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What’s the rush? October 14, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Translation Sites.

I can’t remember the last time I received a job inquiry where the PM said “you know, we have plenty of time for this one. No need to hurry.” In fact, I think I’ve only had this happen to me one or two times. It seems like every single job inquiry I get lately is extremely urgent and needs to be finished tomorrow – or if the call comes in on a Friday by Sunday night. And don’t even get me started about the “we have 10,000 words that need to be translated by tomorrow, how much can you take?” inquiries. I can’t imagine that all these texts are as urgent as the client makes them sound to be. After all, the financial world isn’t going to come crashing down if a CV isn’t translated by tomorrow. But then again…

Why do agencies feel the need to push their translators to their limits and deliver texts within unreasonable deadlines? It is up to us to know our limits and say no if an agency request is unreasonable. I don’t think that is right. The client takes four weeks to write a software manual, article, or computer game and then expects it back – in perfect English – within a day or two. I’m sorry, but that is just unrealistic! Unfortunately, that is the way things are in the T&I industry, and most agencies don’t explain to their clients that the rule of thumb should be that it takes just as long to translate a text as it took them to write it.

The agency should value their translators enough to not want to endanger their health. Instead, it is up to us to say no, but that is a hard thing to do sometimes. For example, I am working on a job that isn’t particularly large – just 8,000 words. However, it needs to be done asap, because it needs to be translated into several other languages based on my translation. Never mind the fact that the client promised it would be 70,000 words, which were to be split amongst four translators, and it ended up being 8,000 – all of which were assigned to me… My forearms are throbbing at the moment. I need to finish this job and then go slather them with my tendinitis ointment and bandage them up for a few days to give them a rest.

And, let’s be honest, who among us really charges rush rates? It’s great in theory, but in practice not so much… I for one rarely charge a rush rate, since most of my jobs need to be finished “am besten gestern” (preferably yesterday). The only time I even think to charge a rush rate is when a client needs the text within a few hours, but then again I am rarely able to accept a last-minute job like that in the first place because I am usually booked for a couple days in advance now. I feel stupid asking for a rush rate for “business as usual.” I have, however, started charging clients extra for weekends. It’s the only way to ensure I can actually have one.

To all you PMs and agency owners reading this: if your agency routinely tells your clients “it isn’t possible within that time frame” or routinely offer rush rates for jobs, please give me a call. You will quickly become my favorite customer!



1. Benny Lewis - October 14, 2008

I think it may depend on culture. I took a job from an American outsourcer once and it was such a different experience. Like you described (end-of-the-world urgency with the maximum number of exclamation points permitted in the email subject…) and a lot more communication to check how things were going, with “gentle” reminders of the deadline, since apparently I may just forget that I’m working as a professional…

Since most of my work comes from the French or Spanish, they are much more laid back (even though the French are extremely efficient workers for example). My deadlines are always at least a day more than I actually need (even though I’ve mentioned that I can be put under more pressure if ever needed). I really like my French outsourcers – they insist that I don’t accept work that I am not 100% happy translating and I never feel under pressure with them, and they are happy to make personal, yet professional chit-chat whenever they call me. They seem to prefer quality over quantity compared to what you’re talking about… thanks for reminding me how lucky I am!! 😛

2. jillsommer - October 14, 2008

Oh man, I wish I translated French or Spanish. That German efficiency and American frenetic workaholism really takes its toll…

3. Riccardo - October 14, 2008

Q.: “I would like to ask you to help us in a translation of 36000 words from X to Y. There are only 12 hours from now left to finish. Please let me know if you are available and your rate and how many words you could take in this short timeframe.”

A.: “Thank you very much for your message. We are currently working on other projects, and, in any case, would not be interested in a project such as you mention: in our experience, dividing such a large project among too many translators, and with such a tight deadline, is a sure recipe for disaster.”

4. jillsommer - October 14, 2008

One of my friends was contacted back in June with the following:

I got your information from the ATA website, and have a new job for you for tonight that I can pay a good rush rate for!

It is French into English, 6000 words in all that needs to be translated by tonight, 6/26 9pmEST. Please only translate the sections marked [snip]

We can possibly extend the deadline a bit as well, so please let us know what you can do. Are you available to help out with some of this job? Please “reply all” and let us know ASAP!

Her response was:

I think this must be a mistake as you just sent this today and you are asking for 6,000 words to be translated in 3 hours. Of course you must already know that translators generally translate 2,000 words a day (I apologize if you’re new to the industry). Feel free to write back with the actual delivery date is and I’ll let you know if I’m available.

We may even be talking about the same agency, because it is pretty well-known for pulling this kind of thing.

5. Judy Jenner - October 15, 2008

I agree, Jill. When working with agencies, the ball is in their court time-wise and they need to set realistic expectations with the client. I am pretty distrustful when I see last-minute things come through. Makes me think that maybe the agency isn’t very organized (I find it hard to believe that ALL their clients constantly have last-minute-world-is-coming-to-an-end projects; it just can’t be possible), but apparently, this seems to be the norm, which is amazing.

Of course we have worked exclusively with direct clients thus far, and have no agency experience. If the deadline from our client is unrealistic, we decline. If they want it turned around in 24 hours, it’s 100% extra, which we routinely charge, and is certainly fair if you need to work all night. No one has tried to argue with that rate so far. Try finding another professional service (lawyer, accountant) to stay up all night at the regular rate! Perhaps we should also come up with another rate for rush jobs that are more than 24 hours out, but that also require substantial late night or weekend work.

We are also flexible with our repeat customers, but I think we have set the expectation that adequate time is needed to deliver a quality product. One of our favorite customers recently moved up the deadline by a day and asked how much we would charge extra. We didn’t, as the deadline was sufficient anyway, and everyone was happy. I think all freelancers should have rush job rates, especially if the project requires weekend work.

Take care of your arms, girl! No more typing for you.

6. Janine Libbey - October 15, 2008

We routinely tell clients when we cannot meet unrealistic deadlines. Have we lost some projects? Probably, but I think some of them just disappeared when the client discovered the time frame was impossible. I think the problem derives from a lack of planning combined with no understanding of how long the translation process takes.

And, by all means you should charge rush fees! This is a business transaction, not a favor you are doing for a friend.

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