Care and feeding of a translator

When asked how their work load is these days, most translators I know and work with will respond, “Never busier.” This seems, not surprisingly, to have led to a situation where translation buyers are having an increasingly difficult time recruiting qualified translators, so I’ve put together a few pieces of advice on best practices for contacting translators. We’ll assume that the translation buyer has already reviewed the translator’s credentials (i.e. on the translator’s website, translation association directory or through a word-of-mouth referral).

  • Realize that in this market and in this industry, recruitment is sales. This may sound a little harsh, but a colleague who is a former recruiter of translators really drove this point home to me. Translators who are highly qualified and are already working full time or more than full time for their regular clients have little incentive to work with new and unknown clients merely because the client is offering work. When you are recruiting a new translator and you know or assume that that person is very busy already, acknowledge that you are in effect selling that person on the idea of working for you.
  • Introduce yourself. Although the translator may be fully booked at that time, you don’t want to create a negative impression of your company. At a minimum, I like it when a project manager says, “My name is … and I work for …; we found your contact information in the ATA directory and wondered if you might have some availability for an upcoming project.” Personally I find it very off-putting when an potential new client opens the conversation with, “Hi, I work with a translation company in … and we wondered if you could translate 25,000 words in the next 10 days” or something similar.
  • Choose a negotiation point. Among the main parameters of a translation, such as rate, deadline, payment terms, format, close collaboration with other translators, being required to use special software, etc., a translator may be able to make some concessions in one area, but certainly not in a number of areas at once. If you need rush work or if you need a translator to be willing to work in a team with other translators and exchange glossaries multiple times a day or to wait two months to get paid, make this your main negotiation point rather than asking for rush work using non-standard software and at a discount rate and payment terms of Net 60.
  • Expect to offer complete details in order for the translator to commit. Given the nature of the industry, most translators work on very tight deadlines and accept work on an ongoing basis, so an in-demand translator’s schedule may change quickly. To smooth the process, be prepared with the key details of the project: rate, deadline, number of words, subject matter, format, etc. and provide these to the translator during your first contact.
  • Confirm everything in writing. I don’t use a lengthy terms of service agreement or freelance services contract, but I do think that it helps when a client confirms everything in writing. A simple e-mail such as “As we discussed, you will translate the 7,500 word document we sent and return it by 9AM Eastern Time on Friday. You will be paid X cents per source/target word” can go a long way toward avoiding misunderstandings between translators and clients.
6 Responses to “Care and feeding of a translator”
  1. Glenn Cain May 15, 2008
  2. Marianne Reiner May 15, 2008
  3. Kevin Lossner May 28, 2008
  4. Corinne McKay May 28, 2008
  5. Janine Libbey June 2, 2008
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