American Translators Association (ATA): Business Smarts-Dealing with Large Projects

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American Translators Association (ATA): Business Smarts-Dealing with Large Projects

Dealing with Large Projects

This month's column discusses some of the issues associated with large-scale translation projects. Although very large assignments can help newcomers establish a reputation and sometimes open up entirely new areas of specialization, they also require freelancers to make some adjustments when dealing with established clients.

Dear Business Smarts:

A translation agency has just offered me a huge project (several hundred thousand words) that will keep me busy for several months. I would like to accept, but I worry that while I work on this large project I will constantly have to refuse work from my regular clients. How should I deal with this conflict?
— Buenos Aires

Dear Buenos Aires:

For established freelancers serving a regular group of clients who send a predictable volume of work, large projects are not always the bonanza they might seem. While it is certainly acceptable to inform your regular clients that you will be unavailable until a later date, an even better strategy is to build into your time estimate for the large-scale project a certain amount of time every day for smaller jobs. In other words, rather than calculating your turnaround time on the basis of your maximum daily output, offer your big-project client a schedule that dedicates roughly two-thirds of your work time to the big project and one-third to other work. This has several advantages: you do not have to turn down work from all the clients you worked so hard to acquire, and you can still count on a steady cash flow from a variety of sources while you plug away at the big job.

The temptation to accept large-scale jobs is often greatest at times when you have little else to do. But before jumping into a work situation that may hurt your freelance business — or even accepting a lower rate as a "volume discount" or to account for repetitive text — think carefully about whether you could in fact complete the job if all your regular clients were to continue sending their customary volumes of work. Also do not forget that if the bulk of the payment for a large job will be made only on completion, that delay could have a painful impact on your pocketbook. To minimize that pain, it is not unreasonable to request interim installment payments for jobs that will not be completed for several months. Any such agreement should be put in writing, of course, on a detailed purchase order or other document that also defines specific milestones and payment dates. For large projects in particular, be sure to double-check the reputation of the agency offering the job to make sure you can count on timely payments.

On the upside, a large project creates a similarly large intellectual "workspace" for in-depth research and development of subject expertise. The knowledge you gain from your own investigations and from client feedback during a large-scale translation assignment can turn you into an expert in an entirely new field and give your career a valuable boost.

Reprinted from The ATA Chronicle: October 2006, p 38