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Long and short

Are you the kind of person who heaves a sigh of relief when a long project drops into your inbox – or are you more of a butterfly, preferring to flit from short job to slightly longer job? Much depends on your personality profile (see my post on Psychological types in the workplace), as to whether you are deadline-driven or more enthused by the actual work experience, but I think there is often a clear dividing line between those of us who relish long jobs and those who’d much rather have a succession of smaller jobs.

After a magical New Year holiday in Austria, I returned to my desk at the start of last week with a 65,000-word file ready and waiting for the off. I should confess here and now that I’m in the former camp: I love to know that my workload is sorted for the foreseeable future. It appeals to my inner accountant to know that my bills will most definitely be covered and allays my internal insecurity demons – even after over 30 years in the business! It is interesting that some colleagues take a different attitude, though. Some are horrified at the thought of being tied up for so long and others have said how bored they would be, doing the same project day in, day out…. Each to their own, I suppose. And yet, it is important to assess how well suited you are to this kind of approach, so you know how to react when a client asks you to handle a similar-sized project.

Whilst I’ve never translated a book, the longest project I’ve ever handled in one go was probably about 100,000 words – and again, I really enjoyed the opportunity to get my teeth into the subject matter and know what I’d be doing for that length of time. What is crucial is to allow yourself enough time and, above all, not to procrastinate and end up with an impossible amount of work to do in a ridiculously short space of time: organisation is key! I usually try not to accept long-term jobs that will tie me up for more than half my notional maximum weekly capacity. For example, say you know you can translate 20,000 words (MAX!) in a week, don’t accept a long job that will commit you to more than half of that on a weekly basis, i.e. quote 4 weeks to do 40,000 words. That way, you are allowing time for unforeseen eventualities: family problems, illness, computer/software glitches .. AND giving yourself time to take on shorter jobs for other regular clients alongside the bigger job if all goes well. Whilst it’s nice to have the security of a longer job, it certainly isn’t a good idea to cut off all your other customers, as you run the risk of being out of the loop when you eventually surface!

It goes without saying that you really need to have an interest in the subject matter to even consider embarking on a lengthy project, but research can be a fascinating part of the job and there can be economies of scale – although equally well, each chapter might be on a very different sub-subject! For that reason alone, I would never offer bulk volume discounts. Translation is not a commodity (like manufacturing screws or nails) and it’s very difficult to predict to what extent (if any) the text will overlap. If asked, I’m prepared to offer the traditional Trados discounts for repetitions and 100% matches (my matches!), but that’s as far as it goes. There’s certainly no point tying yourself up for so long and having to turn down other, better-paid jobs for regular clients if you’ve rashly agreed to do the long job for less just because it’s a large volume – where’s the sense in that?!

You might also want to consider asking for staged payments for really long jobs, as they can have a significant effect on your cashflow otherwise. Advance payments are also an option for new clients. It’s asking a lot to take on trust that someone you’ve never worked with before will pay after you’ve devoted weeks of your life to a lengthy document…. Always check on your professional language networks and the ProZ Blue Board, Payment Practices, etc., of course, before you agree to work for a new client – and especially so if the job in question is particularly lengthy. Check payment terms too – you really don’t want to discover as you send off your invoice that 60 days is the client’s usual payment term. Far better to agree your OWN terms and conditions before you even start.

Remember to factor in time for proof-reading – and if possible try and proof-read in smaller chunks rather than trying to do the whole document in one go. You’re much more likely to spot errors and inconsistencies if you’re fresh each time you check a text, rather than when you’re flagging at the end of 30,000 words on safety procedures, say… Clients may well ask for batch deliveries of long jobs and whilst this can be acceptable, it’s always worth adding a proviso that you reserve the right to make changes at the end of the whole project, as meanings have a horrible habit of changing in the light of some vital piece of information that only appears in the last few pages! Or of course you might just think of a better translation as you progress. Or then again you might be waiting for feedback from the client that in turn affects every part of the document, even if some parts have already been submitted. If other translators are involved, that can complicate matters even further, but make sure it’s clear from the outset just who is responsible for coordinating the final package – and factor in an editing/coordination cost for this if it’s you!

In the light of the above, the butterflies amongst you will be feeling thoroughly vindicated at preferring to take on lots of smaller jobs, and indeed that is one of the boons of being freelance: you can accept and work on a variety of jobs, with different deadlines, in a myriad of subject areas – if that’s what you want. I must admit that’s another reason why I allow time in my schedule to take on shorter jobs alongside the longer projects. They keep you fresh, maintain interest and give you a break from the monotony of doing the same thing – some may be fascinating, others less so, but each day is different – and for some people, that’s what it’s all about.


So where do you fit in? Do you have a preference, or are you happy with a balance? I’d love to hear your views!