The Hidden Part of the Job




  • Greater than 3 minutes, my friend!

    In my marketing workshops I discuss a subject I call “Anatomy of a Project.” The focus is on the immediate interaction following the acceptance, performance, delivery, and post-delivery of a project from the standpoint of marketing.  However, there is another phase of what I call the “Greater Project” that I do not discuss in depth in those workshops because, though inherent to the business, it is outside the scope of that specific workshop. I will talk about it here.

    One of the most exciting things about our profession is the demand to constantly learn – new words, techniques, media, applications, standards, etc. That constant evolution makes all of us perpetual learners. It also makes our clients’ points of reference old or obsolete or wrong.

    Many of our clients do not know how we work. Some of them have the notion that we simply replace words of one language with their equivalent in another in succession. Others believe that Computer Aided Translation (CAT) tools are the same as Machine Translation (MT). The terms daily outputmental fatiguephysical fatigueeye strain are not part of their vocabulary.

    Just as we are not familiar with all the steps a surgeon takes after the initial incision, many of our clients – whether individuals, companies or Language Service Providers (LSPs) – are not familiar with the details that go into the work we do. And it is our obligation, and a never-ending one, to educate them.

    So, a client offers you a rate you consider below market? Don’t get offended. Thank them for thinking of you and let them know what your rate is. Another proposes too tight a deadline? Again, thank them for thinking of you and let them know what your terms are for accepting that tight a deadline (that’s what rush fees are for). Yet another client is asking you to do work in a field you are not familiar with, or in a language that is not one of your strong languages. Get the picture?

    desk with double monitor, headphones

    Photo by Farzad Nazifi on Unsplash

    You are not the only one getting those offers. But are you prepared to handle them? Client education is part of our job description and we do it right when you have all the facts at hand.  By facts I mean: one’s daily output (average – maximum), a definition of rush job, a defined rush rate, definitions of the services offered and their cost, etc.

    In parts:

    1. Your daily output: Whether you work full-time or part-time, there is an average and a maximum number of words you can do a day. That will vary with the subject of the job at hand, but it is a quantifiable variable and you should know it. Next time a client asks you to do 8,000 words in 2 days, you can do the math based on your daily output to determine if you will be able to deliver rather than finding yourself asking for a deadline extension at the last minute;
    2. Rush job: As a colleague once said, more money will not make me work faster or better. Understood.  A rush job is one that causes me to give up a weekend, or work after hours, for example. I do work weekends, occasionally, to accommodate other activities I do during the week. When it is my choice, I do not charge my client;
    3. Your rush rate:  Now that we know what a rush job is (see 2- above), we can define the rush rate. Some of my colleagues apply a 50% surcharge to rush jobs; others only 25%; others even less. The market has to bear it, and you must be comfortable with it.
    4. Your services: It may seem obvious but it is not. Revision, proofing, editing, DTP are all different services that complement a translation. Original copy in a target language based on client-provided material is called transcreation and is charged differently from how a straight translation is charged. Transcriptions can be done with or without translation – different pricing structures apply here too, so learn about them.
    5. Your prices: Yes, it is plural. Some colleagues charge differently per language direction; they all charge differently per type of job, and you need to know what is required of you in each job, what you can deliver or not, and for how much. The type of application used (MS Word, PowerPoint, PDF, In Design, etc.) also affects the price because it makes it easier or harder for you to get to your deliverable. Time is cost.

    What your clients see when requesting a translation is the transformation of words from language A into words in language B. Many of them have no idea of the actual work involved in the conversion process. Many more do not even take into consideration that working over the weekend should cost more, for example. It is our job to educate our clients and we will do a better job when we are aware of what our deliverables actually are and how to charge for them.

    Giovanna Lester

    About Giovanna Lester

    Let me help you convert your ROI more efficiently by removing the language barrier between English and Brazilian Portuguese. Delivering quality since 1980.

    7 thoughts on “The Hidden Part of the Job

    1. Looks like there is a lot to be educated on – having a clear picture ourselves of what we’re offering can only benefit both parts! Makes you think. Thank you for this, Gio!

    2. A very interesting article. Thank you so much and I do get these impossible requests. Regarding the output, last year I was working as a full-time translator (8 a.m – 4 p.m 6 times a week) and a full-time student (5 p.m – 8 p.m – 3 hours of translation courses 4 times a week) and I had to translate in both of them. It was crazy and I was absolutely crossing my output. However, 2 months ago I resigned and I am a full-time freelance translator and I am working with a company and all their projects are with tight deadlines. I refused few because they were impossible but I would like to ask you what is the right thing to do in such situation?
      Again interesting piece and I would like to read more about the anatomy of a project.

      1. Fadwa, thank you for your kind words.

        Regarding the projects you mention, I see that as a 1. good opportunity for client education, and 2. a good opportunity for you to expand your line of services.

        That’s how I would approach it:
        a. Make sure you know why the projects are “impossible” for me to do alone
        b. Find a possible solution
        c. Propose solution to client

        Let’s say they are asking for 20k words in 3 days and I cannot deliver 7k words a day. The only way to do that is to reach out to colleagues. They can work under you or directly with your client. Before anything, make sure capable colleagues are available and make sure to share only the subject matter, volume and deadline with them – confidentiality must be preserved. Get their rates and average output. Add at least one extra day to the deadline when you speak with your client.

        Now you can go to your client and say that you could take the project, however to do so, you’d need to extend the deadline by one day and you’d have to assemble a team. If you get their permission, the impossible job is no longer impossible.

        I did a project like this and made sure to leave for myself the shortest translation and the proofing. Before delivering the project to my colleagues, I first read it through, created a glossary of the most important expressions to share with them. In the end, I received the documents, formatted them as required by the client, did the proofing and delivered it .

        So, the impossible project was DONE. And yeah, the above is a simplified version. I just wanted to illustrate that we should take opportunities and explore them (mentally first!). Your colleagues are a great tool to furthering your career.

        Hope the above can help you with your client.

        1. Thank you so much for your suggestion. I really think dealing this way with such project will help me to cooperate with other translators, finish the required task and make me less stressful. It will also help my client to understand what does it take to translate a text. Thanks again.

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