Rates are a very controversial issue in our industry and the issue of low-ballers is even more controversial. In fact, it's kind of a hard concept to pinpoint. One freelancer might be regularly (and happily) working for a rate that another considers low-balling. Or, you might be too fast to burn a potential bridge over an e-mail asking for a low rate.
Whether this is something that makes your blood boil or not, there's one thing that we all need to understand: price negotiation is a reality of doing business.
I think at one point or another, we've all received something like this e-mail:
We have an exciting new project for you! This is a VIP client and we plan to get a significant amount of work from them in your language combination. Unfortunately, our budget is a little low but we hope you can be flexible.'
Now, let me annotate this e-mail a bit and let me know if this is what you're hearing when you read it:
'Dear translator [whoever you are…I don't really care],
We have an exciting new project for you [please dear God take this job so I can go home]! This is a VIP client [also, please don’t screw it up] and we plan to get a significant amount of work from them [you’ll be rich if you don’t mind working 25 hours a day…or maybe you'll get none at all] in your language combination [whatever that is]. Unfortunately [yup, here it comes], our budget is a little low [and by low, I mean you couldn’t feed a hamster on it] but we hope you can be flexible [seriously, just take it].'
Trust me, I get it. I've been there…wanting to scream at the computer about how incredibly valuable my translations are and how dare you even suggest I work for 1 penny or half a penny a word (do they really cut pennies in half?)? But guess what? Yelling via e-mail might make you feel a little better for a minute, but it doesn’t really accomplish much.
One of my agency clients started with an incredibly low offer, but because I was professional in my reply, while we didn't work together on that job, when they did have the budget, they came back and hired me, and I've been working for them for several years at my standard rates. I had another (direct) client contact me and pitch me a very low rate and it turned out that he was just very uneducated about the translation industry and Googling hadn't helped him much.
Am I saying that every time someone sends an e-mail like that it is out of good intentions or naivety? Of course not. So, what's the best way to deal with this?
1) Create an e-mail template. You definitely don't want to invest a lot of time negotiating if your price is too far from the prospect's budget since you're unlikely to work together on that particular project, but having a standard professional reply means you spend very little time, you get to remain professional, and you don't burn a bridge in case they have a better budget in the future. There's no need to take this personally. They may not have any idea how much translation is supposed to cost. (Scroll to the bottom to download my e-mail template for this.)
2) Create a rates sheet. This is VERY helpful to have even if you don’t deal with low-ballers. It’s an easy way for clients to get an idea of your rates and any applicable fees (feel free to provide a range and state you will quote each job in advance). Sending a template e-mail with attached rates sheet uses almost none of your time or energy, and allows you to maintain your professionalism AND potentially gain a future client. It's also a way to educate them on professional rates without putting them on the defensive by way of attacking them.
3) Always remember that they are people. An e-mail like this might come from a project manager whose company is putting pressure on them to reduce expenses. It might also come from an agency whose client is putting pressure on them to get it done fast and cheap. I've actually had a company e-mail me before and say in the e-mail that they were asking me to do it for this rate so that they could go back to their client and say that they tried even though they knew it was offensive. You just never know what the other person's situation is and, in the end, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by being polite.
4) Ignore them. If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all, right? Deleting an e-mail like that is the best way to go if you can't keep yourself from writing a scathing lecture. Remember that no matter how right you might be, your scathing e-mail could lead to bad reviews online, or a bad reference. Alternatively, remaining professional means that person might refer you to someone else with deeper pockets (which also happened to me).
I hope the above strategies help you deal with this situation that I know we all face to varying degrees.
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Author: Jenae Spry
Jenae has been a French > English translator for over 10 years and a productivity and performance coach for freelancers for over 5 years. Jenae launched the Success by Rx blog to help freelancers achieve success.