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Guest post – Dear Translator: Please pay your taxes! June 2, 2014

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

Hello, all:

I started as a translator and interpreter and now run an agency based in Arlington that serves nonprofits and mission-driven organizations exclusively.

Today I received a rather thick envelope from the IRS. Apparently, a translator who I used fairly frequently between 2005 and 2010 and for whom I submitted 1099-MISCs, had not paid some (or all) of his taxes and the IRS was approaching all those companies who had sent him work in order to levy his earnings.

This translator owed around $40,000 in taxes, but the IRS is not to be messed with: penalties added another $60,000 onto the total and he now needed to pay back over $100,000.

The IRS wanted to know if I had any pending payments for him, and if so, I had to send that money their way, and not to him.

However, here is the most alarming thing: THIS TRANSLATOR PASSED AWAY A YEAR AGO.

His estate probably has no money, and the IRS wants theirs, so they’re probably hoping that there are some monies still owed him that they could take. I don’t know, and I’m certainly not a tax professional, but that’s what I assume is happening.

Moral of the story?

Please, translators, PAY YOUR TAXES. Pay ALL of them. Pay them PROMPTLY. Don’t try any funny stuff. The IRS *will* get you (or your heirs), even after you’re deceased.

Thanks for listening!
Sandra Alboum

Sandra Alboum runs an agency that serves nonprofits and mission driven organizations exclusively, is a two-time jeopardy champion, and an amateur gourmet chef and professional mother of two. She sent this post to the ATA Business Practices listserv, and I felt it was worth reposting to a wider audience.

Nothing in life is certain but death and taxes. And as you can see your taxes may live on even after death. Be sure to pay yours and to report all of your income!!

Thought of the day April 18, 2014

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices.

I read this on Tumblr and thought it was so fitting to our profession as well. It is originally from the Zibbet forum (Zibbet is kind of like Etsy – it’s a site for artists to sell their handmade works) and was written by user Sweet2Spicy (Elsie) on January 20, 2014:

A customer wanted to purchase a beautiful Wire Wrap Bracelet and spotted an artist who did absolutely amazing work, but she charged a good price too. The customer thought that the artist’s price was way too high so she approached the artist and in quite a brisk fashion stated “I want to buy a Bracelet from you, but I think you charge too much.” The artist was a little taken aback but replied, “Ok, how much do you think I should charge?” The customer replied “I think you should charge “X” much, because the wire will cost this much, and the clasp this much, and the cabochon this much. I even factored in the price of your pliers.”

The final price the customer had calculated was a lot cheaper than the artist’s original price, but she said “Ok, deal. You will get your goods in a week”. The customer was very pleased with herself and can’t resist telling all her friends what a fabulous deal she has negotiated and how smart she is, and that in a week she will have her gorgeous bracelet.

A week later her parcel arrives in a lovely packaged box. She opens it and inside is Wire, a Clasp, a Cabochon, and 2 sets of Pliers. Angrily she contacts the artist asking “How could you do this to me? I asked you for a Bracelet and you sent me a box of Wire, a Clasp, a Cabochon and 2 sets of Pliers?!?!”   The artist quietly replies “My dear, you got exactly what you paid for, if you think there is something missing, then you will need to pay for it.”

Moral of the story, when you buy handmade you are not just buying the materials you are buying the artist’s time, effort, love and dedication that goes into making your pieces.


This just in: thebigword pays out big bonus of over £1.5m to one of its directors November 21, 2013

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

“With its global headquarters in Leeds, thebigword interprets two million minutes of speech and translates 35 million words every month. With 2,500 clients speaking 234 languages across 77 countries, the family-owned business has more than 8,000 freelance linguists and uses automated technology to co-ordinate its global operation.”

This “unnamed highest paid director who took home a total of £1.99m during the year” and is getting an additional “discretionary bonus of £1.68m” should be proud of the work the company has done… oh wait, none of the 8000 translators or interpreters – who do the ACTUAL WORK – are seeing any of that. I wouldn’t be surprised if they got another e-mail asking for yet another 15% pay cut. You know, because the company is hurting so much in this economy. You know they certainly won’t be RAISING rates since it seems they are now doing so well.

Q&A from Fire Ant & Worker Bee March 21, 2013

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices.

The latest Accurapid Translation Journal has a very interesting Q&A about Trados pricing in its Fire Ant & Worker Bee column (which is always an enjoyable read). Since I have recently received similar requests from agencies (whatever happened to the good ole 30/60/100 pricing scheme Trados used to suggest?), I was very interested in reading the answer and thought you might be as well.


Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I have been contacted by three different agencies over the last few weeks proposing the following table for CAT tool discounts, all of whom I have refused while remaining icily polite:

Repetitions @10%

100% Matches @15%

95-99% Matches @20%

85-94% Matches @50%

75-84% and below @66%

50-74% and below @100%

No Match (New Words) @100%

Unedited Text in Graphics @100%

There appears to be some company trying to push this grid along with their CAT tool marketing. It is particularly derisory because low-grade fuzzy matches are in reality practically worthless, often costing more time than they save, especially for those of us who use voice recognition. I often set my CAT software to ignore them.

I am writing in case there is anyone new to the profession who is inclined to believe the sales pitch that this is some kind of “industry standard”. It certainly is not. The supplier of a service sets the price, not the buyer. The buyer decides whether or not to buy.



Dear No Grid,

We agree not 50 nor 66 but 100%, sir, and applaud your reminder that this grid is a negotiating tool—some might say weapon—and definitely not an industry standard.

Self-assured claims to the contrary come from vendors applying commodity-based business models. They are understandably desperate to lock in margins at the low end of the market, where prices are very definitely under severe pressure.

As you probably know, many skilled professionals insist that translation technology is above all a quality assurance tool for ensuring consistency. As one observer notes, “real-time savings are achieved consistently only with large blocks of 100% context matches.” And in other cases? Well, no one is saying that time might not be saved in some instances, with some texts. But that is not what “industry standard” grids—applied across the board—are.

This may be a good time to point out how much more sense it makes to bill by the hour, which recognizes genuine productivity-driven savings, however achieved.

A top interpreter once told us he developed the concentration he needed to perform at the highest level in the booth through intensive chess competitions. We find ourselves wishing translators would play more poker, to gain practical experience in the skills needed to call a negotiator’s bluff.


Being in limbo January 30, 2013

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices.

One of the things they don’t tell you about when you start freelancing is the art of staying calm while being in limbo. I finished a job last night. It is currently at my proofreader’s and is due back to the client later today. In the meantime, I have had three different job queries in the last week or so, and they are all pending approval by the client or still haven’t been finalized. So here I sit, trying to fill my time while I have nothing to translate. With my luck they will all be approved (although I have a feeling that one of them won’t) and will all be due on Friday or Monday. Or none of them will materialize. You never know as a freelancer. Because it is impossible to evenly distribute workload when you freelance. There is a lot of feast or famine – or waiting in limbo. November and December were extremely slow months for me. It had me questioning my decisions and toying with the idea of getting a 9-to-5 job or even a part-time job. Not having income coming in can make me panic pretty easily. My office was reorganized, my finances were in order, and I had run out of projects. I had decided to start a marketing campaign after the holidays, but luckily things improved. It still frustrates me waiting for work to be approved, but that’s the business I guess. I’m hoping the return of work will return my zest for blogging. It’s been hard to stay motivated. Anyway, I hope you all had a good holiday season and are busy with work through this new year. May we all stop being in limbo!

We can do magic… January 29, 2013

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices.
1 comment so far

One of my German colleagues sent out the following e-mail over one of my listservs about the Perfect Agency in New York with close to a million branch offices (okay, I’m exaggerating a little…)

[translation mine]:

At 5:27 p.m. [Perfect Agency] sent out a query for a legal translation with over 4,000 words with a deadline of 7 p.m.!! After all, we’re magicians!

Oh, Perfect Agency, you have quite the reputation with low rates and tight deadlines, but this one really takes the cake!

If I had a dollar for every translator… oh wait January 10, 2013

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices.

“Translator Registration – Become a Verified Translator

To start receiving translation projects from Diamond Translation you need to Verify your account. Once you verify your account, our translators support team will review your application and certify you as a translator and a member of the Diamond Translation Community. If you have a Paypal account you will need to make a $1.00 payment (1 USD) using your account, so we can link your Paypal account to your profile and pay you for the translations (We will refund you those 1 USD along with the payment of your first translation).”

I sincerely hope no one who reads this blog falls for this. Better to miss a chance to work with a new client then to get stuck in an unpleasant situation where you don’t know what’s going on with your sensitive data. There are many other clients out there who seem much more trustworthy

The myth of the non-paying client December 10, 2012

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices.

Catherine Christaki (@LinguaGreca) from Adventures in Freelance Translating has an interesting blog post about the results from the Common Sense Advisory survey of freelance translators. Her post was published on the 7th, but I am just catching up with my RSS reader today after a weekend off hosting my cousin from Florida. I found the results of the survey very interesting. Catherine was astounded that so many translators (65.3%) reported never having had to deal with a non-paying client. I don’t find that such a stretch. I think there are way more good agencies than bad agencies out there. It’s just that you never hear about all the clients that DO pay. Translators are more likely to complain about the few black sheep they encounter. I worked in the industry for 16 years before encountering my non-payer. Luckily I also knew to cut them off after the second job request, so they only ended up not paying $60 instead of several thousand dollars. In terms of numbers, that was several hundred paying clients (even if some of them were slow payers) against a single non-paying client. As I have preached time and again (and Catherine also advises), it really helps to do some due diligence on a new client before working for them. I agreed to work for the non-paying client because I was driving in my car, they said a colleague had recommended me, and they were in a terrible bind. Looking back, I should have made them wait until I could go home and check them out. But since it was such a small job I took the risk and accepted the job. If it had been a larger job I would have made them wait.

So the moral of this story is that there truly are many more good agencies than bad out there, and the numbers back this up. 65.3% of the 3,165 translators who took the survey prove this. Be sure to read Catherine’s blog post as well as click the link to the survey she has included in her post.

How a listserv works October 4, 2012

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices.

I was called a snot and a know-it-all on the ATA LTD listserv the other day. Some woman had asked about a PDF conversion program. This is a subject I know quite a bit about, having presented on the subject at ATA two separate times, so the attack was completely unwarranted. I had replied earlier that week that what she wanted the program to do was not within the program’s ability (as I understood it she wanted to be able to paste the English text next to the German in the OCRed file). She then proceeded to try to e-mail a file as an attachment over the listserv to one of the members to OCR for her. When the suggestion was made that the listserv allow attachments I simply replied that I voted no because I didn’t want my e-mail inbox cluttered with attachments from a listserv. The woman’s overreaction to my replies in this discussion and subsequent responses to other people’s replies defending me from her unwarranted attack (calling them scammers and spammers when they were in fact simply replying to the listserv) clued me in that the woman had absolutely no idea how a listserv worked. I’m sure most of you do, but in case you don’t, here is a quick explanation.

The term ‘listserv’ has been used to refer to a few early electronic mailing list software applications, allowing a sender to send one email to the list and then transparently sending it on to the addresses of the subscribers to the list. Incoming messages sent to the reflector address (in this case ataLTD@yahoogroups.com, but it could just as easily be ata_business_practices@yahoogroups.com, WPPF@yahoogroups.com or pt_@yahoogroups.com) are processed by the software and are
distributed to all email addresses subscribed to the mailing list. This means that every e-mail that is sent to ataLTD@yahoogroups.com gets sent to all 210 members of the listserv. Once you subscribe to the listserv you will receive all the e-mails that are sent to the list. You can’t pick and choose (although you *can* filter individual e-mail addresses into your e-mail program’s Trash, which I hope she has done with my e-mail address because I never want to hear from her again).

In the meantime, she looks like a total idiot who overreacted ‘in front of’ 209 professional translators, and, believe me, behavior on listservs plays a huge part in how people perceive you as a professional. Meltdowns such as hers last week or a few other notable instances in the past on various other listservs truly reflect poorly on the translator and influence whether someone will recommend you to their client if they are too busy to accept a job. Bad behavior on a listserv such as the ATA Business Practices listserv is even worse, because many agency owners subscribe to the listserv. So think before you write to a listserv.

Balancing client confidentiality and applying for work July 23, 2012

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices.

One of my friends owns a translation agency. They are currently updating their records and have their poor intern contacting translators in their database to update their information. As you can imagine, the poor intern is getting frustrated with the nutty replies she is getting. These are translators who applied to work with the agency in the past. All they are asking is for them to update their contact info, sign an NDA and supply a couple references. One translator refused because they are “requesting the names of some of my other clients, an inconsistency both with the rules of the profession and your own NDA. You should be aware that requesting or disclosing such information is illegal and unethical, and contrary to both laws governing the profession and rules of the American Translator’s Association.”

Uh, what? Dude, take a chill pill. All they are asking is for a couple references. Disclosing this information is not “illegal and unethical.” It’s actually a standard business practices everywhere. I think someone has misunderstood something they heard somewhere.

The American Translator’s Association’s Code of Professional Conduct says nothing about providing references. There are eight bullet points, and the only one that might possibly be misconstrued to mean this could be number 2 – “to hold in confidence any privileged and/or confidential information entrusted to us in the course of our work.” However, this means confidential corporate information, medical results, and business secrets. Keeping anything we learn through a translation for our clients confidential. No more, no less. It does not mean providing a reference.

According to Freelance Folder’s 10 Painful Mistakes that Cost You Freelance Work, one of the top ten mistakes is “No references.” As the writer explains, “Testimonials are a key part of marketing yourself as a freelancer. If no one is willing to say that you did a good job for them, prospects may wonder what’s wrong with you.” Freelance Folder suggests you “ask a few of your current clients if they would be willing to write a testimonial for you.” The reference can also be a former professor, another freelance translator, or a project manager that has worked with you at several agencies. They aren’t asking for references to poach your clients. I am regularly asked to provide a reference for former students. All the agencies want to know is if the student has the skills to be a translator (and is sane). In fact, most agencies probably don’t even have the manpower to follow up on the references. Asking for a reference is not equivalent to client poaching, and this translator will most likely never get work from any agency with this attitude.