Charlie Bavington

Professional French to English Translator - Business and I.T.

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Press the Eject and Give Me the Tape

February 8th, 2012 | Categories: business

This post is about a pleasant enough video that was probably at the peak of its popularity a couple of years ago. It’s called the Vendor Client Relationship, featuring with a man in a restaurant, another man in a DVD shop, and lastly a woman at a hairdresser’s, all attempting to make unusual demands on the staff.

It’s here. I was pointed at it again a few days ago, responded by saying it was irrelevant tosh, and said I would expand on my blog. This is the expansion.

The first point to make is that the scenarios shown can be broadly categorised as retail, i.e. B2C, situations.

As such, they are clearly generally beyond the limits of acceptable customer behaviour, at least in the West. I firmly believe that the DVD store clerk and the hairdresser would, in real life, simply send the so-called customer packing which would make for a shorter, if more realistic, video; the restaurant scenario is slightly different since the requests are being made after the meal has been eaten, which is clearly a different and difficult situation.

But let us then re-examine these scenarios as if they were B2B transactions and see if they are quite so outrageous then. After all, freelancer translators are businesses (like the retail outlets in the video) dealing with business clients (but not consumers).
(Procedural note: the video jumps between 3 different scenarios in rotation. I deal with each scenario as a whole, one after the other.)

Restaurant guy
– “We didn’t budget for this”: I imagine it could happen in a restaurant that the final cost when the bill comes is more than expected, and is challenged. Should it happen to a freelance translator? Not if the price and scope are agreed in writing beforehand, and at every stage subsequently if the situation changes. If you don’t do this, then spend more time reviewing your procedures (and perhaps your terms and conditions), and less time on YouTube.

I admit I don’t really see any specific parallels with the next two restaurant scenes, the taco stand vs filet (it’s all “cow”) debate, and the “stuff we could remove” section. Is it an analogy with clients trying to get price reductions for alleged quality issues?

– “show us how you made it so we can do it on our own inhouse”: I can only assume translators are drawing a parallel here with being asked for TMs or unclean versions. The difference being, of course, that those are easy to re-create anyway; it is probably less easy to reverse engineer the dish of the day (it certainly would be for me!).

What all the restaurant scenes do all have in common is some attempt to impose changes after the event, either to the price paid or to the deliverables. I have to acknowledge that anecdotal evidence (the highfalutin term for reading it all over the place on forums and suchlike) suggests it happens to freelancers, and the advice given is always stick to your guns and/or take appropriate action for breach of contract (usually debt collection). This is an option not so readily available in retail (hence presumably the appearance of the muscle at the end) but the overall scenario shown in the video has no close parallel with any situation a translator is likely to find themselves in, except for the underlying issue of attempts to reduce or avoid the final bill.. But in our B2B dealings, there would definitely be either an actual or an implied contract and appropriate steps would surely be the solution. (There is also an implied contract in a restaurant, but enforceability is the tricky bit, whereas legal recourse to enforce our contracts is, at least in theory, available to any of us.)

To sum up, then, if you extrapolate and generalise about the underlying issue (changes after the event) expressed, then yes, the restaurant scenario can in general apply to freelance translators, although the individual scenes very much less so.

DVD store guy
– “I’ve only got 7 dollars set aside for this”, and the following scenes, including the legendary “this is not a challenge it’s an opportunity” line: OK, so retail customers tend not attempt to haggle or otherwise change the T&C in retail transactions in the West. But they certainly do in other countries; indeed in some places I understand it is practically expected. It is also possible to haggle in certain other B2C situations even in the west. I personally know people who have negotiated individual terms for satellite TV, mobile phone and ISP contracts, usually by threatening to take their custom elsewhere. So even taken as a B2C transaction, it’s not THAT outrageous.

– “make it up on the next one”:- once again, the guy is just negotiating, although his tactic has changed to promises of future rewards. Sure, we’ve all heard similar promises – some people believe them and go for it; I believe clients are entitled to ask. More pertinently, I’m worried that the video makers have run out ideas; this is essentially the same ploy as the hairdresser lady tries about making up the shortfall when she next has colour (if her husband likes it).

And as a B2B transaction in general, I see absolutely nothing wrong with the principle of price negotiation, even if the client’s counter-offer is less than half the opening proposal. It seems likely that it is the most price-sensitive clients who will make this kind of request, those who see translation providers as interchangeable (like DVDs). And we know that such clients are best avoided, assuming, that is, that the service you provide is not wholly interchangeable with anyone else’s.

As regards the argument that translators should be comparing their attitude to negotiation with professions such as accountants and lawyers, that would be a fair point if such professions universally kicked the door shut in the face of anyone attempting to negotiate. I checked with a couple of self-employed accountants of my acquaintance before posting, and they said it did happen and while they didn’t like it and usually stuck more or less to their original price, they accepted the client’s right to ask.

In essence then, my overall objection to translators waxing lyrical about this scenario is that there is nothing wrong with people trying to negotiate if they feel the circumstances warrant it. As long as it’s before delivery is made, naturally. One can hypothesise that there may be more willingness to attempt negotiations if substitute goods or services are readily available; so as ever, the key is to make yourself less easy to replace.

Hairdresser lady
“I’d like highlights but can only pay for a trim”: As an opening gambit, I can’t really see any parallel with translation. “I’d like you to translate all 5 pages but I can only pay for the first page”? Would that be an equivalent? By rights, in this video, the hairdresser would spin the lady round and show her the door. For us, well, it’s an interesting approach, a kind of negotiation, to which I claim to be open, but surely one that would get short shrift. Nonetheless, discussion appears to continue…

“I’ll pay for the highlights next time….throw them in… test… see if my husband likes it”. Interesting combination of tactics, really, but my guess is that all those freelancers clicking “thumbup” or “like” until their fingers bleed have heard the word “test” and little else. As I’ve said before, tests that are effectively performance do not equate to genuine tests. You can call them “test”, and the lady here does, but it doesn’t make them tests. It’s an actual job and we’re merely once again dealing with negotiation for that job. In view of which, in fact her tactic appears to be “yes, we know it’s a €200 job but we’re offering €50. If we like your work and come back to you for more, we’ll pay you the other €150.” (It’s actually a bit worse than that, because she says she’ll pay if she comes back for colour, i.e. something specific, not just any repeat business). As I keep saying, people are quite free to try to negotiate any kind of deal they like. And I reserve the right not to be sympathetic to people who agree to deals of this kind.

“cover your hard costs” : haggling over margins now. The hairdresser seems to be winning the negotiation without saying a word – this video IS indeed inspirational, perhaps I have misjudged it.

In conclusion then, most of the video seems to mirror an unhappy tendency for some freelancers to transpose perfectly normal B2B dealings into some aspect of their lives as consumers, and then pass judgement on those dealings as if they were the same situation. The sort of people who post in forums about how ridiculous it would be if they went into the bakery and announced how much they would pay for their bread, or told the supermarket they would pay them in 30 or 60 days’ time. And indeed they are right, because that is not how consumer transactions typically operate. Transpose them back into business-to-business dealings, and they are, broadly speaking, acceptable. As are two of the three scenarios shown in the video, and the third one (the restaurant) is not acceptable either in business or in consumer transactions, so there seems no point to be made.

  1. February 8th, 2012 at 11:12
    Quote | #1

    So, to just make sure I understand this, a German GmbH that sells machine tools is going to negotiate its price, with every client ? Or do they have a set price for their products ? I can’t imagine a German company doing that: Client A calls up and wants a 10% reduction, and client B wants 20%. Then, client B finds our that Client A got a “better deal” and is pissed off. When I originally blogged about this, I wrote about all the downsides. Or client A calls up next time and says, “well, the economy is really bad, now I want 25 % off”.

    • Charlie
      February 8th, 2012 at 11:25
      Quote | #2

      I am merely proposing that negotiation is acceptable, not that it is compulsory. Individual companies and freelancers can and do adopt individual responses to suit individual circumstances. Some are happy to negotiate anything. Some have an “if you have to ask how much, you can’t afford it” policy. Different markets, and all that. My view is simply that posting a video for the freelance community showing people who are negotiating T&C as if that were somehow abherrant shows a view at odds with real life.

  2. February 9th, 2012 at 13:28
    Quote | #3

    Yes, John, German companies do such things. Or they’ll drop a bit of cash in the bottom of a Christmas basket for the local fire inspector to be sure the DIY store passes inspection or anything else they can get away with. They’ll demand and take discounts where and when they can get them. Which is why I advocate giving a lot of discounts. The customer is king after all.

  3. September 29th, 2012 at 21:14
    Quote | #4

    If Customer A in John’s scenario signs a contract with me to buy 50 units a year and Customer B buys 250 units a year, I will certainly grant Customer B a bigger discount than Customer C, who might not get any discount for buying a single unit or only 2% for cash on delivery. If Customer A imposes in an export transaction requires inspection before shipment, asks for terms, bonds, etc. and has other complicated specs., the discount may become less according to other condition involved in the sale. If I can get a contract with Translation Client B to buy translations so Bengali from me for the coming year in one and the same field, especially when a TM can be used after the first job (e.g. 100 MSDSs to the same language), I may be happy to grant a substantial discount, and as a translation company, I may be able to negotiate a discount with the translator(s) who will have a steady flow of work over the year. We are all in business TOGETHER! And I don’t have to send a Christmas goose to Client B, it is simply a commercial transaction based on trust that has advantages for all involved, even when the price per unit is lowered.

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