What clients say to freelancers (and not #tothebaker) How clients deal with freelancers and what to do

Greater than 4 minutes, my friend!

In December last year on Twitter the hashtag #tegendebakker (English: #tothebaker) was trending for at least three days in The Netherlands. Simultaneously it resulted in extensive media coverage from all leading newspapers and broadcasting companies. What happened? Freelancers flocked in revolt against their treatment by clients. In their daily practice, clients say many things they would never dare to say to their baker when buying bread.
This is an overview of the frustrations freelance translators experience and what they can do to overcome them.

It all started with the tweet by a Dutch freelancer who proposed to introduce a hashtag for all the things people say to freelancers but not to their baker. In short, it was all about the ridiculous and denigrating terms business demands from freelancers. When clients send a job proposal to freelance translators, textwriters, designers, and other people in freelance businesses, they are always negotiating prices, demanding unpaid labour, requesting unreasonable turn-around times and much more. Things they would certainly never ask of their baker. Who would ever ask a baker to give the second loaf for half the price of the first, or invent a whole new type of bread within 12 hours, or do a baking test for free? No one. But the same people who wouldn’t dare to ask any of those things, shamelessly ask their freelance business partners (if you can use that term, as ‘partner’ denotes some equality) to do some things for free; budget limitations, time constraints or other internal issues are in many cases attributed to the people that had no hand in the creation of the problems.

What started with a little tweet, in the end led to national news coverage and at least some awareness from clients.

Freelance translators and #tothebaker

What happens to freelance website designers, photographers and managers, happens to freelance translators as well. We all know about situations in which companies offer a job in return for “free exposure” (free of hard cash). Who of us has never met a company that required a sample translation done for free, and finally decided to give the job to another translator because s/he could do the job more cheaply?
The ridiculousness of requests can be made apparent simply by placing them side by side.

To Freelance Translators #tothebaker
Can you translate these 100 words for free? Can I have this bread for free please?
Repetitions are unpaid; 75-99% receive 30% of full fee I will not pay for slices 5, 7 and 14 as these have the same shape.
Can you do a test translation for free? Can I have five slices for free, so I can test them first?
Our payment terms are 60 days net I will eat it now, but I will pay in April
Poor quality; we will deduct 30% Awful quality; I want my money back
I cannot pay you for this job, but I’ll offer free exposure I can’t pay for the bread, but I will advertise it to everybody I know
I have a new job, but you should sign this contract first I need you to sign a contract for every loaf of bread I buy, in order to be sure that you’re a real baker
We cannot pay much for this first job, but we can guarantee a steady flow afterwards. Oh wait, there’s only one job. I cannot pay the full price for the bread, but I promise you to come back tomorrow. Oh wait, I don’t need it tomorrow.

That #tegendebakker hashtag was therefore not simply born out of frustration, but was a shout for more respect – in particular from the people who do not have bear any of the risks, but who put that load on freelancers in every field.
Last year the Canadian marketing agency Zulu Alpha Kilo made a video with the same intention.

How to deal with client requests

To be sure, I am not a frustrated translator. However, I enjoyed the #tegendebakker trend. Not only because it finally made visible what so many freelancers encounter each day, but also because a great deal was simply hilarious. I mean, too ridiculous to be taken seriously. But that’s exactly how clients approach us each and every day.

What other freelancers experience, I experience as well. I receive requests similar to those in the table above at least once a week. Luckily, I am in the position to choose which jobs to take on and which to turn down. Clients should nevertheless know how to deal with freelancers; they are professionals and business partners, taking and bearing risks but doing their work properly. They deserve to get paid – the right amount at the right time.

The way freelance translators are treated by their clients is due to two important factors: clients simply try their luck by making the requests and translators assent by agreeing because they need the work or they want to get on board for a particular company, brand or project. In some cases it is not a bad choice to do a small test translation for free if it seems that there will be more work coming regularly, but clients should always come back with feedback. And asking for a test translation of 1500 words – which a company I worked for in the past, did – is totally ridiculous.
Of course you can agree to longer payment terms, but clients should compensate you for that in some way. And asking you to sign a NDA or PO for each and every project should be avoided, simply because it will involve so much time and hassle.

The only way to make sure that your translation business is running properly and to gain the respect you are owed is by showing that you’re a professional and reliable business partner who adds value to the clients’ business. Thus you deserve proper compensation, proper feedback and proper payments. As Adam Smith said: ‘ It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.’

What’s your #tothebaker story? Share it here or use #tothebaker on social media!

Pieter Beens

About Pieter Beens

Freelance translator English-Dutch. Works for high-profile clients worldwide. Professional. Punctual. Passionate.

12 thoughts on “What clients say to freelancers (and not #tothebaker) How clients deal with freelancers and what to do

  1. Hi Pieter, many thanks for sharing this story, which I’ll share in my turn, no doubt. I totally relate to what you’re saying. And it is also up to us to market ourselves as professionals and not to accept conditions which our baker or local supermarket wouldn’t. Unfortunately, as we very well know, many who call themselves professional freelancers do, to the detriment of all the others. I also find having a ready contract where we make clear our conditions for the job is a good way to let the other party know they are dealing with someone who does that for a living and is aware of their rights and duties. Ciao 🙂

  2. Hi, Peter!
    I so much AGREE!!! Agree with the campaign (wish I knew about it!), with the authors of the video, with your opinions… Everything is all so very and … sadly, true!
    It is of course also true that some shops – small or big, do provide free samples of their goods – you know, free bites of a brand of cheese which may be in promotion, or a piece of some tasty salami… But nowhere you will find a whole article (a whole loaf of bread, or a whole brick of cheese, etc.) as a “sample”. The example you give of 1500 words’ “test” is more than ridiculous!
    Recently I also posted on the issue of test-translations – link to theopenmic.co.
    The people who commented there were strictly against any free tests. My opinion on the matter of the discussion differs a bit – I would normally accept a test translation, BUT ONLY if within reasonable parameters.
    Anyway, I loved this story and I’m going to share it with everybody I know. 🙂

    This issue – on test translations, made me however think:

    What business would normally offer/agree on a free sample – a successful one or a struggling one?

  3. Great post – and great hashtag! The baker analogy also works in the sense that anyone can learn to bake bread, but you have to have years of experience and be very good at baking in order to have a successful bakery. Lots of people are bilingual, but that doesn’t automatically make them a translator!

  4. Very nice post Pieter! In Italy a few videos that went viral some time ago dealing with the same issue, there were a gardener, an electrician and a plumber instead of the baker 😉

  5. Great post, Pieter. Will absolutely share this.
    Note: I get this way too often;
    To Freelance Translators: “We find your background very interesting and we would very much like to collaborate with you, but your rate is over our budget as the maximum we could offer is _____ USD/w. Would you reconsider?”

    #tothebaker: “I really like your bread as I can tell it is of very good quality, but I cannot afford it. All I can pay is ____ USD/piece. Will you give me discount?”

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