A bit more than a week ago, I promised you a follow-up to my article
zooming in on the fact that agencies and clients are also competing for translators, not solely the other way round. Namely, in order to avoid diluting the main point too much, I had to limit myself to only a very brief rundown of the most general factors that matter for translators choosing which jobs to take, as much as I wanted to discuss the matter in more detail. Not only that, but without this but without a more detailed and personal example the whole thing probably looks bland and a little lacking. So here comes the more personal list I promised you.
The (mostly) short-term economic factor:
Here I consider how much am I going to make total or be making per hour, never just the nominal per-word rate. In comparing rates for different jobs, I make correction for the effect of any discounts on fuzzies, or unfavourable word counts. I also include the time needed to meet all of the client's requirements – reading and analysing the client's reference materials isn't exactly something I do in my free time. Speaking of free time, I'm more likely to give it up for a higher paying job than a lower paying one. Finally, in periods of drought, I might accept a high-volume job with lower rates.
The long-term economic factor:
First of all, if I need to choose between the two, I won't chase great short-term rates to the point of giving up a significantly larger job with good rates, or an opportunity to gain a reasonable, well-paying client, or a stream of similar jobs that will become easier as I absorb the terminology. On the other hand, long-term investments just simply have to be worth it, and securing a constant stream of bad jobs is not. In most cases, sticking with a good short term at all times is a good strategy for the long term. I don't rely much on promises or predictions, either.
The zombie factor:
The economic factor accounts for all
of the time I'll need to spend on a job, but in some cases I also face the dilemma whether I really should be contributing to the fruition of ideas I disagree with, or exhausting my body and mind too much, especially in a way that would endanger my health. Most of all, I turn down all or almost all jobs with tasks that don't require a translator's skills, for which the client really should and could use an assistant. I also opt out of jobs with mind-boggling instructions, voluminous reference materials and low-quality mandatory glossaries. Plus, I always turn offers that are disrespectfully worded or contain degrading conditions. Finally, the zombie factor and the risk factor often work in tandem.
The risk factor:
It is not enough to earn, one also needs to be paid, preferably somewhat on time and in full. I avoid working for people who show a lack of respect for others or the law or good practices or common sense, and I err on the side of caution. This protects me not only from the economic aspects of the risk (non-payment, unpaid additional work, deranging my calendar etc.) but also from the drama, from losing my sleep, from reputation risks. Working at a little lower rates for someone more reasonable is a very affordable form of insurance against all the foregoing.
The nice factor:
The opposite of the zombie factor, which, however, it sometimes coexists with it and makes me takes jobs that I don't want to take. I find it hard to refuse nice people or be tough on them, especially if I owe them for something. However, being nice won't make me take serious risks or sign degrading clauses (that's not nice at all).
The fun factor:
This is what I
think is fun, not what the other guy tells me I should. Thus, NLP and PR/marketing mumbo jumbo are not only lost on me, but also a veritable wet blanket and actually a sign of trouble (a job with decent conditions doesn't need that type of advertising). Fun ranges from excitement to a mellow, relaxing translation that doesn't feel like I'm at work. Fun tends to take a back seat to long-term considerations, but it often makes up for unimpressive pay in the short term. The fun factor can't really coexist with the zombie factor.
The smart factor:
While some texts may not offer a lot in terms of fun, they may still have some educational value in them that I'd otherwise miss out on, such as helping me bridge any gaps in my knowledge, recall what's been lost or just keep my skills sharp for the future; learning something I care about is usually also fun. Earning money translating something that I should probably read anyway is a good bargain. This is really important to a bidirectional translator and one that wants to avoid getting too rusty in one or two other professions.
The charity factor:
It's a different thing working for a school or hospital, or a public utility or even for the authorities themselves, versus a rich corporation that just wants you to become the sponsor of its new savings programme. Similarly, it matters a lot whether the agency itself quotes such low prices or simply goes for the mark-up.
Recap and bottomline
1. NLP just doesn't work, forget simple marketing double-speak like 'exciting'. It doesn't become 'exciting' just because the PM says it is, especially to compensate for poor rates.
2. I don't
compare rates at their nominal value: I shave off CAT grids and unfavourable word counts or character counts before comparing what two or more jobs really pay.
3. Additional services and cumbersome requirements that take work time are not
neutral. Jobs do compete on not wasting my time.
4. Being rude does not impress me. In fact, it does the opposite, and it's the fastest way to make me decline an offer.
5. I like to please a discerning customer, but pleasing a difficult customer doesn't do it for me. Besides, I'm a translator and not a pleaser.
6. My long term is not about securing a steady flow of the kind of jobs I'm already trying to leave behind. I'm not going to accept a job with poor conditions just so I could get more of the same.
7. Being nice some of the time doesn't make up for being rude most of the time. Being nice in e-mails doesn't make up for having a contract full of offensive language or one-sided conditions.