Here is an e-mail I received a few days ago:
This is [let’s call her Abby] from [let’s call them Numero Uno Translations].
I got your information from the ATA site and I just wanted to send you an email because we are handling a very large Japanese to English antitrust automotive project in which we are looking for more translators. We have been working on the project for the last several years using hundreds of translators and we are currently prepping for an influx of new documents. These new documents expected to last through the next 6 months or more.
The person who sent me this e-mail did not know that, but I used to work for this company for about 5 years, including for a few months on the project mentioned in her e-mail.
One of the owners of this translation agency, who knew me because he was a defector from another agency that I used to work for (they often do that, once they learn how the business is run, why work for other people when you can have translators working for you? … Abby will probably do the same thing one day too … she looks like a smart girl in her LinkedIn profile), called me in person about two years ago to persuade me to lower my rate to them by 15% for a special Japanese project. The project involved mostly things like minutes from business meetings and e-mails exchanged between Japanese managers.
As I was going through a dry spell, I let him cajole me into “temporarily lowering my rate, for this project only”. And for several months, I was translating for this agency dozens of e-mails and minutes from meetings about every other week.
But then I noticed a strange thing: I was no longer receiving any other work from this agency, although I used to translate quite a few patents for them, mostly from Japanese, at my non-discounted rate. They were still sending me Japanese patents to give them a price quote, but then I would never get the job.
That was when I finally figured out what they were doing – they were just using me to prepare a quote, probably because they did not know how to prepare a price quote for a Japanese patent themselves, and then they sent the translation to a cheaper translator, probably somebody who was charging at least 15% less than me.
So I read them the riot act, moved their file to a bulging file cabinet where I keep files from companies that I no longer work for, and never worked for them again.
That was when I realized that there is no such a thing as “temporary lowering of your rate for this project only”. Once you agree to do a certain job for 850 dollars, why should the same customer pay you 1,000 dollars for the same job next time? Once you agree to do that, your work is obviously no longer worth 1,000 dollars, only 850 dollars.
A “temporary reduction of our rate, only for this job” is in fact always a permanent reduction for all future translations because your value has just been reduced by 15 percent.
Once a customer asks for such a favor, “temporarily”, “only this time”, and “only for this translation”, it’s time to dump the customer like a hot potato and start looking for a suitable replacement for the cheapskate. I did replace them, and I like the new replacement much better than “Numero Uno Translations”. They pay better, faster, and they seem to know what they are doing.
There are zillions of translators on this planet, and I am sure that Abby will eventually find her man or woman for this job. These particular translations were in fact not that difficult, although e-mails can be tricky.
But despite the zillions of translators hungry work out there, it is a small world, and the number of highly experienced translators such as this mad patent translator is quite limited, which must be why Abby’s message found its way into my e-mail.
I will not be very surprised if Abby calls or e-mails me in a few months again and asks me to work for her brand new translation agency called “Abby’s Number One Translations” or something like that.