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The Perfect Storm August 7, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Random musings.

The term ‘”the perfect storm” has come to mean how circumstances and bad judgments come together to create havoc and death. In my case there was definite havoc – and most likely the death of any chance of ever working with this agency again. Let me tell you the story of my Perfect Storm this week. Heed my warnings, my friends, and make sure that this does not happen to you.

I took Monday off to recover from walking 60 miles in 3 days over the weekend in the Cleveland Breast Cancer 3-Day. It was an absolutely amazing experience. I ended up walking 55 miles out of 60, but then again no one said we had to walk all 60 miles. We had already done the hard work of fundraising (I raised $3,215) and raising awareness. It was a good decision on my part to take it easy on Day Two, and that and all the training I did over the last 24 weeks resulted in the fact that, apart from some blisters on the balls of my feet Sunday night, the blisters had subsided and I was feeling good on Monday. I had my auto-responder on for my e-mail accounts, but I did not think anything of it when the phone rang at around 5:30 p.m.

It was a project manager from an agency that I have long admired and never worked with before asking if I could translate a little over 7,000 words of real estate/business by Thursday. I told her no and explained that I was out of the office that day. She then somehow talked me into accepting it for delivery on Friday. I gave her my backup e-mail to view the file, because I did not have my work computer on, which also complicated things. I knew things were going to be tight, but she assured me there were plenty of reference materials and glossaries so I accepted.

I already had two smaller jobs lined up for Tuesday and Wednesday from the week before for two of my favorite agencies, one medical report and some legal documents. I figured I could start working on the job on Wednesday and would be in good shape by Friday.

My first inkling that things were about to go south was when I tried to OCR the large PDF files so that I could import them into a TM and leverage them for the translation. I don’t know why, but ABBYY FineReader had problems with the 80-page files. The consistent capital letters in the headers came out a garbled mess of capital and lower case letters. Worst of all, the program was dropping “i” and “l” in the middle of some words (like financial) for absolutely no reason while duplicating them perfectly in others. I spent an exorbitant amount of time fighting with the OCR and then gave up and saved them without spellchecking. Then I tried to align them in WinAlign… and soon gave up.

I also copied out my portion of the 175-page document and discovered there was a discrepancy, so I wrote the project manager to ask why the word count was 3,000 words off and specified exactly where I understood I was to start and end. It turns out the page numbers she was referring to were in the FOOTERS of the document and not the page numbers in Word itself, but that is just indicative of the communication problems we had from start to finish.

At that point the project manager called me to ask how things were going. When I asked how much of the reference material was repeated in my file she told me “none.” Oh crap. I felt the bottom of my stomach drop and started getting a panicked feeling. I expressed my panic to her at that point, because it was now Thursday morning and I was just getting started on the file. I asked her to find someone else for the remaining 3,000 words, but she never told me that she had. She asked me to deliver what I had finished in the morning and let her know if I could do more. I ended up translating 4,500 words yesterday (Thursday) and delivered them this morning. I then got back to work and translated 700 words this morning when she called to confirm delivery and told me to stop.

I realize that this was not my finest moment and tried to apologize and explain that the job was characterized by lots of miscommunication on both sides. I understand my actions put her in a bind, and I do not fault her for the fact that I kept translating. I do, however, wish she had told me she had indeed found someone else to take a portion of it instead of saying “stick to the original plan,” which indicated to me that I had to translate the entire 7,000 words. I probably would have slept a lot better last night, for instance.

So, kids, if your gut tells you to say no to a project, by all means say NO and do not let the agency talk you into accepting it. You will only be hurting yourself and the agency. And if you truly screw up like this, accept any accommodations the client suggests without complaining, in this case billing for a lower word count than you submitted. I screwed up and have to pay the consequences. It happens to the best of us.



1. Sonja - August 7, 2009

It is really important to make sure you do stick to your guns every once in a while. I remember that I used to accept jobs for some agencies even if I was totally swamped with work, only because I was bad at saying no.

2. Kyla Juett - August 7, 2009

That’s a very good life/career lesson. It’s definitely frustrating to think you’ve lost a client (and feel bad that you’ve made your PM’s job more difficult)!

Though perhaps you should consider the possibility that that’s the way that particular agency always works and maybe you’re better off not working with them. (I mean, maybe your communication styles will never quite match up, and this kind of situation may happen again. That wouldn’t be good for anyone!)

3. Textklick - August 7, 2009

Hi Jill,

Conscience? That’s good!

“It was a project manager from an agency that I have long admired and never worked with before asking if I could translate a little over 7,000 words of real estate/business by Thursday. I told her no and explained that I was out of the office that day. She then **somehow** talked me into accepting it for delivery on Friday.”

No! That’s the word… She caught you at a weak moment before a laudable effort…

But FWIW here’s something I learned from a much-respected peer in Germany.

PDFs? Add 20% surcharge! It can be surprising how quickly people can be motivated to get off their butt and find those original Word files!

OCR? My way is to never accept PDFs until I have OCR’d them *and* converted them into a CAT format. Apart from anything else, you can end up with more tags than there are ants on a Tennessee anthill.

Only then do I say yes 🙂 or no :(.

Respect 😉

4. Judy Jenner - August 11, 2009

Wow, yep, good lesson: trust your gut. You must be completely overworked, Jill! I’ve also had some probs with ABBY in the past, even though it works like a charm most of the time.

@Textklick: I am completely with you on the 20% surcharge on PDFs, which we stick to. We usually tell folks that it’s not the best use of our time to convert PDFs, nor is it the best use of their budget. And you are right, it is amazing how quickly the Word document can be found. I think it makes sense to work on real translation work as opposed to administration stuff. However, if the time is fairly compensated, we’ll do it too.

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