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Taking on too much work
Thread poster: xxxSpring City
xxxSpring City  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:33
Chinese to English
+ ...
Aug 26, 2007

I know this question will seem pretty unprofessional, but I want to raise it anyway. Have other people taken on too much work that they cannot complete by the deadline? And if so, how do you deal with it?

I was recently asked by two clients if I had time for translation projects of unspecified size. I said yes to both, and waited to see what work came in. One job came in, a little larger than normal, and then the other one, a job that I had waited for but had assumed would not transpire, also came in. As I had given an initial indication to both clients that I could do the work, but as both had delayed in sending the work through, I felt I had to accept both jobs. Now I realise I have to lighten the load or extend the deadlines somehow.

I suppose this is my fault for not being specific. When they asked me if I could do the work, I should have said I could, **depending on size, difficulty and other commitments**, and **that a day's delay in sending through the work would lead me to accept another job** and **that I could not do both jobs at once**.

I find it a little unhelpful when an outsourcer asks if I am available, and then expects my positive reply to remain current for several days afterwards, as if I don't mind dangling on a string. In the end, I should be firmer and say no to work I can't do. Any comments?

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Hilde Granlund  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:33
English to Norwegian
+ ...
deadlines Aug 26, 2007

should be negotiable if the clients were late in sending you the material. Unless you agreed in the first instance to do the work by a specific date, you should be able to agree with the client on this?
Agreeing to take on an unspecified amount of work that you have not received yet by a certain date can not be a good idea.
I am new to this, but I always ask to see the material, and get a specific deadline before agreeing to take on anything.

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biankonera  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:33
Italian to Latvian
+ ...
delays Aug 26, 2007

Your situation is similar to the one I had to face a while ago. I agreed to do a translation for one client and in the end with a delay in delivery from their side it turned out a bit too big for the given deadline. I was fortunate enough to have a great PM and I was able to negotiate another deadline thanx to the excellent quality of work they got from me.

I completely agree with Hilde and can say the thing I have learned from that experience is - one MUST learn to say "no" and it doesnt matter how good the client is or how tempting the price is. After all one can do as much as one can do and even working 20 hours to meet the deadline wont help (in fact it can only ruin quality and everything else).

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lexical  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:33
Portuguese to English
a promise isn't a commitment Aug 26, 2007

Most of us have probably been in your situation at least once, Spring City. What we (and our clients) have to accept is that an inquiry - especially about a job of indeterminate size - is just that, an inquiry - not a firm order. If a client asks you if you are free to do a job that is "maybe 5000 words, maybe 7000 - could be sent to you tomorrow or maybe in three days' time" - you can't do more than accept it IN PRINCIPLE.

A JOB is only a COMMITMENT when the file appears in your inbox, with definite instructions to go ahead, and you can see how long it is, and you confirm that you accept it. A lot of these "maybe this, maybe that" inquiries never materialise as definite jobs, and you shouldn't feel committed to them or guilty about not being able to do them. Do you imagine the client would pay you if the job fell through, just because you'd agreed to be available? Of course not.

Agencies understand that freelance translators' situations change from day to day, and from hour to hour. You just say "Sorry, but my situation has changed, I can't do your job". If they like your work, they'll come back again.

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Local time: 23:33
Arabic to English
+ ...
Commuication is the problem Aug 26, 2007


I think translators should simply get the maximum information about the work they are going to translate, like the size, the deadline and the price etc, but also try to have an idea about the field you will work in because it also important. Also, one should make his schedule pretty clear to outsourcers and should get himself some rest in order to recharge the batteries as well as to be able to perform a good translation.
I don't know how i say those things to you guys, i have never done this before but i am still a student and i am excited about getting into this really tough job!! take care all.

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Parrot  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:33
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
One way out Aug 26, 2007

Part of the discipline I impose upon myself is a guaranteed volume every day (read, 24 hours). My clients know that the countdown starts only when I've received the text.

This volume is an average, never a maximum. This gives me margin to maneuver so as not to turn off other comers.

I also stress a policy of FIFO (first-in-first-out). That way, no one can complain. Hope it helps.

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William [Bill] Gray  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:33
Member (2006)
+ ...
Relationship with client... Aug 26, 2007

I believe this is extremely important, and something I try to work on from the very start of any new project.

Then, if something unexpected turns up, I immediately talk with the PM. None of them has ever been unreasonable, and I have had [not that I like it, mind:-)] extensions granted, deadlines withdrawn while I catch up with a resubmitted text, etc. I even got a job once that I didn't expect, after telling the PM that their deadline was unreasonable if they wanted a good and careful translation. They asked me how many words I COULD manage in the time span, and then asked me after I had done half of the job by the deadline, if I could do the rest, with a new deadline!

I (try) to look after the people who give me work, with open and honest communication, and have always found them to be willing to find a good, win-win solution. Of course, I work long and hard to TRY to meet deadlines (I think/hope!), without actually destroying myself.

I hope this helps with the original comment.


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Anne Patteet  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:33
English to French
+ ...
For now, Aug 27, 2007

is there anybody you really know of (that you have a positive experience with), who could help you out doing part of the translation, and whose work you would only have to proofread (knowing that you won't have to do it all over again)?

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Jenny Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:33
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
It's been happening a lot lately Aug 27, 2007

I've had the same problem too often for comfort lately. Two clients in quick succession offer a "long" job which then takes much longer to arrive than promised (sometimes days). When neither job turns up one accepts a third and gets on with it. Then both the others arrive.
As others have suggested, when this happens the only thing one can do is explain truthfully to the clients (who didn't send the job when promised) and renegotiate the deadline. One is only one person and can't do two (or three!) jobs at once. It has to be "first come, first served". When I know someone suitable, I also suggest a fellow translator who might be able to help.
Annoying, isn't it?
Kind regards,

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PRAKAASH  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:03
Member (2007)
English to Hindi
+ ...
Yes, I have faced in many a times. Aug 27, 2007

I have faced such situation many a times, however, I have stopped accepting any such job that stretches my limits. As I have felt that rushing and working hard for clients can't be observed by the clients and they tend to react more demanding from then onwards. I'm simply denying such jobs after I feel that I can't finish the job within my normal time limits and capacity. I specify the same thing many a times to my old clients even.
It started happening when I returned from Nepal to Delhi, India and tried to interact with clients personally, which was not very fruitful. The clients are demanding and I felt that I will get on thru the momentum after meeting them, but all in vain. Despite it led to frustrations sometimes.
Now I am a happy translator as I do translations as part time jobs and am doing a full time job now. I am loving to interact with US people daily and will use the skills later on to market self services.
Warm Regards!
F.T. of Nepali, Hindi, Sanskrit languages to and from English languages.

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Nina Khmielnitzky  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:33
Member (2004)
English to French
I outsource Aug 27, 2007

When I happen to have unexpected and urgent requests from very good clients that I don't want to loose, I simply outsource to a translator I know very well. Of course, I review her work. This has the advantage of training someone to take over for me, should I want to take a vacation.
Since I work as an in-house translator and take assignments on week-ends, my clients are aware of my professional situation and tell me before Friday if I have something. I try to call the shots too. If a client has reserved my services for a long project, I inform my other regular clients that I will not be available for a certain period so that we can make arrangements to have any potential translation request executed for an ulterior date.
Sometimes, also, when I'm just too busy, I'm not afraid of saying "No", instead of being rushed and giving back a crappy job.

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Ken Fagan  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:33
French to English
demand to see the FINAL doc before committing yourself Aug 27, 2007

Hi Spring City,

I NEVER accept any job without actually seeing the FINAL doc(s). ALL of my clients understand that I cannot say 'yes' blindly.

Doing so affords me 100% protection against the situation you're in and allows me to see with my own eyes if I'm competent to take on the job (sometimes a client will send me a file and 10% of the file's contents is enough to disqualify me). PMs don't always look at the entire doc before contacting the translator...

It also allows me to decide for myself if I WANT to accept the job (i.e. maybe I am competent to do it, but the job is a huge pain -- for whatever reason(s)-- and it doesn't pay any more than the usual easy jobs).


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Catherine Bolton  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:33
Member (2002)
Italian to English
+ ...
Yep! Aug 27, 2007

Ken Fagan wrote:

Hi Spring City,

I NEVER accept any job without actually seeing the FINAL doc(s).

I always say "gotta see it first" because otherwise I have no way of knowing how much work is actually involved.
I also tell customers that I can handle the deadline ONLY IF they confirm the job by XXX (that day, the following morning, whatever) or the deadline has to change. It's surprising to find how many customers agree!

[Edited at 2007-08-27 19:02]

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Erika Pavelka  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:33
French to English
Ditto above Aug 27, 2007

I do exactly as the two previous posters. I never commit until the job is in my inbox, and I also let clients know that I can respect the deadline if I receive confirmation before X time on X day.

If you're already in the situation, you'll have to put in some extra work to meet the deadlines. Perhaps one deadline could be extended by a few hours. Give it a try!

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shfranke  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:33
English to Arabic
+ ...
Ditto to above three posts Aug 30, 2007

Ditto to the above three insightful and business-savvy posts.

One realistic motto for conducting and growing your practice as a professional, for-fee translator, especially when pressed by an impatient and demanding customer, is along the lines of:

"Good, cheap and quick: you can only get any two at one time, so make your choices, thank you."

One cannot well, or smartly, quote and schedule one's providing professional services for producing a translation if the source document is not first available for examination and assessment.

Without that initial evaluation and estimate, it is impossible to develop a realistic quote (and a schedule for delivery) for a translation. The "activity-based costing" method well applies. A comparison can be made with asking a professional engineer to look at a proposed blueprint of a design for a construction project and its timetable.

Also can be most helpful to ask the requester at the beginning of discussions to clarify the allocated budget (as converted to your national currency) for the project, the method and schedule for payment, and the actual deadline for delivery into the requester's hands.


Stephen H. Franke
(English < - > Arabic, Kurdish and Persian)
Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

[Edited at 2007-08-30 09:47]

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