project, I inform the "defaulting" party that my capacity will be reduced in the planned project because hey, the other order is firm and yours is not. Again they understand our contingencies.
It seems to me that charging 50% of the order, as Philippe suggested, is a reasonable compensation

This is suggested by the SFT, the French-equivalent ATA if I am not mistaken. I have never applied this, because I have never felt that my real loss in business and/or income was significant. So far every time it occurred I managed to land smoothly on another fitting job or a series of smaller jobs.


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:05
English to Spanish
+ ...
Time Commitments Aug 14, 2009

Actually, the greatest possibility for conflicts and problems over cancellations comes with interpreting, not translation, because of the specific time commitments involved. I have many colleagues who are primarily interpreters and I honestly do not know how they handle it and still make out OK. Moreover, some have mentioned that it is not easy to get clients to pay cancellation fees.

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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 20:05
English to French
+ ...
Size of turned down job matters, too Aug 14, 2009

I have a clause in my terms and conditions document much like what Katalin uses, but it goes even farther. It also specifies that, besides the fee for the completed portion of work, there is another fee which corresponds to 50% of the total amount of the job that is charged as well (often, this means that cancelling the job would be costlier than just getting it done and paying the full price).

Most translators work on small assignments that can be completed within a few days. However, there is a minority that routinely works on projects that take months to finish. What happens if you turn down a contract that is worth thousands of dollars because you are busy with a much smaller job and don't want to risk delivering the large job late? If that small job is cancelled the day after, you have just lost a nice, fat opportunity for no good reason. I call that falling between two chairs on the floor. It is simply sound business sense to protect oneself from such bad luck.

This also helps to convince the client to only submit work to a translator when they are absolutely sure it needs to get done. In my experience, some agencies do take translators for granted, and such agencies tend to completely disregard the damage done to your business by such cancellations.

Compensation for loss of opportunity should also be part of your terms and conditions document.


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