Unraveling Translation Service Contracts

By Paula Arturo
Reblogged from The ATA Chronicle with permission (incl. the images)

Let’s examine what translation is to the law, what type of contracts translators should have, some of the benefits of having a contract, and resources for drafting one.

A common misconception about freedom of contract is that, when it comes to agreements between willing parties, pretty much anything goes. Although freedom of contract restricts government or other forms of interference or control over freely and mutually convened agreements,1 contracts are still limited by law. Therefore, if the performance, formation, or object of an agreement is against the law, the contract itself is illegal.2

In every area of contract law, what’s legal and what’s not depends on several factors, such as applicable law and jurisdiction. Translation is no exception, and translation contracts are far more complex than they seem. Thus, while one may be inclined to think all that’s at stake are deadlines and rates, the truth is that translation contracts govern sophisticated relationships that may cross over jurisdictions or country borders, often involving third parties and even multiple related contracts.

Contracts are a key element of any business transaction, including translation. To better understand how translators operate, I conducted a brief online survey last year, the results of which were also presented at ATA’s 57th Annual Conference in San Francisco.

As you can see in Figure 1, when asked about whether or not they used contracts, an alarming 48.7% out of 156 freelance translators answered “No,” and an even more astounding 64.1% claimed not to have their own terms of service. (See Figure 2.) The results are surprising, especially when you consider that 82.1% of the surveyed group dealt with direct clients and were not necessarily relying on their clients to provide nondisclosure agreements (NDAs), purchase orders (POs), or any other legally binding document.3

Figure 1: Survey Respondents Operating with Contracts

Figure 1: Survey Respondents Operating
with Contracts

Figure 2: Survey Respondents Operating with their Own Terms of Service

Figure 2: Survey Respondents Operating with their Own Terms of Service

Translation as a Service

ATA members are probably familiar with ATA’s Translation Buying a Non-commodity—How Translation Standards Can Help Buyers and Sellers,4 which clearly explains, from a business point of view, what we mean when we say “translation is not a commodity.” But what does that mean from a legal point of view?

Legally speaking, the contract pie is divided into three parts: contracts for the sale of real estate, contracts for the sale of goods, and contracts for the sale of service. Translation falls into the third category. But translation is not just any kind of service. If you look at the United Nations International Standard Industrial Classification of All Economic Activities (ISIC),5 you’ll find translation listed in Section M. This is the section for “specialized professional, scientific, and technical activities [that] require a high degree of training, and make specialized knowledge and skills available to the user [emphasis mine].” Translation is also defined under Class 7490 as “service activities […] for which more advanced professional, scientific, and technical skill levels are required.”

The reason translation is legally viewed as a service is because it makes specialist skills available to the user. Translation doesn’t require the manufacture or production of goods, nor does it rely on raw materials, which are the standard criteria for something to legally classify as a “good” instead of a service.

Problem Clauses

If translation is such a specialized professional service, where so much is at stake for the end client, why are so many translators operating without the protection of a solid contract? One possible explanation based on the responses of the group I surveyed is that many translators refuse to enter into binding agreements that contain “problem clauses.”

When asked specifically about clauses that have stopped translators from signing with clients,6 the following were cited as being either the most problematic clauses or absolute deal breakers from the point of view of translators:

Spy Clauses: By “spy clauses,” I mean any clause in which clients reserve the right to inspect their translator’s computer. While such clauses may not necessarily be illegal, they should be reasonable and limited to situations that justify the intrusion, such as government contracts involving national security or other high-stakes translation jobs. Before agreeing to such clauses, translators need to make sure that doing so doesn’t conflict with or otherwise breach existing agreements with other clients who could potentially be affected by such inspections. If translators agree and authorize the inspections, they’ll need to take necessary measures to protect all private or confidential information and documents belonging to all their other clients.

Indemnity/Limited Liability: Though not illegal, this is yet another clause that should be limited. When it comes to such clauses, a point that often gets overlooked is that clients, brokers (when applicable), and translators are all equally responsible for ensuring that the translator is actually right for the job. Therefore, placing all the burden on a single party may not pass a fairness test.

Notification of Potential Opportunities: This is the clause by which brokers expect their freelance translators to notify them of potential new leads or market opportunities, as opposed to trying to take advantage of the lead or opportunity themselves. Though not illegal, translators must exercise caution in judgment before agreeing to such a clause and make a thorough cost-benefit analysis of the situation.

Non-compete/Non-solicitation/Non-dealing: These clauses are commonly found in agency contracts. Non-compete clauses are legal in the majority, though not all, U.S. states. (They are also illegal in many countries.) In translation contracts, they are basically clauses designed to stop translators from competing with their agency client. Non-solicitation clauses, on the other hand, stop translators from approaching the agency’s clients or prospective clients. The problem with this clause is, of course, the difficulty of knowing who the agency’s “prospective clients” are. Meanwhile, non-dealing clauses are far more restrictive than non-compete and non-solicitation clauses, and are designed to stop translators from dealing with clients or prospective clients, even if the client approaches the translator and not the other way around. All three clauses are only enforceable in jurisdictions where they are legal and when they are for a set period of time, normally up to one year, though some contracts stipulate up to three.

Payment of Translation Contingent Upon End-client Approval of the Translation/End-client Payment of the Translation: Though also common in agency contracts, such clauses walk a dangerously thin line. A translator’s contract with an agency client is a separate contract from that of the agency with the end client. Unless both contracts are legally interrelated because of the complexity of the business transaction at hand, it’s very likely that the clause is unjustified. Interrelated contracts involve specific types of transactions. Contracts don’t become interrelated by the mere desire of one party to transfer risk to another.

Copyright: If a translation is intended as a work for hire, then the contract should either read “work for hire” or make it otherwise very clear that the translation is intended as a work for hire. Under U.S. law (as well as the law of many other countries), if there is any ambiguity in wording, then the translator owns the copyright, which can then be sold, transferred, or licensed out.

Terms of Service

When asked “Do you have your own terms of service,” an astounding 64.1% of translators surveyed answered “No.” When asked why, reasons varied from expecting clients to be the ones doing the drafting to being afraid of scaring clients away. Some respondents claimed email is enough for proof of contract, which is a claim that is only true in some countries.

While one can understand why some professionals are a bit apprehensive of contracts, the benefits of having a solid contract outweigh the hassle or perceived (though unfounded) risk of sending a client your terms and conditions before working on a translation.These benefits include:

  • Protecting Your Business: Contracts provide a description of responsibilities, establish a timeframe for duties, bind parties to their duties, help secure payment, and provide recourse if the relationship falters in any way. Without a contract, you’re unprotected, and if the relationship goes south, it’s your word against that of the non-compliant party.
  • Covering Attorney’s Fees and Court Costs: When a translation is small, the amount of money the contract is for is usually also small. Therefore, if the translator doesn’t get paid, it may not be worth it for him or her to seek out an attorney and file suit. However, your terms of service can include a provision for reasonable attorney fees whereby the prevailing party in any dispute arising under the translation agreement is awarded his or her reasonable attorney fees and costs. This creates a legal incentive to pay by making it riskier for your clients not to do so.
  • Warding Off Deprofessionalization: “Deprofessionalization, in its simplest form, is the process by which highly educated and skilled professionals are first displaced and then replaced with individuals of inferior training and compensation.”7 Both the legal and medical professions are suffering deprofessionalization through the “substitution of standardized practices and protocols for existing methods of production of professional services.”8 It has been argued that the trend toward deprofessionalization is affecting the translation profession as well.Deprofessionalization often results from the notion that no special qualifications are required to do a certain job. The overall lack of entry barriers to the profession, widespread misconceptions about bilingualism and translation, misrepresentations about advancements in machine translation, and other similar trends contribute to the deprofessionalization of translation. Against that backdrop, I would argue that a well-drafted contract that takes into consideration all the complexities and nuances involved in a translation helps increase the client’s perceived value of what we do, creates awareness about what separates professional translators from amateurs, and helps counter the trend toward deprofessionalization.

Resources for Drafting Contracts

Whether you’re among the 64.1% of translators who don’t have their own terms of service, or you have terms of service and want to update them, some excellent resources include ATA’s Translation Job Model Contract,10 PEN America’s Translation Contract for Literary Translators,11 and PEN America’s Translation Contract Checklist.12 Of course, these models will need to be adapted to your local law, jurisdiction, and particular business setting, so seeking appropriate legal advice from a lawyer in your area is also recommendable. While standard clauses are available online, the way the courts interpret such clauses may vary from one jurisdiction to another. A qualified legal professional in your area can help you adapt them to your particular needs. 

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is provided for educational and informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice or as an offer to perform legal services on any subject matter. Readers should not act, or refrain from acting, on the basis of any information included herein without seeking appropriate legal advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from an attorney licensed in their state or country. 

Notes
  1. Freedom of contract is “a judicial concept that contracts are based on mutual agreement and free choice, and thus should not be hampered by undue external control such as government interference.” Black’s Law Dictionary 
(10th edition, 2014), 779.
  2. Atiyah, Patrick S. An Introduction to
the Law of Contract, third edition
 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981).
  3. Here is the link to the Translation Contracts Survey: http://bit.ly/
contracts-survey.
  4. Translation Buying a Non-commodity—How Translation Standards Can Help Buyers and Sellers, www.atanet.org/docs/translation_buying_guide.pdf.
  5. United Nations International Standard Industrial Classification of All Economic Activities, http://bit.ly/ISIC-classification.
  6. In this section, I use the term “client” in its broadest possible sense to refer to both direct clients as well as brokers and agencies.
  7. Dionne, Lionel. “Deprofessionalization in the Public Sector” Communications Magazine, issue 1, volume 35
(The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, Winter 2009), 
http://bit.ly/Deprofessionalization.
  8. Epstein, Richard A. “Big Law and Big Med: The Deprofessionalization of Legal and Medical Services,” International Review of Law and Economics, 
Volume 38 (Elsevier, June 2014), 64-76, 
http://bit.ly/law-deprofessionalization.
  9. Pym, Anthony. “The Status of the Translation Profession in the European Union,” 
http://bit.ly/deprofessionalization-translation.
  10. ATA Translation Job Model Contract,
 http://bit.ly/ATA-model-contract.
  11. PEN America’s Translation Contract
for Literary Translators,
 http://bit.ly/literary-translation-contract.
  12. PEN America’s Translation Contract Checklist, http://bit.ly/contract-checklist.

Paula Arturo is a lawyer, translator, and former law professor. She is a co-director of Translating Lawyers, a boutique firm specializing in legal translation by lawyers for lawyers. Throughout her 15-year career, in addition to various legal and financial documents, she has also translated several highly technical law books and publications in major international journals for high-profile authors, including several Nobel Prize Laureates and renowned jurists. She is currently a member of ATA’s Ethics Committee, the ATA Literary Division’s Leadership Council, and the Public Policies Forum of the Supreme Court of Argentina. Contact: paula@translatinglawyers.com.

How to Break into a Career in Translation: Starting from Scratch

This post is the second (read the first post here) in a series of five posts written in response to questions we at The Savvy Newcomer have received, sometimes from people within the translation world, but also from bilingual friends and family who are interested in translation and interpreting (T&I). Our hope is that this series will serve as a guide for people who are considering a career in T&I and want to know where to begin.

Starting your freelance translation business from scratch can be a daunting task. Below are a few of the most fundamental questions to ask yourself as you begin to think about building your business.

Do I need further training to become a translator?

There is no one “right” way to become a translator, but most professionals feel it is important to have at least one of the following two qualifications: a) experience (could be from a previous job or volunteer position), or b) training (from an academic program in translation or at least education in another language).

If you are interested in becoming a translator but do not have much experience, taking a course may be a good place to begin. You can find translation courses at many major colleges and universities, some of which are offered online. If you enjoy the first course and want to pursue a career in translation, it may be of benefit to you to meet other translators and get a feel for what it takes to become one. You can even ask them how they got started. If you decide academic training is the best route for you, checking out the schools we have featured in guest posts here at The Savvy Newcomer may be a good place to start.

Academic programs in translation and interpreting range from certificates to PhD’s, and may be either online or in person. No gold standard exists for individuals entering the translation field, and some translators start off with a few years of experience from other sources and then get a degree in the field later on in their careers. It just depends on your situation! Getting a degree or certificate in translation can help to develop your skills, lend credibility to your resume, and give you a network of colleagues and classmates to support you as you get started with your career.

How can I get experience with translation?

There are several ways to get experience when you know another language but have no experience. One is to work with another translator who has at least a few years of work under his or her belt. If you know someone who is willing to work with you and edit your work, this is a great way to learn the ins and outs of translating without worrying about making a big mistake! You could act as a sort of intern or apprentice for this translator, who would provide you feedback and ensure the translation is accurate and ready for delivery.

Another way to get experience as a translator is to volunteer. Some charities and non-profit organizations may have small and low-risk documents that need to be translated (for instance, letters from a sponsored child to his or her sponsor, or brief and informal messages to connections in other countries). It can be hard for these organizations to afford translation of this kind, so they will often seek volunteer translators to help out. Groups like The Rosetta Foundation work to connect organizations with willing translators. Another volunteer opportunity exists in conjunction with the well-known TED Talks, which recruits volunteer translators to subtitle videos into other languages to help inspiration and ideas spread across borders.

How do I find clients when I am ready?

Once you have some experience or training in translation, you are ready to begin looking for clients. For the most part, translators who are just getting started will work with translation agencies that receive requests from a variety of different companies and source each project to the right translator for the job. You may eventually work directly with companies that need your services, but this involves a different level of client education and collaboration. To begin working with translation agencies, consider some of the following techniques for finding clients:

  • Cold emails/form submissions: Find the websites of different translation agencies and search for instructions on submitting your resume to be considered for freelance work. Each company will probably have different instructions—some may ask you to submit a form online, while others will provide an email address where you can send your resume and cover letter.
  • Directories: After you join professional associations such as ATA, NAJIT, or local associations (see a list of local associations here: http://www.atanet.org/chaptersandgroups/index.php), you can usually list your services on the association’s membership directory. This is an opportunity for clients to find you and contact you about your services.
  • Conferences: Many associations hold annual conferences attended by both freelancers and translation agencies (for instance, ATA is holding its 58th Annual Conference at the end of October 2017: www.atanet.org/conf/2017). Oftentimes you can meet agency representatives at booths or networking events and make a personal connection that could lead to freelance work in the future.
  • Contacts: One of the most common ways to find clients is by word of mouth. Translators may refer other translators for work they think suits them, so networking with contacts of all kinds (colleagues, classmates, friends, and family) can help spread the word about your services and let people know you are open for business.

We hope you have learned something new from this post about starting from scratch! Stay tuned for the next article in this series, Services and Specialization.

The Extraordinary Translator and Interpreter: A Mini-Survey from #ATA57

In just one week, nearly 2,000 translators and interpreters will convene at ATA’s 58th Annual Conference. Memories of last year’s event abound, and The Savvy Newcomer is pleased to present the results of a mini-survey we conducted at the 57th Annual Conference in San Francisco whose goal was to examine trends in the backgrounds of translators and interpreters, particularly those who have enjoyed long careers in the field.

Some of the aspects we looked at in the survey were: highest level of education, areas of study, how often translators and interpreters transition to these fields from a prior career, and for those who have transitioned, the ways in which their prior professional experience has influenced their careers as linguists.

The survey, and who responded

To conduct this survey, postcard questionnaires were handed out randomly to attendees at the Conference. We received a total of 35 completed postcards, which were processed by our team and evaluated for trends. What we found surprised us. To start, here is a breakdown of the basic demographics of our sample:

  • Translator, interpreter, or both?: 13 translators, 13 translator-interpreters, 4 interpreters, 5 no response
  • Length of T&I career: Average of 13.85 years (range: 1 to 44 years)
  • Language combinations: Overwhelmingly Spanish-English—in one direction or bidirectional (32 respondents, 91.4%); but French (2), German (2), Japanese (1), and Portuguese (1) were also listed in combination with either English or Spanish.
  • Number of language pairs: The majority had one working language pair (32, 91.4%), whereas only 3 (8.57%) had two or more language pairs.

Translators and interpreters appear to be highly educated—well beyond the general population

Some of the most compelling findings were in relation to prior studies completed by those surveyed. Of those who responded to the question “What is your highest level of educational achievement?”, 82.86% (29) had earned an associate’s degree or higher (the remaining 5 respondents had completed university courses, but 4 did not specify whether they had completed a degree). A striking 47.5% (16) reported having earned a master’s degree as their highest educational achievement, while approximately 25%* (9) held at least a bachelor’s. (*The responses of the 4 mentioned above who did not specify their highest university degree suggested they had earned at least a bachelor’s, which would bring the total of bachelor’s to 36.43%.) One respondent held a PhD (1), and another was a doctoral candidate (1) at the time of the survey.

Respondents had earned degrees in 16 different countries (with some overlap): Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, France, Germany, Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico, Spain, Uruguay, Venezuela, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Prior studies: from A to T

There were a total 29 prior fields of study reported, including T&I. Seven (20%) reported having studied T&I, of whom one held a master’s in translation and another a bachelor’s, whereas the other 5 reported having participated in a certificate or other non-degree program. Most fascinating was the incredible variety of areas of study beyond T&I itself. There was truly a range from A to Z (well, to T for translation, to be precise!): from art history to social work, advertising to computer programming, finance to music, education to philosophy, and interior design to hotel management. We also saw journalism, linguistics, psychology, law, anthropology, and geography. Of the 29 fields reported, 9 had some overlap: engineering (4, 11.42%), business (3, 8.57%), education (8.57%), Spanish or English (8.57%), literature (8.57%), advertising (2, 5.71%), archaeology (5.71%), biology (5.71%), and political science (5.71%).

Getting a leg up from prior careers or studies

Most respondents shared stories of how past professional experience and academia had bolstered their careers in T&I. Below are just a few examples—some expected, and others less so:

  • Engineering and biology (master’s): Academic knowledge leveraged in medical translation
  • Political science, philosophy, economics, journalism (master’s): Benefit of strong research skills and experience reading foreign-language sources
  • Psychology (master’s): Communication and listening skills, understanding of human behavior
  • Chemical engineering, literature (master’s): Grasp of “implicit information” in source texts
  • Finance (bachelor’s): The ins and outs of working as an independent contractor
  • Social work, hotel management, law: Understanding international clients and medical content
  • Mechanical engineering: Context for technical translation
  • Social science, geography/geographic information systems (GIS), anthropology: Appreciation of the importance of language access after working with low-income, at-risk families and inmates
  • Advertising: Marketing one’s own business

Making the switch to T&I

The reasons respondents gave for switching from another career to T&I were varied: While some felt the need for a change and decided to intentionally put their language skills to use, others seemed to find themselves in the career inadvertently and never left.

Some found a need in the community (years translating or interpreting in parentheses; T=translator, I=interpreter, T-I=translator-interpreter):

  • “Somebody heard me at the hospital helping my mom” (13 years, I)
  • “The need of people who speak Spanish” (20 years, T-I)
  • “Increasing need in community where I worked” (3 years, T)

Others had “dabbled” in T&I as part of a past career and apparently discovered a passion for it:

  • “Already working as bilingual aide, I was hired as translator” (16 years, T-I)
  • “Part-time job interpreting, liked it a lot” (7 years, I; 4 years, T)
  • “Through my work as a Spanish instructor because I started proofing” (3 years, T)

Yet others saw an opportunity to make some extra cash, and for some, the work became a lifelong career:

  • “Needed money in grad school” (37 years, T)
  • “Became a freelancer because I quit my other job” (20 years, T)
  • “Plans for retirement” (2 years, T)
  • “At the suggestion of a friend, because I couldn’t find professional work in the US (and I wasn’t going to make coffee)” (14 years, I)

Considering the relatively small sample of 35 respondents, the variation in experiences observed was remarkable, leading us to conclude that the individuals behind the professions of T&I, the paths that led them there, and their specialized knowledge, are as diverse as the languages they speak and the countries they hail from. Aside from their current careers, the one thing they seemed to have in common was an impressive level of formal education.

To think that these 35 individuals make up only a tiny fraction of the attendees at the ATA Conference each year brings into perspective just how magnificent our colleagues are. Whether you have plans to attend a local conference or meet-up this fall, or plan to join the ATA Conference in Washington, DC, you can be sure you will be in extraordinary company.

Why Pairing up Is a Good Idea for Freelance Translators! Part 2

 

In part 1 of this post, I explained three major benefits of working together with other translators. Quick recap: you need two people to produce the quality customers require, you’ll have more capacity and you’ll be able to offer more services. That is only half the story though: there are three other major benefits:

Two Professionals Are Much More Adept at Navigating Rough Seas

Being in business is a bit like taking a boat trip. Sometimes, the sea is silky smooth, but more often than not there are choppy waters, which require that you adapt your schedule and improvise a bit. This can be daunting when you’re all alone. But when you have a reliable partner at your side, insurmountable obstacles can become mere hurdles instead.

An example: I do most of the sales and marketing stuff for my business. I contact potential clients, negotiate prices and try to find new business opportunities. Since finding new clients isn’t exactly the easiest thing on the planet, I sometimes lose motivation and feel like accepting the status quo. I’m happy with our current business anyway, so why would I go through all that bother if it only sometimes yields results and often causes frustration?

Whenever I feel drained like that, my business partner Lineke always manages to convince me not to give up on it. She has the positivity that I lack and it helps tremendously. She’d probably feel as droopy as I do if she had to invest so much time and effort into something so fickle, but that’s the thing: she does not have to! So, she has energy aplenty to keep me going.

This might be one of the biggest benefits of collaborating with fellow translators. We’re all different people and sometimes, when you have run out of ideas and positivity, there’s always someone else who’s able to invigorate you with new perspectives.

It Simply Makes Much More Sense to Not Do Business as a Lone Wolf

Take a look at the average translation client. If a company needs translations, it’s probably because it has managed to grow to a considerable size—one that merits communication in two or more languages. Translation clients can be even be as huge as governments! It’s not very appealing for big guys like that to do business with self-employed translators, because big fish have business needs that the small fry cannot satiate on their own. The Dutch government probably wouldn’t want to outsource its copy to a company that can take on 5,000 words a week.

Now, as a freelance translator you’re probably not dead-set on landing governments as clients, but there’s still a lesson to be learned. If you want to be a fully-fledged business partner for even medium-sized clients, you need to be able to keep up with their pace. One of our direct clients is a marketing agency that has over 100,000 likes on Facebook, while we don’t even have a Facebook page! Still, they love working with us, but they’d probably never do business with only one of us, because the turnaround times would be way too long. From a translation business perspective, being just a bit bigger than the smallest possible set-up is a very good thing. You’re agile and capable, without incurring overhead and other factors that increase costs. You’ll be able to enter markets that are normally cordoned off by bigger companies for you.

You Can Adapt the Size of Your Collaboration to Whatever You Need

As you can probably tell, I’m a big fan of collaboration, as it has yielded great results for my business. However, as interested as you might have become in working together with other translators, there’s a good chance you’re thinking: who and how many people should I work with? The answer is as simple as it is true: the scope of your collaboration and selection of business partners is entirely up to you, especially now that the whole world is connected digitally.

Let’s say you want to offer SEO to your clients, but you lack the technical know-how to find the right keywords. Partner up with an expert who knows all about SEO wizardry. If you have a client who wants to enter new markets, you might even offer them multi-language SEO. Who knows, you might end up doing SEO for them in 11 languages—or more! You’ll be a much more flexible business partner this way.

If multilingual SEO is more than you want to bargain for, you can simply keep things nice and small. Collaboration works at any size—it’s not like a small team of translators is any less viable than someone who gathers a whole slew of experts around them to win huge clients. The only difference is scale, which is just a variable, not a limit.

So Get Out There and Mingle

And there you have it. Six benefits of freelance collaboration that will allow you to do better business. Modern technology makes it so easy to find other people to work with that it’d be a shame to beaver away on your own, especially since collaboration is one of the cheapest (if not completely free) tools you have at your disposal. I’m all up for it, so I can only say: get out there and mingle!

Image credit: Pixabay

Author bio

A native speaker of Dutch, Branco van der Werf runs his two-man translation company with his partner, Lineke van Straalen. His language pairs are English-Dutch and German-Dutch. He graduated from the School for Translation and Interpreting in the Netherlands in 2014 and has since specialized in marketing translation, transcreation and copywriting. His creative translations regularly appear in TV commercials, brand assets and digital spaces. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Questions to Ask Before You Accept a Translation Project

It is impossible to anticipate every issue or question that may arise during the course of a translation project, but one thing you can do to be prepared before you get started is ask a lot of questions. Below are a number of questions you should keep in mind each time you receive a new project request (especially from a new client), so that you can be sure to avoid any surprises or problems down the road.

You can use this as a sort of checklist each time you receive a new request; be sure to glance through each topic and consider the answers to all the questions we’ve listed before you even quote the job. You don’t necessarily need to ask the client all of these questions for each project you quote—just remember that addressing these topics as early as possible will help clear up any misunderstandings, make you appear professional, and ensure that your client will be as satisfied as possible in the end.

The Task at Hand

Before you accept—or even quote—a project, think generally about what you are being asked to do.

Does the client need translation only or translation and editing?

If a second editor is needed, make sure you have someone lined up and that their services will fit into your budget.

Can you open all the files you received?

Make sure you can open and view all files received from the client, especially if sent through a secure link online or if there are audio/video files involved. Some clients may remove files after you confirm receipt, or there could be a zip file that you are unable to open. It is crucial to identify these problems as early as possible before you get started, so you don’t misquote or misjudge the amount of work you have to do.

Is the document fully legible?

If not, how will you handle illegible text?

Do you need a better copy if the source file is scanned?

The client may have access to the hard copy of the document in order to provide a better scanned electronic copy.

Do you need to work in a specific software tool?

Do you own that software tool, or will the client provide you the means to use it?

Is there any handwritten text?

If so, how will you handle handwritten text?

Is the project confirmed or potential?

Does the client expect to receive a confirmation soon, or is this a project that multiple vendors may be bidding on?

The Bigger Picture

In addition to the questions above, before quoting or accepting a project it is a good idea to think about the bigger picture. The document(s) you are being asked to translate may be part of a bigger project scope that you are not seeing, and the decisions you make on this project could have ramifications later on.

What is the purpose of the translation?

This will help to inform your translation decisions.

Who is your target audience?

This will help determine the register you use in your translation.

Have you done projects of this nature for this client before?

You may not realize that this project is similar to one you did previously, from which you can extract terminology or background information for the current project.

Who will own the translation rights after the project is completed?

For example, you may want to know if you can use this translation as a sample of your work to include in your professional portfolio. You may also want to know if you can be credited for the translation.

Is this part of a recurring assignment or ongoing project?

You may wish to develop a thorough glossary and TM early on, and take careful notes on your translation decisions, if this project is expected to continue for a long period of time.

Pricing and Deadline

Now you have gotten to the point where you are ready to negotiate a price and a deadline. Here are a few more considerations to keep in mind. You should also check out the items under “Resources” and “Delivery” for a few more questions that may impact the price you quote.

How much actual work time will this take you?

Estimate how many words you can translate per hour and divide the number of words in the text by this number.

What lead time do you need to finish the project?

Even if you only need 8-10 hours to complete the project, you may want to build in extra time in case you experience any technology issues, to accommodate other projects that may come up, or to fit in other commitments you may have going on. It may be better to tell the client a time range in days (e.g. “3-4 business days upon approval”) rather than a specific date so that you have some leeway in case the project is not accepted right away.

Will you offer a discount based on repetitions and/or TM matches?

For example, if you already translated 50% of this document for the same client and you only need to translate the remaining half, you may want to give them a discount of some kind on the first 50% of the text.

If the translation is urgent, will you charge extra?

Some translators charge an extra percentage of the invoice for projects due within a tight time frame (e.g. 24 hours or x number of words per business day), or projects that require weekend/holiday work.

What are the terms of payment?

Many translation projects are paid 15, 30, 60, or 90 days upon receipt of invoice, but for a larger project you may want to ask for a deposit up front.

Do you trust this client to pay on time?

You can check on the client’s reliability by looking them up on Payment Practices or ProZ Blue Board, or by checking with trusted colleagues as to their authenticity and payment habits.

What method of payment will be used?

The client may have a preferred method of payment and you will need to make sure you can receive funds that way—for example, PayPal, check, and wire transfer are three common methods of payment in the U.S.

Who will pay any payment fees?

Wire transfers and PayPal often have associated fees, and you will want to agree with the client in advance on who will absorb these fees. Alternatively, you can build these fees into your rate.

Source Text

Take a closer look at the source text to learn more about what you will be translating.

What is the subject matter?

Many translators specialize in specific subject areas based on their experience and background, but most importantly you must be familiar enough with the source text domain to produce a quality translation.

Is the entire document in the correct source language?

You may receive a long text that appears to be entirely in your source language, but partway through, you find a portion of text in another language. How will you handle this in the target text?

What country/variant/locale is the source file from?

Make sure you are familiar with the country and language variant your source text originated from.

Should you correct errors in the source text, if applicable?

Sometimes you may find errors (spelling, grammar, etc.) in the source text; it is a good idea to ask the client how to handle these when you find an error.

Resources

Before you start the project, keep in mind the following questions about research and resources, and be sure to ask the client if you have any doubts or concerns.

Is there a glossary or TM you should work from?

Make sure you are not doing more work than you have to, especially if the client has an established glossary they want you to work from.

Do you understand the text and terminology, and will you be able to research it sufficiently to produce a quality translation?

Have you reviewed the document thoroughly enough to determine that you are able to translate it?

Is the document confidential?

You may wish to share small portions of the text with colleagues as you research, in order to ask for their input; but first, you need to make sure it is okay to share.

Deliverable

Before you’ve even accepted the project, think about the end deliverable. You will need to be sure that you have checked with the client to align your expectations on the following topics.

What variant of your language should the target text be in?

Before you get started, be sure to check with the client as to what target language variation should be used, and that you are well-versed in this variant’s conventions so you can produce a top-notch target file.

What degree of formatting will be expected of you?

You may come upon images, charts, and graphs in the source file. Check with the client to find out if they want you to translate these, and determine whether you will charge extra for additional formatting.

What is the file format of the deliverable(s)?

Be sure to know what type of file you are expected to submit. Generally, clients will want a *.doc file if the source was a *.doc file; however, sometimes you will be expected to convert the source file into another format or provide a TMX or XLIFF file in addition to a translation exported from a CAT tool.

Will a translator’s statement be needed?

Especially for official documents (birth certificates and so on), clients may ask you to provide a signed “certificate” stating that the translation is accurate to the best of your knowledge. Consider whether this is needed, whether it will have to be notarized, and whether you will charge extra for these services.

What other questions do you ask yourself (and your client!) before starting a translation project? Have you found that keeping a list like this on hand helps you identify any potential issues early on and enable a smoother process going forward?

Stay tuned for another post on this topic: Questions to Ask Before You Accept an Interpreting Assignment.

Header image: Pixabay