Saturday, May 21, 2011

How do you Deal with Requests for Discounts?

Most translators—including us—don't like to be asked for discounts.
We argue that people who don't bargain at the supermarket checkout counter or at a restaurant will readily and happily try to extract a discount from a translator, using a number of silly excuses, including the 79 listed in our previous article for the Translation Journal. Many translators feel that those requests for discounts reflect the low image our clients have of our profession.
On the other hand, the same people who will not bargain at the supermarket or with a waiter will readily engage in heated bargaining matches with auditors and lawyers. And it is a well-known fact that corporate sales agreements are also hotly bargained, a truth which will gainsay the "lowly image" theory.
Be firm in your denial of discount. “Sorry, no, I cannot give you a discount on that” is about as far as it needs to go.
So it is not a question of image. Or, at least in many cases, it is not. Then why do people who will not bargain with a waiter will bargain with a translator? One of the reasons is because they know—or feel—bargaining with waiters is useless, while bargaining with translators can be profitable. The waiter is almost never the owner and, therefore, there's not much he, or the cashier, can do about prices. The translator, on the other hand, is almost always self-employed and, as such, completely free to adjust the price. Funny, though, how people feel so free to ask a translator for a discount, but not a doctor. There must be some point we are missing here.
Every Time you Grant a Discount...
Lesson #1: Every time you grant a discount you are encouraging your client to ask you for discount the next time. Clients will even say "but last time you did give us a discount, how come you won't grant one now?" Discounts beget discounts. A client who gets a discount and is happy with your work will recommend your services to another possible client and remark that you gave them a discount. Then Mr. Utha Klyentt will say "but you gave my friend a discount!" and there you go, again—an excuse that we should definitely have listed in our previous article.
Some colleagues say this is a non-problem, for which they have an easy solution. Their "list prices" are some 10 percent above their "actual prices", meaning that they can squeeze out a discount if the situation so requires. The client whines a bit, they counterwhine a bit more, and after a few moments they grant the discount, get the job, and everybody is happy.
Well, we believe this is a non-solution to an actual problem. First, because, as we said above, it will contribute to perpetuate the terrible habit of asking for discounts. Second, because the client will tend to consider the discounted price as your normal price and ask for a discount on it based in one of the 79 reasons. Third, because this is playing make-believe and we are a bit too old for that. Fourth, and, in our opinion, most important, because it penalizes the nice good clients who pay without complaining by charging them more than the pests who are always trying to elicit a discount from us.

An Opportunity for Client Education?
There are some overoptimistic translators who believe a request for a discount is an opportunity for client education, meaning an opportunity to lecture the client on the importance of the trade we ply and all. It may be, but in most cases it is just a means of boring your client to death.
We educate someone who is ready and willing to be educated and needs the education. For instance, we can educate a client by saying that we work better from an MSWord file than from a scanned pdf and that the difference will be reflected in the fee and delivery time. We can educate a naive client by explaining that we cannot overwrite a pdf file with a translation. We can educate them in those ways because they do not know and, presumably, will be interested in knowing, since this knowledge will reduce their expenses.
But except for individual clients not used to buying translation services, most of our contacts can be divided into two groups: people who know everything about translation and people who could not care less. The first is composed of agency PMs or professional buyers in large corporations, used to dealing with translators. The second is made up of people like the secretary of the assistant junior manager who may be cute and polite, but has no authority except to ask for a discount and make a note of our answer.
Trying to educate those people by lecturing them is usually a waste of time, no matter how strong your arguments may be. They are not interested and probably not even paying attention. They are not interested in knowing the effort it takes to translate, how many years' experience you may have or the cost of living where you live: they want a discount and that is that.

Argument and Counterargument
You see, it is not like an ordinary discussion. You are trying to tell them translation is hard work and you cannot charge less than X and that the Y they offer is a starvation rate. They are not interested in that. They are interested in getting a discount; is that so difficult to understand?
They may even engage in a discussion with you, but it is what we call a walled-in discussion. Let us clarify that: no matter what you say, they will build a wall around your argument by saying that they cannot go above the budget, or that sales has found another guy who charges less and he tried to convince them you are good but they won't listen. The wall is too high to be jumped over and there is no opening. That it is a non-discussion, a take-it-or-leave-it situation.

So, What Can We Do?
There is no royal road to success here. There is no approach that will guarantee success. But there are a few things that you can do to improve your chances.
First of all, never show any form of weakness. Don't tell the client you have nothing to do or that there has been very little to do in the last weeks, because that smells like fresh blood and clients as a rule are a blood-thirsty breed who won't miss the chance to extract a discount from you when they feel you are too weak to resist. If desperate clients are likely to pay more, desperate translators are almost always  willing to accept less, so don't panic—or, at least,don't let the client notice you are panicking. Don't give your client unnecessary information: information is power and, trust us, you don't want your client to be more powerful than you are. If your client doesn't have to know, don't tell and save some bucks in aspirin.
On the other hand, bear in mind that clients who claim they are going through a bad spot, may be just preparing the way to ask for a discount as a form of cooperation. So, better not comment on those statements. Remember that anything you say may and will be used against you when time comes. And, by the way, remember that when things were going great for the client they never offered you a bonus. So, when the request for a discount comes, you will feel more comfortable denying it.
Second, be firm in your denial of discount. "Sorry, no, I cannot give you a discount on that" is about as far as it needs to go. If the client asks why, our favorite answer is "this is the price we charge all clients, and it wouldn't make any sense to charge you less. We have plenty of work as it is and our day has only 24 hours, meaning that if we accept jobs at cut rates we are actually losing money." Remember that "walling in" is a technique that can be used by both parties in a discussion.
Third, we have the question of politeness. Some clients may get very rude and disrespectful, to the point of making our blood boil. This is unprofessional. However, it is even more unprofessional to get down to their level. If a client starts to call you "dearie," "honey." and "sweatheart," for instance, do not complain, just resort to your coldest and most formal manner. Be professional at all times. Behave professionally, and you stand a better chance of being treated as a professional—and being paid professional-level rates.
Finally, remember that a request for a discount, if made in a polite way, is no sin. You do not have to start WWIII with a client just because they asked for a discount. Refuse it as politely and nicely as you can and remember that no matter how good you may be as a translator, nobody likes to work with someone who is always angry and feel insulted. Treat clients as well as you can and there is a good chance they will treat you well, too.

Danilo's personal note:
Kelli can imitate my style so well, both in English and Portuguese that I call her edits "Ms. Semolini's invisible stitching". This is something I like very much because the final texts read smoothly. However, I believe we must make an exception today and mark the two following portions of the text as personal notes from each of us.
I have built a reputation as the guy who never grants a discount. I broke this rule some time ago. I was offered a job under very special circumstances and I had personal and professional reasons to want it. I quoted my price, the agency made a slightly lower counteroffer, which I accepted. I did a couple of jobs for them and asked them to update their database with my current rates, which they presumably did. In doing this, I ran the risk of losing the client. On the other hand, if they refused to pay what I asked, they would have to look for another translator. They have not contacted me again and they seem to be doing well enough without my services. On the other hand, I have had sufficient work to keep me happy and busy.
The preceding paragraph has fewer than 150 words, but says more than the rest of the text.

Kelli's personal note:
Working as a freelance translator taught me how awful it is when someone asks for a discount, whether or not they are good at their job. If it makes me feel bad, it must do the same to the guys who keep my car and computer running or to the plumber, electrician and other service providers. If I want to work, my house and car have to be functioning properly. Without those guys, I would not be able to do my job.
Therefore, I understand their jobs are as important as mine, that they also have a family to provide for, rent to pay and all that. That is why I don't bargain with them. Not that I suddenly got so rich with translation. Sometimes I can't afford their services. In these situations, I ask for credit. If they cannot give me credit, well, I ask them to do what is absolutely indispensable for me at that moment and finish the job later. I think it is less offensive than keep asking for discounts and diminishing other people's work.