Charlie Bavington @ C Bavington Ltd

French to English Translation Services

Meeting translation needs since 2003

Charlie Bavington - French to English freelance translator

The side-effects of saying "no" once too often

It appears to be a relatively common experience that when translators say “no” too frequently, some clients will tend to “forget” about us. I daresay the same applies to many freelance professions.

On the one hand, there is a (natural) inclination to perhaps not bother wasting time trying to contact you if you have said "no" to the previous 5 jobs offered. Especially if the deadline is tight and past experience shows it might take you an hour to look at and then decline the job (on account of being so busy!).

Combine this with the fact that if a client (particularly an agency) is getting slightly less work in, then as you slip down the call priority list (just because you often say no, not for any other reason), you will quite naturally be contacted even less often.

Lastly, let us not forget that the advice sometimes given (because it works) for discreetly dropping clients for any reason is to simply say "no" often enough for them to realise even asking you is a waste of their time. Yes, you can reply instead with "please keep contacting me, I'm not trying to drop you gently" but even so, actions - i.e. taking a job from a client - speak louder than words which may be insincere.

Obviously, we all need to say "no" to a greater or lesser extent, but it may not always pan out exactly as we plan. In trying to make sure not too many eggs are in one basket (i.e. in diversifying the client base), we may find some baskets ultimately prove to be entirely empty.

It's a balancing act. And as we all deal with slightly different markets, pairs, languages and clients, and if the truth be told, with probably a fairly restricted group of people who are all different individuals who react to the same stimulus in entirely different ways, some kind of "average response" (equating to general advice along the lines of "if you do X then Y will be the result") is by no means certain.

There are those who say, as is their prerogative, that there is and should be a difference between saying "no" to a client because you are busy and saying "no" because you find them difficult to work with, their projects managed badly, etc. – in short, because you want to drop them.

Obviously the direct and truthful approach works for some and in an ideal world would perhaps be used by us all, all the time. Then everyone would know where they stand. It does have that advantage.

However, the point to me is, that because sometimes the reasons for declining work are subjective, irrational even (personality clashes, disliking a PM's style), then I (and others, I am sure) tend to avoid giving that as the reason even (especially?) when it is, in fact, the reason. I have no wish to upset anyone, nor to engage in a debate about the right and wrong approach to a given project or projects in general. If I am 'incompatible' with a job/client for other than linguistic reasons, I prefer to keep that information to myself. And I don't think I am alone in dealing with the situation in this way.

The trouble then is, as outlined earlier, that you end up treating the "sorry can't do it this time but do ask again" cases in a way that may appear little different to the outside observer (an agency, say) from the "please go away" cases. I fully understand this is a rod I make for my own back, but equally I am not the sort of person who wants to get involved in discussions about project management styles, why I'm really not cool with 90 day payment terms, how I feel about extra stuff being added at the last minute, replies to questions being sent 30 minutes before the deadline, or whatever it may be that deters me from accepting the job. If other people are ready, willing and able to embark on that kind of client education, then great, and more power to their elbow.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of reasonable clients out there that I am compatible with.

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