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CLIENTS
How To Spot And Avoid Clients
Who Will Take Advantage Of You

By Paul Strikwerda
Voice Actor

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." 

LESSONS LEARNED 

Having dealt with a gazillion customers, this is what I have learned: 

You must put things in writing because:
  • Most clients have a short memory and a lot on their plate, and
  • Never fall for the promise of future work - 99 percent of the time it's not going to happen. 
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.
  • Because they often get away with it. Colleagues without a backbone or beginners without business acumen are so desperate to finally get hired, they believe the carrot is real.  
  • Because they're Type A clients. 
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: 
  • They're low budget and high maintenance.
  • They don't ask; they demand.
  • They have limited knowledge of the business you're in.
  • You give them a finger; they want the whole hand.
  • They tend not to read emails and make a lot of assumptions.
  • Your input is not appreciated because the client knows best.
  • You're not an equal partner in the project. 
  • They usually pay late and act annoyed when you send them a reminder.
  • Even though you're an independent contractor, Type A clients believe you work FOR them. 
THE OTHER TYPE OF CLIENTS

Type B clients are very different. 
  • They know what you're worth and what rate is reasonable.
  • They never demand. They always ask.
  • They leave you with clear instructions and trust you will do a good job.
  • They appreciate feedback and are open to your input.
  • They get back to you promptly.
  • You are treated as an equal partner.
  • They pay on time.
  • You work WITH them, not for them.  
So, how did I resolve the situation with my Type A client? 

I didn't. 

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.
-----------------
ABOUT PAUL
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.

Web: www.nethervoice.com
Double Dutch Blog: www.nethervoice.com/nethervoice


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Comments (10)
Matt Morea
5/19/2013 at 9:31 PM
Great article! I completely agree with your stance. Some clients just aren't worth it.
IAN WRIGHT
5/14/2013 at 9:53 AM
Excellent article, Paul.

Fair, logical, professional guidelines and tips.

Regards, IAN
IAN's VOICE OVER THE WORLD
South Australia
M Lewis Sauerwein
5/14/2013 at 2:53 AM
Wow, has this ever hit home! I have sailed in this boat far too many times. I too have developed very similar business practices. Yes, I have seen a steady decline with regard to type A clients as a result of how I generally operate.

As an American English native speaker, I especially LOVE (sarcasm intended) it when a non-English native speaker proceeds to tell me how a word (normal English word, not names, etc.) should be pronounced. I fear we will see more and more of these types of clients as the water continues to be muddied with all the newcomers.

The quality of the freelance client base as well as those who provide a service like ours is slowly becoming inundated with wanna-be's, used to-be's, and never-be's - and we have to learn how to deal with them all in a professional manner.

As always Paul, you are a light in our world of VO. Rock on-
Uncle Roy
5/13/2013 at 1:36 PM
Another great blog, Paul. Been there many times - too many of those clients. I explain that no matter who their audience may be, their English translation is not professionally done. I told one client that it didn't sound like English was their translator's first language. Their reply: he is English - ummm, if so maybe finishing high school would have been a good option when he was of that age. I don't want to insult my client, but I don't like it when they insult me, either. We've been in this business professionally for a long time - we know what we're talking about. Thanks again, Paul - carry on...
Jane Ingalls
5/13/2013 at 11:09 AM
This exact scenario was discussed at FaffCamp last week. Thank you for adding more backbone to this issue. Very few of us are equipped to voice and translate at a high professional level. Translators have my depest respect, and I'd be playing with linguisitic fire to take on difficult translations, especially with regional dialects and formality issues! In most cases, I'd rather be narrating.
Johnny George
5/13/2013 at 11:08 AM
You are so on-target, Paul. And almost all of us have learned that lesson the hard way. But that's what we call "experience." I have fallen for the "more work up ahead if you bend now" promise too many times and I just don't go there anymore. It all will work out in the long run. When you don't compromise, you free up that potential wasted time to work on "real" projects that value YOU.

And what comes around, goes around. Those Type A's will fall into the background with cheap representational work. Only trouble is, they're then replaced with new Type A's. We gotta learn from these mistakes and follow Paul's advice and see them coming and avoid that fork in the road.

Thanks, Paul, for putting into words what so many of us were thinking.

Amy Weis
5/13/2013 at 8:56 AM
Spot on, Paul! I always appreciate your insight. I think many times we're afraid that if we say ,"no," we're closing the door to an opportunity; but more often than not, having the courage to walk away will usually lead to something better. Thanks for the affirmation!
Ed Helvey
5/13/2013 at 8:19 AM
Oh, so true, Paul. And that applies to all kinds of businesses, not just voice-over and translating. When I was publishing custom edition books we got to being able to spot a type A author. We would add a hefty P.I.A. factor into our estimate. Sometimes that would price us out of the author's consideration and they would go make someone else's life miserable. Or we'd get paid what we deserved for putting up with the turkey. If it turned out the client was actually a type B in disguise and we had a great experience working together, we'd tell the client we came in under budget and discount the P.I.A. factor off the final invoice. Unfortunately, our original assessments were usually on target and we seldom issued a P.I.A. discount.
Marie Kopan
5/13/2013 at 5:22 AM
Excellent Paul, the Voiceover Serenity Prayer! I have had a few clients like that, but I didn't realize that publishing rates would push them away, as you said, it saves time so you can be more productive that way! Thanks for that observation from your experience!
BP Smyth
5/13/2013 at 2:05 AM
Excellent Paul. Thank you again for sharing your vast knowlege of the voice-over business with us. It is my hope that everyone in this business reads this article and takes heed. However, I am always reminded of the saying..."You can lead a Horse to water but you can't make it drink." And, what I have seen on the VO blogs as of late, there must be a lot of thirsty Horse's out there.

All the best,
BP Smyth

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