A few weeks ago, a translator raised a question in the Standing Up Facebook group. Quoting precedents from the content writing industry, he asked whether translators could or should have different quality standards for different clients with different budgets. In other words, should we do better work for clients who pay us more?
At first sight the answer seemed clear and some group members were quite adamant in their views: it was unethical and wrong to differentiate in this way. Either we should do our best work or we shouldn’t work at all. If the pay on offer was too low, there could be no half measures, it was our duty to simply refuse the job. Their argument was appeared convincing enough.
And yet…is that really how we all do things? I began thinking and I realised that the way I work, at least, is nowhere near so clear cut. For a start, like many translators, I don’t charge all customers the same rate. If they are an agency, for example, or a colleague, I will charge less, to reflect the fact that they have done the marketing to find the end client. If, on the other hand, I am dealing directly with the end client, I will charge more.
Even when working with direct clients, the price they pay can be different. Ideally, all of them would want and be able to afford my “premium” service, including revision by another translator. This, however, is not always the case and many clients prefer to pay less for what is, in effect, a lower level of service: my translation without revision. What is this, if it isn’t different levels of service for different budgets?
Now I don’t think I could deliberately turn out substandard translations, and in doing what I do I have no intention of not offering my best work. But, in any case, what does “best work” mean? I’ve written before about my working process, likening it to sculpture, where I start off with a “rough carving” and then polish it into a finished “statue”. But when is that statue finished? Is it ever perfect? I would say that it isn’t. So at some point we have to decide that it is, to use two much-maligned words, “good enough”; that one more read-through or one more revision isn’t going to make that much difference. And what determines that point? If someone is paying us a higher rate, aren’t we more inclined to give the piece of work one more polish? To me it would be surprising if we weren’t.
Some translators might say that they are simply not prepared to work for clients who won’t pay for what they consider to be their best work. This is a laudable aim and we all, of course, have our standards. Like most of us, I set a rate below which I will not accept jobs. I also have a standard working method, which I follow for all the jobs I do accept. But I’m certainly not going to be the one to criticise a translator who tells me they can make the same profit as they normally make doing a particular job at below their standard rate because it requires less work. It may not be for me, but, especially in these difficult times, I can see the logic in it, particularly from an earnings-per-hour point of view. Besides, I don’t enjoy the view from atop a high horse.
What do you think? Feel free to leave your views in a comment below.