Jost Zetzsche Tool Kit

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Need to educate the client - 2

Need to educate the client - 2

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 already exist 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 conversation 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 organization 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 understood 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 without being translated. You guessed it correctly. It was just another work for me. Needless to say, the company ended up paying me much more.

Here is one place, where you have to educate the client. But then many clients do not appreciate such talks. They are the real losers.

I will come up with more in the next instalment.

N. Raghavan

Monday, May 07, 2007

Need to educate the client - 1

With the globalization setting in, we translators have to be more vigilant with respect to the clients. An average client is blissfully ignorant of many aspects of translation. For example he is under the naive impression that translation is just a little above typing. He reasons that a typist types what she sees in the original, whereas a translator types after easily converting the original words into the target language. Thus, we have our work cut out for educating the client. Many translators do not do it, as they are too timid and think that the client is always right. But we will be just digging our own graves by keeping quiet. In this series of articles I will try to cover the clients’ misconceptions about us and the possibilities open to us to educate him politely but firmly by giving the right picture.
In this first installment, I will try to present the viewpoint of the client concerning the importance of translation. As usual I will draw liberally from my own experiences. Here goes.
At times I am asked to come to the client's premises to do translations, whenever the work is of confidential nature and/or is too cumbersome to handle at home. In the case I am going to cite here, there were bundles of French technical drawings in hard copy and I had a merry time translating them.

Enough of background; the contact officer and I were discussing the company's translation requirements. He told me that his bosses wanted him to make do without translation, as the work was at a preliminary stage and one was not sure of getting the order. Hence cost has to be cut. Here the offending word comes in. The bosses said to him that translation is a "non-value service", as it does not bring in money directly. Though taken aback, I was delighted with the opportunity to talk and talk about translation.
My arguments in a nutshell:
Translation is vital, as the client has to understand in the first place the principal's requirements expressed in another language. At this point of time, it is an investment and as is the case in all investments, there can be no 100% guarantee of getting fat returns. After all, the principal may not like the client's rates and not give the order. It is not the fault of translation. Without translation no meaningful offer can be given.
The above mindset of a typical client results in there being no budget provision for translations and in the translation activity not finding a place in the bar charts. Everybody assumes that translation involves just copying into another language and it is just common sense. This is an important drawback for projects involving two parties speaking different languages. Poor fellow, the contact officer had a glazed look after nearly 30 minutes of my onslaught of words.

Now let me say a few words about the situation obtaining in India. Indian companies have English as the working language and this language is known to many people in Europe, especially in the German and French speaking countries. The top people going to Europe for negotiations get by almost without interpreters and if at all any interpreter is required, the host looks after that. Foreign visitors to India do speak acceptable level of English and more often than not interpreters are not required.
This situation is the main reason why our entrepreneurs are lulled into a sense of false security. Because they were able to pull along without interpreters, they think that their engineers and other officials in the next rung of management can do the same thing. Unfortunately this does not apply to translations of the vast documentation and they are obliged to hire us. But this is bothering them and hence they give statements such as those indicating that translation is a non-value activity. They try to use this argument to browbeat us translators into accepting low rates. This cuts no ice with me, as given half a chance, I start waxing eloquent in favor of my profession. And I stand firm and manage to get good rates.
The entire thing boils down to this: It is necessary to do things right the first time. It is true especially of the need to understand the client’s requirements in the first place. Given half a chance I talk the officer into showing me the proposed bar chart for the entire activity. More often than not translation does not find any mention and there is no budget earmarked specifically for that purpose. It is here that I point out the lacuna to the engineer in question. In one case the officer concerned was surprised on just calculating the number of words requiring translation and he arrived at a staggering figure. He was hitherto under the impression that translation expenditure can be met from contingencies. Poor fellow was shaken to the core. On incorporating the translation details in a suitable manner, there were no longer any bottlenecks in terms of delayed payments, as the incorrigible accountants insist on being informed about the correct head of account, any thing other than contingencies. This benefited me as well as my invoices were paid promptly.
In the next installments I will come up with more points regarding client education.



Wednesday, March 07, 2007

My two cents about dealing with the clients - 9

Finishing the translation and handing it over to the client ahead of the deadline is quite important. But that is not everything. You should also keep your outstandings within a minimum ceiling. You should know how to collect money fast. Now I will deal with this very important aspect.

You have decided that this is your life. You have to get this money to buy all your necessities. As in any profession, outstandings mean an interest-free loan. You cannot afford to give that. No need to feel finicky about asking for your money. A translator is usually an introvert person. That is why he chose this profession, where he has more dealings with books and papers. His work too is a solitary one and he spends hours slogging at his computer. I spend nearly 15 hours per day at the computer, so much so the little woman at home is convinced that I am indulging myself by playing some video games. That is another story.

You should show toughness in collecting your bills. Otherwise you are doomed.

Rule 1: When new clients are involved, try to get some upfront payment. In my earlier posts I have talked about clients, who would bluff their way to getting low rates by promising heavy jobs in future.

But there are really clients, who give a lot of work. One among was this piston plant near Delhi, the capital of India. I used to go for onsite translation at a fixed hourly rate. This I did for months together. One day of eight hour shift was priced at some good amount. I used to present my bill every 10 days and continue working. At the same time I will monitor the movement of the bill through various departments. This will take a few days. By that the next bill will go and so on. This means that after a few days, I will start getting paid at regular intervals. Wherever I go, I would be cordial to one and all. Once I get payment, I will thank all concerned, including the lowest ranking staff. This is very important. You shall not ignore anyone and walk off with the check. A few friendly thank-you-gestures will never hurt. Many became my personal friends and saw to the smooth movement of my cases.

Now for the past 6 years I am in Chennai. Here too I behave in the same manner. Here the new clients are usually asked to pay some advance, especially if individual persons come as clients. Some may demur at trusting me with the advance money. I will tell them that in that case, they may pay after seeing the work. Once I finish the translation, I will call them to my house and show the entire file in my screen. Then they will pay. I will immediately email the work to their id. Then I will invite them to open their mail in my computer and check whether it has come to their inbox. That's all.

Suppose he is unable to come. No problem. First I will email the job to one of my other ids. Then I will go to his place and get the money and open my mail inbox in his computer and from their forward the file to his inbox. After all, where there is a will, there is a way.

But for established clients, I send the translation by email and send the bill by courier. In that case, make sure at the earliest that the courier has reached there. Then it is a question of gentle persuasion. Here too, once you get the check, thank everyone concerned by telephone immediately. Be cordial at all times.

That's all there to that. In my past 32 years of operation, the number of times I have been deprived of payment can be counted on my fingers.

Another thing: In India, there is a thing called Tax deducted at source (TDS). This cannot be avoided but you should be vigilant and collect the necessary certificates from the relevant firms. Here the firms are quite lax in this connection. You will have to be that much more vigilant. But be polite in dealings of this type as well.

Now about a few tall stories one gets to hear from the clients about delayed payments.

A work billed in March 2001 was paid in November only. Reason, because of 9/11- bombing in New York, all payment got delayed. The same client was the source of another tall story. I phoned and asked for the owner. He was at the bank, it seemed. His partner-wife? She too was at the same bank. His auditor? Bank, where else? How about the accounts clerk? You guessed it. Bank. Poor bank manager, he would have been really overwhelmed by such flood of visitors.


Saturday, January 06, 2007

My two cents about dealing with the clients - 8

Make the best of whatever you are at any given period of your life. Let me elaborate. Before February 2002, I did not have computer. Now I do. I made the maximum use of both the conditions. Let me explain how I did it.

My translation activities have seen three main stages so far. The first stage lasted from 1975 to 1981, when I was posted in Chennai, a metropolis located in South India. It was followed by my stay till 2001 in New Delhi, the capital city of India. Since 2001 I am back in Chennai and this is the third stage.

In the first stage the translation activities went on at a slow and sedate pace. In those days the demand for translation was not much in Chennai. And I had to commute for 4 hours between my residence and place of work and back. These 4 hours in train were put to full use by me in doing my translation. During the lunch hour too I did my translations. I roped in the typist in my office to do the typing, for which I paid him promptly. I never missed a deadline to my clients.

I went to Delhi in the year 1981 to join a Government of India Undertaking as Electrical Engineer cum French translator. Here I had hectic translation practice in French as well as in German. Here too I derived maximum benefit from my then prevailing situation.

After 1995, the use of computers for translation increased in leaps and bounds. But I did not possess one nor did I have any idea as to how to use it. The clients started insisting that I give the translations as floppies. But I was still 7 years away from having my own computer. How did I manage?

Well, whenever a client asked me to give floppies, I used to look him straight in the eye and ask solemnly as to whether his confidentiality was not important to him. No client would say no to this question. Then I would suggest in all seriousness that I am ready to come to his office and carry out the translation as he desires. He was to depute a typist, who could type in parallel my translations in a computer. At around 16.30 hrs in the afternoon, he would give me the translation printouts and I would proof read the same. The corrections could then be carried out and as I leave for the day, the day's work would have been safely saved. What is more, everything would remain in the client's hard disk only and his data's confidentiality would be maintained.

Presented in this manner, the client had no hesitation in accepting my proposal. As by that time, I had taken voluntary retirement from my fulltime job, my time was my own and I had no problem in going to the client's office at any time. In fact, in those days there was hardly any other German/French translator in New Delhi being in a position to do onsite work like I rendered at that time. My practice flourished.

After returning to Chennai, I purchased an operating system only the next year. But by that time there were enough typing professionals in my neighborhood for typing in computers and sending the job as email attachment. This too was not required once I purchased my own system and did my own typing.

Thus I had a technological leap from just handwritten translations to sending typed jobs through email. I skipped the floppy stage entirely. Now my presentation to the clients experienced a sea-change. I emphasize the fact that I do not require any paper copy as well as the fact that my entire transaction is paperless. Here too if the client is worried about the confidentiality of his data, I am ready to go to his place and do the work in his OS. I demand a broadband Internet connection so as to be able to open online dictionaries, Google etc, which help me in rendering a finer work. I do not fail to emphasize these points as well. The client will be only too glad to oblige me. Let me repeat. In Chennai too, there is no other German/French translator for going to the client's place and doing work in his OS. My career is flourishing. Added to this is my 23 years' experience as an electrical engineer.

I continue to come across new developments in the computer applications and I make full use of it. What is more, I emphasize these points to the client and that helps a lot in landing more clients. They help in my negotiations as well.

Before concluding let me tell you as to how I present my experience. I would say that I had 23 years' experience as graduate electrical engineer, have been working since 32 years as German translator and since 29 years as French translator. Thus I have a cumulative experience of 84 years and my age is 60. The client would be baffled and ask me how. "Overtime", I would reply with a straight face.

To sum up: Emphasize what you can and do not harp on what you can't other than mentioning it once very briefly. Behave as if the latter is not a big issue at all.

Rest in next

Dondu N.Raghavan