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I’ve written on a couple of previous occasions about parting company with clients: sometimes this happens over time, maybe because you’ve raised your rates, or said “No” too often and they’ve looked elsewhere. Or perhaps they’ve imposed unreasonable demands on you as a freelancer, or you just don’t want to work for them any more because the relationship has become untenable. It’s never nice losing a client, whether you’ve instigated it, or the decision comes from them, but sometimes you just have to take the plunge.

I had just such a case recently, with a long-standing client I’ve been working with, on excellent terms, for many years. Unfortunately, the original owner had retired and sold the company to an international translation concern, and although things initially continued along the same lines, the atmosphere slowly began to change. They introduced a translation portal (I’ve already written about how much I hate these!), through which jobs were issued and returned, invoices submitted and availability updated. At first, the project managers would contact you by ‘phone or by e-mail to see whether you could do a certain job, asking you to log onto the portal to accept or reject, but gradually that personal element slipped by the wayside. Now I just receive a barrage of automated e-mails from the portal, at all times of day or night, in fact especially in the evenings and at weekends, when no self-respecting professional should expect to be poised over the computer.

The portal itself was unwieldy to use and definitely not translator-friendly. I rarely looked at the job e-mails, since they arrived at inappropriate times and were sent to all and sundry. Whenever I did try to log in, my log-in details wouldn’t work and I had to contact the PMs to reset – a painful process in itself. Then again, when I tried to update my availability on the portal, notifying them of holiday dates so that I wouldn’t be swamped with e-mails while I was away, it made no difference to the avalanche of mail. I even contacted one of the local PMs last time I went away, asking them to update my availability manually as I had little success with the portal. All in vain – I still received the barrage of e-mails during my holiday.

At this point, I decided to pick up the ‘phone and call my local office to ask to be taken off their mailing list, as I was becoming increasingly frustrated at being treated like a nameless cog in a huge machine. Despite being cut off three times during the call (and this was landline to landline, so we can’t even blame dodgy reception!), I did eventually speak to a human being and was asked to e-mail my request.  This I duly did, but again, it made no difference. Finally this week, after comparing notes with other frustrated colleagues who also worked or had worked with this agency, I e-mailed again, forwarding my original e-mail. This time I pointed out that the correspondence I was receiving from them could conceivably be construed as spam seeing as I had specifically asked them not to send it. Result! Finally the e-mails have stopped. Not the way I would have wanted to end a long-term relationship, but I felt they left me with no other choice.

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As a professional translator, I don’t want to work for an outfit that regards me as an interchangeable cog in a large machine. By sending automated e-mails to everyone on their mailing list for a specific language pair, regardless of time zone, quality of work or specialism, and presumably accepting responses on a first come, first served basis, the emphasis has shifted from quality to logistics – and I for one don’t want to work on that basis. I’d rather work with people (not machines) who treat me as a valued contributor, who can add something special to the translation process. Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but I take a lot of time and effort to do a good job, and it’s nice to think that’s appreciated. I certainly have plenty of clients, both direct and agencies, who do interact personally, albeit by e-mail in many cases, sometimes by ‘phone, proving that it’s still possible to maintain human relationships, even in today’s high-tech world.

A deluge of spam-like e-mails may be when the rot set in, but ignoring my (not unreasonable) request not to be contacted out of hours or during holidays was the final straw for me. Has anything similar pushed you beyond your limits? I’m sure I can’t be the only one to feel this way about the dehumanisation of some aspects of our profession… When all’s said and done, I’m a translator, not a machine – and I’d appreciate being treated accordingly.

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