“How soon can you do it and how much? The client needs this ASAP,” said the text of an e-mail that I received from a mini-agency three days ago. The mini-agency is a guy, let’s call him Joe, who is also a translator and who has been sending me Japanese patents and once in a while German and French patents too since 1994. On a slow year, the 1099 form that I receive from Joe would show about 7 thousand dollars of income paid by Joe to this patent translator, the same form from a busy year two years ago shows that Joe paid me more than 27 thousand dollars that year.
I clicked on the attachment, printed it out and responded. It was a Japanese patent in a field that I know quite well, about 13 thousand English words. I offered to translate the whole thing in 3 days (well, three and half because at that point it was about 1 PM), for 1 cent less than what I usually charge to agencies for rush jobs. But Joe replied in his e-mail that since somebody else offered to translate the patent in 2 days (or 2.5 days), he sent him the job. “But thanks anyway” said the e-mail.
So I e-mailed Joe again and asked him not to send me “auction bids” like this anymore because I will not react to them in the future. I like Joe. One of the reasons why I like him is that he almost always pays within a few days. I don’t know how he does it, I assume that he has money in the bank or that he uses a credit line. I know that he is under a lot of pressure from patent law firms who demand incredibly brutal deadlines from poor Joe who is only trying to please. I could have probably translated it in 2.5 days too, although it would mean exerting myself almost to the limit of what is humanly possible. In fact, if it were a direct job from a law firm, I would have done it within the shorter deadline if I really had to, but then I would be able to charge almost twice as much as what Joe pays me. So you could say that the effort would be worth my while in such a case.
I believe that the best strategy for translators who are asked to participate in “auction bids” like this, when the same e-mail is sent with a job offer by an agency to several translators to find the one who will charge the least amount and deliver the translation the fastest is …. not to participate. The chances are, there will always be somebody in a given stable of translators who will do it cheaper and faster because he really, really needs the money right now! This is how rates that translators are paid are eventually reduced.
Joe replied that in the future, he would only send me job offers that are meant specifically and only for me, and I thanked him in my last e-mail. The 1099 form from Joe for 2011 will probably be just a fraction of the amount that he pays me on busy years, but that’s OK with me.
I still have a long translation to proofread before I deliver it on Monday, and I can take my time and do a better job of it now that the pressure and exhaustion that inevitably comes with and after such a brutal deadline is no longer an issue.
It is possible that Joe will not be sending me much work anymore because his clients really need translators who can translate incredible amounts of words per day.
But I doubt it. The pool of translators who have the same kind of experience and ability as this patent translator is quite limited. It took me quite a while to get where I am now, more than 30 years in fact. I think that in the future, I will still be receiving real job offers from him instead of “auction bids”.
I think that Joe needs me a little bit more than I need him, which is the key to any business relationship that makes sense to me.