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 »  Articles Overview  »  Business of Translation and Interpreting  »  Business Issues  »  Big tenders for small jobs are not realistic

Big tenders for small jobs are not realistic

By Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz | Published  03/30/2015 | Business Issues | Recommendation:
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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz
անգլերենից լեհերեն translator
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Every now and then, browsing this site as a freelance translator, I come across another of those ads of which the poster seems to believe that an unidentified number of highly qualified translators will readily participate in a lengthy and burdensome competitive recruitment procedure for a 70-word job paid at six to eight cents per. Which means $5 or close enough that your time and my time aren't worth pursuing the exact difference.

I want to be crystal clear on this: five dollars or euros or pounds barely justifies writing an invoice and cannot justify going through the hassle of writing even a short response to an RFP, signing (and scanning) a contract and making oneself available for all manner of questions from your internal QA department, your client's QA department and the end client.

And it certainly isn't a sum to make a job worth competing for.

And we haven't even thought about bank fees yet.

Think fair. Translators aren't in it only for the money, but then why should they act like charities and donate their business time to go through a boatload of paperwork for your company on a $5 job? Translators aren't charities, and commercial companies hardly qualify as pro bono recipients.

To you, the need for a translator to submit a CV, then re-enter the same data into a custom form provided by you, then review and sign a 10-page contract and make themselves available for any questions from your QA department and you client may look like a fact of life.

... But it doesn't look so from the perspective of an external translator (external collaborator or vendor of any kind) who doesn't receive a monthly pay cheque, insurance and other benefits from your company, isn't a shareholder or an equity partner sharing in both profit and loss.

An external vendor has no business eating the loss for your shareholders.

So, what do I suggest you do?

The short answer is that details are up to you to work out, but the most obvious solutions are:

1. Minimum fees.
2. Shortlists of prequalified translators with whom arrangements have already be made in such an event.

The long answer is that it isn't really about minimum fees, it's about not relying on translators to either donate their time or be tricked out of it. In other words, compensation of all of the translator's time your company wants to claim, without counting on the translator to take a loss for a stranger, especially if the loss is generated by the stranger's own procedures and policies.

Alternatively, you can use translators whose skills and performance you have already verified with whom you already have existing contacts and monthly settlements. That will mean no need to go through a lot of paperwork on a one-off deal. Look for translators who are a good fit for rush jobs and, if money is an issue, for translators who are comfortable not charging a minimum fee.

In any case, reduce the paperwork. Cut out unnecessary things, and make sure you don't do the necessary things more than once if you can help it. Save your own time as well, if not for yourself, then for your boss. There are better things to do with your time than processing 50 competitive quotes for a $5 job.

If you can't pay a minimum fee or approve a higher rate than normal, you can always return the translator's favour by giving him priority in the future — with or without letting him know that you would. If you have ethical concerns about such an exchange of favours, take it up with your boss. (Myself, I probably would feel the need to ask.)

If not, well, in any case recall the saying that if you're paying peanuts, you're going to get monkeys. So what are you going to get if you're not only paying peanuts but actually setting up a time-consuming competition for peanuts? Don't expect miracles to happen.

On a final word, I wish to clarify one thing:

I'm not writing this as a hardliner for minimum fees. I practically never charge them, even when the client volunteers. I often do small jobs free of charge, as they aren't worth the trouble of writing an invoice. However, there is one thing I certainly would not do: Participate in a complex competitive procedure for $5 or $10 or even $100, where it could realistically take like two hours of my time.

I could perhaps include the 70-word translation already in the quote and ask the agency to buy a sandwich for a homeless person in return, for example, or just say that no payment is necessary. But there is no way I would go through the hassle of CVs and NDAs and QA and everything else. That would be too much to ask.

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