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Cost-based or accreditation-based procurement?

All that is related to public or civil service tends to be regarded in an extremely favorable light in Brazil. Civil servants are well paid, with salaries that are often higher than in the private sector, and they are always paid on time. There is even a new term in Brazilian Portuguese to refer to people who have turned the entire process of applying for a job with the government into an occupation. They are not merely candidates; they are concurseiros. This is not at all surprising in a country where a few “lucky” public officials are paid super-salaries of over R$300,000 per month – way more than a Supreme Court Justice.

Therefore, a contract with the government is coveted by all kinds of companies in a number of different industries, including the translation and interpretation industry. The thought of signing a huge contract that will keep a lot of people busy for a long time is indeed extremely appealing. Many translators work as freelancers and must tackle hunting for new jobs on a daily basis, but closing a deal with the government would make all that just go away. If translators found security in a government contract, they would not have to worry about marketing their services or prospecting clients. With the 2013 Confederations Cup and the 2014 World Cup just around the corner, there are huge expectations for new business opportunities here and everyone is dying for a piece of that cake.

One of the major problems, as TNC explained, is that the lowest price is almost always the key factor that will define a government procurement process. Her post lists several reasons why this is a bad idea, and I can think of a few others to complement her thoughts. The red tape involved in the process is one of them reasons – and it’s not for the faint-hearted. It could take months for companies to be paid for services rendered, and they in turn take months to pay translators as well. No self-respecting translator would submit to such demeaning conditions, and many drop out of the project midway because they have found something better to do. In this situation many contractors will just shamelessly feed their material into free automatic translation software and deliver the sub-standard results to their client. Finally, since accountability seems to be a foreign concept to many people in this country, government agencies end up paying for a service they do not ultimately get.

I imagine quite a few of those government agencies had terrible experiences with language service providers in the past, because in the last couple of years a new category of government procurement seems to have been used more and more often: accreditation. Agencies that need to procure language services provide a list of requirements that contractors must fulfill in order to become an accredited provider. Those requirements usually involve minimum qualification standards for the provider, terms and conditions of service, and other relevant details. Individuals or companies are welcome to apply, but only those who meet the standards are accredited by the agency and included in their roster. The agency also sets the rates to be paid to translators/companies, thereby eliminating competition based on the lowest possible price. In my experience, rates have usually seemed reasonable, and I do hope that is true for accreditation-based procurement in general.

This could be an interesting procurement alternative, but whether it will yield better results than the others is yet to be determined. It basically comes down to which standards are set by the translation buyer for accreditation. Those who are not well informed about the language industry most likely do not know which requirements will make a difference in the product quality and will end up accrediting inadequate service providers.

As for language services for the Confederations Cup and the World Cup, there is still not much information officially available, and translation and interpretation services seem to be handled mostly internally (something that can be worrisome, such as the disgraceful case described in another article by TCZ). However, given Brazilians’ penchant for procrastination, I would not be surprised to get a last-minute call desperately seeking a professional. Or am being I too hopeful?

Doing it right the first time around

In our earlier post, we talked about clients asking for discounts on “short” files, on “easy” projects, and on the promise of a long-term collaboration (the good old “volume” discount).

While each argument had its own counter-argument, the underlying notion was that professional translators―those who translate for a living, usually as their exclusive activity―invest in continuing education to offer an added value (their valuable specialized knowledge) and become truly accountable for their work, thus contributing to the success of their clients.

This time, let’s explore three additional topics that I often discuss with prospects.

  • “What’s your best rate?” ― My best rate is $1 per word. Oh, you meant my “lowest” rate? Sorry… You see, when I heard “best,” I immediately thought about what would be best for me.If I could earn $1 per word, I would be able to work fewer hours per week, take a longer vacation, spend more time with the kids, and maybe even retire sooner. I didn’t realize you meant the best rate for you…Why don’t we just do this: You send me the files you need translated, I’ll analyze the project, calculate how much time and effort it would take me to complete the job and then send you an estimate. I believe that would make everybody happy!
  • “I can find cheaper than that!” ― I’m sure you can, but does “cheaper” mean “better”? It usually only means you’ll pay less for a service, but there will most likely be consequences.What happens if you receive the translation and are extremely disappointed with the final result? Do you pay for the substandard translation service―fearing the wrath of a translator of questionable quality who will badmouth your company on-line―and then hire a proper translator to redo the whole thing? This way you’ll spend more than you had originally budgeted for and wait longer for the project to be completed.And that is assuming you can actually read the final result of the substandard translation. What if you hired a translator to work on your beautifully crafted message and have your words written in a language you cannot understand? Do you really want to wait and see whether your marketing materials, those important contracts, or the guidelines that your branches overseas need to follow have actually been translated correctly by the candidate who offered to work for the lowest possible rate?Why don’t you make an informed decision to go with the translator who is truly a great fit for your purposes? Don’t be carried away by the “average rate in the market” idea. Keep in mind that you’ll be getting what you pay for. And I’m sure you are looking for accurate translations that will help your product or service do well in foreign markets.
  • “We’re just a startup and…”  If you’re a small company that is trying to break into your own market, you should be in the best position to truly appreciate a good deal when you see one. Maybe you’ve just furnished your office and went with a reliable brand because you want your furniture to last. You sure had to buy computers and equipment to perform your activities, so you identified the state-of-the-art technology that will make your work easier, eliminate re-work, and increase productivity.When it comes to hiring translation services, please follow the same mentality. You know good deals don’t always come with a small price tag. Actually, if the offer sounds too good to be true, there may be a catch. The service turnaround is too fast? Quality may suffer. The price is very low? Odds are you’re talking to a beginner translator who may not have the necessary knowledge to convey your message accurately. So, why don’t you go with professional translation services and do it right the first time around?Actually, according to colleagues in the industry, including both translators and project managers, startups and small businesses are among their best clients in terms of communication and payment. Companies with this profile tend to appreciate the one-on-one exchange that is only possible when you’re working with your translator as a team in order to achieve a common goal. And, as a company working on a tight budget, you sure would appreciate when things are done accurately, within the agreed turnaround, and without any surprises along the way. Think of translation as an investment that will help your company grow and reach a whole new market. If you’ll make money out of it (even if the return on investment is not immediate), why shouldn’t the translator get his or her fair share for a service that was crucial for such growth?

As you can see, your decision-making process when hiring translation services isn’t limited to the price tag alone. What may seem like a great deal at first, with discounted rates and impossibly fast deliveries, will most likely be far from the results you wish for. Effective translations are produced by professionals who truly understand your needs. And you won’t find these above-average professionals charging the so-called average rates.

Controversial approach: “penalties” for low rates?