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

ATA Business Practices: Appropriate Prices for Services

Each month the ATA Business Practices Education Committee contributes a column entitled “Business Smarts” to The ATA Chronicle that discusses various management practices and business-related questions submitted by translators and interpreters. You can find this column online at atanet.org; in fact, this article was taken from the column at http://www.atanet.org/business_practices/smarts_2008_may.php.  It addresses many factors involved in answering one of the questions most frequently asked by freelance translators and interpreters: what should I charge for my services?  The article also mentions the issue of why ATA members don’t discuss their specific prices.  We think these answers are crucial to any freelancer starting out in their career and may also benefit more seasoned freelancers brushing up on business practices, so we’ve included the article below.  Enjoy!

Appropriate Pricing for Servicesbank-note-209104_150

Finding appropriate pricing for a service is one of the first challenges of establishing a business. Many factors contribute to finding a price that is attractive to clients, includes room to grow, and appropriately reflects the level of service provided.

Dear Business Smarts:

I would like to supplement my income by doing translation work on the side. I called a few people listed on ATA’s website, but nobody would give me any information about the going rates. How much can I charge for translations?

— PRICING, by e-mail

Dear Pricing:

The American Translators Association does not itself issue price recommendations and, for legal reasons, discourages any such discussion by its members. This is why you were unable to gather specific information by phone. In addition, there is no such thing as standard “going rates,” since market prices vary by language combination and the technical difficulty of texts.

To arrive at an appropriate price for your translation services, you will need to analyze a number of factors. These include your professional qualifications, your expertise in specific fields, the market you would like to target, and, of course, your cost of doing business.

Starting with the latter: you will need, at a minimum, an up-to-date computer, a basic set of dictionaries, the fastest Internet connection you can afford, and possibly specific software such as a spellchecker program for your language combination. You will also pay a self-employment tax on your translation earnings.  Your translation price needs to include a sufficient allowance to cover all these fixed expenses, since you may end up losing money otherwise. Your overhead should also account for the time you spent marketing your services, communicating with clients, administrative tasks, and bookkeeping.

Regardless of your language combination, linguistic background, and expertise, you must be fully qualified to do translation work, even on a part-time basis, and be aware of the various expectations of translation buyers. It might be useful to “inventory” your qualifications, including degrees, other credentials (including ATA certification), language skills, expertise in specific subject fields, residence or other experience outside the U.S., and actual translation work performed. Take a look at the online profiles of colleagues with similar qualifications, for example, in ATA’s Directory of Translation and Interpreting Services or other translator portals, such as ProZ.com and Translators Café. These sites also include extensive discussion forums with helpful information. You can also browse past job offers in your language combination and area of specialization to view price offers. While prices may be on the low end on auction websites, they at least provide a guideline for price calculations.

The best mathematical approach to arriving at a suitable price would be to define a gross hourly income (including overhead and taxes) that would make it worthwhile for you to work as a translator rather than, say, at a part-time retail job. Seasoned professional translators can produce about 300-400 words of finished text in an hour, meaning that the text is thoroughly researched, correctly translated, and fully edited. Divide your desired hourly net income by this word count to arrive at the price you would need to charge per word.

Further Recommended Resources

ATA webinars ($35 member, $50 non-member)

The ATA Chronicle (unlocked free, open to all)

Other ATA Resources

Reprinted from The ATA Chronicle: May 2008, p. 42