Poll: Have you ever lost a client over biting off more than you can chew?
Thread poster: ProZ.com Staff

ProZ.com Staff
Local time: 05:19
Dec 30, 2017

This forum topic is for the discussion of the poll question "Have you ever lost a client over biting off more than you can chew?".

This poll was originally submitted by Alan Corbo, CT. View the poll results »


Muriel Vasconcellos  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:19
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Twice Dec 30, 2017

They were both editing/revision jobs, not translations, and they were 20 years apart. In both cases, the text was such a mess that I couldn't make head or tail of it.

I worked for a number of years as an in-house editor/translator. In that kind of setting, one doesn't have the threat of losing the client. (That said, I was never faced with a document I couldn't fix, and I earned a reputation of being able to turn a sow's ear into a silk purse.) However, as a freelance, I feel I have to be much more careful about what I'm getting into for a number of reasons.

My first failure was when I accepted a review job right after having eye surgery. I couldn't see to work, and on top of that, the translation was unintelligible. I returned it to the client with my apologies and never heard from them again.

I had given up accepting that kind of work many years ago, but then recently one of my nicest clients asked me to review a large Portuguese-English translation at a very generous rate and I made the mistake of breaking my rule. As I got into it, it seemed like a third generation translation: an original German text translated into Portuguese by a native speaker of German with a technical background and little knowledge of Portuguese and then into English by a native speaker of Portuguese with a technical background but almost no knowledge of English. After trying to do a bit of it, I just couldn't go on and returned it to the client. I assume he has taken me off his list.


Teresa Borges
Local time: 13:19
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Yes Dec 30, 2017

I started translating part-time some 40 years ago. I was approached through a friend by a well-known Portuguese industrial company to translate a computer handbook. By then, I didn’t know how to say no to a client and I thought that with the help of my friend I would be able to translate it and of course I failed miserably. I learned the hard way to say no! The result of this was that one of my golden rules is to never accept a job without having a good look at it first and being sure that I’ll be able to do it…


Yetta J Bogarde  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:19
Member (2012)
English to Danish
+ ...
No Dec 30, 2017

and that sounds scary...


Agneta Pallinder  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:19
Member (2014)
Swedish to English
+ ...
No, but... Dec 30, 2017

I said no, but really it should have been "not yet", and "there but for the grace of god", and "fingers crossed", and "avert" - next time might be the time when I trip up.


Maxi Schwarz  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:19
German to English
+ ...
No, with another but.... Dec 31, 2017

Some decades ago when I was relatively new, I thought "representative samples" were fine, and had the illusion the people were all honest. An agency told me the text was mildly medical, that there were some handwritten passages in a clear handwriting. The "representative sample" showed one page in a clear round handwriting, and the "medical text" said things like "The patient has gotten over the shock of his accident and is recovering nicely." I accepted the job. When the whole text came, the word count was what i had been told but for the rest, oh my! There were medical charts where a dozen doctors and nurses had scribbled in strange hieroglyphs and personal abbreviations. Every muscle, bone and tendon of the foot was described. I then found out that the agency wanted me to write everything on top of their personal template, which created formatting problems. At one point they wanted to create a special template, which I had to wait for. The task felt like 10 times as much as what I had actually taken on, and I was drained. The delays and unexpected nature almost made me late for the next job that I had promised to another client.

As a final straw, they complained that my checkmarks were backward.

I didn't lose that client. But the client lost me. The "representative sample" did not represent the nature of the work and I think it was deliberate. Since then I always ask to see the entire text, which I assess to make sure I can do it and how much time it will take. The "biting off more than you can chew" tends to be avoided through that


Kay Denney  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:19
Member (2018)
French to English
yes Dec 31, 2017

but only as an employee and each time it was for a project that my boss bullied me into doing. Each time, I had to call in sick because it was just too much for me.

After that had happened a couple of times, he realised there was no point. So the next time a shitty project came in and I refused, he bullied a free lancer into doing it. Said free lancer didn't deliver and we were instructed not to give him any more work. I knew it would happen but the boss didn't listen to me. He hated my guts because I stood up to him and was proved right every single time.

He's an estate agent now, thank goodness.


Mario Freitas  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:19
Member (2014)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
No, but Jan 1, 2018

No, I have always met my deadlines. I've had some delays, but always justified and negotiated, and I've had some trouble working too much or covering for other people I had indicated and weren't able to comply, so my responsibility. Over the years, I've learned how to deal with that, and above all, how to avoid it. It hasn't happened in a long time. But I never lost a client or failed to deliver for "biting" too much off.


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Poll: Have you ever lost a client over biting off more than you can chew?

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