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Poor skills in negotiation - or realist?
Thread poster: Sian Cooper

Sian Cooper  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 18:52
French to English
+ ...
May 23, 2013

Hi - related to the post about 'hilarious' rates. I have, as I mentioned in my reply to that post, a minimum rate that I will not go under, in any circumstances. That rate is about half what I think is a fair rate for a skilled human translation, based on research on ProZ. I have occasionally got that rate, and even higher. But generally my negotiation goes:

Me: "My rate is x/word"
Agency:: "The budget for the job is y/word" (where y is 2 or 3 cents less than x, but not below my minimum)
Me: "Oh. OK then."

I have been trying to freelance for a year. Despite each of my (sadly few) clients/agencies having been, apparently, delighted with my work; and despite not having pushed for higher prices, I am not getting repeat work, and in general I'm just not getting work. I am far too scared of losing a job (even at my lowest-end rate) to dare to change the above negotiation pattern...

Would they respect me more if I did? Or do I just have to suck it up, I am a newby (without translation qualifications/certifications at present), that's just the way it is, reputation is slow to build, and times are hard anyway?

Thanks, guys


 

Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 19:52
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Sorry to hear that May 23, 2013

Just hang on a year, the clients will appear, if you do not make any mistakes (late delivery, sloppy work). Perhaps you should look for special fields that are better rated, like technical manuals, medical and law. If your work load is low, you could easily take a class or study on your own.
Why don't you try to negotiate, if you want x and they offer y, suggest (x+y)/2.


 

Charlotte Farrell  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:52
Member (2013)
German to English
+ ...
Try to Negotiate More... May 23, 2013

But be reasonable. If a company is offering 'y', you can't ask for '2y' and expect them to accept it, but you can usually ask for a little bit more than they're offering. If you ask for 10 cents per word, for example, and they offer you 6, you'd have a good shot of getting them to agree to 7 or 7.5 as a compromise. In that example, maybe reply saying that 6 is too low and that 7 or 7.5 cents is your absolute minimum but you could work with them at that rate. You've lowered from your initial offer but are still getting a fairer rate.

It's hard if you're in the position that you're scared of losing what little work you have, but in that case it's also all the more important to get as much money for your work as is fair.


 

Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 18:52
Italian to English
Two points May 23, 2013

Sian Cooper wrote:

reputation is slow to build, and times are hard anyway?



Point one: Yes.

Point two: Why should customers pay you more?

You can't do much about the first but you might be able improve your customer appeal.

The translation market can be lucrative but really only at the top end, where there is less competition and translators have more negotiating heft.

You say on your profile that you have "extremely broad and deep range of subject knowledge and translation of different document types", which means basically that you are competing directly for jobs with a vast range of other generalist translators. This is all to the customer's advantage but not to yours.

Analyse what kind of "translation product" you can deliver and specialise in that (business, for example, offers many promising areas and you have a solid background). It is the nature of agencies not to tell anyone when they find a good translator so you may want to focus on your direct customers. Provide a decent service and sooner or later, word of mouth will have the punters coming to you.


 

JaneD  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 18:52
Member (2009)
Swedish to English
+ ...
Slight variation May 23, 2013

I sympathise, Sian; personally I think that attitude comes from being British and being naturally too polite!

Anyway, here is a slight variation on your script that works quite regularly (not always, but it's an improvement on your current approach):

"My rate is x/word"

"The budget for the job is y/word"

"OK, how about z/word, then?" Where z is about half way between x and y.


It's surprising how many budgets miraculously grow if you just give them a *little* push.


On a more general level, you have to expect it to take a while to get sufficient repeat clients to put you in the happy position of having to turn down work on a daily basis. A year is the usually-quoted period, so you ought to find it gets easier from here on!

Jane


 

Siegfried Armbruster  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 18:52
Member (2004)
English to German
+ ...
Change your profile May 23, 2013

Dear Sian,
as an owner of a LSP, I had a look a look at your ProZ profile. As I see it , it can be optimized. I could just not find any reason "why" I should contact you for a job. Everything on your profile is very vague and does not present the picture of an experienced translator. Sorry if this sounds harsh, but try to look at your profile with the eyes of a potential customer.

ProZ sometimes offers webinars on how to improve your profile and how to meet customers. Use them.

If you are interested in a more independent webinar on how to use ProZ (which might be complimentary to the ones offered by ProZ), you are welcome to participate in the one I am offering http://alexandria-library.com/2013/04/01/proz-webinar/

[Edited at 2013-05-23 10:12 GMT]


 

Olly Pekelharing  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 18:52
Member (2009)
Dutch to English
Approach agencies directly May 23, 2013

Is ProZ your main source of clients? My experience with ProZ is that most agencies that regularly use it are in the low to very low paying category. Better to approach agencies directly. Based on your profile and with your low rates, if you are a good translator I would think you should rise in the ranks fairly quickly. Just a matter of persevering; a year isn't long for building a client base.

Regards,

Olly


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 18:52
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Sounds familiar May 23, 2013

Sian Cooper wrote:
But generally my negotiation goes:

Me: "My rate is x/word"
Agency:: "The budget for the job is y/word" (where y is 2 or 3 cents less than x, but not below my minimum)
Me: "Oh. OK then."


The same applies to me. And I don't think it is a bad thing. You have a "usual rate" that you quote to clients, and then you have an "absolute minimum rate" that you don't tell clients but which you keep in mind when clients try for a reduced rate. However, you must be prepared to say "no" if the rate does go below your absolute minimum.

I am not getting repeat work, and in general I'm just not getting work.


It takes a while before you start getting repeat work. I think one generally only gets repeat work if you have replaced the client's previous main translator, or if the client has lots and lots of work.


 

Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 22:22
English to Hindi
+ ...
You will have to hold on May 23, 2013

You say you have been freelancing for a year. That is too short a period to build up a viable practice. In my experience, I have had clients coming back to me after a hiatus of several years. I would have given up on them, thinking that they have dumped me, when back they come with a juicy job. The main reason for this is not that you or I are bad or undesirable translators, but the nature of this business itself - there is no predictability regarding when the next job will come.

Further, both your pairs are very active pairs which has both advantages and disadvantages - more work is being done in these language pairs, but there also more translators in these language pairs, so the competition is tough.

My advice is, hold on for some more time, and do not lose hope. You will do well eventually if you are good at translation.

Meanwhile, see if you can open up additional income streams to supplement your income.


 

Sian Cooper  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 18:52
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you for many very useful replies May 23, 2013

Dear all of you - too, too many useful replies to answer each individually, but I definitely take on that:

- I should try to negotiate a bit, instead of just rolling over
- I should try to concentrate on my specialisations
- Improve my profile, highlight my selling points (I'm really bad at that stuff)
- keep networking - I'm getting some kind help from other translators, which I really appreciate (very very much!)
- MA won't be before 2015. So, see if I can get any other certification (some sort of French diploma would be good)
- I have to be patient (if I don't starve first)

I'm doing quite a lot of cold-contact (agencies), but with zero joy so far; all the good ones want an MA, or minimum 3 years' experience, and the rest want to pay tuppence a year. I'm also reminding past clients/agencies of my existence, etc. and shamelessly approaching everyone I can think of.

If I can stick it out, it will bear fruit soon. I hope. But meanwhile, it is really great that the environment here is so supportive and friendly, thank you all again.


 

Marie-Helene Dubois  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:52
Spanish to English
+ ...
Don't despair May 23, 2013

Sian Cooper wrote:

- MA won't be before 2015. So, see if I can get any other certification (some sort of French diploma would be good)



Hi Sian,

My take on the above point would be to advise you to look into the CIoL DipTrans certification. This is a highly-regarded qualification in the translation industry and you can just show up at the exam (I do advise practising with past papers first though).

Other than that, I would just say hang in there and don't (as you say) roll over. I think that you can add value and capture new clients when you're starting out by taking jobs that other translators don't want to do (perhaps because they're at the weekend or because they're a bit faffy like certificates et al) without necessarily selling yourself on price.

As others have said, 1 year is short in the grand scheme of things and if you stick to your guns, you will eventually get work at healthy rates. You just have to do some marketing for yourself. Go to trade shows (even if they're not translation-related), try to get direct clients that you can use in your portfolio, contact agencies with a high BB rating. It takes all of that to get a good base of clients and this base will be in a continuous state of flux as some go out of business, have decreased requirements in your language pairs, want to induce you to drop your rates etc.

So hang in there and good luck!


 

Tina Vonhof
Canada
Local time: 10:52
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Profile May 23, 2013

Your profile looks good now, Sian. The only thing I would suggest is to use a larger font for the bulletted points - they are the most important, yet hard to read.

With a profile like that, clients can't be far off.


 

Sian Cooper  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 18:52
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
How good to hear! May 23, 2013

Tina Vonhof wrote:

Your profile looks good now, Sian. The only thing I would suggest is to use a larger font for the bulletted points - they are the most important, yet hard to read.

With a profile like that, clients can't be far off.


Tina, thanks so much, both for bothering to look at it, and for the feedback.

I spent ages - AGES - working on the formatting, and (obviously) have not managed to get it right yet. Couldn't face any more!! - but I shall go back and try to battle with it again.

I have logged a support issue with ProZ, in fact, about the Preview, which does not handle various formatting commands, and just shows blank from the point it meets them. Sadly, my first line contains one of those, so for each change/validation I had to save, and view, and switch to client view...

Thanks again!


 

Sian Cooper  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 18:52
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
CIoL DipTrans certification etc. May 23, 2013

Hi, Marie-Helène, and thanks very much for your suggestions. I find it hard to get to events (they are always at the other end of France, and I'm really skint!) - I could certainly try to get to the Paris centre for the CIoL in January, and maybe there would be a useful event at the same time. I shall certainly look at some of their past papers, thanks!

Online education is a bit behind in France, I believe. I have searched on Formasup, and there are NO online translation courses available on it at all, even partially online, at any level. Which is (in my opinion) poor. The online MA I'm doing at Bristol is quite excellent, and 100% online.

I will be starting the VAE process, and should get a reasonably high level, between L1 and L3 for various things (IT, business, language...) out of it. That will help my acceptance in the French market. It would also open studying for Masters in France, which is far less flexible on accepting experience without diplomas. But - time, time!!

Anyway - all good feedback, thanks again!


 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 18:52
English to Polish
+ ...
Negotiation May 24, 2013

Sian Cooper wrote:

Hi - related to the post about 'hilarious' rates. I have, as I mentioned in my reply to that post, a minimum rate that I will not go under, in any circumstances. That rate is about half what I think is a fair rate for a skilled human translation, based on research on ProZ. I have occasionally got that rate, and even higher. But generally my negotiation goes:

Me: "My rate is x/word"
Agency:: "The budget for the job is y/word" (where y is 2 or 3 cents less than x, but not below my minimum)
Me: "Oh. OK then."

I have been trying to freelance for a year. Despite each of my (sadly few) clients/agencies having been, apparently, delighted with my work; and despite not having pushed for higher prices, I am not getting repeat work, and in general I'm just not getting work. I am far too scared of losing a job (even at my lowest-end rate) to dare to change the above negotiation pattern...

Would they respect me more if I did? Or do I just have to suck it up, I am a newby (without translation qualifications/certifications at present), that's just the way it is, reputation is slow to build, and times are hard anyway?

Thanks, guys


Sian, does your client mix include seasoned courtroom or boardroom sharks? I'd try to pick their brains, even barter services or cross-sell. If not, some other clients of yours may have valuable practical knowledge from this area (e.g. sales folks you translate reports for, probably most solo lawyers). Get some free resources on negotiation online. Borrow some from a library. Any negotiation skills or knowledge you acquire you can market as interpreter anyway. Negotiation training really gives you a lot, while ADR (alternative dispute resolution) training that may well be offered by the same people (e.g. mediation and negotiation in a bundle) teaches you a lot about pie sharing, as well as making more pie. I've been to three such trainings, and they've made a powerful impression on me. I really value the experience, but most of all the eye-opening.

Even if you don't actually go ahead and do what I recommended, you can still do at least some reading that will help you. For a beginner, it's already good just simply to expand your perspective, make you aware of some things, rather than conveying deep and 100% accurate knowledge, so blogs etc. shouldn't be bad.

Here's some for starters:
http://changingminds.org/disciplines/negotiation/tactics/tactics.htm

Also, fact is that some people lie. It helps to be able to know who lies. I wouldn't work with liars even if I could get better rates than they offer initially. Someone who lies to lower your rate, will he own up to his own mistakes when it comes to your liability or his when something goes wrong? Will such a person, when employed by an agency, try hard to pay you fully and on time even if the end client doesn't pay? Or defend you against an unjustified complaint? (Judging whether the quality of a rush job is satisfactory in the circumstances is a whole different cup of fish from proving that a reviewer is making rules up.) In fact, there is a good chance he would. People sometimes lie in small matters they believe harmless but act proper in larger, more important stuff. But anyway, it's risky to work with liars.

Then, there are open guys who really have that budget and are telling you like it is. You can't really get that much more from them. In some situations, they will pay the translator more than the client pays them because they can make up in the long run. But this is similar to the can't pay or won't pay debtor situation, as one poster put it a couple of days ago in one of the non-payment threads.

Finally, there are guys who give you approximate numbers, or their budget is somewhat flexible (e.g. as part of a larger scheme), but it's just low anyway. You can negotiate some but not much.

Bottom line, you can't get much more pay when they mention a specific budget, barring a narrow range of exceptions. Those exceptions generally include either liars (who you don't want to work with) or decent folks who will eventually take responsibility for the situation and accept the loss. In the latter situation, I'd prefer to help them out unless the rate's really low and results from operating in the low bracket by choice rather than a mishap. In fact, who knows, one day they may have a nice job to hand out.


 
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