Negotiating a contract with a client who does not know what we do, or the culture of its counterpart.
July 26, 2012 § 9 Comments
Not long ago I met a potential client from a European country who wanted to hire the services of several interpreters for an event that was to take place in a big city in the United States. The client explained their needs and the agenda, and I asked the usual questions necessary to determine competency in the subject matter, and our professional interpretation fee. The client explained that they needed all interpreters from 8:00 am to 11:30 pm. The agenda of this event included presentations, business negotiations, field inspections, and social events, specifically two formal dinners.
I prepared a written estimate that included information about the top-level interpreters to be used during the event, a description of the way we would provide our services, and our daily fee, including overtime charges. Because of the time difference between Europe and America, I had to wait until the following day to get an answer from Europe.
The client stated in her response that the fee was excessive because there were “…several hours during the day when no interpretation services would be required…” and the two dinners were “…gourmet food that the interpreters would eat…” and because of this “…wonderful meal…” they expected the interpreters to work for free during the two dinners, as they would be “…eating and will only interpret when needed…” The client ended her letter emphasizing the fact that it would be during these dinners that most of the commercial deals with the American counterparts would be closed, as it “…is common practice among businessmen to close a deal late in the evening over a nice glass of brandy…”
In responding to the client, I pointed out several facts that were obvious to me, but apparently were not part of the decision-making process of this client. I explained that when an interpreter is hired from 8:00 am to 11:30 pm, the interpreter is on the clock all the time as he or she is available to the client for the duration of the event. I explained that the interpreter would have to decline other jobs during the days of the event, and therefore, even if she was not in the booth during “down time”, she was still there, incapacitated to make money working somewhere else during those hours. Furthermore, I explained that interpreters cannot sit down and enjoy a meal during the event, because we have to talk to work, and you cannot eat and interpret at the same time. I stated that working those crucial dinners after a full day of interpreting would be extremely difficult, as the interpreters would be exhausted by dinner time, and for that reason, they needed to be compensated at our overtime rate. Finally, I also mentioned that we could probably adjust the overtime fee not by lowering our rate, but by restructuring the agenda based on the culture of the American counterpart. Basically, I told the client that the schedule would probably be adjusted by the Americans anyway, because they would want to eat dinner earlier, and in fact, there would not even be a restaurant open for dinner at the time the client wanted to schedule the meal.
After the client talked to the American counterpart, she realized that indeed, the Americans wanted to end the day much earlier than the original European plan, and she learned that restaurants do not serve dinner that late in most cities in the United States. Because of this explanation and suggestions, I was able to keep the contract, get paid what we deserved, and the event was successful. My strategy worked; however, talking to some colleagues just a few days ago, I heard how some of them would have just lowered their fee, or worked the dinners at their regular rate instead of overtime rate, some of them stated that sometimes you have to make concessions to keep a good client or a big event. I disagree with this way of thinking, and I would like to hear what you would do in a similar situation.
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