Saturday, 19 March 2016

Value Building vs Value Sharing

There is a tip I want to share with all translators and interpreters. Most will refuse to even think about it. The last time I tried to talk to mature, intelligent linguists about the matter, it ended in me storming out of the room after being shouted down and flailed hands at. (In defense of the integrity of the sacrosant all-holy client budget that Must Not Be Questioned.)

This is something people not only refuse to understand, they refuse to even think about it, even when you specifically ask them to and explain how it would be beneficial to them if they did, how you're actually trying to help them. There are various negotiation strategies out there, various classifications you can make. One of such classifications is:
value building vs value sharing
Or, rather, this is the way it was taught to me at law school, while 'value creation' and 'value claiming' is a concept you're much more likely to find online.

The point is, you can keep trying to divide the pie in a way that's either fair to everybody or specifically advantageous to you, the way most people do, or you can think outside the box and try to generate more pie. 

And this is something translators and agencies don't get. Instead, they keep playing the same old zero-sum game.

For example, translation agencies' budgets and pricing schemes are not a given. It's not something that's set in stone and Must Not Be Questioned. No, they are not holy or sacrosanct or in any other way immune to being discussed or brought into discussion. Rather than squabbling over who gets how much pie, can go for a win-win situation and suggest getting money from outside the existing project budget or source of financing. 

… This is even more viable with a direct client, who is usually not operating within the limits of a fee paid by a client. There is someone there who has the authority to adjust a project budget, they just don't normally want to. Doesn't mean they actually can't.

AverageTrans charges its clients 15 cents per word. But for the text ClientCorp needs translated AverageTrans needs Josh Freelance, who normally charges 12 cents per word. You can't normally have a 12-3 division with an agency, as it won't even cover overhead, so the agency would have to be taking a loss on the project, which is normally avoided unless the PM is allowed to consider the long-term perspective and make independent decisions. Consequently, as translator, you can only very rarely successfully negotiate something like that with an agency.
However, there is a solution: The end client can pay more. I am not saying this is easy to achieve, but it definitely is doable. What it takes is for AverageTrans to tell ClientCorp that a specialized or more difficult text or a rarer language or more qualified translator costs more than the usual rate. Which agencies are often loathe to do, but it doesn't mean they can't or never will. It does mean most will think you have zero touch with reality and no knowledge of management/economy/real life for even suggesting it.
This was just an example. There are more situations in which money can be found and put on the table if you think outside the box, rather than getting your brain stuck in pie-cutting mode. I challenge you to think about some, even if you aren't sure they're going to work. Just like a PM can never be sure you'll accept a lower rate but asks anyway because what's there to lose? At worst you just won't accept.  

Bonus tip:  

Even if they won't charge the client more, impose a situational surcharge or do anything else to get more money from the client, then simply bringing the issue up will make them realize that it was their own decision, not the law of the land, nor a law of physics, nothing they couldn't do but only something they wouldn't.

Hence they should now have a clearer sense of ownership of the decision and the consequences generated by it. You will look more credible asking them why exactly you should be the one financing their policies. Hence you may be able to win a larger slice of the pie then otherwise, supposed you still want a piece.

The good news for you is also that since this is such an unthinkable idea to some translators, integrating it into your strategy will give you a unique advantage. Eventually you may become a trusted and valued partner for teaching people to think outside the box and bake more pie as opposed to remaining stuck in their initial notions.

Remember that the most successful companies in the world are those which participate in the shaping of the market along with client expectations and mentalities as opposed to only passively adapting and believing that the client is right even when the client isn't actually so sure of that!

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