When you’re hiring a professional services provider, you need to set expectations for your project before you even agree the contract. If you don’t agree the terms and conditions and specific requirements upfront, in the worst case, you might find that your project is cancelled before it starts, or you may get a result which doesn’t match your expectations.
In this article, I’ll share a few points to consider and ways to make sure that you have a good start to your relationship with your service provider and a good experience (for both of you) throughout the project.
I’m addressing this issue as a provider of editing, proofreading, transcription and localisation services, but I’d welcome comments from service providers in other fields, too.
In this article, I pay specific attention to people who work at agencies which work as a middle-provider between the client and the professional services provider. All of the points apply to agencies, too – some of them are specific to agencies and I highlight when that is the case.
Think about what you want before you seek a service provider
Before advertising, searching boards or doing a Google search, think very carefully about what you’re looking for and the kind of person you’re looking for. Write down the parameters of what you want, in detail. This can include, but not be limited to:
- The scale of the work – whether that’s in words to be translated, minutes of tape to be transcribed, number of receipts and invoices to go to a book-keeper. This must be honest and measured, not a guess. Typically, you will underestimate what you need to be done. It’s a good idea to check it.
- The deadline for the work – both your ultimate deadline and one for your service provider which will enable you to ask questions or make the changes that might arise. For example, I recommend a Master’s student keeps at least 24 hours aside for checking my suggested corrections. Bear in mind that you will need to interact with whatever is provided to you in some way (for example, following up unclear names on a transcription; answering an accountant’s queries on your plastic bag full of receipts). Note, if the deadline is “two weeks from when I finish writing the book” be clear about when you intend to do that!
- The details of the work – this is one you need to think really carefully about, and not make any assumptions. Does your manuscript have to be in US English or fit a particular journal’s article submission requirements? Do you require your transcription to be time-stamped every minute?
- Get a sample of the work ready – an extract from your document, part of the tape you want transcribed, a scan of what your receipts are like.
- If you are working at an agency and preparing to tender for a job for a third-party client, try your best to gather this information from them in advance.
Note: a good service provider will know about this stuff and is likely to ask you about it. But it’s best to be prepared and to provide this information up-front when you’re looking for someone to do the work for you.
Provide potential service providers with full information
However you contact potential service providers, do give them all the information you worked out above. They will need it in order to be able to assess the project, give you a fair quotation and let you know whether they can fit it in. If you give them all the information at the start, it will:
- Save time as they won’t need to ask for any further information.
- Lead to a fair price (fair to you and the service provider) because it’s based on the full parameters.
- Lead to an achievable turnaround time which is not going to slip – if you change the parameters or explain the project in full once the work is underway, it may take the provider longer to do it.
This is such an important point that I’m going to put it in bold: If you’re working at an agency and this is an enquiry to allow you to bid for a project yourselves, please inform the service provider when you make the initial enquiry. Most people will still give you the information you need, but promising a project you haven’t yet got yourself isn’t very kind or transparent, and multiple examples are likely to put people off working with you.
Answer any questions from the service provider as fully as you can
If your potential service provider comes back to you with questions of their own, or with a questionnaire to fill in, make sure that you answer it as fully as possible. Explain your terms in detail. For example:
- What you call “line-editing” or “proper time stamping” can mean many things to many different people. Explain exactly what you mean.
- One person’s “flexible deadline” is another person’s “one more job I can’t fit in in the time”. Be clear on dates and times.
If you don’t understand what the service provider is asking you, ask them to explain rather than making an assumption or ignoring the question. We all have jargon we think is clear, and I’m always happy to explain a term a potential client is unfamiliar with.
Set expectations on the process and be fair and transparent
You can find information on booking in an editor and handling the process in this article and my advice here is basically the same:
- Tell the service provider you’re negotiating with when you expect to make your decision.
- Don’t play multiple service providers off against each other: examine each offering on its own merits but don’t try to start a bidding war.
- Tell all of the service providers when you’ve made your decision, even the ones you don’t offer it to.
If you are working for an agency, it’s really important to:
- Tell the service provider when you expect the client to make their decision.
- If your agency gets the job, tell the service provider who will be doing the work and inform anyone else you were talking to who you haven’t chosen to work with.
- If your agency doesn’t get the job, still inform the service provider(s) you’ve been discussing it with.
Typically, your potential service provider(s) will be holding open a slot in their schedule for your project, in case you assign it to them. So it’s only fair to make sure that you tell them when they’ve haven’t got the job, as well as when they have. Otherwise, they may continue holding the spot open, turning down other enquiries in the meantime.
Once the project is confirmed and underway
You may need to do contracts, either from your end or the service provider’s end, at this point.
- Make sure everything you’ve discussed and agreed matches the contract.
- Do not change anything once the project is agreed, if you can possibly help it (I do understand that agencies’ clients can add demands; if this happens, consult with the service provider and get back to the client with any changes in deadline).
- Accept that any changes you do make will affect the deadline.
- Understand that the service provider has set aside a time slot for you. This means
- you must deliver the project to the service provider when you said you would.
- if you increase the parameters of the work, the service provider might not actually be able to complete the job if it goes outside the amount of time they’ve set aside for it.
If you follow these guidelines, I think you will have a higher rate of success in interacting with professional service providers and engaging their services, and everybody will have a fairer and smoother time.
Thank you for reading this article on setting expectations with service providers. Please do share and comment if you have found this useful, or share other hints and tips. I will put together specific guidelines for dealing with transcribers and localisers soon.
Other useful articles from this blog
Working with an editor 1: Asking for a quote
Working with an editor 2: Negotiating and booking in
What does my transcriber need to know?
What information does my localiser need?