January is turning out to be a very busy month, with work coming in from regular clients, as well as numerous requests for cooperation from new and potential ones. One of the agency requests that I got a few days ago looked pretty standard at first. It was addressed to multiple translators inviting them to be part of their freelance translators team. To proceed, each interested translator would have to read, sign and send back the usual forms (terms & conditions, translator details, confidentiality agreement and the like).
So far, so good. The tone of the email was friendly and professional enough for me, so I opened the files to read them. That’s when it hit me. There were numerous warnings about quality and deadlines followed by penalties for each little thing. Let me give you some examples:
- 3+ minor issues and/or 3+ typographical errors etc. >65-90% of payment
- Major errors (mistranslation and/or major spelling mistakes etc.) >0-50% of payment
- within 1 hour after the deadline – 10% reduction on full payment
- within 4 hours after the deadline – 20% reduction on full payment etc.
If you deliver over 24 hours after the deadline, you don’t get paid at all.
And one more noteworthy item: If the translation job is greater than 5,000 words, you should regularly update the Project Manager with your progress (at least once/day).
First, I laughed. Then, I felt sorry for the owner and the PMs of that agency. I mean, imagine how bad their experiences must have been with translators in the past to feel the need to include such penalties in their forms! I decided to save my precious time and just delete the email but then I got a bit mad. So, I replied to person who had sent me the email and asked a few questions as politely as I could, excerpts below:
…You’ve probably had some pretty bad experiences with translators to feel the need to include those penalties, but they seem a bit far-fetched to me. Good and professional translators don’t need the threat of non-payment to deliver a quality translation on time.
For 3+ minor issues, the translator gets 65-90% of full payment? No translation is perfect and every proofreader will find at least 5-10 mistakes (preferential or not) in a small 500-1,000-word translation, even it’s flawless work.
Delivery within 1 hour after the deadline – 10% discount? I am a big believer of deadlines and they are at the top in my list of priorities, but still. What if I have Internet trouble just before the deadline and I deliver 10 minutes late? I have to be penalised for that?…
Now, let me get a few things straight. I am a firm believer of meeting deadlines. I always try to deliver even earlier than the deadline, though usually I’m just on time (which is still good enough I think). I tried outsourcing a few years back and the main reason I stopped was because I couldn’t handle the stress of translators delivering late without any notification.
As for the quality, I won’t bore you with details, just the basics: I use a spell-checker, read each sentence I just translated before moving on to the next, research each term I don’t know until I’m sure about its translation and send questions to PMs in cases of uncertainty. Finally, I read my translations at least once more before delivering them. For some projects, I also do terminology/tag/consistency checks. That’s it. And judging from my many happy repeat clients, I’m obviously doing a good job.
These penalties don’t scare me, they infuriate me. I’ve seen penalty clauses in other agency forms in the past, I know they are there for the irresponsible translators, a mere warning that the agency is serious and won’t accept a machine translation when they paid for a human one, a late delivered job or repeated non-adherence to job instructions. I’m all for that. If I ever become a company, I’ll add one of those in my Terms & Conditions as well.
As for the noteworthy item I mentioned above about notifying the PM every day if you’re working on a job more than 5,000 words? Come on, nobody does that. Why would I spam the PM with daily emails saying “All good with the job, talk to you tomorrow!”? If I deliver a quality translation on time, why do I have to notify the PM about my progress along the way? If I’m busy, I might start working on the project just a few days before the deadline. If the PM knew that, he/she would surely be nervous about the deadline. Not all translators work with the same speed. I know a translator who can easily translate up to 8-9k words/day and her work is actually very good! She is experienced and types fast. Can you imagine if she sent an email to the PM a day before the deadline saying “Hi, just starting the translation of the 9k doc for tomorrow morning”? Wouldn’t the PM go berserk?
Anyway, I’m very interested in your feedback about penalties and the ones mentioned in this post in particular. Would you have said something or just deleted the initial email? Would you have agreed with those penalties?
P.S. I haven’t received a reply to my email yet, I’ll post an update when/if Ι ever do.
Dear Catherine! I could not agree with you more and it seems that you have found some pretty stringent clients as examples. Most of the time I accept the terms, since I know I can keep them, but the only way we can protest is by crossing these types of penalty-terms out in the agreement, plus give a lengthy explanation why (read time consuming). It works the same way as not accepting to work for peanuts.
Hi Tess and thanks for stopping by 🙂 I’ve received several ‘weird’ cooperation emails lately, must be the month… To tell you the truth, I normally just skim these agreements (I know I should be more careful though), because, as you said, I know I’ll comply with the standard rules anyway (not contacting the agency’s clients, quality, deadlines etc.). I think this is the first time I’ve refused to sign an agreement due to its content and informed the agency about it. Usually, if I see something fishy, I just delete the email and get on with my life. Couldn’t restrain myself from replying this time though, hehe.
I got the same email and was wondering the same thing. Well done for challenging the agency. I had checked them out on my egroups (one response saying they were highly rated on the Proz Blue Board) but hadn’t got any further. As you say, it makes you wonder about the translators they use/have used in the past.
I’m interested in the response. I may even drop them a line myself.
Thanks for your comment Alison! I checked them on BB as well, they are very highly rated. I think they don’t really apply those penalties, they just include them in the paperwork to scare people, but still…
Dear Catherine! Thank you for this useful post! I haven’t yet met the agency you are talking about (thankfully), but from now on I’ll definitely read the NDAs and Terms and Conditions more thoroughly. As for notifications to PMs, I worked with an agency which had this rule. Every day, or every other day, I had to send them the unfinished document just so they could see how the translation process is going. That was a couple years ago. But I never got any penalties from them and was always paid on time.
Hi Olga and thanks for stopping by 🙂 Just out of curiosity, when they established that they can trust you, did they continue asking for the file to check your progress in subsequent jobs? A colleague had an another example happen to her: she was assigned a 10k job to do in Logoport (online Trados interface). A few days before the deadline the PM called her and said he was canceling the order because she hadn’t started working on it yet (he could check from the analysis online)! I found that very odd and unprofessional on the PM’s part.
I am very sorry for this colleague. You are right, that PM was really unprofessional. As for that agency, I did about 4 projects for them. One was pretty long, and it was done in their software. That was the project I was talking about. I updated the PM about the work progress until I finished the job. Then there were a couple smaller projects and I honestly don’t remember whether I had to send updates to the PM since both projects took just a couple days. I didn’t see it as an insult or anything. When I am working with direct clients I always let them know where I am in the course of the project. I don’t do it every day or every other day (depends on the project length), but I think it is a right thing. Imagine a client who has never met you in person. So he/she sends you the money, gives you the work …. and then you vanish until the deadline. If I were that client, I’d finish all the sedative drugs I have at home by the time of the deadline 🙂 If it’s a loyal client with whom you have a long standing trusting relationship it’s a different thing, of course. And same way with agencies. They don’t pay us in advance, but it’s them who is going to suffer first if they get a bad or a late work. Though sometimes their requirements do seem odd, I have to admit.
I wholeheartedly agree with you, Catherine. If they figured out how to find and retain professional and reliable translators, such clauses wouldn’t be necessary.
I signed a similar agreement with an Italian agency last year (an experienced translator had given them the thumbs up) and did one job (complicated legal) for them. Their proof reader chewed up my translation and they informed me they were going to reduce the amount owed me by 50%. I replied “ok and this is the first and last job I am doing for you” and did not respond to subsequent project offers from them. It goes without saying that I met the deadline, followed special instructions, etc. Incidentally, I have noticed that often agency contracts, while containing protective clauses for the agencies, don’t specify payment terms.
The agency I’m referring to in the post had a note about their payment terms (60 days upon receipt of invoice), but that’s it. The best part of the files contained the said penalties and other instructions for translators on how to do their job…
And probably there was no procedure stated for disputing the alleged errors, minor or major.
Plus, what is the time frame for informing the translator of errors (is there any end to this time frame?), and is the translator given a chance to correct the errors before payment is docked?
I can understand having a clause about steps an agency will take to correct or penalize deficient work, but I won’t sign an agreement that does not give me the right to either correct the work myself or dispute the allegation, or one that does not outline the procedure used to resolve any such dispute.
I’ve rejected a few contracts like this recently.
Hi, Catherine, by the way. ;v)
(We met at the ATA TCD panel in Boston.)
Thank you for your comment, nice to e-see you again 🙂 To answer your questions:
1. They say that quality issues will be assessed by a third party and not the agency. Nothing mentioned about disputing the errors. Only that the PM will decide on the exact payment reduction.
2. No time frame, only a mention that the translator has to take care of any modifications at no charge (unless new material is added). I’m not sure I fully understand what they mean by modifications though. By the end client to the source text? By the editor to the translated text?
And they haven’t replied to my email yet (I don’t think they will)…
P.S. Love your site and the wealth of information it contains, great job!
Hi again, Catherine, and thanks for mentioning my website.
Maybe “modifications” means “corrections”?
Do you think that you would work with this agency if they were responsive to your concerns? I’m curious because sometimes I wonder why I even bother getting into a conversation about terms when the initial paperwork has made such a bad impression. (Which brings me back to your original question.)
I guess I’m hoping that if enough translators or interpreters speak up — at least to say “I find your terms unreasonable and so I am not interested in working with you” — then we might at least cause some agency owners or managers to reconsider their translator agreements. That assumes, of course, that our messages are being forwarded to someone in the company with enough power to actually change policy, and I doubt that is the case.
Anyway, thanks for bringing up this problem. Contracts often include the phrase, “mutual consideration,” but many of the ones we are asked to sign show no consideration at all.
Really interesting article. We have been in business for over 16 years and we have never penalized our linguists monetarily. We typically go over any issues found by editors, client reviewers, etc. as a team. Of course reviewer markups have to be addressed by all parties – the original linguist and the reviewer. The key to navigating this process is for everyone to act like adults! We have been very fortunate to only have received a really horrible translation from a linguist once (he translated a marriage certificate as a divorce certificate, ouch!). Our reviewer basically redid the translation, we paid the original linguist told him about the issues and didn’t work with him again. But we still paid him.
Our belief is that our linguists are all able to participate objectively in reviews and when there are issues (typically stylistic!) we all address them, learn from the situation and markups and move on. I think this is an expectation of any professional and does not have to be captured by penalty clauses. Great article Catherine.
Gosh, Catherine, you’re right that this agency must have had some horror stories leading to such policies. The question remains, though, if you do an excellent job and deliver on time are they willing to pay you 10% extra or offer some other bonus?! Sadly, it almost always only works the other way with penalties rather than encouragement.
Good for you for writing to the client to express your opinion and point out some of the shortcomings of their policy. If we all just ignore/delete requests like this, we’re doing the agency a disservice. They need to know how hard-working professional translators operate — and it’s not under policies like that!
Finally, I found time to reply to the latest comments, sorry for the delay lovely people!
@Paula They’re probably referring to “corrections”. As to your question whether I’d work with them if they had replied to my email, they’d have to be super nice and professional to convince me. I think their not replying to my email just proves the fact that they’re not worth working with.
@Peter Thanks for your comment Peter. It’s great to read the agency’s point of view and thanks for proving that there are reasonable procedures out there which can be beneficial for everybody involved.
@Lisa Your question reminds me of a regular client who asked for a reduction in rates a few years ago. My reply was (among other things) “instead of rewarding me for my great work in the past few years and thanking me for not having raised my rates ever, you ask for a reduction? The answer is no and on top of that my rates just increased by 1.5 cents!”. They accepted it (I’m guessing the PMs who knew me stepped in), but I was really frustrated during the email exchange. You can find unprofessionals (sic) everywhere. You choose, you try, if it doesn’t work, you move on. That works for both sides, right? We do that every day for everything else (shops, doctors, anybody who provides a service), why should our industry be any different?
A fabulous weekend to all of you 🙂