Jul 10, 2012

European LSP frustration with the US: a typical example

When discussing the problems of a European language service provider (LSP) working with customers in the US, a friend remarked recently that alles, was sich außerhalb ihrer Landesgrenzen abspielt, existiert für Amerikaner nicht... sie sind einfach zu dämlich.

I suppose dem should be fightin' words and I should defend the honor of my countrymen, but the guy is too often right.

I decided long ago that it is seldom worth the bother to do business with those in my country of origin. But that was so long ago that the reasons had faded in my mind, and when I was approached recently by a polite PR rep for a small translation (a page and a half press release) for a trade show in Germany, I thought why not? 

My quotation was accepted without much delay, and then came the familiar request for me to fill out (on behalf of the German limited company that would be invoicing) a W-9 and several pages of a New Vendor Authorization form that asked if my company is a Small Business Concern and asked me to to mark the relevant categories:
  • Small Business Certification (SBC) self certified 
  • Small Disadvantaged (including minority-owned) Business (SDB) 
  • Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) 
  • Veteran-Owned Small Business (VOSB) 
  • Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) 
  • HUBZone Small Business concern (Historically Underutilized Business Zone) certified by the US Small Business Administration 
And I was to supply my Dun & Bradstreet number. And there were terms and conditions, which as I scanned them set off a good number of alarms. I have terms and conditions under which I work, and I have no interest in other terms with more words than the text to translate.

Life's too short. I gave her the name of a nice agency local to her. I hope they can help her out.

It puzzles me that someone involved with international clients can be utterly unaware that US forms like the W-9 have no relevance to contractors abroad, but I've found that this and other misconceptions are the rule rather than the exception among my business contacts on the other side of the Pond. And the idea that I would need to juggle paperwork like that for a small, one-off job is more puzzling still. Had I known in advance that this would be expected, I could have added two hours of administrative fees to the quote for the translation of less than 500 words.

Perhaps I've squandered a marvelous opportunity here, and I certainly hope the person wasn't insulted by my rather abrupt about-face on the quote. But I find that good business is usually very simple.


  1. I don't even have a Dun & Bradstreet number. The rule is you have to issue a 1099 if you pay a contractor more than $650 a year. A one-off, 2-page job most likely won't exceed that or even come close. Yeah, some companies can be really myopic.

  2. All's well that ends well. The prospect did in fact contact the very reputable local agency I recommended (not a client of mine, though others I know have worked for him and have good things to report). I'm sure this little job will be handled competently, and he'll be in a very good position to help her at close range with any other international challenges she faces.


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