Translation business lessons from a remodeling project

Masonry and translationAbout two years ago, my husband and I decided to remodel our Master bedroom’s bathroom. As we already had a design in mind, we started by searching for the perfect materials. We ended up choosing some really wonderful tiles and glass mosaics from a well-known, high-end Spanish retailer. Next, we started looking for the contractor who would carry out the project.

We have a contractor (I will call him Mateo) we have used for many remodeling projects. The quality of his work is excellent, he is fast, he knows his job, and oftentimes he offers great ideas. The problem is he is always busy with rather large projects, and is not always available at a given time.

Since our daughter was six months old, we did not want to be around while the remodeling was in progress, so we planned a little vacation on Florida’s West Coast, booked a hotel, etc. In short: we had a specific timeframe to get the project completed. Mateo was not a good option.

We ended up hiring someone else who had also done some projects for us. He was our handyman, whose specialty was plumbing. Truth be told, we had never entrusted a big project like this to him, but he had always been very reliable, and professional, and was constantly talking about the different large projects he was working on. I will call him Raimundo.

Raimundo gave us a really good price for the project –it was actually on the cheap side– and he even brought onboard another guy (for the same price). I will not bore you with all the masonry-related details, but I will just say that, given the way we had designed the bathroom, the person laying both the mosaic and the tiles needed to be very experienced.

The project was a nightmare. Raimundo only showed up for work three times in ten days. His “assistant” was the one carrying out the remodeling. They were not even close to having the degree of specialization required for this project. The bathroom turned out well, but we had to end up hiring somebody else to finish some of the details and correct some mistakes. Still, it has some technical flaws, and most definitely would not be listed in the Spanish retailer’s catalogue, but overall, it is acceptable.

I could not help but think about the resemblance between this project and what happens in the world of translation.

  1. If you have a high quality product, and want the end result to mirror that quality, put it in the hands of an experienced professional.
  2. Regarding deadlines, sometimes it is worth waiting for the right contractor for your project. This may not be possible in all cases, but translation is often the very last step of a long process. What has taken weeks to create needs to be translated in a day or two, and inevitably, the quality of the translation will suffer.
  3. Hire a specialized professional when the project calls for specialization. Even if it costs a little more, it will save you a lot in the long run.
  4. Unlike an inexperienced contractor, a knowledgeable professional knows what he or she is doing, and not only will provide an excellent service, but also may offer guidance and suggestions for your project.
  5. Hiring a high-quality contractor is not always substantially more expensive, especially when taking into account the added value of an experienced professional.

Though my initial thought was to draw conclusions from a customer stand point, this experience also served as a refresher course for me as an independent contractor:

  1. Be honest with the client regarding your specialization. Even if you don’t land that big project, your honesty will speak volumes about your ethics and professionalism, and your client will be more likely to come back to you when a less specialized project arises.
  2. For certain projects, it is a great idea to partner with another contractor. However, the terms of the partnership need to be clear for all parties involved. It is absolutely not acceptable to close the deal and then be minimally involved in the project.

How could we make this basic mistake in such an important project? It is very easy to give in to the temptation of saving a few dollars on a project and forget what we know is a common occurrence in the translation business.

Mateo would have charged about 35% more for the project. Considering what we had invested in materials, all the hassle and the headaches with Raimundo, the fact that he took much longer than expected to complete the project, and that we eventually had to have his work “proofread” by somebody else, don’t you think it would have been worth it? I definitely think so.

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