A translation agency asked me the other day to translate some Japanese documents by the end of business hours next day. It was about 6 PM when I received their e-mail. I replied that I would be available for a less brutal deadline and they replied that unfortunately, the client needs the translation next day. So I gave it one more try. “How much is the surcharge for the rush job?” I asked. There was no answer this time, I assume because there was no rush rate.
Whatever happened to good old rush rates? Did they disappear to India and China along with 8 million jobs that disappeared from America in that direction in the last few years? The words of Ross Perot about “the giant sucking sound” from his short but prophetic and very entertaining presidential campaign in 1992 are still reverberating in the streets of American towns.
I do insist on rush rates. And so should you, I think. Because as I write in another post, a translator’s high, a magic moment when all things are suddenly clear and you become a secretary taking divine dictation from above cannot be forced. It can only come to you naturally, like true love, mostly when you are fresh, relaxed and of pure heart. Truth be told, as we get older there are fewer and fewer moments of natural high in our lives and towards the end it will probably be mostly natural lows all the way to the final oblivion.
28 years ago when I lived in San Francisco, I used to jog every Saturday morning from my apartment on Joice Street at the foot of Nob Hill to Golden Gate Bridge and back. It took me an hour each way. In spite of the physical exertion, this was a pure and unadulterated natural high for me when I was chasing after cable cars and then running along the Golden Gate Promenade with Alcatraz Island in the Bay on the right and Fort Point and Golden Gate Bridge in front of me as the right mix of endorphins was being released in my brain, lifting up my spirits and giving me a new perspective on life.
Almost three decades later, I can no longer run like that of course. Or at all. But I can still get my fix sometime from a natural high that sometime comes to us translators during magic moments when we have to translate a job in a hurry, pounding the keyboard like maniacs to finish the translation on time.
I don’t know about you, but I can attain a translator’s high only when I am being paid a rush rate. In fact, it has been my policy for about the last 20 years to always quote two prices when I am sending a price quote to a prospective client. The rush rate is 40% higher than the non-rush rate. Most of the time, the client will go for the lower rate, but about 30% of the time the job will end up being a rush, which is good for the bottom line. It’s amazing how much more productive a translator becomes when he is paid 40% more for basically the same thing. In my case it works every time.
If we stopped charging higher rates for rush work, it would be hazardous not only to our wallet but also to our health because everything would all of a sudden become rush. For some reason, people will usually find more time than they originally thought they had when they find out that the translation will otherwise cost them more. And when you have plenty of time to work on a translation, you can fit in other rush translations that will unexpectedly pop up in your e-mail, which is also good for the bottom line.
Of course, mostly direct clients are willing to pay a substantial surcharge for rush work, but a decent agency will also usually pay a few cents more per word if you have to sit on your behind for long hours even if it is a Saturday or Sunday. Or maybe they don’t do that anymore. I am not sure because I work for agencies only sporadically. Maybe that giant sucking sound took away in the last few years decent clients and decent agencies along with the 8 million jobs that disappeared from America.
But I don’t think so. I think that rush rates will disappear only if we stop asking for them. And I am not planning on doing that anytime soon.