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Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines February 23, 2012

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices.

The most frequent question I get asked when people find out I am a freelance translator is how I motivate myself to work instead of hanging out in front of the TV or doing any of the other numerous distractions we are faced with every day while working from home. I always tell them that my biggest motivator is my deadlines. It is what makes me wake up in the morning and gets me in front of my computer at a decent hour every day. My house is usually a wreck if I have a major deadline. That’s probably the main reason I am still single. 🙂 Oddly enough if I have a slow week I find I have less motivation to accomplish things.

Adhering to deadlines is the most important quality a professional translator can have, which is why a recent job nearly had me tearing my hair out. I had accepted a large legal job that turned out to be a) more dense than I expected and b) contained one attachment that was extremely technical and outside my ability. The client had asked that I deliver 15,000 words of a rental agreement over a 5 day period. She contacted me on a Thursday afternoon and asked that I deliver the next Tuesday. After slogging through the dense legalese over the weekend I let the client know on Monday that I was running late and also asked if I could subcontract the last file (2,500 words) to a colleague who specializes in this kind of technical text. The colleague said this text was similar to other texts she had translated in the past and promised delivery by the end of the day on Wednesday. I finished my portion on Wednesday, and my colleague kept changing the delivery time. She ended up delivering on Thursday morning. Since meeting my deadlines is so important to me I was a nervous wreck by that point and had literally broken out in hives. My colleague is a wonderful translator and the final translation was wonderful, however the fact remains that it was late. The client had also asked me to translate another 3,000 words after delivering the first file (before the actual delivery of the first job), but since it was in the same technical vein she agreed that the colleague could do it. The colleague once again really botched the delivery (delivering on Monday afternoon instead of Friday as promised), and the client informed me she would never work with her again. I have a feeling the same applied to me, even though she insisted that wasn’t the case.

Delivering on-time is a must for a freelance translator. If you can’t it calls into question your ability to translate the text. As my client commented, “In my experience, if someone is very slow they are usually struggling with the translation. Are you sure that she is competent with the content?” I assured her that she was competent. She just has problems with deadlines. As she herself stated, she allowed too many distractions. It didn’t help that I am friends with her on Facebook and saw her posts, which were not work-related. Needless to say I was not amused. I had known she had a problem with deadlines, so it is my own fault for thinking it would be different this time. I won’t let this affect our friendship, but I certainly can’t recommend her in the future.

If you want to be a successful translator and have a thriving translation business you need to make sure you meet your deadlines. As Tips for Translators states, “…if you are serious about building your credibility with your clients and taking the next big step to advancing your career, then you need to figure out what measures you can implement so that you are able to complete your projects on time. It’s that simple.”

Here are my tips for handling deadlines:

1.) Care about the deadline. You have to be very serious about meeting them, and make them a priority.

2.) Estimate how long a job will take and plan accordingly

3.) Give your client a timeline of when you can complete the task and occasionally update the client on your progress – it keeps you accountable and lets them know you are indeed working on the job

4.) Make sure the deadline is realistic. There’s just 8 hours in a work day (give or take, depending your work environment) and you can only do so much. Don’t think of yourself as a robot. If you feel that your client thinks of you this way, talk to them about it, but in a professional manner.

5.) Maintain a job board – I use a dry erase board, but others use Post-It notes, calendars, or software programs to keep track of current jobs and the deadlines

6.) Avoid distractions. This means if you have work to do don’t start that book or plop down in front of the TV. If you need a break (and everyone does at some point), make sure the break is brief.

7.) One way to do this it to try the Pomodoro technique (I know it as the FlyLady technique) – set a timer and work intensely for a short amount of time (25 to 30 minutes) and then take a brief break (the key here is BRIEF) before starting the next timed interval.

8.) Don’t accept too much work – know what you can handle and then say no. You aren’t doing yourself or your client any favors by accepting too much work. Quality will inevitably suffer

9.) That said, once you have accepted a job, do everything you can to ensure you finish the job. This means pulling an all-nighter or working longer hours or on the weekend if you are running late.

10.) If you absolutely cannot make deadline (because you overcommitted, had a family emergency or your kid or dog got sick), you should contact your client and negotiate a second deadline. Don’t just drop off the face of the earth and stop answering e-mails and phone calls. Communication with the client is key. And whatever you do, make sure you meet the second deadline!



1. patenttranslator - February 23, 2012

11) Charge 40% more for tight deadlines, for example deadlines requiring more than 2 thousand words per working day (Monday through Friday only). That’s what I do: I always give a client a choice between a rush and a non-rush rate.

It is usually impossible to do this with agencies, but if you do this with direct clients, 3 things are likely to happen:

a) your client will be suddenly able to magically stretch the deadline,
b) you will find it much easier to meet a really tight deadline when you are making much more money because greed is a wonderful motivator,
c) you will be able to fit in small jobs while working on a long project with with a reasonable deadline.

2. Carolyn Y. - February 23, 2012

Oh, I am so feeling the deadline crunch this week myself. Next time I quote a deadline, I will automatically either a) double my estimated time to complete or b) halve my estimated output. Distractions aren’t too big of a problem for me, but you can only work so hard over multiple days.

Though I might sneak in #11, too 😉 Good call!

3. Angela - February 23, 2012

I am very much a fan of number 11 — it works like a charm. Amazing how many “urgent” jobs are suddenly not so urgent! 🙂

And I know how you feel, Jill. I recently got burned by a friend I had outsourced to and ended up pulling two all-nighters in a row to get the job done myself.

4. Rachel Ward (@FwdTranslations) - February 23, 2012

Ah, FlyLady! It’s amazing how many other fields (the good bits of) her system can be applied to! 🙂

5. anidealword - February 24, 2012

Working to deadlines really suits me, especially if there isn’t a lot of wiggle room! Although I’m only just starting out and most of my projects are quite so small. I’m sure you need a bit more room to manoeuvre on larger projects.

6. Catherine Christaki (@LinguaGreca) - February 26, 2012

Thank you for the interesting post and the useful reminders Jill. I think deadlines have the same priority as quality for freelancers. Even if you are a great translator, people will stop working with you if you don’t respect deadlines. I had a similar experience some years ago with a fellow translator, her work was impeccable but she kept delaying deliveries. Our friendship was affected as well because I felt like she was mocking me when her excuse for each delay was sickness (how often can you get sick??). That cooperation ended and even though I miss her help sometimes, I always remind myself of the anxiety and uncertainty I felt about her deliveries. As for our own deadlines, communication is key, as you stated. Clients and PMs can be very supportive and flexible when there is a good reason for an extension.

7. Meg - February 27, 2012

Hi Jill, thanks for your interesting post! Even though I’m not a translator myself, I know how crucial it is to work with people who you can rely on. And I can’t imagine how you’d have feel when the deadline is missed and you can’t do anything about it.

8. Lilly - March 6, 2012

Jill, I had something similar happen and this is why I almost never outsource anymore, I let the agency find someone else for text that I can’t handle. I’m like you – I can actually feel my stomach tightening if someone doesn’t deliver on time. I don’t get why some people apparently do not take their commitments too seriously. I’m just sorry this ended up reflecting badly on you.

9. laurenveritas - March 26, 2012

Hi Jill, as a PM I have to say I totally agree. Respecting deadlines is equally important as quality. Obviously if there’s a major catastrophe that means a translator can’t meet a deadline, alternative arrangements can be made, but we need to know about it! As you said, communication is important, because there is nothing more frustrating than trying to get hold of a translator to find out what’s wrong, only to be ignored.

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