My business is translation not coordination
I’ve been very busy lately. I’m pleased, of course. All translators like to have plenty of work. But the situation comes with its disadvantages. I’ve been turning down more work than I like, and I know I’ve been disappointed some customers I’d prefer not to lose. I’m also still guilty sometimes (although better than I used to be) landing myself in trouble by accepting jobs I know I shouldn’t just to keep a customer happy or because I was feeling guilty.
Some might say I should start outsourcing my good fortune, employing other translators to fill the gap. And it’s true, I could. But I’m not going to for various reasons, which I intend to set out in this blog.
First of all, although outsourcing gets rid of work, it also creates it, at least it does if you do it properly. I certainly can’t pass a translation to a customer if I haven’t checked it for mistakes and good English. So I have to build time to revise the outsourced translations into my already overcrowded schedule.
That leads on to a second problem because, as we all know, time is money. Either I do this revision work for nothing, exploit the translator by paying a lower rate than I would expect myself or charge more for outsourced work. Only the last of these is what I would consider a reasonable option, but it’s not always possible if the job I want to outsource is for an agency, for example.
Then there’s the paperwork. If I’m going to outsource properly I need to handle invoices from my translators and pay tax contributions for them (in some countries this may not be necessary but in Spain it is). So that piece of work I wanted to get rid of is going to give me even more to do.
But all this is only part of why I don’t outsource, or only in very rare and special circumstances. To explain the most important reason for me I need to go back to my previous career as a journalist. What I loved about journalism wasn’t the contact with people or the adrenalin or the deadlines, it was simply being able to write for a living.
However, after a few years as a reporter I began to develop ambitions in other directions. I moved into sub-editing, which involves correcting other journalists’ copy, and then on to the newsdesk, which basically means organising reporters and helping decide what goes into the paper. At the time it all seemed to make sense, as I wanted to gain experience in other areas and I foolishly believed I could organise things better than others had been able to before. Looking back, though, it was a terrible mistake because I was moving away from what I really loved about the job. I may have had more responsibility and more money for a while, but the fact is that most of the former colleagues I have who are still in journalism are those who were bold and determined enough to resist other temptations and find their own ways of sticking to writing.
So, back in my new life as a translator, if I allowed myself to become distracted by collecting and outsourcing work I couldn’t do myself, I’d be making exactly the same mistake again, ending up doing organisational and editing work instead of the translation I love. And, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I believe life’s too short to make the same mistake twice, so, unless my circumstances change dramatically in some unforeseen way, I will NOT become an agency.
What do I do, then, when there’s simply too much work for me to be able to cope with? Well, when I’m busy, work that comes in is classified into three types:
1) Work from regular private clients that I can’t turn down. This, I simply have to find a way to do, even if it means working extra hours.
2) Work from agencies. Normally, I just say “no”. Sometimes it’s more difficult than others, particularly if I’ve refused work from the same agency a number of times, so if I have got any time at all, I tend to give priority to customers I’ve turned down a lot. But agencies know what a translator’s life is like and they usually understand.
3) Work from unknown clients. In these cases I tend to refer them to colleagues. I know there are translators who would say that I’m missing opportunities here. and that these clients will probably never come back. To which I say “So be it”. The same will no doubt happen in reverse when someone refers a customer to me.
In fact, this week I had an e-mail from a colleague thanking me for having referred a job to him at the beginning of September. He was delighted, the customer was also grateful I had helped him and, as I couldn’t possibly have done the job anyway, that was enough for me. Not a businesslike attitude? Perhaps, but the business perspective isn’t the only way to look at life, or even work. And those who doubt it are perhaps reading the wrong blog: this one’s entitled Only Human Translators.
Wise words. I sometimes find myself "on the verge" of outsourcing or passing work but then I realise that outsourcing work is not really an option for all the reasons you described. Not to mention that I want to be the one to translate not because I love doing it but this is my source of income. The more you translate, the better you become. I would never outsource work if it’s a regular client either. I tend to work more than I should but I prefer it this way. When unknown clients email me, I will explain that I can’t take on more work or ask for a deadline extension. In fact, one of those new clients who needed an urgent translation I couldn’t help him with a few months ago, has given me work last month. The whole idea is to give a professional image, be sincere and tactful. In fact, I think that your approach is businesslike and correct.
Thank you for your comment, Magda. Your point about being honest with clients you can’t help is a good one. I’ve also had experiences with customers coming back to me after I’ve had to turn them down. I will also try to be helpful by recommending colleagues, but on the basis that the client deals with them direct.
I don’t think you’d be exploiting a translator by taking a cut. The client came to you thanks to your marketing and/or reputation, which costs time and money. When you work for agencies, they’re taking a cut, but they’re not exploiting you because they’re working for the rates you set.
I also try to avoid outsourcing as much as possible (apart from revisions of my own work, which I outsource regularly), but there are times when I do. The cut I take is usually about what I’d normally charge for a revision job, which seems fair, since I’ll be revising the translator’s work.
Regarding the paperwork, it’s not that complicated. The quarterly Modelo 110 and annual Modelo 190 are among the easiest to do. It literally takes me about 5 minutes to do both (perhaps 10 minutes if I don’t get it done in time to do a direct debit, since I then have to log on to my bank to make the payment), so that’s a maximum of about 25 minutes a year.
You have a point, Tim. I perhaps didn’t explain myself clearly enough. What I’m saying is that the jobs I’d perhaps prefer to outsource come from agencies, which means they’re at a lower rate than what I would charge direct clients. That means, if I took a cut, I would have to take it out of the agency rate, and that would necessarily mean paying the translator a lower rate. I would consider that exploitation because I would be paying someone less than I would charge for the same work. The paperwork doesn’t really both me, because one thing I DO outsource is all that form-filling and accounting work, but I mentioned it as a minor disincentive. The most decisive consideration for me, though, is that starting to outsource would be a slippery slope, as I don’t want to drift by default into being a project manager and administrator.