Would you consider these reasonable deadlines for Japanese to English translation?
Thread poster: sencho1999

sencho1999
United Kingdom
Local time: 21:56
Japanese to English
Apr 27

Dear all,

I am hoping for some feedback on a recent translation issue. I had agreed to do some translation for a company. The agreement seemed to evolve into something I wasn't comfortable with and I can't decide if I was expecting too much or if they were.

The agreement was that I would be available one hour in the mornings online during which time they would email me a translation and we would discuss appropriate deadline for the said translation. This very quickly evolved into being expected to be available all day every day and if a translation came through they often wanted it back within a few hours. The quantity could be anything from half a page of Japanese characters to four pages. I felt from the outset that their deadlines would compromise quality. There was no time to double check terms, proof read properly or research fully. Eventually after one particularly awful project when the kanji in the source text was completely illegible (I think the original document had been scanned and photocopied a thousand times type document) and I knew I would not meet the deadline without the translation being of poor quality, I initiated a chat with the client regarding expectations.

Long story short - I declined any more work from them and they then refused to pay in full for the translations I had already submitted claiming that the work should not have taken me as long as it did (it was an hourly rate agreement).

I'm new to this and I'm not really sure how to ensure this kind of thing doesn't happen in the future. They also tried to tell me that the industry standard for Japanese to English translation was 5p per character in a bid to not pay me the agreed hourly rate i.e. they claimed that if they had paid per Japanese character at the 'industry standard of 5p per character' (their words not mine!) that they would be paying me much less.

This has really knocked my confidence. For Japanese to English translation in my fields of expertise I currently average around 400 characters per hour but of course this all goes out of the window if one particularly difficult hard to research phrase comes up. Sometimes I do a lot more than that, sometimes less. What would you consider to be reasonable deadlines? Every single piece I did for this client was to have the translation returned to them within 3-4 hours of receipt. Is this normal?


 

Lincoln Hui  Identity Verified
Hong Kong
Local time: 04:56
Member
Chinese to English
+ ...
Several things in one post Apr 27

First, they owe you what they agreed to for what you've already done. There need not be any further discussion on this issue.

I don't know what kind of agreement you had with them and what sort of work you do with them, so it's virtually impossible to make any sort of informed comment about your situation specifically. But if someone wants a commitment for me to be available every day at specific hours, they are looking at substantial retainer fees and hourly rates for specific times are much higher than hourly rates for just time spent.

As for deadlines, I occasionally take short-notice jobs for familiar clients, but they are small and usually not very demanding. If a deadline doesn't work, it's not going to happen. You said that the agreement involves agreeing on a deadline for the translation received, and so it falls upon you to give them a deadline that works for you.


 

Victoria Britten  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 22:56
Member (2012)
French to English
+ ...
As Lincoln says Apr 28

Those are all good points. As to making sure it doesn't happen again: 1) get everything in writing - rate and conditions and then 2) hold to what is written. If a client asks you to do something "exceptionally" not according to those conditions you can accept once out of goodwill (for example: you feel the relationship is good; you've already done more than one job for them and been paid appropriately and on time; the job is either so small it isn't really a bother or so big it will pay for your next holiday; importantly, if no red lights go on), pointing out in writing that it is an exception. If they ask a second time and you decide in fact you're comfortable with it (for whatever reason, including simple fear of losing a client), do still lay out in writing what you see as the new terms and get them to agree in writing; if you aren't, ask in writing if they want to renegotiate the initial terms. If they refuse that request, don't do the work under different terms and conditions than those both parties have signed up to, or it will be the thin end of the wedge. At the very least get written acknowledgement of the terms of the job and its "exceptional" nature, but ask yourself what the reason for their refusal is.

Basically, this client has knocked your confidence by betraying your trust and you need in future to protect yourself against that happening.

Also, I'm no specialist but don't let yourself be intimidated by a client refusing to pay. As Lincoln says, you've done the work as agreed: they owe you the money. Let them know that you know that. Again, put things in writing and don't let them go. Presumably your professional relationship is dead anyway, so you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Good luck!


 

Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 21:56
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
No, it's not normal Apr 28

sencho1999 wrote:
For Japanese to English translation in my fields of expertise I currently average around 400 characters per hour but of course this all goes out of the window if one particularly difficult hard to research phrase comes up. Sometimes I do a lot more than that, sometimes less. What would you consider to be reasonable deadlines? Every single piece I did for this client was to have the translation returned to them within 3-4 hours of receipt. Is this normal?

Lincoln makes some sensible comments. I do not think what you have been asked to do is normal, and I would certainly not accept the kind of behavior that, at least based on your description, appears to be borderline abusive.

I might indeed do a rush job for a client in a few hours, but I have very seldom been asked to look at such a project. All of my agency clients are well-organized so (unless the end client drops a bomb on us) we don't normally have to deal with unpleasant surprises. If rush jobs are cropping up regularly, it's a poorly run agency or a poorly run end client.

If you are dealing directly with an end client, then rush jobs may well be simply part of the game. That's what agencies get paid for: dealing with end clients. Contrary to the opinions of many freelancers on this site, good agencies play an important part in the industry. If you go direct, then you have to take on some of the aspects of the agency role. But that is still not an excuse for bad behavior (see below).

On the subject of money, 5p per character equates to about ¥7.5 per character. I certainly wouldn't touch a job for less than ¥11 per character and I wouldn't accept that unless I liked the client or the job, but one does hear about people accepting ¥8 or ¥9 per character. Rates can vary wildly from person to person. I know for a fact - because the agency accidentally sent me an email destined for somebody else - that some people are getting paid 65% of what that agency is paying me for the same work. I assume that is because the agency believes that other translators require more checking and rework, and are paid lower rates to offset that. And I'm sure that there are people out there getting more than I'm getting paid.

The issue of rates is complex and emotive. Everybody's circumstances, and thus the rates they are prepared to accept, are different. There are so many subtle gradings in perceived ability and so many different market segments so it really is not possible to say THIS IS THE RATE. Ultimately, we are selling time and expertise, rather than a rate per character, which is just a convenient shorthand.

I would charge at least £35 per hour, but in fact I would not (unless I had a very good reason) accept work paid by the hour because, with material I knew well, I would expect to be able to squeeze out a much higher rate than that. That is, I would expect to be able to complete work quickly enough to be able to achieve a far higher effective rate than £35. If you must charge people explicitly by time, then I would charge more than £35 an hour - certainly £50 - unless I really wanted a particular project. Maybe it is the kind of work I enjoy, or educational in a technical sense. There must be a reason for accepting less.

400 characters in an hour is okay. I wouldn't worry about it. You will get faster. I have translated more than 10,000 characters in a day - without complaints from the client - but that is painful and can't be sustained, at least by me. I think 3,000 characters per day is enough. So, although I cannot comment on the quality of your translations, I don't think the speed itself should have been an issue.

The other thing that I think is very important is the attitude of the client. What you need to be able to do is to pick up the subtle signs of professionalism, or lack of professionalism, in the client's communications with you. When they first contact you, do they use your name or just "Hi."? Are they unrelentingly polite? Is there (for want of a better word) a certain gravitas in their behaviour, as revealed by their written communications? Are their deadlines sensible? Do they push you to accept unpalatable terms, or is there an understanding, either tacit or explicit, that there needs to be give and take on both sides? You need to be able to read the air.

What is completely unacceptable is aggressive, impolite, or bullying behavior. No. If I catch even a hint of that, I call them out on it, and if it persists then I politely but firmly terminate the dialogue. You must stand up for yourself. You are an independent supplier of services, not a dogsbody. I am also persistent when it comes to getting explicit commitments to key issues from new clients: "So, just to review, I am to translate this at a rate of 90 GBP per 1000 characters, for delivery by 9 AM GMT on the morning of Tuesday, April 17, 2018, in the form of a Word file: is that correct?". Of course, I also ask for a PO.

Finally, if the agency is in the UK, don't wait around, just bring an action against them in the small claims court, and be sure to add reasonable costs when you do so. If they are in India, or China, you are probably not going to get paid, which is why I don't deal with clients in those countries, amongst others. Europe may or may not be OK, but there are plenty of threads on here about how to deal with non-payers in Europe. North America might be problematic.

Email me if you need advice. Or ask the J-Net mailing list. (As a UK-based J to E freelancer, you are a member, right?)

Regards,
Dan


 

Josephine Cassar  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:56
Member (2012)
Italian to English
+ ...
Very good advice Apr 28

@ Dan, all that you say is absolutely true. It adds to Lincoln's but yours is more extensive and down-to-earth. Well done! Little pointers that show what type of agency one is going to deal with. And we have to be firm, always polite but still firm.

 

sencho1999
United Kingdom
Local time: 21:56
Japanese to English
TOPIC STARTER
I'm relieved to read your comment regarding retainer fees Apr 28

Lincoln Hui wrote:

First, they owe you what they agreed to for what you've already done. There need not be any further discussion on this issue.

I don't know what kind of agreement you had with them and what sort of work you do with them, so it's virtually impossible to make any sort of informed comment about your situation specifically. But if someone wants a commitment for me to be available every day at specific hours, they are looking at substantial retainer fees and hourly rates for specific times are much higher than hourly rates for just time spent.

As for deadlines, I occasionally take short-notice jobs for familiar clients, but they are small and usually not very demanding. If a deadline doesn't work, it's not going to happen. You said that the agreement involves agreeing on a deadline for the translation received, and so it falls upon you to give them a deadline that works for you.


Thank you Lincoln for your reply. I have now learnt that the contract I had with them (they were the end client although a few translations were for their own clients) was less than ideal and too vague. I'm also now acutely aware that the daily commitment idea was ridiculous. I was tied to the house many days with no work coming from them and unable to do anything else or go anywhere but wasn't getting paid for the 'on call' aspect of it all. Never again will I be baby on hip, stirring the dinner, wildly glued to my computer screen just in case another 'urgent' request rolls in at 4pm (the bewitching hour in any household which contains small children!)

Next time I'll know to refuse any deadlines where my gut is telling me it won't end well.


 

sencho1999
United Kingdom
Local time: 21:56
Japanese to English
TOPIC STARTER
I've emailed you directly Dan Apr 28



Email me if you need advice. Or ask the J-Net mailing list. (As a UK-based J to E freelancer, you are a member, right?)

Regards,
Dan


Dan - thank you so much. I have indeed messaged you.


 

sencho1999
United Kingdom
Local time: 21:56
Japanese to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you Apr 28

Victoria Britten wrote:

Those are all good points. As to making sure it doesn't happen again: 1) get everything in writing - rate and conditions and then 2) hold to what is written. If a client asks you to do something "exceptionally" not according to those conditions you can accept once out of goodwill (for example: you feel the relationship is good; you've already done more than one job for them and been paid appropriately and on time; the job is either so small it isn't really a bother or so big it will pay for your next holiday; importantly, if no red lights go on), pointing out in writing that it is an exception. If they ask a second time and you decide in fact you're comfortable with it (for whatever reason, including simple fear of losing a client), do still lay out in writing what you see as the new terms and get them to agree in writing; if you aren't, ask in writing if they want to renegotiate the initial terms. If they refuse that request, don't do the work under different terms and conditions than those both parties have signed up to, or it will be the thin end of the wedge. At the very least get written acknowledgement of the terms of the job and its "exceptional" nature, but ask yourself what the reason for their refusal is.

Basically, this client has knocked your confidence by betraying your trust and you need in future to protect yourself against that happening.

Also, I'm no specialist but don't let yourself be intimidated by a client refusing to pay. As Lincoln says, you've done the work as agreed: they owe you the money. Let them know that you know that. Again, put things in writing and don't let them go. Presumably your professional relationship is dead anyway, so you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Good luck!


Thank you Victoria. This is all invaluable advise and I really appreciate it. Onwards and upwards!


 


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