Professionals have the last word

Respect is something you earn

In the Oxford dictionary, respect is defined as “a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.”

In the business world, respect is the essential building block for a high-quality and sustainable relationship between the customer/intermediary and supplier. Without this building block, any relationship is doomed to fail or be short-lived at the very least. In my opinion, every entrepreneur and business partner should know that, and yet — believe it or not — I could tell you a few recent stories in which the lack of respect and appreciation for me and the services I offer was really too much to bear.

Don’t be fooled by professional-looking websites

Before the summer holidays I was contacted by an international translation agency for a big writing assignment for some twenty big advertising brands. According to their website, copywriting was one of their core activities. You’d expect at least that they should know what this specialty entails, wouldn’t you? Over the phone, however, the project manager said to me: “It is not that difficult, you “simply” have to write a few texts.” This was an eye opener. So far, this had been the first hint of how they viewed the profession of copywriter, not to mention the whole lot of muddled instructions that followed.

As an experienced translator with limited copywriting experience, there wasn’t an ounce of me that thought that I could “simply” deliver quality work for such a large job. Since I did not want to quite miss out on an oppotunity to get practical experience in copywriting, I decided to join forces with an experienced fellow copywriter. This enabled me to help out the customer while gaining further practical experience in copywriting.

No sooner said than done: I negotiated with the agency about the price, was briefed and got my teeth into the work. But all of a sudden — part one was almost finished — the whole project was thrown back on the negotiating table:

- discount for very large volume;
- but the volume was halved;
- three-months’ deadline suddenly reduced to two weeks;
- work pace ended up being doubled;
- …

Well, actually, “negotiating table” is the wrong term is this case: there was no negotiating going on; it was take it or leave it. Since we had already spent many hours preparing and working on the project, we actually had little choice.

In fact, after the phone call, I should have guessed already that this would not be a rewarding assignment. Someone who thinks that your work is “simply” something usually has no clue at all about what’s involved, whether you’re a plumber, crisis manager, or translator. What’s more, in a later stage of the project, the organisation of the job and the communication around it lacked professionalism.

And who is the dupe?

Many major translation agencies think that their subcontractors — the freelancers — will always dance to their tune and therefore make no effort to do business with them in a respectful way. Such translation agencies forget that it is not they but the translators who have the last word, and that you, as the end customer, indirectly bear the brunt of it.

Indeed, in a situation such as the one I described above, every professional translator will simply bypass the agency in order to save himself or herself further frustrations. And in the case of a translation agency which is losing all its good translators despite having a website that apparently exudes trust and professionalism, who will take care of your translations/copywriting if you contact them? In all likelihood not a professional freelancer, with all the consequences this entails…

Of course, something can always go wrong. Looking back at the past few months, there have been few projects for which I haven’t had to handle a certain amount of stress. But that goes with the territory. As a freelancer, especially in my business, flexibility is a must, albeit to some extent.

Professional agencies do exist

Fortunately, there are still translation agencies that collaborate with freelance translators in a respectful and professional manner. You can define professional translation agencies in two ways: from the standpoint of the end customer, or from the translator’s perspective.

An agency which has forged a professional relationship with its customers:

- Listens to its customers and asks additional questions if some aspects of the project are unclear/not possible;
- Patiently explains the entire translation process to the customer, while responding to said customer’s questions/concerns/comments (regarding Google Translate, confidentiality, terminology, and so on);
- During the process, provides feedback to the questions asked by the freelancer once it has thoroughly studied them beforehand (i.e. not just forwarded the question(s)).

An agency that treats its translators in a professional manner:

- Does not impose a price discount of 16% after many years of loyal service;
- Does not refuse a rate increase after 10 years of collaboration (incidentally, can you think of any other sector in which there has not been any rate increase in 10 years?);
- Does not require of the translator that he or she immediately acquire yet another translation software because it would save the agency a great deal of work;
- Does not assume that the translator is waiting for the job and can immediately begin that project;
- Does not contact the translator six months down the road to ask if he/she can implement another series of corrections “just like that”.
- Asks the translator for his/her best deadline and takes this offer to the customer;
- Understands that working after hours and at weekends implies a special rate;
- Pays its translators in time and does not come up with all kinds of excuses, such as the end customer not having paid yet.

Both are directly and indirectly connected to each other. An agency that does not act professionally towards its customers won’t keep its customers; an agency that does not treat its suppliers professionally will not retain its subcontractors — and will ultimately also lose its customers.

In fact, it is very simple: a professional business partner deserves respect. Failing that, the collaboration will be short lived. That’s exactly what happened to me in all the above situations. Too bad for you, the end customer, because all these agencies — however professional they may seem to you — have lost me as their supplier.

Original blog in Dutch by Els Peleman (EP Vertalingen),
translated by Claire Weston