Date: January 2014
Turnaround: 2.5 months
Scope: 125,000 words (90% into French, 10% into English, editing)
Challenge: Minimal time for planning (no heads up, no tried-and-tested team)
Outcome: On-time delivery (save for one short document), a happy client, a solid team, model planning documents, and a wealth of experience neatly summed up in this article
As I lounged in the airport, waiting for the plane to take me home to a deliciously quiet week to ease me back into the real, post-vacation world,
I figured I'd take a quick peek at my inbox. I had received an email from a long-standing client asking me to oversee a sizeable project involving
the multilingual translation and revision of close to 100 documents. I had been eager to take my business in that direction – freelancing and project management go hand in hand, right? – and so I gladly agreed. I had previously spent much thought about the process required by this kind of undertaking, and had already reached out to a few translators with whom I felt I could take on this kind of challenge. I was set!
Cue crash course in project management. The next few days and weeks were filled with disillusionment and hair pulling as I scrambled to get organized and deal with problems I had failed to anticipate. And so, in the hopes of saving another translator at least a little heartache as they embark upon this particular professional challenge, I have compiled a short list of Dos and Don'ts.
Take some time to consider whether you should accept it or not. As Ros Schwartz said during the closing seminar of Translate in Québec City (2013), "Know when to say no." Can you handle this type of challenge? Are you the right person for the job? Do you have time to take this on without neglecting your regular clients? If you're not sure, maybe this project isn't for you. You don't want to burn bridges, and there could even be legal ramifications. You have worked too hard and sacrificed too much to get to this point. Don't be so quick to gamble your reputation.
Buckle under the pressure to accept a lower rate because of the size of the project. You are going to need every single penny to pay the rate of professional translators and compensate your time (yes, that also has a price). As opposed to your regular work, this project will require a great deal more time for administration, quality control, liaising, troubleshooting, etc. If anything, consider tacking on an extra 10% to your regular rate. Better yet, consider how much you want to earn before accepting the project, take all expenses and time requirements into consideration, and charge accordingly.
Get all the information from your client at the very beginning. Seems obvious? It's not. If you are accustomed to small- and medium-sized projects (Word count? Deadline? Audience? Medium of publication?), you will soon learn that large projects are an entirely different beast. A handful of different parameters – larger scope, different delivery schedule, bigger team, extra language – can really shake the ground you stand on. You need a veritable project plan, and for that, you need to know right away what's lying in store a month or two down the line so, for instance, you can pick your subcontractors based on their medium-term rather than current availabilities. You don't want to end up neck deep in a project, only to realize that you're in much deeper than you thought.
Think you can simply keep mental track of everything. Write every detail down. Aside from project planning and communications, a big part of
project management is project tracking. If you don't have project management software, then get intimate with Excel. I mean, really intimate. Make spreadsheets to keep track of document stats (word count, subject matter, priority, deadline), and graphs, charts and timetables to monitor progress.
Dig deep into your network. Ask professors, colleagues and trusted translators if they would be interested in working with you, or if they know someone who would. Tap into Facebook (remember that really talented guy you met during the Translation Games a few years ago?) and LinkedIn. And that handout with the contact information of conference participants you received last year? It's time to whip it out. (Word to the wise: Be sure to carefully vet your people and make sure they are consummate professionals. A 'friend' may feel comfortable backing out at the last minute because, after all, "you'll understand.") Once you have your team, keep building your list, because it will be incredibly difficult to find and retain good people for a stretch of time. Good freelancers often have regular clients and a fairly steady workload. If you're wondering why people are not lining up to work with you on this project, it's because it may only be a one-time thing. Freelancers may be comfortable with a certain degree of instability, but no one in their right mind will give up their bread and butter for a single bite of steak, no matter how marbled.
Attempt to tackle this project without translation software. If you do, get ready for a major headache and quality control issues. On that note, try to hire subcontractors who also work with translation software. When it becomes necessary to split up a project into this many pieces, consistency becomes an incredible challenge, and highlighters and post-its are not going to cut it.
Educate your client about the translation process and manage their expectations – let's call this "sharing your expertise" – so that you can in turn grab this project by the horns and create the winning conditions you'll need to knock this bad boy out of the park. This is a golden opportunity to stand out as a professional, bolster your client's trust in you, and make everything go more smoothly... and avoid those 4 pm conversations where you have to inform your client that no, you simply cannot deliver 3,000 words tomorrow morning.
Pay your subcontractors immediately. WHAT?! That's right. Agree on a payment schedule that is in keeping with the client's, and pay your subcontractors accordingly. If a cheque comes in a little earlier, sit on it anyway because you may need cash flow. And here's a thought: You also need to pay yourself (rather than wait for a big cheque at the end of the project). You don't want to go three months working ridiculous hours without any money to pay for the takeout food you'll need to get through this thing.
Meaghan Girard is a certified translator who loves the professional freedom of freelancing and having different things on the go. She decided to pursue part-time studies to learn the ins and outs of business administration and earn a Master's degree in the process.