After talking to a fellow freelance translator who had just received information about a potential large project, I thought of trying to summarize the things we must keep in mind when sending a quote or accepting a project with these characteristics—once the other basic considerations have been accounted for, such as whether the client is a good payer.
The decision about whether it’s worth taking on such a large project, I believe, comes down to four factors: 1) price, 2) deadline, 3) whether you’ll work by yourself or with a colleague, and 4) a wide array of subjects that I’ll classify as “miscellaneous.” Each of these factors has its unique weight, since they are contingent upon a variety of circumstances.
As a starting point, let’s assume that all translators have a regular price per word, which may be set in stone or fluctuate within a given range. Considering that, when I analyze a large-volume project, I simply multiply my regular price by the number of words that need translation. Is the final figure overwhelming? Well, it’s simply a natural consequence of there being so many words needing translation! Now, whether the client has that kind of translation budget or is willing to part ways with all that money is a topic for another day. Some translators are stunned by such a high price and may be tempted to apply discounts. The way I see it, that’s a big mistake. If, due to exceptional circumstances, I need to accept a lower price than my regular one to work on a given project—please refer to item 4 below—I’d rather do it for smaller projects, never for large-volume ones. In accepting a lower price for a large volume, we end up with a full schedule and may miss other opportunities (i.e. projects that pay better.) All in all, the fact that the project is large does not justify accepting a lower price, even though clients usually use that argument. If you accept a lower price, you’ll need to work more to earn the same amount of money, so you’ll be dedicating a lot of your time to a badly paid project. After all, translation requires an effort that is directly proportional to the number of words to be translated.
Time will always be a crucial factor in the translation equation. Let’s assume we’re the kind of translator who has direct clients and/or translation agencies that send us work regularly. Being totally booked due to a single project is always a problem, especially if said project will take a long time to be completed, because you’ll probably have to say “No” to your other regular clients—either partially or completely during that time. Let’s keep in mind that these regular clients have kept us afloat until now and, if we keep doing things right, they’ll continue to send us more work overtime. Especially when that large-volume project is finally done. In other words, I’ll hardly decide to dedicate all of my time to a single project instead of keeping my regular clients happy in the long term. Large-volume projects are perfect when the deadline is really comfortable, so I can still take on other projects concomitantly. For example, I can dedicate enough time to the large project to work on 1,500 words per day, and have enough time to help other clients. That way, this large project is in the background, and I can work more on it or resume it the next day as needed.
3) Working on your own or with a colleague
One scenario when it comes down to taking on a large-volume project is collaborating with a colleague. That way, you don’t need to be fully booked and/or sacrifice yourself to translate an absurd amount of words per day. Now, we have several things to consider. First of all, you can delegate tasks to someone else, but not the responsibility for the final quality of the project or for meeting the deadline. That is, the client hired you, and your professional reputation is the one on the line. Considering that, working with colleagues requires you to carefully put together a good team. You must review the work provided by your colleagues very closely. You must organize the workflow. You must share resources (i.e. translation memories, glossaries, etc.). And you must ensure consistency among all the parties involved in the project. All this will imply additional efforts and demand time, so it’s more than fair that you should charge extra for your time and effort. Besides, when you hire colleagues, you’re also taking eventual financial risks, in case your client pays you late or doesn’t pay you at all.
Here, I’ll list a series of factors that may range from circumstantial to subjective matters. These factors may have more or less weight than price and deadline, which are apparently the most objective elements of this translation equation. This list could be exhaustive, but I’ll only cover a few examples. Among the circumstantial factors, we should mentioned an eventual period of low workload, or the need to earn more money to pay off a debt or a late bill. We could also see large-volume projects as an opportunity to get a foot in the door in a segment of our interest, to earn a new client, or to work with a company or organization that we identify with somehow. We can see it as a potential long-term relationship with a new interesting client. We may even approach this project as a personal challenge.
It is worth it, after all? After reading the items above, I believe it’s clear that there’s no simple answer to this question. There are endless combinations to the four factors I mentioned, from the worst-case scenario (low price, tight deadline, uninteresting subject) to the best-case scenario (high price, comfortable deadline, interesting subject.) There are so many other combinations in the middle of the road that we must consider carefully and without haste. After all, we’d be taking on a project that will demand great effort and stick around for quite some time.
JORGE DAVIDSON is a project manager, translator, and editor at Punto y Coma who also works as a proofreader, editor, MT post-editor, and instructor. He translates from English and Portuguese to Spanish.