Potential clients and sticker shock

Wiktionary defines sticker shock as “Disgust, shock or fright upon learning the price of an item offered for sale,” and this roughly describes the reaction of many would-be translation buyers when they learn the price of a professional translation. This leaves the professional translator with a dilemma: how to handle a sticker-shocked client.

In my experience, sticker-shocked clients come in two basic flavors: translation buyers who are somewhat informed about the translation market and translation buyers who are not at all informed about the translation market. I feel that I can deal fairly well with the first group: generally low-paying translation agencies that are out of touch with what quality-conscious translators charge. Because I feel (or at least hope) that these translation buyers have some inkling of what good translations cost, I don’t tend to get overly involved with them. As in:

Agency: “Our budget for this project is X.”
Translator: “I appreciate the contact, but my base rate is X times 2.”
Agency: “You can’t offer a discount?”
Translator: “I’m fortunate to be very busy at those rates, so unfortunately not.”

I find it much harder to deal with potential clients who, through no fault of their own, are completely out of touch with how much a professional translation will cost. In these situations, I’m often unsure how to allow the potential client to save face while delivering the news that the project will cost two or five or ten times what the potential client has budgeted. As in:

Potential client describes a really interesting-sounding translation project that is right up the translator’s alley. Then, the conversation turns to money.

Potential client: “So, can you give me an idea of approximately how much this would cost?”
Translator: “Well, in order to give you a firm quote I would need to see the full text of the book and we would need to talk about your deadline, delivery format, etc.”
Potential client: “But just as a ballpark figure, can you give me an idea?”
Translator: “Right, just as an example I translated a book of similar length a couple of months ago and the total cost was $7,500.”
Potential client: “Sorry? You mean $750, right?”

Over the past year I’ve had several conversations similar to the one above. These leave me feeling terrible for a few reasons: often, the potential client is *really* excited about the project. Sometimes it’s a book they’ve written themselves, sometimes it’s their grandmother’s journal that’s just been found in the family attic, sometimes it’s a book on a topic they feel passionate about and for which there is very little information available in English. I’m also unsure how much it’s worth helping these potential clients from sticker shock to acceptance. Sometimes I empathize with them (“I know, if you’ve never used a translator before it’s a shock to find out how much it costs”), sometimes I try a little client education (“I’m sure that you can find someone cheaper or even free, but consider the risk of ending up with an unusable translation”) and sometimes I just try to end the conversation. However, I feel that there must be a better way to handle this and bring these clients around to an awareness of what professional translation costs.

Any sticker shock coping strategies from the readers?

14 Responses to “Potential clients and sticker shock”
  1. Rachel McRoberts April 7, 2010
  2. Patricia April 7, 2010
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  12. Anthony April 27, 2010
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