The Hidden Part of the Job

By Giovanna Lester 

home-office-336373_1280In 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 output, mental fatigue, physical fatigue, eye 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?

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.

About the author: Brazilian-born Giovanna “Gio” Lester has worked in the translation and interpreting fields since 1980. Gio is very active in her profession and in the associations she is affiliated with: ATANBCMIIMIANAJITIAPTI, and the new ATA Florida Chapter, ATIF, which she co-founded in 2009 and served as its first elected president (2011-2012). As an international conference interpreter, Gio has been the voice of government heads and officials, scientists, researchers, doctors, hairdressers, teachers, engineers, investors and more. She loves to teach and share her experience.


6 thoughts on “The Hidden Part of the Job

  1. Pingback: The Hidden Part of the Job | ATIF News - A voice for Florida T&I professionals

  2. Gio, I really liked this line! “more money will not make me work faster or better.”

    Recently, a client asked, “can you do this job by…?” I said, “Well, in that time frame I can do a poor rough draft. If we turn that in, the reviewer will also be rushed and will post it on the web with a very cursory review.” The client’s response: “You are right. Do it as soon as you can, and we’ll make it work.”

    I committed to give it my full attention starting at that moment, and it turned out fine. However, I have been called on to review text that was clearly done in too much of a hurry. My favorite: translating “milliliters” as “milímetros”. Oops… Time to hit the brakes, go out for a walk, and give the brain a rest before continuing, no matter what!

    • Exactly, Helen! It is not a matter of [how much more speed you can add to your performance], rather [how much of your personal time can you give up for the job] – two different animals. The “rush” happens when a job encroaches on my personal time; and I give it a special price.

      Each job is a reflection of ME. I want to put my best effort forward so I am proud of the material when it comes out – rush or no rush!

  3. Pingback: Weekly favorites (May 23-29) | Lingua Greca Translations

    • Hi Mercedes! I only so your comment today. One of the perks of being a freelancer is being able to manage my time. Being able to take a walk in the afternoon, or work until late one day so I can go to my daughter’s event the next are priceless perks for me. The names of the days of the week don’t matter as much as the use I can make of them and how much time I can command of each, if you know what I mean. Working a Sunday so I can be free on Monday is perfect if that means I can enjoy time with my family or attend a class or… You get it, right?

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