The assertive translator and the deadline debate

Sorry that’s not my language pair.
Sorry I don’t feel comfortable with that subject area.
Sorry but I only translate into English.
I think we are all comfortable with refusing to do work that is not in our language combination or specialist area but some colleagues seem to be concerned about an increased prevalence of short deadlines

I group deadlines into three categories: practical and desirable, tight but do-able, impossible. As a rule I would say that my deadlines fall into the first category. The last category I reject out of hand. Tight but do-able deadlines crop up regularly but if I choose to accept them it is because I believe I can deliver within the deadline without compromising my standards. In some cases I accept that I may have to work slightly longer hours, maybe miss an exercise class, take a meal out of the freezer instead of going shopping, etc. And I make the decision to do this because I like the translation manager who is asking me to do the job and because the subject matter is of interest to me.

I take into account my previous occupations where overtime was regular and expected. I am also lucky in that my family are supportive and will reduce the burden from me when necessary, such as taking the dog out or cooking tea.

It can be difficult when you are starting out but actually you should start as you mean to go on. I can remember back in the early days my husband complaining when I turned down work because we needed the money. But I pointed out that we needed the money now, not three months down the line after I had done the job, invoiced it and waited 60 days for payment. (The best way to acquire money “now” was from signing on as a supply teacher as payment was made the following week. I think the same applies to temping. You can accept work when you need it and reject it when you have a translation job.) I was not prepared to compromise then and even less so now. In fact what usually happens is that the job offer with the impossible deadline is soon followed by a better offer with a workable deadline.

Admittedly deadlines seem to be getting shorter and there are reasons for this. Technology has speeded the process up. Voice recognition software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking can dramatically speed up the initial process of getting words on paper, especially if you are not a particularly fast typist. Translation memory software such as Trados, MemoQ etc. significantly speed up the work, because of their intrinsic memory function which removes the need to re-type repeated sentences. In particular I find they save time with formatting. These technologies have improved too. I used to have to build in an extra half day in case Trados did not clean properly. Agencies are also allowing more time for checking translations.

From a personal point of view my concept of a workable deadline has almost certainly changed too. As I have got more experienced I have been able to translate more and more words in a given time. Nevertheless I stick to the guideline of an average of 2,500 words per day whenever quoting for delivery times. As an average this still seems very workable. But it is just an average. You always need to build in checking time so translating and delivering 2,500 words on the same day would not be desirable in the least. I would want to put at least a night between the translation and the checking stages.

Most of my clients are agencies that I have been working with for 8-10 years. They know what deadlines are reasonable. More than once an agency has rung me and said the client wants it tomorrow but I have already told him that’s impossible, so when could you deliver it? What is possible depends on the text and the translator’s other commitments. I always try to accommodate my favourite agencies but sometimes you just have to say sorry I am not available this week. So, another translator gets the job, so what! I am sure that’s how I got jobs when I started out. The important thing is not whether I get this job or not it is keeping the client that matters.

The aim of the game is to build a good working relationship with your clients. One way of doing that is by only agreeing deadlines you can stick to without compromising your standards.

Whilst it is probably true that companies in particular routinely request translations within short deadlines I am not entirely persuaded by the argument that agencies accept these deadlines for fear of losing the client. The client still wants a translation that is fit for purpose even if they say they want it for 4.00 p.m. the same day. If the translation is not fit for purpose then they will look else where next time. So there is a balance and people negotiate.

Agencies have ways of delivering large volumes with quick turnarounds such as dividing the work into sections for translation by 3 or 4 separate translators, teams of translators working together on projects, or even, dare I say it, machine translation with post-editing. I don’t think the individual freelancer need be panicked into taking on work that can be handled in any of these other ways. A little patience and the appropriate-sized job will appear in the mail box.
So my advice is to accept only those deadlines that are workable for you. If someone else can deal with it, let them.

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One Response to The assertive translator and the deadline debate

  1. […] 22/02/2015 The assertive translator and the deadline debate by Jenny Whiteley (Lakeside Linguist’s Blog) […]

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