Following one’s own rules

18.10.2014

Sometimes it’s very difficult to follow one’s own rules, even when you know they are really sound.

I have recently quoted to a ProZ offer to proofread an English-Russian translation from one European agency. They reply at once, not asking for a test, or even inquiring if I have any experience in the topic, but register me in their system and tell me that I can start.

Obstacle No. 1: you get access to the text only after you accept the job. I never do this, especially if it concerns proofreading someone’s translation, for it can bring a lot of surprises. I read the PO, and it becomes even curiouser, as the customer claims he has a right to cancel the job (and consequently not pay for it) if he finds the used terminology shows insufficient knowledge of the topic. Business is not done like this, because you can always find some faults in every translation, and if the criteria are not set beforehand, the translator is in a very vulnerable position. Then from the guidelines to the job I learn, that the reviewer gets access to only one page (!) of the text, and will be able to see the next one only after completing the previous one, losing any possibility to return to it and change anything. And the purpose of this smart rule is for speeding the work and enabling several translators to work on the same text. So the customer seems to have quite original ideas on how to ensure translation quality and uniformity of terminology (faults in which, as we remember, free the customer from obligation to pay the job).

As a result I imagine the following scenario: I take this pig in a poke, the translator (or maybe several of them) was invited on the same conditions, without testing: “get to the jobs at once, but if we don’t like the result, we won’t pay”. So the probability that the translation will be good is below 50%. And if I find any mistakes in the translation, this frees the customer from paying the translator, and now it’s me who has to do all one’s best to produce a translation the customer will like.

I go to Blue Board to make enquiries about this prodigious customer, and to my astonishment I find a lot of positive reviews left by translators who have worked with him (5/5), and only one complaint about late payment. So he does pay to some translators, and they are quite satisfied with such rules!

So maybe it’s worth taking a risk and agree? The rate is good, it will make 80 euros for 2-3 (maybe) hours of work. But what about my principles?

I won’t say that the principles won in the end, it’s rather attendant circumstances. First, it was not a topic I specialize in, so there is a high probability that there will be issues with quality. And, secondly, I had a large job with the same deadline from an old reliable customer, and it was possible it would take all the available time (and it was like that). And taking a job on conditions I don’t like from a new customer to the disadvantage of an old one would be stupid.

But, nevertheless, it left some kind of dissatisfaction. A good freelancer is sort of Jeff Peters, who took a dollar in another man’s pocket as a personal offense. And those 80 euros flew in front of my nose to someone else. So what is better: taking some risk or being cautious?

To my mind, the main part of the word freelancer is free. And this freedom includes also choosing from the multitude of customers only those whose conditions you like. For sure you will find such ones, and those whom you don’t like will probably be a good deal for other translators, and everyone will be glad in the end. But each choice you make excludes alternative options, and this is the price you have to pay for freedom.