It does not pay to be over-smart (on "penny wise, pound foolish" clients)
Thread poster: Narasimhan Raghavan

Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:16
English to Tamil
+ ...
Dec 28, 2005

The other day a new client of mine called me to his place for discussions. It seems he wanted a menu translated from English into German as well as into French. He represents a 4-star hotel, here in Chennai.

The requirement for translation into French was straight forward enough. He wanted the entire menu translated. But for translation into German he wanted to economize. He told me that the new menu in English was just a slight modification of the existing menu, whose German translation was already with him. I was to translate only the modifications. I asked him to give the modifications in a different color font. He agreed and emailed me the English menu.

I took up the French translation first and sent him the finished translation. Then I took up the second part of the assignment and then sent him the German translation duly incorporated in the original English menu. All he had to do was to copy paste from the existing German version the entries into the new menu so that he can get at the revised menu in German.

Here he ran into rough weather. It seems that the new menu in English is a fully revised one and bore no resemblance to the original version in matters of sequence or even formatting. He quietly sent me the old German version and asked me to insert the suitable German translations into the new revised menu.

I refused. I told him that this is entirely a different work and as the German words are already existing and my work was just to hunt them and put them in proper places in the new English menu, this work was not susceptible to straight forward word counting. I suggested that I come to his place, sit with the manager in charge of the menu and put the words in proper places, carrying out any further modifications in the format as might be found necessary by the manager at that time. After hearing my hourly rates and learning about the minimum billing for two hours as well as other conditions such as to- and fro taxi fare plus food while working, he became quiet. Though the conversatin was being conducted over phone, I could almost hear his mental gears moving around and meshing into place. He quietly asked me about the possible additional cost were I to translate the entire menu into German, not bothering about the old translation. Here there was no problem as I was already aware of the full word count of the English menu, on which I based my bill. The difference was not much and he said he would let me know. That was yesterday. He is yet to give me his decision. But the reason for my posting this rests elsewhere.

Trouble comes with clients, who try to cut corners and economize. I will not blame the person negotiating with me as he is just an employee of the organisation in question and his instructions are just to get the work done at the cheapest price. So the client goes into rigmaroles to restrict the work. He forgets that by just getting the entire package translated, he saves a lot in terms of time and avoidable botheration. Let me give a few examples.

One officer negotiating with me said that his Director knows French and at a pinch he can very well look after the visiting French expert. Hence I should reduce my rates. I just took a few minutes to demolish his assumption. The French expert was supposed to work with the Indian workers giving them training. Did the officer expect that the company's top official will sit with them and do interpreting? I told the officer that that person was expected to manage the company on the whole and not lose himself in a lower-end job as far as he was concerned. The officer quickly agreed and we proceeded with the rate negotiation.

In another firm, there was a bunch of German drawings. The officer entrusting the work to me marked a few words in each sheet and told me to translate just them as he undestood the other words. I obliged without argument as it was a job paid on an hourly basis, finished the work as instructed and got paid. The trouble was, the concerned officer left the company soon afterwards. His successor was not so knowledgeable and he wanted the meaning of words that were left untranslated. You guessed it correctly. Another work for me. Needless to say, the company ended up paying me much more.

There was this client, who expected me not to charge for interpreting while accompanying him and the visitor to a five-star hotel for wining and dining. He was of the opinion that I should be content with five-star food. I told him politely that I am not enamoured of five star food, in fact was just fed up with them! (pun intended!). Either he pays me for my time or I do not go. He said that he would manage the hotel visit himself and asked me to come for technical interpreting the next day. But things took a differeent turn the next day. The visitor had eaten something, which was not suitable for his stomach. He was an European and there are many spicy Indian foods about which I always caution the visitor. Well, in this case I was not there. The visitor had bouts of vomiting and loose motion throughout the next day. He had to be taken to a doctor, who put him on drips. Naturally I sat by his side and interpreted between him and the doctor, as well as the pretty nurse, whom the expert found to be nice. However the client was not amused, as the expert's daily rate was way higher than my interpreting fees for the three hours spent at the five-star hotel. The client became very thoughtful afterwards.

Then there are clients not wishing to pay for numbers, proper nouns, repetitions etc. They just serve to give concrete examples of penny wise, pound foolish!


[Subject edited by staff or moderator 2005-12-28 11:54]


Lucinda Hollenberg  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:46
Dutch to English
+ ...
Dear Narasimhan, Dec 28, 2005

I enjoyed your story. So true. It has also happened to me that a client spent a dollar in order to save 50 cents.

I wish you all the best for 2006.



Mats Wiman  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:46
Member (2000)
German to Swedish
+ ...

Thanks Narasimhan Raghavan! Dec 28, 2005

We all need a continuous flow of translation industry follies, so that we all get 'a stronger spine' when we negotiate.

Let me tell you a very profitable folly:

A big German industrial concern wanted to save money. Solution:
Save the cost of translating the text into English by letting their own 'talented' engineers write the manuals and drawings in English.
We were entrusted with the Swedish version. After a very short while we were so exasperated that we asked for the German version in order to make a decent translation.
We did not beleive our ears when we were told the hard fact: "There isnt'one".
Result: The client had to pay three times more than he would have done if he had let his engineers do the writing in their native language. If we hadn't been reasonably trilingual he might have had to pay four times or more.
To decipher, check and recheck texts and drawings by numerous calls to the company wasn't exactly efficient but it was effective.
The company thanked us very much for our efforts and admitted that they had made the wrong decicion.

So: All's well that ends well and they will never do the same mistake again.



Sybille  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:46
Member (2003)
English to German
+ ...
Right, Mats Dec 28, 2005

From my own experience I can say, yes, German companies often let their engineers do an English text and do not have a German one
(the German text, experience and whatsoever is in their heads and that is sufficient, they think).
The companies fully believe in the engineers' translation, but when it comes to fulfil the contract the company's own staff does not really know the features and specialties of the plant/equipment they have to manufacture for that special customer.


Jo Macdonald  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:46
Member (2005)
Italian to English
+ ...
Nice story Dec 28, 2005

Thanks for that Narasimhan


ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:46
English to French
+ ...
About repetitions, numbers, etc. that they don't want to pay for... Dec 29, 2005

Just quickly: when a company doesn't want to pay for repetitions, numbers, etc., I politely tell them that I still have to "administrate" those words, even if I don't translate them, and that if they don't want to pay for them, then I require that they remove them from the text. In other words: you don't want to pay for those, I don't want to deal with them.

I know, some may find this a little rude, but trust me, if everyone applied this reasoning, soon, clients wouldn't refuse to pay for those anymore and would respect our work better.

2 cents

Oh, yeah, and may we take into account that some of those categories of words (such as proper nouns) are not taken into account by any of the software we use, so, in order to not charge for them, we would have to count them all by hand. It is still feasible to make them into non-translatables, but the effort and time it takes to make them into non-translatables still should be charged - so back to the starting point. Imagine if you had a 50,000 word document... How long would it take to "manually" discount those words? Are you willing to give that much of your time away for free? I, for one, am not...

[Edited at 2005-12-29 05:16]


PRAKASH SHARMA  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:16
Member (2007)
English to Hindi
+ ...
Thanks for sharing experiences! Dec 29, 2005

Dear Mr. Narsimhan!
I'd like to thank you and other prozians who have shared their opinions and experiences here. These experiences are helpful of course to every professional regardless of their work field.
One should not show over-smartness. On the other hand, must be alert not to be fooled by anyone!


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It does not pay to be over-smart (on "penny wise, pound foolish" clients)

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