Jost Zetzsche Tool Kit

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Penny wise pound foolish

The other day a new client of mine called me to his place for discussions. It seems he wanted a menu translated from English into German as well as into French. He represents a 4-star hotel, here in Chennai.

The requirement for translation into French was straight forward enough. He wanted the entire menu translated. But for translation into German he wanted to economize. He told me that the new menu in English was just a slight modification of the existing menu, whose German translation was already with him. I was to translate only the modifications. I asked him to give the modifications in a different color font. He agreed and emailed me the English menu.

I took up the French translation first and sent him the finished translation. Then I took up the second part of the assignment and then sent him the German translation duly incorporated in the original English menu. All he had to do was to copy paste from the existing German version the entries into the new menu so that he can get at the revised menu in German.

Here he ran into rough weather. It seems that the new menu in English is a fully revised one and bore no resemblance to the original version in matters of sequence or even formatting. He quietly sent me the old German version and asked me to insert the suitable German translations into the new revised menu.

I refused. I told him that this is entirely a different work and as the German words are already existing and my work was just to hunt them and put them in proper places in the new English menu, this work was not susceptible to straight forward word counting. I suggested that I come to his place, sit with the manager in charge of the menu and put the words in proper places, carrying out any further modifications in the format as might be found necessary by the manager at that time. After hearing my hourly rates and learning about the minimum billing for two hours as well as other conditions such as to- and fro taxi fare plus food while working, he became quiet. Though the conversatin was being conducted over phone, I could almost hear his mental gears moving around and meshing into place. He quietly asked me about the possible additional cost were I to translate the entire menu into German, not bothering about the old translation. Here there was no problem as I was already aware of the full word count of the English menu, on which I based my bill. The difference was not much and he said he would let me know. That was yesterday. He is yet to give me his decision. But the reason for my posting this rests elsewhere.

Trouble comes with clients, who try to cut corners and economize. I will not blame the person negotiating with me as he is just an employee of the organisation in question and his instructions are just to get the work done at the cheapest price. So the client goes into rigmaroles to restrict the work. He forgets that by just getting the entire package translated, he saves a lot in terms of time and avoidable botheration. Let me give a few examples.

One officer negotiating with me said that his Director knows French and at a pinch he can very well look after the visiting French expert. Hence I should reduce my rates. I just took a few minutes to demolish his assumption. The French expert was supposed to work with the Indian workers giving them training. Did the officer expect that the company's top official will sit with them and do interpreting? I told the officer that that person was expected to manage the company on the whole and not lose himself in a lower-end job as far as he was concerned. The officer quickly agreed and we proceeded with the rate negotiation.

In another firm, there was a bunch of German drawings. The officer entrusting the work to me marked a few words in each sheet and told me to translate just them as he undestood the other words. I obliged without argument as it was a job paid on an hourly basis, finished the work as instructed and got paid. The trouble was, the concerned officer left the company soon afterwards. His successor was not so knowledgeable and he wanted the meaning of words that were left untranslated. You guessed it correctly. Another work for me. Needless to say, the company ended up paying me much more.

There was this client, who expected me not to charge for interpreting while accompanying him and the visitor to a five-star hotel for wining and dining. He was of the opinion that I should be content with five-star food. I told him politely that I am not enamoured of five star food, in fact was just fed up with them! (pun intended!). Either he pays me for my time or I do not go. He said that he would manage the hotel visit himself and asked me to come for technical interpreting the next day. But things took a differeent turn the next day. The visitor had eaten something, which was not suitable for his stomach. He was an European and there are many spicy Indian foods about which I always caution the visitor. Well, in this case I was not there. The visitor had bouts of vomiting and loose motion throughout the next day. He had to be taken to a doctor, who put him on drips. Naturally I sat by his side and interpreted between him and the doctor, as well as the pretty nurse, whom the expert found to be nice. However the client was not amused, as the expert's daily rate was way higher than my interpreting fees for the three hours spent at the five-star hotel. The client became very thoughtful afterwards.

Then there are clients not wishing to pay for numbers, proper nouns, repetitions etc. They just serve to give concrete examples of penny wise, pound foolish!

Dondu N.Raghavan

Thursday, December 01, 2005

My 2 cents about dealing with the clients - 3

What to write and what not to write as well as how to express oneself and how not do it in letters to a prospective client are all important things and you should not lose sight of them. As already mentined in my previous post, I have developed a sort of letter template. Yet, I do modify it now and then for the sake of variety.

For example, once I introduced myself as an electrical engineer taking up translation work in deviation of my usual introduction as a translator with engineering specialization. In reply, I got this wonderful letter:


With reference to your application for the post of Sales Engineer, we request you to attend an interview on bla, bla, bla.

Regards and all that."

At first I was flabbergasted. Nevertheless, I met the CEO of the company in question and explained to him about the mix-up. He was initially amazed and then burst out laughing. And it seems wonders never cease. He had a German text, which he had initially kept aside for the moment. As I was already there, he gave the text to me for translation. So nothing was lost. Here I learnt two lessons. One is to put more emphasis on my being a translator and mention the fact of my engineering experience only as a support to my translation activities. The other lesson is to never miss an opportunity of meeting a client, however hopeless the situation might appear to be.

Letters should be brief. Yet they should not miss anything important. And they should kindle the client's curiosity. They should focus on the client's requirements. You should always address the letter to the CEO of the firm. All my letters were hand-written and this fact gave them a touch of originality. I lived till July 2001 in New Delhi, the Capital of India. All my translations were delivered in manuscript form. In the bargain, I wrote thousands of pages and my handwriting improved a lot.

OK, you got a letter from the company to come for a face-to-face discussion. Now what?

Before going further, let me make one thing clear. Whatever I mentioned so far and am going to mention in subsequent instalment on this topic are applicable to any venture. Since I am tapping my personal experiences, the activity of translation is emphasized, that's all. It is for the readers to customize the points suited to their requirements.

Now you have entered the company premises. You are asked to wait as the CEO is busy. Even awaiting the call is an art. Some people needlessly become tense. They resort to nail-biting, looking often at the watch etc. Avoid all these manifestations of nervousness.

For just such occasions I go prepared. I take a book with me. I will sit calmly and be reading the book. Time will fly. While reading the book, I will be rehearsing in my mind as to how I could present my case to the CEO. I will think of the possible questions that might be flung at me and rehearse the answers to the same. I will create a few openings of my own and try to keep the conversation under my control.

Keep your eyes open and have a good look at the enterprise's environment. Keep a cheerful face and smile a lot. You don't lose anything by being cordial to all. It is absolutely essential to get as much goodwill as possible. Hence practise this appproach right from the beginning.

Nowadays smoking is strictly prohibited in offices. But the situation was entirely different in the eighties. Whenever the CEO offered me a cigarette, I never refused the first time. Just for these occasions I had fixed myself a quota of 12 cigarettes per year. The moment I accept the first cigarette, rapport is immediately struck between me and the CEO. Here is a small point to remember. An average smoker lives always with a compulsion to kick the habit. Were I to refuse the first cigarette, I appear to him as a show-off having a will stronger will than his. This will not do. Hence my strategy. Anyhow, nowadays such occsions become rarer and it is good.

Listen carefully as the CEO speaks. Understand the company's needs. Only then you can talk about your services in a confident manner.

In my particular case, a typical CEO will always be curious to know as to how an engineer is also a linguist. It is so because, an average engineer is not much good in languages. Well, this is a case of hasty generalization but then this impression persists. Hence you should talk in fluent English. Never neglect anything as being too obvious and/or too small. Don't forget that all these small things join together to create a good impression about you.

Exercise utmost care while agreeing to deadlines. For the client, his work is always urgent and he would like to get the translation yesterday itself. Do not be cowed down to accept unreasonable deadlines. You should keep in mind the other commitments agreed to for other clients. You can translate only so much words per day (2000 words in my case). While declining to accept the deadline as demanded by client, don't forget to be polite.

How do I handle such situations? Suppose I can comfortably give a deadline some 5 days hence. I will ask for 7 days' time. If the client harps on the urgency, I will offer to do the job for 5 days by working extra hours per day. I will also be asking for a premium of 20% over and above the normal price. More often than not, the client will suddenly realize that his job is not so urgent after all. If he is really in a hurry, he may accept the conditions for extra payment and it should not be unwelcome to you. That's all. But one thing, you should honour the deadline agreed to. There can be no two opinions about this.

I will talk about rate negotiations in my next instalment of this post.

Dondu N.Raghavan