How To Spot And Avoid Clients
Who Will Take Advantage Of You
By Paul Strikwerda
In a black-and-white world, there are two types of clients.
Type A: Pain in the neck.
Type B: Pleasure to work with.
After many years of freelancing, I have developed a sixth sense, warning me ahead of time which type of client I'm dealing with. Usually, this gut feeling is spot-on, but recently, I was unpleasantly surprised.
It all started when I was asked to narrate a Dutch script. From the first paragraph I could tell that it was poorly translated, probably with the help of software. Some of the language was archaic and the translation was very literal.
In the third line I noticed a big slip-up. A noun that should have been singular was translated with the plural form. Mistakes happen, but this made no sense whatsoever.
Unfortunately, this wasn't the first time I had to deal with this situation. In this economy, clients are cutting corners and don't bother to hire a professional translator.
For some, quality control seems to be a dirty word. Eh, two dirty words, actually.
COMMUNICATING WITH CLIENTS
Whenever I spot really big blunders, I just can't keep my big mouth shut. I have to tell the client, or in this case, the production company that hired me on behalf of the client. It's in my best interest, because I don't like to be associated with a poor product that's going to be all over the Web for generations to come.
I always proofread a script before I record it. I don't want to be a brainless nobody who reads whatever they put in front of him. That's what text-to-speech programs do.
When clients hire me, I feel I can add value by going over their script, line by line. I never criticize content, but I'm a stickler for proper grammar. Typos and poor grammar undermine credibility.
LOST IN TRANSLATION
When I told my contact at the production company about the poor translation, she promised to pass my feedback on to the client, and she'd let me know what to do.
Two hours later I received an apologetic email: "Paul, my hands are tied. The client said the script had been approved by the company, and their legal department signed off on it. You won't believe on how many desks this script has been before you got to see it. Just read what is written and don't change a word.”
Reluctantly, I did because a little voice was telling me that this wasn't the last time I would hear from this client.
I TOLD YOU SO
A week later the phone rang. It was the production company.
"The client isn't happy," my contact said. "Apparently, their office in the Netherlands had noticed a big error in the third line and they want you to correct it.
"They also think that the Dutch text doesn't really flow. Could you take a look at it and tweak the translation? You're a native speaker. It should be fairly easy for you and I'm sure it wouldn't take a lot of time."
THAT WILL COST YOU
I told her I'd be happy to do that, but I would have to charge for the translation and the rerecording.
"Well," my contact said, "I'm not so sure the client is willing to pay for that. They sounded pretty peeved that you didn't spot this mistake in the first place.
"And can't you just throw in the translation? The client told me they'd be willing to consider you for more work in the future."
I took a deep breath and reminded her that some seven days ago I was told to read the script verbatim.
"Are you sure?" she asked.
"I can send you the email," I said. "I hate to be super formal, but my policy states that I'm happy to record free retakes, as long as they are - and I quote - not necessitated by changes in the script after the initial audio was recorded.
"The recording of a script that was revised after the first text was officially approved and recorded is regarded and billed as a new project. Otherwise I would end up recording version 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3 for free - you know how that goes."
Having dealt with a gazillion customers, this is what I have learned:
You must put things in writing because:
Future work doesn't pay current bills (unless you get paid in advance). If that's a no-brainer, why are certain clients trying to dangle that rotten carrot in front of your face?
Who do they think you are? A voice bunny?
Clients have two reasons.
SURE SIGNS OF TYPE A CLIENTS
As I said in the beginning, over the years I've learned to spot a Type A client from miles away. Here are a few tip-offs:
THE OTHER TYPE OF CLIENTS
Type B clients are very different.
So, how did I resolve the situation with my Type A client?
The production company I was working with was taken off the job, and it took six months before I finally got paid for something that was never used. Out of curiosity, I looked on YouTube to see if I could find the video I had been working on.
It's there, and it is horrible.
The script is pretty much the same. Two things were changed. One was the obvious mistake in the third line. That was corrected. Number two was the narrator. They must have found him on Craigslist.
DO WHAT THEY WANT?
Looking back, should I have given them what they wanted? Why not change that one word and read the darn script verbatim? It would have taken me 10 minutes at the most. And why not throw in that translation? What a way to create some goodwill!
I'm all for reaching a reasonable compromise, but I refuse to lower my professional standards just to please a Type A client. Changing that one word would be like adding a fine cherry to a lousy Sundae.
I have a reputation to uphold and I will never compromise quality just to make a quick buck. If a client wants to play games with his reputation, so be it. I'm not going to go there.
Secondly, I deserve to be paid for the work I do. As soon as I give in and start translating for free, I'm telling the client I believe my time and my work is worthless. I'm also taking a job away from professional translators.
SOMETHING ELSE I LEARNED
Here's the last thing I learned.
From the day I began publishing my fees, Type A clients started avoiding me. I have no problem with that. In fact, it saves me tons of time.
Here's my wish for you. May you be granted the serenity to accept that Type A clients cannot be changed and the courage to attract as many Type B clients as you can and the wisdom to know the difference.
Paul Strikwerda is a 25-year veteran of the voice over industry whose Nethervoice service features German and Dutch voice overs, translation and evaluation services. Born in Holland, he has worked for Dutch national and international radio, the BBC and American Public Radio. Although 90% of his work is in English, Strikwerda also records in Dutch, German and French. Clients include Novartis, Johnson & Johnson, and the Discovery Channel. He also publishes an informative and entertaining blog, Double Dutch.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.orgWeb: www.nethervoice.com
Double Dutch Blog: www.nethervoice.com/nethervoice
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