Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Business skills workshop in Bristol

On 5 July 2014 ITI‘s WRG held a workshop on contracts, terms & conditions, contract-related problems and getting paid at the Watershed, Bristol’s popular venue on the harbourside. It was aimed at freelance translators and interpreters and attended mostly by WRG members from the Bristol/Bath area, although a few attendees had travelled from further afield, such as Cardiff, Gloucester or Exeter.

The workshop was led by Andrew Leigh LLB, MA, MITI, who has previously run similar workshops and written articles for the ITI Bulletin and the Society for Editors and Proofreaders on these topics. The topics were in fact well worth addressing. After all, we tend to be very good linguists, but at university we are not usually taught about the business aspects of translation and interpreting!

Basic knowledge about contracts for freelancers

Andrew initially conveyed basic knowledge about the formation of contracts. He covered typical concepts such as consideration (which means the client receives the translation, while in return the translator is paid for it); counteroffers (if the translator suggests new terms in response to an offer by an LSP, this constitutes a counteroffer and will need to be accepted by the LSP for it to become binding); or express and implied terms (the latter being deemed to be incorporated into the contract by implication, but not being stated).

Andrew, an engaging and accomplished speaker, offered plenty of useful advice. As clients sometimes do not issue a purchase order, it is advisable to send your own PO or order confirmation, which is a practice that Andrew always applies in his dealings with direct clients. An order confirmation does not need to be signed; it is usually sufficient if the client acknowledges receipt of it. If the terms of the contract change (e.g. if the source text is amended or a new deadline agreed), the translator should request an amended PO or himself issue an amended order confirmation.

Next on the agenda were terms & conditions, which can be defined as a set of standard terms that apply to all contracts entered into with customers. It is strongly recommended to draw customers’ attention to your T&Cs constantly in the following places: on your website; as a link in your email signature; on the reverse of quotations; on the reverse of order confirmations; and on acceptance of a job. Andrew stressed it is too late, technically, if they are only sent with your invoice.

Andrew kept us active throughout the day by splitting us into groups for work on relevant exercises. One exercise saw us scrutinising clauses in T&Cs under Andrew’s expert supervision. A delicate issue that is sometimes found is the stipulation that all copies of your work must be destroyed on delivery, which may conflict with professional indemnity insurance provisions requiring you to keep copies of your work for evidence purposes. Other questionable clauses concern provisions more applicable to employees and copyright issues.

If a translator has T&Cs, and the LSP has T&Cs, too, whose then actually apply? Under English law, the counter-offer prior to the beginning of performance voids all preceding offers. This is known as the last-shot rule. Clients’ T&Cs should always be scrutinised for the following keywords: indemnify, hold harmless, penalties, limit of liability, and responsibility. You are then faced with these options: accepting them outright; rejecting them outright; or negotiating, i.e. querying their meaning or scope and crossing out or adding clauses yourself.

Having your own T&Cs has clear benefits, but who of us actually have and actively use their own T&Cs? Andrew proposed several options for obtaining T&Cs: using an off-the-shelf set such as those offered by the ITI; writing your own; adapting an existing set; or asking a solicitor to draw one up. The important thing to bear in mind is that T&Cs should be tailored to you and your business!

After a delicious cold buffet lunch, which allowed us to catch up and network or have a stroll in the gorgeous sunshine by the water outside, we reconvened for the afternoon sessions, starting with contract-related problems. Andrew gave practical pointers on how to respond to client complaints such as acting professionally and maintaining good communication. Sometimes an apology to the client is in order; otherwise, don’t be afraid to stand your ground! Other options include the opportunity to rectify the problem; an independent third party opinion; or legal remedies, once all other avenues have been exhausted.

After taking in quite a chunk of heavy-ish legal terminology, we welcomed Andrew’s humorous, light-hearted approach to imparting the contents of the session about getting paid in the form of a role-play. The role-play was based on The Three Little Pigs, featuring Sally Swine, Paula Pork and others – and rather unexpectedly brought out real acting skills of some attendees! It illustrated in a fun way what can arguably turn into the most tedious, headache-inducing tasks of running a business: checking out clients and their creditworthiness; negotiating terms; chasing up invoices; recovering debts; applying late payment legislation; and, of course, accounting practices, too!

In summary, the workshop provided ample opportunity to brush up on or learn about contract law knowledge. It was a day packed with useful advice, hands-on activities, and encouragement to handle contract-related aspects of our freelance businesses with more confidence in future. Thank you, Andrew, for sharing your valuable knowledge with us, and Sandra Mouton, for organising this informative, well-run event!

TweetOutWest's first ever tweet-up at Bristol's Watershed

Many of us stayed on for TweetOutWest’s first ever tweet-up, which took place at the Watershed right outside the workshop room afterwards. It was also the first ever tweet-up that I had attended myself. Does anyone else experience this or is it just me? Translation is a quiet profession, there are lots of introverts among translators, and I, too, am usually not much of a talker. Yet, when I’m among fellow translators, this always feels so good as after all there is quite a lot to talk about… I therefore felt sorry I had to head back home so soon!

Tweets in connection with the tweet-up can be found under the hashtags #TweetOutWest and #LinguistsUnite. Thank you, Lloyd and MarĂ­a @TweetOutWest, for arranging it. Bring on the next one!