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Advice needed! Dealing with the first large-scale project
Thread poster: Tanya Rozanes Olevsky

Tanya Rozanes Olevsky
Israel
Member (Mar 2018)
English to Russian
+ ...
Nov 15, 2017

Dear colleagues,
I am a freelance translator myself and sometimes I manage small and medium-sized projects. Unexpectedly, I have been contacted by a big company with a project that would definitely demand a team of at least 10 translators. The project is interesting, and I am willing to take the challenge, but I am looking for someone who has an experience like this and could provide me with some guidance on the matter.
I have questions pretty much about everything:
- time estimates and quoting
- software (MemoQ? / wordbee? / CafeTranEspresso ?/Office tools?)
- QC
and more...

Thanks!


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Kevin Fulton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:04
German to English
A few considerations Nov 15, 2017

You may need to settle on a style guide if necessary so that all the translators will follow the same format (heading numbers, capitalization in headings, subheadings, etc.). Make sure all translators use the spell checking feature of their CAT tool

Terminology coordination will be vital. You may need to set up a system to manage terminology queries. This will entail a means of collecting terminological questions, resolving them and disseminating the information so that all translators are using the same terminology for technical items, processes, if any. The amount of effort this will require is related to the subject matter.

QA: You'll need an editor to keep things consistent and to catch incorrect translations, typos that were missed during the spelling check, etc.. The editor might also manage the TM which should be regularly updated and distributed.

Selecting suitable translators could be an ongoing process. If you think you'll need 10 translators, be prepared to have 15 screened translators available, as people get sick, have babies, find better-paying jobs, or prove to be totally incompetent.

Good luck!


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:04
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Financial considerations Nov 16, 2017

In my opinion, you are missing a very important point: money and financial responsibility towards people you bring in on board.

If I understand right, you would be responsible of the delivery to the customer, right? I.e. you would be the one invoicing the project and paying the translators you hire, right?

If this is the case, one cannot emphasize enough the need to keep things under control, so that you do not end up owing a lot of people a hefty sum of money and remain unpaid (or paid very late) by your customer.

I know that the project sounds very nice, but be extra careful with your new customer. You need to ask yourself the question of why a big company wants to entrust a big project to someone they have never worked with. Can't their usual translators take care of the job? Why? Have they left unpaid sums to other translators and need to find someone else who is willing to cooperate with no financial reassurance?

Personally, I would ask the client what would they say if you asked them to pay part of the sum (1/4 of it) in advance, 1/4 upon delivery of the first 1/4 of the job, etc., leaving only 1/4 of the total sum for payment at the end. The client's answer to the question will reveal whether they are trustworthy or not. Since you know nothing of this customer, I would advise not to do any worh without some advance payment and partial payments as the job advances. This way, you will at most lose part of the money if something goes wrong.

And, of course, check the Blueboard here in proz.com, both for the company name and your contact's name.


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Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:04
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
All that glitters is not gold Nov 16, 2017

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT wrote:

In my opinion, you are missing a very important point: money and financial responsibility towards people you bring in on board.

If I understand right, you would be responsible of the delivery to the customer, right? I.e. you would be the one invoicing the project and paying the translators you hire, right?

If this is the case, one cannot emphasize enough the need to keep things under control, so that you do not end up owing a lot of people a hefty sum of money and remain unpaid (or paid very late) by your customer.

I know that the project sounds very nice, but be extra careful with your new customer. You need to ask yourself the question of why a big company wants to entrust a big project to someone they have never worked with. Can't their usual translators take care of the job? Why? Have they left unpaid sums to other translators and need to find someone else who is willing to cooperate with no financial reassurance?

Personally, I would ask the client what would they say if you asked them to pay part of the sum (1/4 of it) in advance, 1/4 upon delivery of the first 1/4 of the job, etc., leaving only 1/4 of the total sum for payment at the end. The client's answer to the question will reveal whether they are trustworthy or not. Since you know nothing of this customer, I would advise not to do any worh without some advance payment and partial payments as the job advances. This way, you will at most lose part of the money if something goes wrong.

And, of course, check the Blueboard here in proz.com, both for the company name and your contact's name.


All of these are important considerations.

Yet another thing to consider is that (from the sounds of it) you would be subcontracting people you have not worked with before and thus accepting on faith that all of these people can really do the job that is required.

It is not difficult to imagine a nightmare scenario in which a great deal of time is wasted in email exchanges among the group regarding terms, you need to spend an inordinate time correcting errors of faulty translations, the end client is unhappy about late delivery and/or defective work, you do not get paid on time, and then are faced with a pack of rabid translators sending you nasty emails and threatening to ruin your reputation and take you to court to recover the money you owe them.

Better think twice before you proceed....

[Edited at 2017-11-16 16:33 GMT]


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:04
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Alternative Nov 16, 2017

An alternative would be to politely point out the difficulties indicated by Robert, Kevin, and Tomás, and suggest that you could do the whole job yourself. This would of course require more time but the client would have the advantage of absolute consistency. And you could say it would cost them less because you wouldn't need to factor in your costs for coordinating and checking the work of so many others.

If you propose this to them in terms that look advantageous to them, they might go for it. Presumably they want a translation that's done well, more than a translation that's done quickly (and you should tell them it would actually be slower if you have to find and coordinate a whole bunch of other people).

[Edited at 2017-11-16 15:52 GMT]


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Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 11:04
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
That's hardly likely Nov 16, 2017

Tom in London wrote:

An alternative would be to politely point out the difficulties indicated by Robert, Kevin, and Tomás, and suggest that you could do the whole job yourself. This would of course require more time but the client would have the advantage of absolute consistency. And you could say it would cost them less because you wouldn't need to factor in your costs for coordinating and checking the work of so many others.

If you propose this to them in terms that look advantageous to them, they might go for it. Presumably they want a translation that's done well, more than a translation that's done quickly (and you should tell them it would actually be slower if you have to find and coordinate a whole bunch of other people).

[Edited at 2017-11-16 15:52 GMT]


They may need the project translated into ten different languages.

Or maybe it's only into one language, but for an event which can't be rescheduled. You reckon you could persuade FIFA to put the World Cup off till 2019 so that Tanya has time to translate the whole website?

Normally if someone is prepared to pay a project manager and get ten translators on board, it's not possible to scale back to only one translator.


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Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 11:04
German to English
Hiring an experienced freelance project manager ... Nov 17, 2017

... seems like the most obvious solution to me. Even if we could provide you with lots of knowledge about how to organize a project like this, you still wouldn't have the experience to keep things running smoothly and deal with unforeseen problems or the existing infrastructure (processes and contacts) to have a fighting chance of making it work. That will mean you have to bid higher than you might like, but the absolute worst possible outcome would be going into this project with a tight budget and a client focused on spending as little as possible. If things go wrong, you could end up in a giant hole.

The only two solutions I see are to give them a graceful "sorry, but call me again in two years" and gradually build up the skills and resources you need before taking a shot at this kind of project or hiring someone to take care of the PM duties for you and watching his or her every step to learn as much as you can for your own future work. It is a bad idea to skip all the intermediate steps and jump directly from occasionally managing smaller projects to something like this.


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:04
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
One cannot help wondering... Nov 17, 2017

...is this one of the forums in which advice is sought, advice is given, advice is not agreeable, and the OP silently makes him/herself big financial trouble?

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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:04
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Indeed. Nov 17, 2017

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT wrote:

...is this one of the forums in which advice is sought, advice is given, advice is not agreeable, and the OP silently makes him/herself big financial trouble?


Indeed.

I am puzzled as to why the client didn't just go to an agency. Agencies exist to do exactly the work than individual translators would never be able to do. Thanks to Michael for describing it - and for reminding us how vital agencies are.

[Edited at 2017-11-17 09:14 GMT]


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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 11:04
English to Croatian
+ ...
Do you represent an agency? Nov 17, 2017

OP, all the things you mentioned should be arranged by the agency's PM. Unless you are supposed to organize and manage the team, then you should know how to handle QA, etc.

Your question is not quite clear to me. Time estimates and quoting, so the project has not been assigned yet, you are in the process of quoting?


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Tanya Rozanes Olevsky
Israel
Member (Mar 2018)
English to Russian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks! Nov 19, 2017

Dear colleagues,
First of all, thank you ALL for your input, it's been extremely valuable for me at this point.
I will clarify a few points:
- The company contacted me, as their set of requirements in terms of language combination and knowledge is quite peculiar, but it fits my profile
- There is absolutely no chance for one translator to translate the whole project, even in a year. It is a massive amount of text which only can be handled by a team.
- I totally realize the responsibility, therefore I am checking out different strategies and approaches before making any decision at all.

Anyway, your support has been very much appreciated.
Have a nice translation week.
Regards,
Tanya


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Tanya Rozanes Olevsky
Israel
Member (Mar 2018)
English to Russian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
reply Nov 19, 2017

Lingua 5B wrote:

OP, all the things you mentioned should be arranged by the agency's PM. Unless you are supposed to organize and manage the team, then you should know how to handle QA, etc.

Your question is not quite clear to me. Time estimates and quoting, so the project has not been assigned yet, you are in the process of quoting?

Dear Lingua 5B
I am in the process of quoting right now. I do not represent an agency, but it looks like I will have to hire one to get this done. The reason I was contacted is the fact that someone referred the company representatives to me as to a person who has the set of skills matching the project requirements.


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Tanya Rozanes Olevsky
Israel
Member (Mar 2018)
English to Russian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
hope not :) Nov 19, 2017

Tom in London wrote:

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT wrote:

...is this one of the forums in which advice is sought, advice is given, advice is not agreeable, and the OP silently makes him/herself big financial trouble?


Indeed.

I am puzzled as to why the client didn't just go to an agency. Agencies exist to do exactly the work than individual translators would never be able to do. Thanks to Michael for describing it - and for reminding us how vital agencies are.

[Edited at 2017-11-17 09:14 GMT]


The OP was overwhelmed with work and left the forum abandoned for a while. Sorry about that. Thank you for all your posts and input. I am in the process of solving this interesting puzzle and hoping to be able to make the right decisions.


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Catherine Howard
United States
Local time: 05:04
Portuguese to English
+ ...
is it ethical to accept this project? Nov 21, 2017

Hi Tanya--I hope you are taking the comments to heart. I'm sure it's very flattering to have a company contact you about this project and say you are the "perfect" person in terms of language and specialization. But this doesn't mean it's your responsibility to take on this project, as if you were the only one who could save the day.

The fact that you yourself said you have questions on "pretty much about everything," including ABCs like "time estimates and quoting, software... QC, and more...," strongly suggests that you really don't have the experience required to take on such a big project yet. Seriously, you have no idea how easily things can go wrong in big translation projects, especially since you don't appear to realize the likely risks. And yes, the risks are enormous; your colleagues above have tried to be very polite but perhaps too subtle in letting you know what those risks are.

Here's what I would suggest you ask yourself with as much honesty as you can muster: Is it even ethical for you to agree to take on a project beyond your experience and knowledge? A company and ten or more other translators will be depending on you--what will you do if you get it wrong? The complexity of a team project increases exponentially with each additional person or language, i.e., a project with ten people is at least thirty times more complex than projects with just one or two other people.

Managing a big translation project involves a very different set of skills than translating. That's what project management is about. In fact, a friend of mine argues that translation agencies are really just project management companies that happen to work with projects involving foreign languages. Have you ever taken courses in project management? Do you know how to use project management software? While every project may involve a bit of on-the-job training, some are just out of one's league. From your questions, it sounds like this one is.

Remember, we translators keep on saying we want to be viewed and treated as "professionals," right? But consider other professionals: would you want an inexperienced lawyer, physician, accountant, or nurse to take on a type of work they'd never done before without supervision? Would you consider it ethical if they did?

The ethics statements of most translator associations say that members should not agree to take on work that is beyond their knowledge, experience, or training. Unfortunately, too few heed these ethics. One reason the reputation of translators as a whole is deteriorating is because too many of them take on work for which they are not prepared.

I really don't mean to criticize you; I'm just being honest in the hopes of making you wake up to the reality of what you're doing. I hope this helps.


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:04
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Learning by doing Nov 21, 2017

Catherine Howard wrote:
The fact that you yourself said you have questions on "pretty much about everything," including ABCs like "time estimates and quoting, software... QC, and more...," strongly suggests that you really don't have the experience required to take on such a big project yet.

Obviously it is best to have taken courses or at least having had some content about project management at the university, but I firmly believe in learning by doing and feel that the OP is entitled to having a go at managing the project, as long as the customer is duly informed that this is not really "the OP's kind of fish" and that the OP is doing it out of a wish to help the customer have the job done. By managing this project, the OP will certainly learn a lot about project management, and might even decide to get proper training on the matter when she sees her own areas of improvement.


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