6 golden rules of client etiquette – Part I

Sometimes I wonder why many professional attitudes seem common sense to some, whereas other people couldn’t care less. Speaking of the translation industry, I believe some types of behavior result from a lack of understanding about the dynamics of our field. New clients and beginner translators might ignore some implicit rules in their interaction and behave in a way that is considered rude or clumsy.

I’ve come up with a list of my top three dos and don’ts that translation clients should observe for the sake of an optimal relationship with their language professionals.

~ DOS ~

Here are the top three polite behaviors I expect from my clients.

1.    Acknowledge receipt (of quotes, translations, invoices, etc.)

We’ve all experienced bad server mishaps and seen messages get lost in cyberspace. So it’s good practice to confirm that you have received an email, a quote, a translation.

If a professional was attentive and put in time and effort to reply to your email with a quote or answer to your questions, a quick reply is in order. A single line saying something as simple as “Thank you” will do the job and will take less than a minute of your time, right?

2.    Update on the status of a project

If you requested a quote and got it from your translator in a timely manner, it’s only fair that s/he gets updates on where that project stands. If, for some reason, you decide not to hire the translator, just drop him/her a line. You don’t need to go into details you don’t feel comfortable with. Saying that the project has been canceled is enough.

3.    Communicate without bugging

Each professional has a preferred communication medium. If you know your translator’s preference, stick to it whenever possible.

Unless you’re dealing with an urgent matter, I believe emailing to be the most efficient way to get your message across. I also think most translators find it less “intrusive” than phone calls, Skype calls or chat, or other forms of IM.

Another reason why I consider emails more convenient is that I can choose to mark them “as unread” until I’m ready to send my reply. This works as a visual reminder to me. Now think of this scenario: you exchange a couple of lines via Skype chat on a Friday evening, just as your translator is choosing which movie or restaurant to go to. Your message might slip his/her mind very easily and might not be available later (if a mobile app doesn’t sync well with the desktop), so important details might be lost.

If you decide to call or IM, avoid disturbing your translator outside of business hours—again, unless you have a very urgent matter to discuss. And double-check which time zone s/he’s in. Just because our Skype, GTalk, MSN or other IM account shows we’re online, it doesn’t mean we’re available or willing to discuss business on a Sunday morning, for example.

As freelancers, we tend to work flexible hours, but it can be disturbing to get a Saturday Skype call about something that could wait until Monday. Be sensible and understand that, if we do work on evenings and weekends, it’s our choice, not an obligation.

The ideal translation agency – Part II

This is the second half of the text originally published by Christos Floros on his blog. Check out the first part if you haven’t read it yet.

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6)      Be available to your translator

I once worked on a large job with a tight deadline for a European agency. I came across a tricky term and wanted to discuss it with my PM. I was in a hurry, so I called him on the phone. No reply. I sent him an e-mail at 1200 GMT and a reminder at 1630 GMT. What I got was a rude reply the next morning: the owner of the agency wrote that I delayed the delivery and pointed out that I should have contacted them on Skype in order to get a prompt reply. What kind of agency has no access to phone or e-mail during business hours, but is always available on Skype? Go figure…

7)      Be flexible

Flexibility is, in my opinion, one of the greatest qualities in a person and in a company. I try to be as flexible as I can in order to accommodate the needs of my clients, but unfortunately I cannot say the same for many of the companies I’ve worked for. Many times I get the feeling that the PMs don’t want to help translators. There is no other way to explain why issues that can be resolved very easily get mixed up in an unnecessary back-and-forth process that results in wasted time from both parties.

8)      Be real and professional

Have you ever worked for an agency whose PMs are also the CEO, the CFO, and the COO of the company? If not, let me enlighten you: there is something disturbingly wrong about it. I don’t really see how the CEO of an agency can act as a translation project manager. I also question the professionalism of such an agency. The same goes for a managing director of a translation company who once appeared in a professional conference in his tracksuit, with his hair all messed up, for an appointment with one of the industry’s leading experts on machine translation (MT) and services. I saw that with my own eyes and I still feel sorry for that MT expert…

9)      Communicate efficiently in English

You may find this difficult to understand, especially if you are not working with agencies outside the USA, Canada, UK, and Australia, but the quality of the English in some of the correspondence I receive is very poor (to put it nicely). Spelling and grammar mistakes in professional e-mails just don’t look good, especially if they are directed at translators, who are trained to spot mistakes immediately.

10)      Be willing to defend the translator

There are times when the client comes back with negative feedback on the quality of the translation they received. In such cases, I believe that the ideal course of action from the translation agency’s point of view would be to complete a third-party review, to politely ask the translator about the issue, and then to provide feedback to the client in order to clarify the situation before accusing the translator of any mistakes that might be just stylistic changes made by the end client. When the occasional mistake happens, most of us are very concerned about that. We all strive to deliver error-free translations, seeking to not jeopardize our relationship with the agency. Yet some agencies prefer to accuse us in order to protect their reputation without examining the issue in detail. In the eyes of such agencies, it’s always the translator’s fault…

It is difficult to find a translation company that follows all 10 points on my wish list. The reasons for that are practical, moral, and empirical. If you don’t have enough capital, you are bound to delay the payments. If you don’t know what’s best for you in the long term, you are bound to make mistakes in the everyday running of your company. If you are not experienced, you are bound to make mistakes that could easily be avoided.

This is true for both freelancers and agencies. After all, we are all business entities and focus on the longevity of our business. The way we choose to act now will, one way or the other, affect our prospects down the road.

I’d love to hear other translators’ views on this. What is your ideal translation agency to work for? Are there any specific attributes on your wish list?

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Defining project specifications

“If you do not invest time to brief your suppliers, there is little chance that you will get what you want or need. It may take only 10 minutes longer than telling your assistant to ‘get this translated,’ but if the right person spends those 10 minutes chatting to the translator (or even the project manager), you will probably save money and stress further down the line.”
– Chris Durban

When discussing quality in translation, I wrote that the product should comply with the client’s instructions. For this to happen, you must communicate your needs properly in the first place. But what needs, exactly? Well, it varies from project to project, but there are several details you should tell your translator.

A fascinating aspect of translation is the possibility of rendering a text in countless “right ways.” The right way for you depends on what you need and how exactly you want it. Don’t expect your translator to rely on assumptions and guess your preferences and needs. Good communication is key.

In November 2010 I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Alan Melby on how to measure translation quality. At that time, he had listed as many as 21 translation project parameters, i.e. specifications that should be given to translators if quality is to be achieved. Together, Durban and Melby chose the top ten items that were included in the publication Translation: Buying a Non-Commodity. Here’s their list, followed by a set of questions/comments I have added:

(1) Audience – Who (ideally) is supposed to read your text? Should the translator have the lay public or specialists in mind? Academics or high-school students?

(2) Purpose – Is your text going to be used in a brochure to persuade someone to do something? Is it for internal communication or for relating to clients/prospects? Do you need just to get the gist of a text or is it for publication? Most of the time the purpose of a text is also linked to its type—see item 5 below.

(3) Deadline – When does the text have to be delivered? If needed, establish partial deliveries up front. Sometimes not only the date counts, but also the time of delivery (in which case, be clear about your time zone).

(4) Price – How much is the translator getting paid? Is the project being paid per source word (volume of the original text) or per target word (volume of the translated text)? Alternatively, is the professional being paid by the hour? (I intend to write about how translators usually calculate their rates.) Also discuss details such as when (upon delivery? a week later? a month later?) and how (via bank transfer? by check? PayPal? Western Union?) this amount is to be paid.

(5) Subject area and type of text – The clearest way of dealing with these specifications is by sending the whole text up front for the translator to analyze. If this is not possible, a sample usually works. Remember that most translators specialize in certain areas, meaning that there are subject areas they don’t feel capable of translating well. For your own good, don’t insist if a professional refuses to take part in a project (refer to item #3 of the American Translators Association Code of Ethics and Professional Practice). As for the text type, is it a letter? A sales agreement? A training video?

(6) Source language and regional variation – Is it written in Canadian or South African English? European or Brazilian Portuguese? Spanish from Chile, Peru, or Venezuela? There may be significant regional differences that interfere with the translator’s understanding and decision making.

(7) Format – First off, inform the translator about the media: is it a written text, an image, a video, or an audio file? Then, is it an editable PDF, DOC, or HTML file? AVI or MPEG video? Also, in what format should the target text be delivered?

(8) Volume – How long is the text? For written texts, it’s generally better to consider the word count. The number of pages doesn’t always help, since there are variables such as number of columns, font size, spacing between lines, etc. As with item 5 above, sending the whole text up front allows for a precise analysis.

(9) Target language and regional variation – Is the text supposed to be read mainly by Brazilians or by Portuguese people? By Mexicans, Spaniards, or Argentines?

(10) Steps to be followed – Is there going to be, for instance, bilingual revision by another professional after the translation proper? What about monolingual revision? Is the text being sent for the translator’s approval after each step or at the end? Who’s taking care of these phases of the project? Also, discuss deadlines for each step.

Sometimes you’ll have to negotiate a few of these items, such as price and the end format, but others are merely facts that need to be communicated—preferably in writing. They’re essential especially when you’re dealing with new service providers. With long-time collaborators who already know what you usually need, make sure to let them know when any of these parameters diverge from the “standard.”

On a lighter note…

By Alejandro Moreno-Ramos