When Will Experts Be Treated Like Experts?

When I began my blog, I did not expect myself wanting to rant or rage. But today, I need to get something off my chest.

I am a freelance translator. I have +20 years experience. I specialize in transcreation of advertising copy. My reference list is long, and, I’m being told, impressive. I am not cheap, but I think that should go without saying. Quality has its price.

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a special job offer on a famous online-platform for translators. An international advertising agency was looking for creative copywriters to adapt marketing material for a pharmaceutical client. I usually don’t apply for jobs on this platform as most clients are looking for cheap translations. But in this case I did apply, thinking that an advertising agency – with good ratings from fellow translators – knows the trade. I sent them a full-blown application including assignments from the pharmaceutical sector and several client references.

The answer was “Your experience looks relevant to the type of projects that we are working on. We always ask our potential writers to complete the introductory test which is essential for us to know better your translation style but I have noticed on your CV, you do not complete translation tests. It would be great if you could send me a couple of your work samples from anything related to creative medical writing as this is the project we are currently recruiting for.”

So far, so good, I thought, and sent them several samples of creative medical writing. I was then informed that the project manager will have a look at my samples, but in the meantime, since I don’t use Trados (of absolutely no use to creative writers/translators), would I be flexible with my rates?

We hadn’t talked about a specific job or deadline at all, never discussed a project, but I was asked to lower my rates there and then. I guessed they weren’t very comfortable with what I had written in my resume: “copywriting style translation: source word upward from 0.18 euros”

Since freelancers live in different countries and have different degrees and areas of expertise, they should be able to charge different fees. So instead of haggling with them over a fee for a job I did not even know anything about yet, I answered “If you want, you can send me a small sample text of the job. This way, I can tell you if I would be a good fit for the project. It would also allow me to give you a realistic quote per source word.”

I was told that she would consult the project manager and would get back to me. This was sometime in May and I never heard back.

I don’t blame my contact, by the way. She was very kind and understanding. She has to heed her agency’s policy, that’s all.

I would have let the matter rest if I wouldn’t have seen a very similar job offer from the same agency on the same platform today. I couldn’t resist and wrote them, asking why I hadn’t heard anything from them after my last email.

Their answer came within the hour: Due to holidays, she had completely forgotten to email me and that her project manager now tells her that I have to complete a small test in order to go forward in the recruiting process. Sigh. I had thought we had already discussed this.

I admit I was in the mood, so I explained to her in detail why I don’t do free translation tests: because potential clients can always assess my expertise from work samples, that I have always wondered why translators should do free tests – they seem to be the only profession in this regard, and that I would not have the time to earn any money if I completed all those tests!

However, I also told her that I would have at least a look at the test. The assignment sounded huge, and investing an hour or two could be worth it. Against my principle – I know, but I’m only human.

Shortly later, I received an email with a 7 MB attachment. Huh?

The first document was reference material in a zip file. I didn’t even open it. When I opened the second document (8 pages) and scanned through it, I saw that the agency actually asked me to do the following – for free:

A. Read through the comprehensive reference material.

B. For several texts extracted from a sales aid, brochure and slide kid material:

  • One adaptation of each original
  • Relevant comments and references, highlighting any challenges in the copy and your solutions
  • Provide links of the websites you have referenced
  • Check the terminology and make sure it is consistent throughout the copy, with previous campaign and with the local official website

C. Proof-reading of marketing collateral and its respective translation:

  • Check the translation against the original text
  • Check syntax, grammar, phrasal construction, spelling, vocabulary, punctuation, fluency
  • Implement any amends/comments necessary

I have absolutely no idea what fellow translators are doing with this kind of “free test”. The proof-reading test is not about proof-reading, it’s editing! If translators do it professionally, they need to spend a whole day to complete it. A day without payment. If they do it on the rush just to get over with, they will deliver bad quality. Do agencies know that? Do they even notice?

I have shown I am an expert numerous times. I treat my clients what they are – experts in their field. When will clients like this one start treating me like an expert?

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