Projects large and small

At the moment I’m working on one of the larger projects I’ve ever taken on; a bit over 40,000 words. This has gotten me thinking about the pros and cons of large projects versus small projects, as well as which type of projects I prefer working on. I’m interested to hear what other translators think about this as well.

I think that there are a few issues associated with project length: income potential, job satisfaction and quality control (and probably others that I’ll depend on you to point out!). In terms of income potential, I don’t give volume discounts because I am usually as busy as I want to be. However, I do like that a large project gives me the opportunity to earn a guaranteed large chunk of money at once rather than a few hundred dollars at a time. Large projects have some economies of scale: one invoice, one client, one glossary for 40,000 words as opposed to multiplying all of that by 10 for a slew of 4,000 word jobs. However, I find that the higher the word count, the higher the chance of client sticker shock regardless of the per-word rate. I charge $50 per page to translate official documents, which often comes out to $1 a word or more. Still, very few potential clients ever object to that rate. But when you’re talking about 30,000 or 50,000 or 75,000 words, even a very reasonable per-word rate just comes out to a pretty huge number (and numbers tend to sound bigger when you have to say them out loud!). So, in some ways I find that it’s easier to charge high rates for short documents than it is for long ones.

Job satisfaction. I think this can cut both ways. When you land a huge project that you really love working on, it’s a treat. Life is predictable because you know what the day’s agenda is and you can really enjoy the work. But when you commit to a big project and things go wrong, it’s really excruciating. Rather than telling yourself “one more day and I never have to look at this document again,” you might be facing a month or more of slogging through a book or manual that you wish you’d never come eye to eye with.

Quality control
on very large projects is hard. I seem to forget this every time I take on a huge project. I use CAT tools and I have a pretty good memory for terms, but when you’re getting that “haven’t I read this somewhere before?” feeling on a project that you’ve been working on for 3 weeks, it’s not always easy to pull up the section of text you’re thinking about. And when you were mulling over “CEO” versus “Chief Executive Officer,” which one did you choose? Did you change your original term or just think about it?

In general, I think that my ideal project length is about 5,000 to 8,000 words: long enough to really get into, long enough to generate a decent invoice but not long enough to start getting bored. A project of that length represents about 3-5 days of work for me, and I find that to be an appealing amount of time to work on a project. Thoughts?

12 Responses to “Projects large and small”
  1. Rachel McRoberts September 10, 2010
    • Corinne McKay September 14, 2010
  2. Michael Schubert September 10, 2010
    • Corinne McKay September 14, 2010
  3. Gabriela Ventrice September 10, 2010
  4. Rob Grayson September 10, 2010
    • Corinne McKay September 14, 2010
  5. Kevin Lossner September 10, 2010
    • Corinne McKay September 14, 2010
  6. John Bunch September 24, 2010
  7. Karen Tkaczyk September 24, 2010
  8. Matt baird September 27, 2010

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