6 reasons you may want to refuse a translation project.

Refuse work?    

Oh yes you can. Whether you are relatively new in the translation industry, or planning to become a translator, you may want to ponder on the possibility to refuse work. Even early in your career. Yes, the temptation can be strong when you start as a freelancer, to accept almost anything that comes your way, thinking it will help you build up a customer base.

– Wrong: Accepting projects with unreasonable deadlines or poor rates for example, will only attract the bottom feeders to your business. Then further down the line when you finally decide to start increasing your rates you will lose those clients who are not willing to pay for the value you bring them anyway.

But let’s get to the 5 reasons you may refuse a project:

  1. The project is beyond your capacity, skills or specialty fields.

First, do not ever accept work sight unseen. This, is an important factor in building a reputation as a professional translator. It would be very unprofessional to accept a project that is beyond your scope or in a specialty that you do not master. This would end up being detrimental to your reputation as a business. So be honest with the client, and tell them you cannot accept the project because it is beyond your skills, or too specialized, etc. Even better, refer them to another translator you know who may have the right specialization, and do not forget to let them know they are free to contact you for future projects more within your scope. The client will thank you for your honesty and will trust you as a result.

  1. The deadline is unreasonable

This usually happens with the ‘bottom feeders’’ we mentioned earlier. Some are translation agencies, some are individuals who have no idea of what it takes. If it is a translation agency, chances are they are one of those huge outfits who think only in terms of profit, and subcontract a huge pool of translators so when they have a project on their desk they’ll send it over to a bunch of them and will give the project to the first to accept their deadline, no matter how tight. I’m not saying all large agencies function this way, but some do.

-If it is an individual person, there comes your job to educate the public, explain why it takes time to do a translation, and walk them through the process.

  1. The rate is ridiculously low

Here come our bottom feeders again. If it’s a translation agency, just state your rates and stand your ground if they try to get you to accept a lower rate. Yes, they will walk away, but all the better for you.

– It would be much more profitable for you to spend the time you would have dedicated to that rush low paid project on marketing your business to more valuable potential clients. It’s all a win-win for you: you may end up with less clients, but more interesting projects with people who respect and value your work and do not discuss your rates. Often times those bottom feeders will try to negotiate a lower rate because of a ‘large volume’ of work.

-Let’s say it here: Discounts for large volumes is not a rule in the industry, it is entirely at the discretion of the translator to occasionally offer such discounts to a customer they value if they wish. Not the reverse. And if you do offer an discount, carefully choose who you give it to: some clients may then expect you to do so for each of their projects, so that is not always a good thing to do. Remember you are a business, not a charity.

-If it is an individual person, chances are they’ll ask you your rate first, and then say it’s ‘too expensive’ for them, or that ‘they had no idea’ it was that expensive, and there comes your job to educate again, explain why translation is not cheap, and explain why it is in their best interest to hire a professional. Explain to them what value, and what guarantees you bring them.

  1. The agency is known as a bad payer

Here’s the good news: If it’s an agency, often times they are already known in the industry as bad payers. So do your research, there are resources online where bad payers are listed, or you can ask fellow translators in forums if they have worked for that agency if you can’t find it listed. Sometimes it can also be useful to go check their website, are staff members listed on the website? Do they have a profile online, etc.

  1. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is!

This is where scammers come in. There are quite a few of those who try to trick inexperienced translators. Most of the time, they are easily recognizable for one or several of the following signs:

  • Poor spelling or syntax
  • Name that sounds fake
  • No indication of function, outfit, contact number
  • Often times, either huge volume as a bait, or ‘article’ to translate.

Whenever you encounter such a suspected scam, immediately report it to translators forums so the word gets out. Yes, they often change names, but the above signs are the first ones to look for.

  1. You are already booked up

Good for you! Beware however, especially for newcomers, do not accept more than you can chew. It can be very tempting early in your career, especially if the project is interesting, but this would only be detrimental to your reputation as it may end up in missed deadlines, or poor quality translation. One can only do so much in a day. So try to figure out your maximum daily output (not your colleagues, yours), and do not stray from it. Always try to include a bit of leeway in your turnaround time estimate, that way if any issues occur during the process you can still meet your deadline.


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