No, and here’s why.
Your agency client has apparently decided unilaterally that you and all the other editing rodents on the hamster wheel have become 100% more efficient
overnight. Now why would that be? Ah, perhaps they’ve just doubled or tripled the rates they pay their initial translatorsone way to ensure that
the drafts they’ll be shooting you for meticulous revision are far better. But that’s unlikely. Moreover, editing 2,000 words an hour is far
too high for even an expert copyeditor if she really intends to comply with the requirements they list. And that’s assuming a fairly smooth
translation to start.
So our guess is that they’ve got an in-house hamster team busy ticking boxes on a half-baked Quality Assurance grid, with a bean counter breathing
down their necks. This as their communications team puts the final touches on a flashy new tagline touting their commitment to total quality and utter
Thanks for this opportunity to remind translation intermediaries, translators and clients that announcing or charging a standard per-word price for editing
and revision is more than risky. It’s downright unprofessional.
FA & WB
I have two problems on which I need advice.
Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,
1) My boyfriend wants to go “all the way” with me, but I'm not sure I'm ready for it yet. What should I do?
2) A consultant (and slightly estranged friend) whose company I used to translate for has started up his own small consulting boutique in Switzerland. He
had me do a little bit of translation and a great deal of rewriting of their texts already in English over a period of several months, mainly in 2011, and
I never got around to billing. He was kind of vague about how they were going to pay me, given their startup status, but assured me they would. I should
also add that he hasn't exactly been pestering me about getting my bill to him, and when I phoned him in August, he said we would discuss and settle the
problem in the fall. Once again, I've been too busy to calculate such a disparate array of jobs, but today I finally got around to it.
In the past, I charged his company 30 eurocents a word for translation. My inclination is to maintain that rate. As for revision, well, I've been thinking
that half that price would do the trick. Otherwise, I'd go with an hourly rate, but since I didn't religiously count the hours I put in, word count seems
to me to be the only “objective” basis.
So my main question is whether half the price charged for outright translation seems reasonable to you. He may balk at it, and I suppose we could haggle,
but I consider it a good starting-point.
No Business Angel
There are two parts to your letter; let’s address them in turn.
First, you want some advice on relationships. We’re happy to oblige.
With boyfriends, entrepreneurs andespeciallyslightly estranged friends offering a relationship to engage in vaguely-defined collaborative activities,
it’s always a good idea to think hard about what you really want out of it. And then clarify things before you get in over your head.
Example: you didn’t intend to do all that rewriting for free, did you?
Unfortunately, over a year has gone by since your dealings with the startup buddy. That sends him and his accountant a confusing message: you are either
independently wealthy, utterly disorganized or simply don’t care. We take it his company is still in business, perhaps even flourishing. That would
be nice. But we bet he’s as fuzzy as you over your exact input at this point.
So picking an “objective” number and applying it as transparently as possible is a good way to wind this whole thing up before heading into yet
another new year. Ah, but which objective number? Rewriting can be extraordinarily time-consuming; before you know it you’re in retranslation
territory, at which point you’d normally charge full whackexcept that you have no precise data on time spent.
How about this: take a minute to reflect on your invoicing mis-management and its impact on your income.
Our experience is that translators who don’t bill in a timely way tend to lose money in at least two ways. First, your hard-earned cash is busy
generating interest in the client’s bank account, not yours. Not good. Second, as the memory of a brain-busting, adrenalin-stoked late-night slog to
meet a client’s deadlines recedes into the mists of time, translators who bill late tend to charge less than if they’d invoiced immediately.
They somehow forget the paina bit like mothers after childbirthand don’t add the surcharge that would normally be due.
May we suggest that in 2013 you (1) develop a time-sheet system to log working hours and (2) commit to billing every month?
Setting and enforcing boundaries is a good way to keep relationships of all types on track.
FA & WB
Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,
I had been meaning to buy The Prosperous Translator for a
whileenjoying your online Q&A very much. After attending Chris Durban's talks at the BDÜ conference in Berlin, I made up my mind.
An excellent readno risk of electrocution in the bathtub and packed with inspiration and practical ideas.
I have been poor, and did not find it edifying. Thanks for making me even surer that I am headed in the right direction and for reminding me that nowt comes from nowtif I want more well-paying, loyal direct customers, I need to put the legwork in.
Kind regards, and keep up the good work!
Thanks for your feedbackand report back!
FA & WB
OK, after reading a lot of translation blogs I get the picture. It is a bad idea to do free tests. It is not just demeaning for translators, it is stupid
for agencies to use this method.
Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,
Wouldn't it be smarter if they didn't announce that these were testsjust sent them as jobs? Otherwise people will work extra hard and produce quality
that they don't normally do.
Playing it Straight
Whoa. We have nothing against producing a sample translation at no charge, but only for the right candidates. A respected colleague refers to this as the
“taste my truffles” approach.
Think about it: many potentially good clients have been burned by sub-standard suppliers. Many more have no idea how translation is performed, or how much
time and effort a serious professional puts into it, or what a superbly translated text can achieve for them in a mission-critical situation. These folks
So for the premium clients we targetand stalk, directly or indirectlydoing a small job for free is an excellent way to clinch the sale. It shows them
exactly what they can expect and whets their appetite for more. They also see first-hand what their own role will be.
Note, however, that this applies solely to promising direct clients. Assisting a translation broker by producing free samples that he/she/it will use in a
bidding process that may or may not pan out reflects a basic misunderstanding of business and risk management. Serious translation agencies know about
this; their ability to put together outstanding teams justifies their margin.
As for “real jobs” giving a better idea of translator competence than free tests, why not? But as many high-end translation agencies point out,
the “outstanding first job” syndrome followed by a steady slide in quality is all too frequent, even for paid work. Top-notch translators and
translation companies are paid a premium in part because they have the skills and commitment to provide reliable quality every single time. Good clients
count on thatas well they should.
FA & WB
Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,
I am every translator's nightmare: a moonlighting teacher!
But in my country teachers don't work that many hours, and I started translation at first because I wanted to go back to what I liked most: languages.
Everybody knows an English teacher doesn't really deal with languages, more with discipline and pedagogy.
In the course of my studies, translation was always my forte, but I was unsure about the level of qualification required to work as a translator. I mailed
thousands of agencies with my CV hoping for assignments, and it did work, I’m currently working on an irregular basis for several agencies. I can
combine both my teaching job, and a part-time translation activity.
I have now been working for a little longer than a year. I have worked for unsatisfied people, who corrected my work, and helped me improve and understand
better what was expected of me. I have also worked for dishonest people who had to be threatened when payment wasn’t punctual, or people who
questioned the quality of my work once it was time to pay long after the assignment had been completed.
I also work for satisfied agencies (thank God, you must think I’m totally useless!), and some in Belgium who give me strict assignments for the
European Parliament which I find particularly interesting. I have now solid references to move on to the next step.
I’ve come to a point where I need to change my business strategy if I want to succeed and who knows, ideally I’d like to cut back on my
teaching hours to do more and more translation jobs. But agencies don’t pay well, dispose of you without notice, and are too unreliable for my
So here I come with my questions:
As you probably picked up, I do not specialize in anything, I did a lot of website translations from holiday ski resorts to electronic cigarettes, I also
enjoyed doing surveys and press releases…I loved doing them all, I can’t choose a special subject matter, and if I did I’d feel like a
So, how can I possibly contact private clients? Who should I aim for? As I’m native French I’d have to contact solely clients from English
speaking countries wouldn’t I? You do mention going to trade shows but I translate in French for foreign clients. French clients over here are
looking for FRE>ENG translators. (I’m also a mother-of-two living in a secluded village by the ocean… my business can only be managed
I am planning on having a webpage done to advertise myself, but what I’d need is a mailing list of potential clients who’d be interested in
working with me. I thought maybe I should aim for website designers, could you give me your insight on this particular point?
If you really feel like specialization is compulsory, considering my profile what do you think I should try to specialize into?
And finally, I have so far refused to invest in any CAT tools, as most agencies work with different ones. TRADOS seems to be leader on the market and the
most used in the translation world. Do you think CAT tool are an absolute necessity?
Here, I hope I wasn’t too long or redundant considering the number of similar requests you receive each day.
The challenging part of your letter is not your day job as a teacher, rather the difficulty of sorting through your obvious interest in language and
translation (good) and your undiscriminating approach to jobs on offer to date (not so good).
As you have discovered, translation is an unregulated profession in which many buyers cannot judge product quality. So there really is no barrier to
entrywitness the proliferation of commercial platforms, some remarkably user-friendly, and their parade of self-described “professional”
translators, ranging from the earnest to the well-meaning and desperate.
We suggest you check some of the websites of the translation agencies you are currently working for. You will soon see that they allwithout
exceptionclaim to work only with highly skilled and highly specialized professional translators, each delivering outstanding quality in his or her
particular field of expertise. Not a moonlighting teacher in sight. And yet here you are, working for them. So why feel fraudulent about selecting an area
to specialize in and working hard to acquire the expertise you need, when you are, at present, translating anything that moves under false pretenses?
As for practical advice, we’ll fall back on the old chestnuts. Yes, you should be developing a
specialization; identifying likely areas takes an investment on your partstarting with reading the daily business news. You should already be networking
with professional translators, not wannabes; join your national professional association and participate actively in its discussion lists and events.
Client-wise, it will be easier to target SMEs than giant corporations, but only if you have something to sell them. Hone your translation skills! Working
part-time is a definite drawback for a translator seeking to build up her businessas is having small children unless you’ve got rock-solid
childcare in place.
If your family relies on your teacher’s salary, consult a financial adviser to determine exactly how much translation you will have to do to make
full-time self-employment a viable option; the job’s pleasures pale quickly if you haven’t got your numbers right. Put together a three-year
business plan and start investing now in professional development, beginning with webinars offered by reliable providers like eCPD and, in French, SFT.
FA & WBQ:
Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,
We're in a crisis and budgets are tight. Should I reduce my rates? I have the feeling that everybody but me has got work.
Dear Nervous Nelly,
We’re curious: has your cost of living suddenly declined?
We doubt it. But you should be aware that the only message sent out by a cut in rates with existing clients is “hey, I am desperate over here.”
And self-identifying as the desperate party in a business negotiation is not where you want to be.
How are you going to explain to clients that you could have asked less for your services last week or last month and didn’t, but have now changed
your mind? And if you do lower your rates, how are you ever going to raise them again when the market picks up, which it eventually will?
If your income has dropped because you’ve out-priced yourself with a few clients, pull yourself together and go find some new ones. And if you
can’t operate profitably, shut down your business and do something else.
FA & WB