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How to cope with too much work
Thread poster: Wendy Cummings

Wendy Cummings  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:37
Member (2006)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Dec 1, 2008

(Please note: I am aware that not everyone will relate to this situation, even more so in the current economic climate. However, I am not posting this for any purpose other than to seek genuine advice from others about a situation I find myself in).

For some while now I have found myself in the extremely fortunate position of having simply too much work. I turn down offers on a daily basis (sometimes rejecting up to 5 offers a day), but feel obliged to accept a certain amount in order not to put off clients if i haven't worked for them in a while or clients that i particularly like. I find myself working most weekends and its getting pretty tiring.

There are of course fantastic advantages - I have a healthy income and can take lots of holidays throughout the year in order to "get away from it all". And I would much rather have it this way round, than have too little work.

However, my stress levels are way too high, my social life is certainly suffering, and I am starting to resent having to work quite so many hours in the week.

I cannot outsource work since I am mostly under contract not to do so.
Is raising rates a viable way of cutting down workload?
Has anyone else found themselves in this situation, and what - if any - solution did they use?

Wendy


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Natalia Elo  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 16:37
Member (2004)
English to Russian
+ ...
Raise your rates Dec 1, 2008

Wendy Leech wrote:

I cannot outsource work since I am mostly under contract not to do so.
Is raising rates a viable way of cutting down workload?
Has anyone else found themselves in this situation, and what - if any - solution did they use?

Wendy

Hi Wendy,

Occasionally I am in the similar situation and I simply raise the rate by 1 cent or so. Most of my clients agree to the new rates, but some of them start to send less work.

Good luck,
Natalia


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Ken Fagan  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:37
French to English
3 suggestions Dec 1, 2008

Hi Wendy,

I would think that raising your rates would be the most logical solution to this 'problem'. Most agencies are extremely rate-sensitive, so this solution would have a good chance of success:-)

2 other possibilities:
1. You could do away with one of your language combos
2. You could do away with one or more of your subject specialisms (i.e. you could limit yourself to law only, instead of doing law + medical + whatever else you do).

HTH


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Marie-Hélène Hayles  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:37
Italian to English
+ ...
Various strategies Dec 1, 2008

Don't worry, you're not the only one who still has too much work on their plate

I use a number of different strategies to keep my workload manageable.

First, it's an ideal time to quote much higher rates with any new potential clients that ask you to quote. You don't need more work at the same rates, after all, and it's only worth making room for new, unproven clients if they pay you considerably more than your existing ones.
So don't be afraid of quoting 30% or 50% more, or even higher, than you normally charge - if they say no, you've lost nothing anyway.

Second, evaluate your existing clients and consider raising your rates and/or cutting out the dead wood. Occasional clients who pay lower rates can be cut without affecting your bottom line. With more regular clients, try suggesting a rate rise and see how they react.

Third, try to negotiate delivery dates. If you think you can do it by Wednesday, suggest Friday. If you're asked to do it for Friday afternoon, suggest Monday morning. Build in leeway so you can accommodate desirable extra requests without having to work ridiculous hours.

Fourth, let your regulars know your situation - tell them that you can only fit in x words in the next week or so. That way, you avoid having to say "no" too often as they won't ask you to take on too much.

Fifth, don't be afraid to say "no" to any occasional clients who offer you a job with a short turnaround - and take the opportunity to say "I'm generally fully booked up for 5/10 working days from any given point", so you save your time and theirs from wasted phone calls and e-mails.

Finally, don't be afraid to say no, full stop. I know when I first started getting offered more than I could deal with I was incapable of saying no, as I was scared I'd lose my clients. I was working 10 or 12 hours a day, every Saturday and most Sundays, until my partner said "enough!". And surprise surprise, I didn't lose them: they came back after hearing "no" not just once, but repeatedly.


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NancyLynn
Canada
Local time: 10:37
Member (2002)
French to English
+ ...

MODERATOR
Absolutely! Dec 1, 2008

Tried and true

Same income, fewer hours of toil.

For more info, see MHH's post above

Nancy


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Wendy Cummings  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:37
Member (2006)
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Good advice Dec 1, 2008

Thanks Marie-Helene, that's some really good advice.

I can still remember, over 2 years ago now, when I said "no" to a client for the very first time. I literally closed my eyes and held my breath, and then was so surprised when they said "ok, no problem"!

Some agencies have very good in-house systems whereby if i say i'm unavailable, they will make a note on my file and so the whole office knows not to contact me. Other agencies are incapable of remembering such instructions from one hour to the next!


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Angela Dickson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:37
French to English
+ ...
Definitely raise your rates Dec 1, 2008

I was always too scared to raise my rates for fear of putting clients off - so I established a policy of quoting higher for new customers. As Marie-Helène says, this sometimes puts them off, and if so fine, but sometimes they go for it, which is also fine.

I got my (currently) best-paying customer a couple of years ago; they approached me when I was tearing my hair out over another job, and I quoted 50% above my usual rate in the hope that they'd go away. They didn't go away and have proved very good to work for, though I think they would send me more if my rate were lower (I tend to end up reviewing for them, rather than translating, and they only send me complex stuff for translation).

This in turn spurred me on to try to bring my rates for everyone else up to this level, and shall we say this is still an ongoing process.

I sometimes have too much on, like you are experiencing at the moment, but things balance out over the year and with my current scheme my income is going up even if I don't work any harder.

As for turning down work - I tend to say 'yes, but...' (it'll cost you a lot/I can't start it for three weeks/I'll have to await the outcome of negotiations on another project so can you wait for a reply until this afternoon, etc). This sometimes ends up being, in effect, a 'no', but it doesn't sound like one.


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 11:37
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Mange your time... moneywise! Dec 1, 2008

Wendy,

Your time is a limited resource, sell it as such. Unless you are less human than me, or live on another planet, you have 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.

I understand that you get cold feet at the idea of raising your rates, since this might suggest your long-standing clients to seek slightly cheaper alternatives, and eventually walk out on you.

So, here is how it works. First, sell 8 hours/day x 5 days/week at your regular rates, which should be fairly adequate, not low, for your market. You'll know from the jobs/deadlines you have when you'll have some of these "normal" hours available to sell, e.g. Thursday next week.

So, if you are booked full for the whole week, and a client comes up with a job, if they can wait until you finish what you have, and do it in the regular hours when they become available, all right, you can charge your regular price.

But if they are in a rush, and you'll have to work some extra hours - on top of those 8 - on any day, or number of days, to meet their deadline, it's gonna cost them extra. If it means working 2 extra hours every day to meet the deadline, it could be 25%-30% extra. If it means working more that 2 extra hours per day, go for the 50% surcharge on the price. And if it will intrude in your weekend, don't fear adding 100% extra to the price.

Believe me, the 50/100% extra are the law (dated 1943 AD) for certified/sworn translators in Brazil, so you have an answer in case they ever ask if you are out of your mind.

Just remember that it doesn't matter on which job you are working on regular hours, and which one you are doing overtime. You will be selling more expensively the fact that you are using overtime to serve those who come in later and want shorter deadlines. If they can wait until you have time, they can have it done for regular rates.

It takes some good job time estimating, but you must have used it already to calculate your standard rates.


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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 20:07
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
+ ...
Outsource or take the next logical step of becoming an agency! Dec 2, 2008

I envy your position!

You can think of outsourcing the work to to other translators, and eventually turning yourself into a full-fledged translation agency.

Many translators have taken that route and made a success of it, as is borne out by reading the profile of several top-ranking translation agencies. They were started by people who were at one time translators.


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 15:37
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
First things first Dec 2, 2008

Balasubramaniam L. wrote:
You can think of outsourcing the work to to other translators, and eventually turning yourself into a full-fledged translation agency.


Doing that without very significant rate hikes is rather counter-productive.


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Wendy Cummings  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:37
Member (2006)
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
no change of career wanted Dec 2, 2008

Balasubramaniam L. wrote:

You can think of outsourcing the work to to other translators


Apart from the fact that I cannot do this in most cases (see my original post) because I am under contract with agencies, I don't actually WANT to become an agency!

I like to translate; hell, I'll say it - I love to translate! And the last thing I want to do is watch other people translate while I manage them, sort out their problems, and submit tenders to clients trying to get their work, because it would surely be super-uneconomical to remain in that "double outsourcing" chain where in the client pays agency 1, agency 1 pays me, and i pay the translator.


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Marie-Hélène Hayles  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:37
Italian to English
+ ...
Amen to that Dec 2, 2008

Wendy Leech wrote:

I like to translate; hell, I'll say it - I love to translate! And the last thing I want to do is watch other people translate while I manage them, sort out their problems, and submit tenders to clients trying to get their work...


Yep - me too. No way would I want to take the "logical step" and become an agency!


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Lawyer-Linguist  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 15:37
Dutch to English
+ ...
Agree Dec 2, 2008

Marie-Hélène Hayles wrote:

Yep - me too. No way would I want to take the "logical step" and become an agency!


Can think of nothing worse. I take my hat off to those good PMs out there who keep it all together, day after day, but it is definitely not for me.

I subcontracted once - with the agency's knowledge and consent - because I was ill. Although the translator did a pretty good job, she was hours late with delivery (luckily it didn't affect my deadline, but she left me precious little time to go through the translation before final delivery) and then - not knowing that I'd informed them - went behind my back and told the agency she had done the job! Who needs that type of aggravation on a daily basis?

Others may have had far better experiences - and small teams may indeed work well - but in my experience if you can't handle it yourself, it's just best to say no. If you are good at what you're doing, clients will keep coming back. Two principles work for me: (i) I don't spread myself too thin with too many clients (I'm interested in repeat work, not one-off assignments) and (ii) I try not to turn down any particular client twice in a row.

[Edited at 2008-12-02 10:13 GMT]


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 11:37
English to Portuguese
+ ...
How logical is it? Dec 2, 2008

Marie-Hélène Hayles wrote:
No way would I want to take the "logical step" and become an agency!


What is the logic behind a translator becoming an agency?

As a former HR manager, and still a HRD consultant, I've seen in detail the problem that may arise when a great professional turns into a lousy manager.

The greatest salesperson of all times, upon being crowned sales manager, more often than not, drives the sales force results to a sudden downfall. Then, to save the company, they grab their order pad from the bottom drawer, and dash into the streets, to bring some orders home. Yes, they are the best at it, so they do it well. But in doing so... they will be back to selling, no longer managing.

The best maintenance engineer is promoted to maintenance manager. Production downtime soars, because the guy still spends his day troubleshooting the most puzzling malfunctions as he's the only one there who can do it. Preventative maintenance becomes no more than a go-thru-the-motions "habit", standard replacement parts are always missing, have to be bought in desperation, and so on. Why? Because the guy is still playing Gyro Gearloose, instead of managing his department.

This could go on and on, but...

Some of the best translation PMs I've become acquanted with were not among the most successful translators. The best and most successful translators I know don't want to take that questionably "logical" step, ever!

One job is about doing, the other job is about managing. Though some (rare) people may have the talent/skill for both, they won't have time to do both simultaneously, so the commitment to, and therefore the performance in one of the two activities will be compromised.

A translator sharing work overload with colleagues now and then is okay (if the client allows), but that's not exactly managing a whole project; it entalis just merging files after they are done. Outsourcing further steps beyond translation (e.g. DTP, burning subtitles on video, etc.) is okay, it involves some minor project management, but the process is linear.

Managing is all about getting the job done through other people, and not doing it. People who do it (= translate) outstandingly well should keep improving in that, and not strive to move into a different activity (managing). After all, every PM will need good translators as they are. However if a PM can't find any good translators because they have all turned into PMs, nobody will need these PMs.


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Anja Weggel  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:37
Member (2007)
English to German
outsource to ONE colleague Dec 2, 2008

Hi there,

I agree with most of what was already said. My personal solution is to collaborate with one other colleague (and I emphasize the one) to have more flexibility and options but not too much more admin. I certainly do not want to become an agency since I hate the management part and I love the translation part. However, to manage in peak seasons or when I go on holiday, it is very useful to have a backup. Of course, you need a trustworthy colleague in the first place and you need to figure out your arrangement. And of course you have to tell your respective clients. But once you have set it up, it is not too much more admin on the one hand but a lot of help on the other.

Kind regards
Anja


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