I recently had an unpleasant experience with a customer. I rarely work with agencies, but not long ago I was contacted by an agency and invited to work on the Swedish and Danish parts of a large, multilingual project. Since I have trouble saying “no”, I agreed.
Before I started the work, I signed a contract. The agency had calculated the number of words and written how much I would get paid. The project itself was sent to me in an unusual program that makes it hard to count words, but I eyeballed the text and thought the amounts listed on the contract looked about right. So I signed.
Immediately, I noticed that a few sentences in the Swedish part were not Swedish, so I pointed this out several times to the project manager, who didn’t seem to understand or care. I translated the Swedish parts, ignored the rest, and everything seemed fine.
A week later, I got a new contract and was told to sign it. Suddenly, the price I was getting paid was close to one-half of what I had originally agreed to. I protested, explaining I had already signed a contract and agreed to a fee. Yes, I was told, but they had initially just estimated the number of words and now they had actually counted the words (not including the few ones that they only now figured out were not Swedish). So the original contract didn’t mean anything, as it had, they claimed, just been an estimate.
Of course at this point, I’d already submitted the translation, so it seemed that there was nothing I could do but agree to the new price (and, no, I didn’t feel like wasting my time counting all the words). But I strongly resented this tactic and felt that I was being cheated; I had followed my part of the contract, and now they were going back on what they had promised. What, then, was the point of having a contract?
This is one reason why I don’t like working with agencies, but even direct customers sometimes try to change fees after they have received the translated text. Some translators ask for payment (or partial payment) upfront, to avoid these kinds of situations, but often assignments are expected back quite quickly, which means the translator doesn’t have the time to wait for a check to clear or a transfer to show up in their bank account before starting the job.
It is a difficult to find an ideal solution to such situations; one thing we translators could do is to publicize the names of problem customers, both so our fellow translators don’t get burned as we have and also to shame these clients into treating their translators better.
Words of the Week: Henry Greenspan
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