Breaking up isn’t hard when your “partner” is a cheapskate
I received an e-mail last week from a long-standing and once quite important agency client. It began brightly. The company was undergoing a process of change with a view to growing and becoming a world leader in translation. The success obtained and the quality offered could not, of course, be obtained without my cooperation and prospects for growth in 2016 and 2017 were good.
I should have seen the “but” coming. When it finally arrived, it announced that, in return for the success and quality I was responsible for providing, they were proposing to cut the rate paid in one of my language combinations, which, for me, would result in a reduction of 20%. I was furious. The idea of an enforced pay cut was bad enough, but to dress it up as some sort of spurious progress was simply insulting. It was all I could do not to fire off something equally insulting in response.
But I could do better than that. The truth is that I no longer need this customer. Despite the fact that until recently they provided a large portion of my income, in the last six months I’ve hardly done any work for them at all, mostly because I’ve been busy with other things. It has to be said, too, that they’ve become a lot less attractive to work with, largely because of their insistence on using their own online translation platform whose limitations basically mean it takes longer to produce a poorer translation.
However, one thing this customer has never been is a bad payer and I know from experience that when an agency can no longer afford me for most of their work they are still quite likely to turn to me in emergencies when they’ve been let down or have a rush job on. Sometimes, this kind of work can be a useful way of filling a gap in my schedule, so, while burning my bridges with the rude response I felt the client deserved might have been amusing, it was probably a temptation best resisted.
Instead, I kept it short. I simply told the client that, as they were well aware because of the times jobs of theirs I’d had to turn down lately, I was usually busy, which meant working at low rates simply didn’t make sense. I then stuck the knife in by attaching my increased rates for 2016. I didn’t really need to say any more. I doubt I’ll be hearing from the client again until they are desperate when I may, or may not, be available to help. They might have decided to go down the road, of cheap and not so cheerful translations done by underpaid and second-rate translators supervised by overworked, harassed project managers but it’s not a direction I plan to travel in. In that model, someone makes a great deal of money but that someone is never the translator.
As if it were some kind of sign that there’s no need to work for cheapskates, that same morning I picked up four different jobs from new and returning customers who are not trying to squeeze my rates. Is there a secret to this happy position? I would say it is keeping a good spread of customers, never relying too much on one or two and always being open to finding new ones, however busy and secure you might feel. Oh yes, and be very suspicious whenever anyone starts trying to tell you your contribution is essential to their future growth and success. Chances are, that contribution will be you taking a pay cut while they cream off all the profit.