The Hidden Part of the Job

This article was originally published by ATA’s The Savvy Newcomer, May 2014.

In my marketing workshops I discuss a subject I call “Anatomy of a Project.” The focus is on the immediate interaction following the acceptance, performance, delivery, and post-delivery of a project from the standpoint of marketing.  However, there is another phase of what I call the “Greater Project” that I do not discuss in depth in those workshops because, though inherent to the business, it is outside the scope of that The Hidden Part of the Job - puzzle imagespecific workshop. I will talk about it here.

One of the most exciting things about our profession is the demand to constantly learn – new words, techniques, media, applications, standards, etc. That constant evolution makes all of us perpetual learners. It also makes our clients’ points of reference old or obsolete or wrong.


Many of our clients do not know how we work. Some of them have the notion that we simply replace words of one language with their equivalent in another in succession. Others believe that Computer Aided Translation (CAT) tools are the same as Machine Translation (MT). The terms daily output, mental fatigue, physical fatigue, eye strain are not part of their vocabulary.

Just as we are not familiar with all the steps a surgeon takes after the initial incision, many of our clients – whether individuals, companies or Language Service Providers (LSPs) – are not familiar with the details that go into the work we do. And it is our obligation, and a never-ending one, to educate them.

So, a client offers you a rate you consider below market? Don’t get offended. Thank them for thinking of you and let them know what your rate is. Another proposes too tight a deadline? Again, thank them for thinking of you and let them know what your terms are for accepting that tight a deadline (that’s what rush fees are for). Yet another client is asking you to do work in a field you are not familiar with, or in a language that is not one of your strong languages. Get the picture?

You are not the only one getting those offers. But are you prepared to handle them? Client education is part of our job description and we do it right when you have all the facts at hand.  By facts I mean: one’s daily output (average – maximum), a definition of rush job, a defined rush rate, definitions of the services offered and their cost, etc.

In parts:

  1. Your daily output: Whether you work full-time or part-time, there is an average and a maximum number of words you can do a day. That will vary with the subject of the job at hand, but it is a quantifiable variable and you should know it. Next time a client asks you to do 8,000 words in 2 days, you can do the math based on your daily output to determine if you will be able to deliver rather than finding yourself asking for a deadline extension at the last minute;
  2. Rush job: As a colleague once said, more money will not make me work faster or better. Understood.  A rush job is one that causes me to give up a weekend, or work after hours, for example. I do work weekends, occasionally, to accommodate other activities I do during the week. When it is my choice, I do not charge my client;
  3. Your rush rate:  Now that we know what a rush job is (see 2- above), we can define the rush rate. Some of my colleagues apply a 50% surcharge to rush jobs; others only 25%; others even less. The market has to bear it, and you must be comfortable with it.
  4. Your services: It may seem obvious but it is not. Revision, proofing, editing, DTP are all different services that complement a translation. Original copy in a target language based on client-provided material is called transcreation and is charged differently from how a straight translation is charged. Transcriptions can be done with or without translation – different pricing structures apply here too, so learn about them.
  5. Your prices: Yes, it is plural. Some colleagues charge differently per language direction; they all charge differently per type of job, and you need to know what is required of you in each job, what you can deliver or not, and for how much. The type of application used (MS Word, PowerPoint, PDF, In Design, etc.) also affects the price because it makes it easier or harder for you to get to your deliverable. Time is cost.

What your clients see when requesting a translation is the transformation of words from language A into words in language B. Many of them have no idea of the actual work involved in the conversion process. Many more do not even take into consideration that working over the weekend should cost more, for example. It is our job to educate our clients and we will do a better job when we are aware of what our deliverables actually are and how to charge for them.


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