Accepting and rejecting jobs
Thread poster: Elisa Fernández Vic

Elisa Fernández Vic  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 14:05
Member (2015)
English to Spanish
+ ...
May 8, 2015

Hello all!
As a relatively new freelancer, I have found one of my biggest challenges is to know when to accept / reject a specific job, be it for time management reasons or, more often, for the project's characteristics ("Can I do a good job with this?"). It is obvious one shouldn't accept jobs she doesn't feel qualified for, but sometimes stepping a bit out of the confort zone (with the help of a trusted revisor) might be a valuable learning tool. And of course there is the question of profit: economically speaking, some jobs are just not worth the time.
All in all, this is something I'm still fine-tuning and I prefer to err on the safe side, but I'm curious: how do you decide whether to accept or reject a new project?


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dianaft  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:05
Member (2013)
German to English
+ ...
Comfort is key May 8, 2015

Elisa Fernández Vic wrote:
It is obvious one shouldn't accept jobs she doesn't feel qualified for, but sometimes stepping a bit out of the confort zone (with the help of a trusted revisor) might be a valuable learning tool.


That will happen anyway - no need to push the boundaries artificially and fighting with material that's just that little bit too tough. Most texts present unexpected challenges of some sort. An awkward phrase, specialised terminology where we least expect it, that one sentence that just doesn't fit...
With time, your comfort zone will expand.


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GudrunPancake
United Kingdom
English to Finnish
Depends on my mood May 8, 2015

If I am busy or am ready for a break from work, I am very picky about what I agree to do. If I really am not in the mood to work, for instance if I had a weekend of fun and relaxation planned, I will ask for a surcharge. If the client accepts, at least I am earning extra even though I had to change plans.

When I started out 8 years ago, I timed out each hour of my working day. I scheduled how many words I could complete each hour, with a time buffer before the deadline. After a while, you just get a sense of what you can and can't do.

Going into more challenging territory is fine as long as you have someone to check your work. Even if you make next to no profit on a couple of smaller jobs (1000 words) due to paying an excellent proofreader, this can be a valuable learning experience!

I always say yes to my top-paying clients unless I am fully booked. It's also important to try and recognise which jobs will take longer, e.g. awkward file formats, obscure topics and flowery marketing texts are a real drain on your time. And as we all know, time is money!

Good luck with your future career.


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LegalTransform  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 08:05
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
This is a problem that all beginning translators face. May 8, 2015

And just imagine what it was like 20 years ago when there was no internet. Back then, documents had to be faxed (with very slow fax machines by today's standards) or mailed and it was not cost effective for them to fax or mail the whole document, and you had to make a judgment call based on a small sample of two or three pages. If you got stuck, there was also no internet to turn to in order to do research. If your paper dictionaries failed you, there were not a lot of options. And if you got the package in the mail and realized that you were in over your head, a lot of time had been lost and the PMs (and clients) were not very happy. After many a sleepless night and lots of hair pulling, faced with a pile of incomprehensible text and technical language, with no way to find assistance, you got really good at turning down projects.

I can tell you that it does get much easier to judge when a project is not right for you. It's also easier when you're not struggling as much to find work because then it's always best to err on the side of caution - if you have any doubts, you don't accept the job.

New translators have it even more difficult today because you no longer have hours and hours to decide whether or not to accept a project because deadlines are getting shorter and shorter - sometimes you only have a few minutes.

The general rule I use is to never be in a rush (no matter how much of a rush the client may be in). Losing out on a project is preferable to finding yourself having to admit that you can't complete it. This is especially difficult to do, even for me today, when I've been idle for a long period of time and start to panic.

There are several factors that go into the decision making progress. None of them is definitive in and of itself. I will generally look at the source document and if I can't understand most of what I'm reading without any assistance, then this may be a reason to turn the job down. I will do a quick internet search for some of the terminology in the document - are translations of these terms readily accessible or are they obscure? I also want to see the entire document first. Some documents (such as calls for tender, for example) may be easy to translate at the beginning (general terms and conditions), but latter parts of the document are more technical (specifications). You don't want any surprises. It's also always a good idea to skim through the entire document because sometimes there is a glossary, index, bibliography, etc. that will give you clues to the terminology and make you feel more comfortable about accepting it.

Another clue is to consider who the document is written for. With medical documents, for example, is the document written for the patient to read (consent form) or is it meant for doctors (pages from a medical textbook)? For legal documents, is it a general lease agreement that, although containing specific legal terminology, is meant for a non-lawyer to read and sign, or is the document pages from a professional legal journal? Is this a magazine article about astronomy for the general public or a scientific paper written by an astrophysicist? If it takes a subject expert to write and understand the document in the source language, then chances are you would want to reject it unless you are an expert in that particular field.

That having been said, some of the most enjoyable projects I've worked on have been the ones that deal with unexpected subjects. I would say that the less familiar you are with the subject, the more time you should give yourself to complete the project. With the introduction of on-line glossaries, KudoZ, and other sources of information, terminology is not so much of an issue as knowing enough about the particular field to know whether that widget goes "into"/"onto"/"over" that "intersecting"/"connecting"/"adjoining" "piece"/"unit"/ "assembly"/"housing" or whether someone "filed"/"submitted"/"sent in" a "motion"/"answer"/"pleading"/"letter rogatory", or do you "insert", "screw in", "twist in" or "snap in" that component, etc.

Lastly, in rare cases, the problem is not you, but lies rather with the author of the source document who is just really bad at writing and explaining things.

Hope this helps and again, it will get so much easier with time.



[Edited at 2015-05-08 15:19 GMT]


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Elisa Fernández Vic  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 14:05
Member (2015)
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Great advice May 8, 2015

This is really a wonderful community
Gudrun, I do agree about accepting small out-of-your-comfort-zone jobs with an excellent proofreader to test yourself. I actually did that just recently, and it was very rewarding... but also time consuming, specially for no profit.
Jeff, your response is extremely useful, so thank you! I guess the business has changed a lot over the last few years. The 'never be in a rush' advice is a good one - I struggle most often when clients call me and they expect a yes or no and a quote in a matter of seconds. 'Send me the document and I'll tell you what I can do' is going to be my new mantra
Another frustrating thing is that people keep ordering inverse translations (that is, Spanish to English for me) and I still don't feel comfortable doing them. I think the reason is that most of my marketing materials are in Spanish, so I really should start translating them into English. Which of course will mean doing the inverse translation I'm trying to avoid. Oh well.

[Edited at 2015-05-08 15:30 GMT]


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:05
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Another problem to consider May 8, 2015

Elisa Fernández Vic wrote:
how do you decide whether to accept or reject a new project?

This has been discussed above, but there's also the problem of whether to accept or reject a new client, and that's a crucial one too. If you go a little too far outside your comfort zone with a regular client, you may ending up with a rather low rate per hour for the job; if you agree to work in your specialist area for a very bad client, you could be left with a translation that has brought you nothing but stress and heartache.

The time you give to checking out a new client simply cannot be compressed to a snap "Yes/No" decision. Many outsourcers seem to think we can accept the job, receive the text, start translating, and deliver 500 words an hour after seeing the job post. This is quite ridiculous for a new client. We MUST take the time to check them out. Does the company actually exist, or are they stealing the identity of another freelancer/company? Where are they based? What's the registered address for the invoice? What's their reputation on the BB and elsewhere on the web (if any)? Have they explicitly accepted our terms? Or are they expecting us to abide by theirs - and if so, what are they? How are they planning to pay? Once you've started the job, it's too late to back out "just" because they'll only pay a USD 100 cheque into your EUR bank account!

This need for due diligence means that, for me personally, many of the public posts on the board here are ruled out by their deadline, no matter what the other conditions. I can often respond to a regular client in seconds and start work immediately if really necessary, but I would never skip this investigation stage for a new client. And I'm afraid some of the most well-known names can be the worst so every client really needs to be looked at closely.


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LegalTransform  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 08:05
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Accepting and rejecting jobs May 8, 2015

Sheila Wilson wrote:




[Edited at 2015-05-08 16:47 GMT]


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Merab Dekano  Identity Verified
Spain
Member (2014)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Little I can add May 8, 2015

But consider this:

There are basically two kind of agencies: (i) those who will offer you just any subject matter-related material and (ii) those who work with specific field/kind of customers (oil industry, automotive, contracts, press releases, corporate material, financial statements, marketing material, you name it).

This is not done overnight, but you might find it interesting and beneficial in the long run to stick to the "(ii) kind of agencies". Once you've done so, the issue you are raising here will not be an issue at all.

If on average the "(ii) kind of agencies" fill up 70% of your capacity, you will feel much more comfortable to turn down jobs from the "(i) kind of agencies" when you do not feel at ease with the text.

And yes, keep avoiding "inverse" translation. Unfortunately, we cannot impress anyone with our translations into our source languages. It can be done, but it is not worth the hassle. You also risk to lose the customer. And it is not fair.


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Merab Dekano  Identity Verified
Spain
Member (2014)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Give alternatives May 8, 2015

Sheila Wilson wrote:


This need for due diligence means that, for me personally, many of the public posts on the board here are ruled out by their deadline, no matter what the other conditions.


I NEVER accept rush jobs from a new client (I did it once and failed, due to Trados problems, formatting and probably anxiety). And for me never is never.

However, when I receive a "3000k words in four hours, please, please" request, I do not just delete it. Rather:

- I quickly check the company, and if ok
- Send them MY deadline and MY conditions (rate, payment, etc.)

They almost never agree on my deadline for that specific rush project, but some come back later and even become a steady customer.

Lesson learnt: never say just no. Always give alternatives (that you feel comfortable with). For me it has paid off.


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Christel Zipfel  Identity Verified
Member (2004)
Italian to German
+ ...
Oh well... May 8, 2015

GudrunPancake wrote:

If I am busy or am ready for a break from work, I am very picky about what I agree to do. If I really am not in the mood to work, for instance if I had a weekend of fun and relaxation planned, I will ask for a surcharge. If the client accepts, at least I am earning extra even though I had to change plans.



I never happened to see a plumber, an electrician, a doctor or whoever not asking for a surcharge when called in unsocial hours as "anyway he/she hadn't anything else/better to do". If we consider ourselves professionals, we should stick to professional rules and that means also that we have normal business hours like everyone else and everything outside is charged extra.


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Kirsten Bodart  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:05
Dutch to English
+ ...
Sometimes a little out of your comfort zone May 9, 2015

is a good idea, but you need the time to do it. I'm guessing most well established translators lack that time, because they have other work to attend to, so they reject jobs as they prefer not to mess things up. Like me.

Whenever I get unsociable/unreasonable demands, even from long-term clients, I reject them, because I prefer to keep my client rather than messing things up big time and never hearing from them again. I think they appreciate that.

As to business hours, that only works when you only deal with clients roughly in your own time zone. For people out of my time zone, my cut-off time is 9 pm, and they seem to respect this now. If it's really urgent nad they haven't heard anything, they'll pass the case on to someone over the Atlantic who asks me in the morning. Though occasionally I'll do them a favour and reply if it's really quick. Certainly if it's a rejection. After all, they can't help wanting me and being in a different time zone. It doesn't mean I'm working as such, it's only customer service. As long as it's not really in the middle of the night, it's not a problem.


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Kevin Fulton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 08:05
German to English
Pushed out of your comfort zone May 9, 2015

Not all PMs are language/subject specialists. If you're lucky, the PM will have some familiarity with the language or topic of the document. In many, if not most cases, the PM relies on information the end customer provides. I recall getting a series of projects from an agency that purportedly had to with general business topics such as budgeting, reporting, data collection, etc. However, in each of these documents there was a section that had to do with specific manufacturing processes, sometimes used for illustrative purposes, but in most cases, I think the end customer included them for his own convenience without bothering to tell the agency that the end of the document had little to do with the first 20 pages.

The first few times, the PM said "It's only a couple of pages, do what you can". As a consequence of these "exercises" I became more comfortable with a variety of subjects, started reading technical journals and became proficient at translating production-related material.

My point is that learning and gaining experience is an evolutionary process. On the other hand, don't go looking for trouble.


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