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Are most translations urgent?
Thread poster: Hazel Lumb

Hazel Lumb  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:12
French to English
Sep 15, 2015

Hello,

I recently got into translation as part of a few freelance activities which I was already doing. I'm considering investing in translation as my main activity going forward e.g. by buying Trados and possibly doing a distance master's course to supplement my current qualifications. However, I feel a little put off by the industry. As well as hearing about non-payment and low rates, I'm getting the impression that a lot of work is very rushed. I'm really not into rushing. I'd much rather take my time and ensure I do a good job.

I don't have much money and I'm unsure about spending the last of my savings on translation-related things unless I'm sure it's what I want to do. I'd like to know whether people find that most translation work needs to be completed on a tight deadline.

Thanks in advance.


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Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 14:12
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
yup! Sep 15, 2015

Clients will spend ages getting their source text just right, running it by the legal advisor to make sure nobody can sue them, getting the engineers to check the technical details, having the secretary iron out spelling mistakes, then waiting for a month until the big boss finally deigns to sign off or rip it up and tell them all to start again.
So by the time they actually send it to you they're running two months late. Their preferred deadline is "yesterday".
I tell clients that if all they can say is "it's urgent" it goes to the bottom of the pile, because everything is urgent.
If they can give me a deadline, I can fit it in or pass it up.

But then again, I don't know anyone in any industry who ever gets laid-back clients for whom a vague "when I get round to it" will do.
No I tell a lie. My friend working in the archives of a big hospital doesn't suffer from emergency stress, but then he's bored out of his mind.


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Angela Rimmer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:12
Member (2014)
German to English
+ ...
Most urgent jobs are not that urgent Sep 15, 2015

Ultimately if you are a freelancer you decided whether or not to take on any job. If a deadline is too tight for you, decline the job or try to renegotiate a better deadline. Most urgent jobs are not so urgent after all, especially if you inform the client of an urgency fee.

On a side note, I would not suggest investing all of your savings regardless. Make sure you have savings left over to use as a buffer for when work is slow and you are still building up your client base. Having Trados and an additional qualification is no use if you have no work coming in and no savings buffer to support you in the meantime. Just my two cents.

Good luck whatever your decision may be!


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:12
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Experience Sep 15, 2015

All experienced translators know how many words they can translate in a normal working day of 7 or 8 hours. To accept an urgent job they may be happy to work for more hours, or at weekends. But if there just isn't enough time, a responsible translator would either politely refuse the job, or ask for more time.

As for Trados, or other CAT tools, I've never used it and having considered doing so, have concluded that it would not be of any use to me for the types of document I translate.

[Edited at 2015-09-15 14:08 GMT]


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Kevin Fulton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 08:12
German to English
Rush jobs often the result of ignorance ... Sep 15, 2015

... of the translation process.
There are a number of factors influencing the urgency of translation work. One is the assumption that translation is merely a process of typing the text into another language, and can be accomplished at a speed of, say, 140 words/minute. I can't begin to count the times a potential customer has requested that a text be "converted" into another language. One inquirer was astounded when I told him that a 25,000 word technical document would take about 2 weeks. "But I need it the day after tomorrow!"

Another related reason is delay on the part of the customer. I've received requests to translate faxes that were dated about a month before the customer contacted me, meaning that he sat on the document for several weeks before realizing that he couldn't make any sense of the document using Google translate.

Another reason having to do with agency customers is that translation agencies frequently outsource translations to other agencies, especially if they can't find a translator themselves. This likewise results in tight deadlines.

I'm not going to give you any advice regarding the wisdom of getting into the words for money business. However, I would advise you NEVER to take a rush job from a new customer. This forum is full of people complaining that they only get rush jobs from a customer, after having initially accepted an urgent request.


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David Hayes  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 14:12
Member (2009)
French to English
Depends Sep 15, 2015

Hello Hazel,

If it's any help, I have found that the urgency of a job depends on who is asking. Busy PMs from huge agencies seem to care only about how fast you could do a job. Since they have hundreds of translators in their databases, it is hard to negotiate with them. Smaller agencies and direct clients (who prefer to work with the same translator) seem less bothered about speed and more interested in quality. It helps to have a range of clients to increase your chances of being able to choose between offers. Like you, I am averse to working under great time pressure and try to avoid that if at all possible. But it is, admittedly, not always possible to be choosy when you breaking into the market.
I agree that the 'urgency' of most jobs labelled as such is simply because the client has not factored in translation time into their own deadlines.


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:12
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Time Sep 15, 2015

The time required by the translator increases if the source document is in a format that's difficult to work with, e.g. PDF.

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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 14:12
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Leisurely translation is for academics and poets Sep 15, 2015

Hazel Lumb wrote:
I'm considering investing in translation as my main activity going forward e.g. by buying Trados and possibly doing a distance master's course to supplement my current qualifications.


Neither of those things are necessary for you to break into commercial translation.

However, I feel a little put off by the industry. As well as hearing about non-payment and low rates, I'm getting the impression that a lot of work is very rushed. I'm really not into rushing. I'd much rather take my time and ensure I do a good job.


A beginner will take longer to translate. That's because a beginner must still train his translation brain. The more you translate, the faster you'll become (up to a point).

However, yes, in the commercial translation business, speed is very important. If you're an academic translator or a poetry translator, then you can afford to spend a lot of time analysing the text and rethinking and rethinking your translation, and apply all those fancy translation theories to the text at your leisure... but if you want to be a commercial translator, then you'll have to learn how to translate efficiently.

Don't worry about the low rates. Low rates are for people who believe that they can translate fast enough to make those low rates work for them. Decide on a medium high rate, and try not to go under it. It'll take somewhat longer to find clients if your rate isn't rock-bottom, but that applies to all industries.

I don't have much money and I'm unsure about spending the last of my savings on translation-related things...


Well, you don't need a translation qualification, and you don't need Trados. If you want to use a CAT tool, there are free ones out there (e.g. OmegaT). Not having Trados will exclude you from working for clients who require Trados, but not all of them do, so keep searching for clients.

I'd like to know whether people find that most translation work needs to be completed on a tight deadline.


Not "tight" deadlines, but "fixed" deadlines. Some of them have tight deadlines, but those jobs are for people who can handle it. I have some clients who hope that I will deliver translations on the same day, or on the next day, but I also have many clients who are willing to listen to me when I say that I can only deliver it next week.

Start off by telling clients that your speed is 1000 words per day.


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Jenny Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:12
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Jobs are usually described as "urgent" ... Sep 15, 2015

but whether they really are, who knows? Sometimes, a PM will extend the deadline of a job initially defined as "urgent" to get the translator to agree to take it.
In my experience, jobs with no deadline are non-existant.
Either get used to working at speed or don't become a translator.
I wish you the best, anyway.


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LegalTransform  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 08:12
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Downward spiral Sep 15, 2015

Almost all translations today are now "urgent" because customer expectations are wildly out of control due to competition:

in 1995:

Client: I have a 20,000-word project that I need translated.
Agency A: We can return it in two weeks.
Client: I was hoping to get it back in two days.
Agency A: I'm sorry. We can't do that.
Client: Ok. I'll try somewhere else.

Client: I have a 20,000-word project that I need translated.
Agency B: We can return it in two weeks.
Client: I was hoping to get it back in two days.
Agency B: I'm sorry. We can't do that.
Client: Ok. I'll try somewhere else.

Client: I have a 20,000-word project that I need translated.
Agency C: We can return it in two weeks.
Client: I was hoping to get it back in two days.
Agency C: We could do that, but it will cost extra and we will have to use several translators, jeopardizing the quality of the document. If you wait, the results will be better.
Client: Ok. I guess I'll have to wait.

2015:
Client: I have a 20,000-word project that I need translated in two days.
Agency D: {If we don't take this job, some other company will} Ok. Not a problem.
{Scrambles to find translators and splits the job into several pieces}
Client: Great. No need to plan ahead next time. Maybe I'm paying too much because translation must be easy if it's so fast. {receives translation}: The quality is poor and the terminology is inconsistent, but I guess that's just what a translated document sounds like...

[Edited at 2015-09-15 15:00 GMT]


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564354352  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 14:12
Danish to English
+ ...
Everything is relative Sep 15, 2015

I agree with everything that others have said here already, and would just like to add that 'urgent' means different things to different clients.

This summer, a client contacted me about her 'urgent' need for the translation of a number of articles for a book she was publishing. "It will be published in November, so I would need the texts back early October". Having done similar jobs for her before, I felt confident enough to say that this did not appear to be a problem. Then I didn't hear from her for several weeks, which was no surprise to me, because that's how she works. When eventually she came back, she forwarded less than half the expected no. of texts to me, asking for a quote and stating that she needed them back 'urgently', and the rest would follow later. I waited a day before I sent her my quote, and mentioned a very favourable date by which I could deliver the translations, provided she accepted the quote by EOB that same day. Then I heard nothing from her for another week, and as I know she is tight-fisted, I presumed she was searching for alternative offers. She may have been: In the end, she came back and declined the offer, stating that the deadline was too tight.

Now, this may have been bad communication on my part, but it is just one example of what 'urgent' can mean and how you should be careful as to how you deal with clients' requests for 'urgent' turnarounds.

As for investments when/if you start up as a translator, you don't actually need an awful lot. It is probably one of the cheapest kinds of business to launch into. A good computer, a fast and reliable Internet connection, access to relevant dictionaries (I would recommend online or otherwise electronic dictionaries, as the use of physical dictionaries seriously slows down your work), Microsoft Office (or something similar, I presume). That's it.

As you start earning money, you may want to invest in a CAT tool, which some find useful and others don't. A lot of agencies and some large companies with in-house translators will insist that you work with a CAT tool, but many others are completely indifferent and won't even know what CAT is. You may also find that you will benefit from other software, such as Adobe Acrobat for conversion of PDF files, for instance, or InDesign, especially among those who produce more fancy presentations of their texts. But don't invest until you actually come across a specific need.

One thing that you might find helpful is to set up a simple website to use as an online business card to introduce yourself to potential clients. You can do this for free, or very cheaply, much cheaper than investing in printed presentation material.


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Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.)  Identity Verified
Thailand
Local time: 19:12
Member (2004)
English to Thai
+ ...
Urgent fee Sep 15, 2015

Hazel Lumb wrote:

I don't have much money and I'm unsure about spending the last of my savings on translation-related things unless I'm sure it's what I want to do. I'd like to know whether people find that most translation work needs to be completed on a tight deadline.



It is customary for agencies to set urgent job deadline.
I offered them with extra urgent charge to satisfy such deadline. And most agencies erased the word "urgent" out of the proposal to hire a translator.

Soonthon L.


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John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 08:12
Member (2008)
French to English
YOU are in the driver's seat Sep 15, 2015

Hazel Lumb wrote:

... non-payment ...


Before doing business with a new client, check the BlueBoard, paymentpractices.net and/or the Hall of Fame and Shame at Translator's Café, to check other translators' payment experiences. Do this diligently and you will avoid most non-payment issues.

... low rates ...


Set your own rates. Use the "Rates" area of this website as a starting guide. Don't accept low rates or you will get stuck with the wrong kind of client.

... rushing ...


Know your capacity and don't overcommit. Clients will respect you for knowing what you can and can't commit to and always keeping your commitment.

Let potential clients know you exist. Have a complete profile. Check out the BlueBoard for reliable potential clients, then visit their websites to find out how to register with them.

Follow these general guides and do a perfect job every time and you will soon enough collect a clientele who pays decently and keeps you busy.

[Edited at 2015-09-15 15:34 GMT]


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:12
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Some demands should simply be rejected Sep 15, 2015

Kevin Fulton wrote:
Another reason having to do with agency customers is that translation agencies frequently outsource translations to other agencies, especially if they can't find a translator themselves.

Who outsource to a smaller agency; who outsource to a translator; who is expected to churn out well over 3,000 wpd in the short amount of time remaining for a ridiculously low per-word rate; who maybe, just maybe, uses Google Translate and "tweaks" the output, just trying to make ends meet. So the translation goes back up the line to the original agency or, heaven forbid, to the client. It's then rejected on the grounds of quality (we all know what GT puts out!). So it has to be re-translated, maybe for a more sensible amount, but this time it really IS urgent.
I would advise you NEVER to take a rush job from a new customer.

You will feel pressured to say "yes" and to start typing straight away. You may be tempted to dispense entirely with due diligence - not simply failing to check out the company's reputation, but maybe not even finding out whether the company actually exists, or maybe delivering work to a client who has only provided you with an email address so you can never chase them for payment. These are all traps that translators here have fallen into when they panic to meet stupid deadlines for new clients. Of course, if you have a regular client who has always paid promptly, and who now needs a job done urgently, then you can pull out all the stops to help him/her out.

When all's said and done, this piece of advice from Kevin is probably one of the best you can give a new translator.

Edited to add: BTW, scare stories apart, there are loads of clients out there (agencies and direct clients) who will ask for your rate and your availability. They might have a real deadline, but normally they'll simply ask when you can get it back to them. If they need it sooner then you have room to negotiate. My own clients are happy to accept that if they want their job to jump the queue, or if they want me to work through meal times, into the evening or during the weekend, then they'll have to pay a surcharge.

[Edited at 2015-09-15 15:32 GMT]


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jyuan_us  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 08:12
Member (2005)
English to Chinese
+ ...
I have been accustomed to rush jobs Sep 15, 2015

And I feel weird when a job that is not very urgent comes in. No rush jobs that can wait for many days can easily be forgot about, and you my feel hard to concentrate on them.



[Edited at 2015-09-15 18:04 GMT]

[Edited at 2015-09-15 18:09 GMT]


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