Only two types of people on planet Earth are irreplaceable:
1. Our parents
2. Our children
Anybody else, including our spouses, can be replaced, although this usually requires a complicated, very expensive and generally painful procedure called divorce. Hence the popular saying of American males who have already completely given up on life heard in bars all over this land (which would be most of them after the age of about 45):”It’s cheaper to keep her”.
So translators are obviously replaceable too. But how easy is it to replace a translator? Have you ever wondered about that? You probably have, and so have I.
I think that there is a direct correlation between our replaceability and the type of customers that we work for.
1. A translator who bids for projects on “online venues for translators and buyers” knows that he must lowball the price because the guy with the lowest bid is guaranteed to get the job, such as it is. This is the kind of translator who’s life philosophy better be “I must think of myself as a lowly peon who is easily replaceable” if he wants to have any work at all.
2. Translators who receive work regularly from translation agencies are in a somewhat better position than those who are reduced to having to scavenge for scraps of work on these “online venues” like illegal aliens lined up at the crack of dawn behind the local 7Eleven store. But they are also replaceable, although some of them not that easily, depending on their language combination and knowledge of the subjects that they translate.
However, no matter how well educated, skilled, experienced and knowledgeable they may be, if another translator who may not really be all that educated, experienced and knowledgeable offers to do the same job for a cent per word less, most agencies will go for the cheaper labor every time. Translators who work through brokers are thus also easily replaceable because in this kind of relationship, the bottom line trumps everything.
3. Translators who work for clients without a broker are also replaceable, but replacing them may be a major hassle for the clients because unlike translation agencies, they don’t really know how to find another good translator quickly. Also, when you work for your client on the same kind of projects month after month for years, they kind of get used to you if you do good work and things go smoothly.
How do I know that? Let’s have some evidence here: Even if you raise your rate to a direct client after a while by a cent or two, most will probably not drop you as their translation service provider, except if your client is a major corporation because big corporations basically also care about one thing and one thing only: the bottom line.
So the least replaceable type of translator is a translator working for a direct client who is preferably not a major corporation, which would also be my favorite type of client.
Now let’s change the variables in the equation while considering the question of how easily our clients are replaceable to us.
A. A client who is responsible for 30 or more percent of our income year after year, whether it is an agency or a direct customer, is very hard to replace. A client who brings us most of our income year after year is not quite as irreplaceable as our parents or your children, but possibly even harder to replace than our husband or wife. In fact the Internal Revenue Service will try to reclassify such a client and call him “an employer” and us “an employee” to get more money from both us and the client. It is wonderful in the short term but dangerous in the long term to have such an irreplaceable client, wonderful because we can always pay our bills, at least for a while, if we have such a client, and dangerous because clients generally do not stay with one service provider forever.
B. Clients who are responsible for no more than about 15 percent of our income year after year should be relatively easy to replace, especially if they only pay average rates. If on top of that they take a long time to pay and they are generally difficult to work with, we can just drop them like a hot potato if they get on our nerves.
Translators know that they are replaceable. Do our clients know that they can be replaced as well?
I am not sure. Many seem to act as if they were irreplaceable. When they keep asking for additional work involving “corrections” (using terms in our translation that they prefer) without compensation, and we always agree to do such work for free, they know for sure that they are in control.
We can only be in control if we have our own set of rules for what we will and what we will not do for our clients, which means that we have to be able to replace every single client by another customer, for example if they decide to extend the payment terms from 30 days to 60 days.