Ethical dilemma: when services cost less than you expect

Thoughts on Translation is back from a relaxing camping vacation in the deserts of Western Colorado. This vacation was completely unplugged; I didn’t take my laptop or netbook and only turned my cell phone on once a day to check my office messages. In other words, a real vacation! I highly recommend doing this at least once a year if you’re at the computer the rest of the time. Now on to more substantive issues…

A while back, I wrote a post about sticker shock: dealing with clients who are blindsided about how much professional translation services cost. Recently, I spoke with the owner of a small agency who brought up a different but related topic: how to react when a professional service costs less than you expect. In a nutshell…this agency owner works with clients in a very targeted industry that not many translators specialize in. When she landed a new client in this specialization, she needed to expand her pool of qualified translators quickly, so she posted the job on ProZ. In her words, “Not to save money in particular, but in order to widen the pool of potential translators.” This agency owner pays her current translators very fair rates, what I would consider the high end of the U.S.-based agency market (I’m guessing you can tell where this is headed!), and in her ProZ posting, she did not specify any rate at all, but left it up to the translators to state their rates.

So, the applications started coming in, and because of the way the agency owner worded her posting, the applicants were few in number and very well qualified for the job. However, their rates were generally between 25% and 60% less than what she had planned on paying. For example if she had been planning on paying 30 cents a word (this isn’t the actual figure, just an example), these highly qualified translators generally bid between 12 and 20 cents a word. In the end, the agency owner did not pick the cheapest translators, but also did not suggest to the selected translators that they raise their rates. I realize that this anecdote also brings up the issue of competitive bidding in general, translators who charge less than they are worth, and probably various other issues too. However, specifically related to the under-budget issue, what would you have done? Would you have told these translators that they were bidding half of what you were willing to pay, or would you have accepted the rates that they offered?

10 Responses to “Ethical dilemma: when services cost less than you expect”
  1. mariannereiner June 9, 2010
  2. Jean-Christophe Helary June 9, 2010
  3. Shannon Jimenez June 9, 2010
  4. translstudio June 9, 2010
  5. Andie June 9, 2010
  6. Jean-Christophe Helary June 10, 2010
  7. Tess June 10, 2010
  8. Tom Ellett June 10, 2010
  9. kate February 16, 2012

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