Reading the small print

By Jo Rourke
Reblogged from 
Silver Tongue Translations blog with permission from the author (including the images)

Translation contractsI’m not entirely sure what happened. I’m usually pretty pernickety on details so I don’t know how it all got past me. Nevertheless, I am now the proud owner of an almost entirely redundant freephone business number, along with a phone and internet bill which will, over the next few years, take a nice hefty chunk out of my children’s university/travel the world/frivolous teenage purchase fund. It’s more than twice the price of our bill with our previous provider, the contract duration is twice as long, the connection process took half a century and was, it would appear, carried out by a three year old with a plastic spatula. But regardless of how apoplectic with rage I feel when I think of it (I hide it well, no?), I have to admit that my rage should more appropriately be directed at myself. I’m the one who signed the contract, I’m the one who didn’t read the small print (more like minuscule print). And we all know you should always read the small print.

This got me thinking about small print and contracts in general. Over at Translation Times last week, Judy & Dagmar posted a fantastic blog post on the importance of having a contract in place and I found myself nodding through the entirety of the piece. I took the time to draft a contract with my solicitor a few years ago. Ironically, I called it The Not So Small Print. Shoot me, shoot me now. So for every project undertaken, the contract outlines the following:

The rate: Your proposal will have outlined the rate (sometimes, there are different options, but more on that another time) but the contract should state the full contract value.

Payment terms: We offer a period for amendments immediately following each project, but I always want to make clear to clients the timeframe within which they must settle the invoice after this point. Also, how will they pay their invoice? Let them know at this point whether it’s bank transfer, Paypal, etc.

Payment schedule: Not all projects will complete within one month, so sometimes it’s necessary to create a payment schedule. It’s important to let clients know when to expect invoices and which period of time each invoice will cover.

Start date and expected completion: This is one item that’s vital to get right. We’ve all been there – the client contacts you for a quote on a Monday, you ask for some details and come up with a completion date of the following Monday. The client considers the proposal, talks to his boss, who talks to his boss, who…you get the idea. Before you know it, it’s 5:30pm on Friday evening and you get a one line email “Great news! The project’s been signed off! Here’s the document – looking forward to receiving it on Monday!” Erm, wait – what?! That’s why it’s better to either add an item to this section in your contract along the lines of “The project will commence by the Monday following receipt of the signed contract.” or, instead of giving an actual day, talk in number of days, for example, “The project will take 5 working days from receipt of the signed contract.” 

Quote validity: I recently had a prospective client email me with that very line I quote above “Great news!…” I searched through my archives and found they were referring to a quote I had provided in 2009….

Amendments to content: This is an item that not everyone is concerned about and I think it’s good to be flexible on it where possible, but with new clients it can pay off to set some ground rules in place, lest they change a 1000 word summary into a 45,000 word thesis. Or vice versa.

Delivery format: Having sobbed over my keyboard during many a handwritten note translation, which, at the time of booking the job was, “A Word document, definitely a Word document.” I can assure you this item remains firmly on my contract.

I also find at the end it’s useful to re-cap on the project scope, so confirm:

Requested language: I don’t really need to include that one but just in case! (Remember to confirm the language variant here too).

Project brief: For example, translate 25,000 word environmental assessment report from English into Romanian.

Turnaround: I’m not saying this will mean the end of the “Have you finished yet?” “Are you nearly there yet?” emails, but it might delay them *hopeful voice*

I think of the items I listed above as the basic contract “small print”, and, seeing as I wanted to keep the contract as short and sweet as possible, these seemed like the best issues to cover. Of course, there are some extra items that can be added to your contracts as and when you need them. For example, do you have a late payment charge? What’s your policy on weekend work or “next day delivery”? Do you require part payment in advance (perhaps for large projects or first clients)?

You’ll gather from my opening paragraph that page upon page of small print is not my idea of a good time and I have now learned, from bitter, expensive experience, the folly of my ways. Now more than ever I feel that contracts and the way they are written are crucial in protecting us as freelancers, but also the clients we work so hard for.

Here are some links on what small print to include in your contracts:

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these points: Does your small print look similar? Do you have a standard contract for all clients? What do you include? As always, any comments very welcome!

2 thoughts on “Reading the small print

  1. Pingback: From the Savvy Newcomer by Jo Rourke: Reading the small print | ATIF News - A voice for Florida T&I professionals

  2. Jo, when I started in the business, contracts where not the norm. That was another country, another century. Nowadays the excuses have no value: even an email between you and that one individual client for translation of a one page birth certificate is a legally binding document (at least in the US and Brazil).

    However, just last week a colleague shared his wisdom by telling others seeking his advice to “not even bother reading contracts because no one enforces them.”

    There is so much discussion on client education. I keep insisting we need to work on both fronts, because many of our colleagues are still clueless.

    Thank you for the article.

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