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Since when is it expected that translators work on weekends? November 16, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices.

I received the following e-mail on Saturday morning, which I promptly deleted without replying:

Subject: Proofreading


I’m looking for a translator to proofread a German to English translation today using Star Transit. If you’re available please let me know what you rate is per word/ per hour?

More information available on request.

I was really tempted to reply with an hourly rate of $100 since it was weekend and rush, but I decided it wasn’t even worth getting upset about. However, it did inspired this blog post, so I’d like to thank the agency publicly for sending me an e-mail at 4:56 a.m. through the ProZ.com directory (Are you really surprised that this came through ProZ? I wasn’t…). I’m just glad I receive my e-mail on a computer in my office and not on my cell phone next to the bed.

The beauty of being a freelancer is that we can choose when we work, but I really resent the assumption of some agencies that we are available 24/7. Sending an e-mail on a Saturday morning or calling on a Sunday really exceed the boundaries of common decency. If I am translating 2,000-3,000 words a day during the week I need some down time on the weekends – or if I choose to work through the weekend I make sure to take a day or two off during the week. A while ago I had gotten so busy that I realized that I had worked for three weeks straight without a day off. At that point I decided that I would no longer work on the weekends, so I really notice the fact that some agencies seem to assume we will work at any and all hours of the day.

I think the problem lies in the fact that many translators are only available on the weekends, because they hold full-time jobs. There aren’t enough full-time freelancers to change public perception. Hopefully that will change as the industry grows and changes. In the meantime, stand your ground to unreasonable requests (5,000 words a day, 3 hour turnarounds, weekend work) and make sure you don’t burn yourself out!

Update: Riccardo at About Translation posted a similar post today (great minds think alike I guess), but his focus was on the phrasing of a quote request to ensure you receive a meaningful reply. The agency should have read this post before sending out the request. I may have been more likely to respond.



1. Andie - November 16, 2009

As both a freelancer and a PM, I think the key lies, as you mention, in the phrasing of the e-mail. Many freelancers, including myself, are happy to take on work for the weekend, but the ASSUMPTION that you can and will do it is disrespectful. The PM should ASK if it is possible, knowing that he or she may be turned down.

Did you attend the session at the ATA conference on how not to annoy your translators? This should be on the list!

2. Judy Jenner - November 16, 2009

Amen, my friend. It should totally not be expected for us to work weekends. Try finding an attorney to work weekends. However, to cope with the demand that exists for this kind of service, we do accept weekend work, only from repeat customers, though. Our surcharge is 100% on top of the base price. I bet you won’t find other professionals who are willing to do weekend work EVEN with a 100% surcharge, but we gladly do it for our long-time customers who are in a bind.

3. translatormum - November 16, 2009

I’m glad that, in my 9 years of experience being a freelance translator, I’ve so far never had anyone assuming that I work weekends… On the contrary, on the rare occasion that I do work weekends and send e-mails to clients, I’m occasionally surprised to receive a reply on the same day. Could this be a difference between the US and Europe?

A problem that increasingly annoys me, though, is that of multinational agencies using multiple offices in various time zones for the same job. PMs in other time zones do not always seem to realise what time it is here. The other day I received an urgent e-mail request from an office in Asia around 6.30 AM my time, followed by another e-mail at 8.45 AM my time urging me to reply. The PM sending those mails was acting on behalf of an office in Europe, in my own time zone…

Like you, though, I choose to ignore unsollicited requests that are totally unfeasible.

4. Riccardo - November 16, 2009

Working on a weekend doesn’t bother me (especially for customers willing to pay our surcharge), nor does it bother me if I receive a message before or during the weekend to ask me if I can take on some job (after all, I sure was happy that the PC emergency repair service was available yesterday wen my desktop died, and that they came here, braving a foot of snow and sub-zero temperature).

What I cannot stand is rude requests without a shred of information, to boot (such as the one I mentioned in my post).

5. Luigi Muzii - November 17, 2009

Maybe off-topic and maybe not. You wrote you were not surprised to receive this message through ProZ. This makes me ask you two questions:
1. why don’t you remove your name from the ProZ directory?
2. on your opinion, why no uprise occurred among members when ProZ crowdsourced the localization of the site, while LinkedIn had to face a real insurgence?
Thank you for the post.

jillsommer - November 17, 2009

1. It’s free publicity/advertising. It doesn’t hurt, but I am certainly not a fan. I think ProZ encourages low bidding and unprofessionalism.
2. See my answer to 1. I know there are a lot of good professionals on the site, but there are also a lot of people there who are not. The professionals are more active elsewhere; the non-professionals were probably happy to be able to help crowdsource the site.

A few years ago I had to regularly patrol the people claiming to be members of NOTA (the Northeast Ohio Translators Association – our local chapter of ATA here in Ohio) on ProZ. Most of the people claiming membership were not members and in fact lived overseas. We only have 1 overseas member who is originally from Ohio and still maintains an office here. It got so bad that I asked ProZ to remove our listing altogether. There are a lot of people on ProZ claiming a lot of things that they do not have to substantiate. That’s my main beef with ProZ.

6. Andrew - November 17, 2009

As an aspiring (underworked) freelance translator who frequently has lowball bids on translation projects rejected, this post really just makes you sound spoiled. I’m glad that you can afford to make standards for yourself and then post when you feel slightly insulted by the job offers you receive, I sincerely wish to one day be in that situation myself. In the meantime, I will continue to offer translations done at less than 3 cents per word in hopes that I might make enough money to afford my internet bill for the month. I love reading this blog for the amount of useful advice and tips for people in this career field, but I think there are plenty of people willing to work on weekends, with short notice, and other unusual working conditions. If I tried to “stand my ground” and ask for more than 3 cents a word, I wouldn’t get ANY work. Suggestions welcome!

jillsommer - November 17, 2009

Andrew, believe me, I used to be in your situation. We all have to start somewhere. I worked very hard and have marketed myself very successfully to get where I am. My first piece of advice: stop bidding on jobs. That is a system that is designed to get the lowest rate out of translators. There are good paying clients out there who pay a decent rate (check out the rates survey at Translatorscafe.com or buy the ATA Compensation Survey to see what others in your language pair are charging). It takes some work to find the decent paying clients, but I find most ATA corporate members understand the business and appreciate what we do and are willing to compensate us for it.

As for not working weekends, if I don’t draw a line and insist on taking a two-day break that most full-time working people enjoy I will soon burn out and won’t want to (or won’t be able to) translate anymore. If we don’t take a break we can easily develop carpal tunnel and no longer be able to type. Also, burn out means you aren’t at your sharpest. I suggest you start sending your resume out to translation agencies that specialize in your fields of specialization and your language pair. Have you read my guest blog post on Céline’s blog, Naked Translations, on my email marketing campaign (http://www.nakedtranslations.com/en/2009/email-marketing-for-translators )? A lot of translators at the conference came up to me and told me they had been successful following my advice. Join a professional organization like the ATA or NAJIT (or even a local chapter) and become active there. Attend smaller conferences in your field of specialization where agencies might be looking for someone with your qualifications. Start being active on translation listservs, answering questions and offering advice to your colleagues. The more active I am the more people know me and might contact me and/or suggest me to their clients in the future.

It’s hard work, but it does pay off! One of my friends used to toil away translating patents for $0.09 a word for a translator who charged more than that to the end client (to be fair he did the proofreading and polishing). Once she stopped working for him at that rate and started finding better paying clients she happily reported that last year was her best year ever (by an increase of 25%) and she is set to break last year’s record this year and it’s only November. It can be done!

7. Andrea - November 24, 2009

Years ago, when I was just establishing myself as a full-time freelancer, I received an e-mail from a semi-regular client that said: “Hello, Andrea. We need this translated document by Monday at 12. Thank you.”, with a rather long (and complicated!) document attached.

The clincher? It was Easter Thursday at 7:30 PM, so Friday was Good Friday and, therefore, a holiday (3-day weekend).

To say I was pissed off at their cheek is an understatement. After counting to a thousand and mulling it over, I decided that my first impulse (to simply NOT answer since it was 7:30 pm and therefore, past office hours AND on the verge of a long weeked) might not be the best decision, so I took a deep breath and answered politely that:

1) It was by mere luck that I got to see their e-mail, since I usually close shop at 7 pm.;
2) That, unfortunately, I could not take that assignment, first and foremost because I was already up to my ears with work (meaning: I’m not idly sitting around waiting for you to save me), BUT
3) That for future reference, I do not work on weekends (I didn’t back then; I do now occasionally, at a surcharge); and
4) That I was sorry if this caused them trouble, but that assuming that I’d say yes at the last minute (and, again, on the eve of Easter holiday to boot!) had been their mistake, not mine (I phrased this more diplomatically, though).

Unfortunately, they didn’t see my reply until Monday morning (THEY, obviously, took off for the Easter holiday), but grudgingly admitted that the responsibility had been theirs and have kept sending me work semi-regularly to this day (and never again assumed I was at their beck and call).


jillsommer - November 24, 2009

Yes, the “over the holiday” request. I ruined many a holiday translating in the early days of my career. I remember one particular Fourth of July in which I translated 5000 words that day and completely missed all the festivities. I swore to myself that day that I would start standing up for myself. Excellent reply, Andrea!

8. Henry H. Pinkham - April 28, 2012

I agree with Jill Sommer.

Some people seem to regard translators as some lower-than-human species, and expect them to bid for work and to be willing to take anything that comes their way, as long as the customer pays. Customers often do not realize what trouble is involved in translation.
Some large international agencies seem to always have urgent work for freelancers on Friday afternoons.

I once was in the middle of the bush in South Africa, about 60 km from the nearest town, on a Friday at about 2:00 PM, preparing to pitch my tent and make camp on a game farm, when I received an assignment on my phone to be completed that same day. After explaining my situation to the company that was situated in England, the company decided it would be OK if I could do the translation on the Monday so it could be sent that Wednesday. Now why did they rush me in the first place?

No, professional translators do not work weekends (except on high surcharge), do not bid for work, are not at anybody’s beck & call, and do not do free sample translations.

Andrew, you actually are screwing us all by charging 3 cents per word. You WILL get work at up to about5 to 8 Euro cents, or 7 to10 US cents, or 50 South African cents per word, depending on the language combination.

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