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?

Food for thought

Keep in mind the premises and scenarios presented in my last post while you read more thoughts, examples, and parallels inspired in real-life situations involving the cost-time-quality triangle.

    • One of the forces behind the triangle is precisely the relation between the translators’ income, rates, and working hours. The less language professionals charge, the more they have to work to make ends meet and, most likely, the longer the hours, too. Let’s think of a simple analogy: would you go to a dentist who charges peanuts and have him/her work on your root canal treatment at 9pm knowing s/he has been working almost non-stop since 7am?

    • Translation is a mentally strenuous activity. Professionals who are pleased with what they earn and can afford to work just the right amount of time per day (before their brain starts pouring out of their ears) are more able to focus on their texts, do proper research, revise the material as many times as necessary… Needless to say, all these factors influence quality for the better.

    • In the book The Entrepreneurial Linguist: The Business-School Approach to Freelance Translation, Dagmar and Judy Jenner draw an interesting parallel between selling cars and translations. They first describe the status quo of BMW:

“[T]he German carmaker BMW certainly does not compete on price. Quite the contrary: the prices are very high, but the world is largely in agreement that the company’s cars are worth the price tag because they are well-made luxury cars. The company’s defining characteristic is quality, not price. BMW has perfected the art of differentiating its products by creating the ultimate luxury vehicle. Potential buyers understand that high quality comes at a price, and know that a BMW costs more than a basic Toyota.”

The authors then conclude that a professional translator who has invested time and effort in education, experience, and professional development should strive to make clients understand and appreciate his/her services “for their top-notch quality rather than their price.”

    • Some translators won’t take on rush projects no matter how much you offer to pay. As most of us rely greatly on word-of-mouth marketing, some professionals are more concerned with the quality of their work and their reputation. After all, once a text is out there, very few people will remember—or even know—its production conditions. You might hire a translator saying: “I just need to get the gist of it by tomorrow morning. All I need is something readable.” That’s your need, fine. You pay X times the regular rate and have the translation delivered overnight. Just as any human being working long hours under pressure, translators are more subject to errors, and the text might not be very fluent or smooth. Fine again. However, your boss, business partner, or client might look at the translation, ignoring the conditions in which the text was produced, and think: “What a sloppy translator!” This might be enough to stain a professional’s name, even though s/he delivered the product just as you requested. But let’s not generalize: it doesn’t mean that every rush project is full of mistakes, or that all translators who accept working in these conditions don’t care about their image.

On a lighter note…

By Alejandro Moreno-Ramos