Posted by: patenttranslator | March 15, 2013

Do You Have A Rush Rate?

I just finished translating a long Japanese patent, almost eleven thousand English words, in two and half days. I charged my rush rate for it, which is 40% higher than my regular rate.

I charge more for rush translations because there often are, or could be, several other jobs that I am juggling at the same time. At the moment, I have on my desk 7 Japanese patents and 1 German patent for which I will charge my regular rate.

When direct clients asks me for a cost estimate, I normally give them two prices: one for regular and one for rush turnaround time. Most of the time they choose the regular turnaround time, which I define as no more than 2 thousand words per working day, excluding Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. This means, for example, that the 7 Japanese patents will take me 15 working days to finish, while at the same time I can fit in a few other translations, but only if I work also on weekends.

If I did not have a rush rate, most jobs would automatically be needed yesterday or ASAP. The rush rate basically makes it possible for me to live almost like a normal person, some of the time.

But sometime my clients will choose the rush rate if their own deadline makes them nervous. That’s what the last one said. I gave him two prices, one for regular turnaround time and one for rush work, and he went for the higher price to be on the safe side.

After working at full speed for two and half days – I was translating four thousand words a day the first two days, and today I finished the last three thousand words by noon and then spent the afternoon proofreading before I sent the translation to the client – I am completely wiped out.

The exhaustion that I feel after spending many hours, generally from 7 AM to 7 or 8 PM, mostly translating with only a few breaks and a nap in between, is similar to what I used to feel more than 3 decades ago when I was studying for a difficult examination at the university. Say, classical Japanese called “bungo“. I used to stick cards with irregular verbs and difficult characters on everything, including the mirror in the bathroom. After I cut myself shaving, I decided that the bathroom mirror was probably not a good location. I remember how people were giving me strange looks in the metro train when I was shuffling my cards and mumbling strange words on my way to school.

But although the feeling of exhaustion after each rush job is similar to what I felt decades ago as a student, I don’t have the same feeling of satisfaction as I did after passing a difficult exam, although there is some satisfaction from the significantly higher figure.

Mostly I feel relief because tomorrow I will not have to slave as much as I did today.

But the truth is, I will have to fit almost as many translating hours into my day tomorrow as I did today, and the day after tomorrow, and the day after that. Because at some point, everything will be finished and there may be no more work for who knows how long. Feast or famine. Too much or not enough, that’s how it’s been for more than 25 years now.

My insistence on a rush surcharge slows down the madness a little bit, I think.

I have been using this system for more than 20 years now, and it still makes sense to me, although I understand that different translators have different systems, and some don’t really charge more for rush at all.

Of course, I can only add a substantial surcharge when I work for direct customers. When I work for translation agencies, I can only add another cent per word, two cents at the most, to my usual rate. I don’t know whether they charge customers much more than a cent or two. I suspect that most of them probably do but they don’t want to share the bounty with the translators.

Sharing, caring, that’s not what they are about. I remember that only one agency paid me “a time and a half” for rush work, in 2006, which was the law in United States for working overtime back when I was an employee in the eighties. Is it still the law? I kind of doubt it, but even if it is still on the books, many corporations and small companies probably simply ignore it these days. The people in this tiny translation agency actually suggested “time and a half” themselves as I was going to ask only for 1 cent because I really liked them. It was a husband-wife team, the guy, who was in his seventies, had PhD in chemistry and his wife was taking care of accounting.

I was working for them for about a year, translating pharmaceutical test reports from Japanese. A substantial surcharge was clearly warranted since many of these reports were handwritten, which slows me down quite a bit.

The mom-and-pop agency was sold a year later to a bigger outfit, which then sent me and several other translators a work offer, a rush job that had to be accepted quickly before somebody else snags it. This is a system that many translation agencies use now, instead of working only with the best translators known to them to stay out of trouble, they send a work offer to a bunch of largely unknown entities so that the “first responder” (read the first warm body) will get the job.

So I called the girl who sent me (and a bunch of other warm bodies) that e-mail and told her that I will not work for them anymore. After a while, the owner of the agency called me in person and apologized for “an oversight” on the part of that girl. I told him that I would not work for him anyway, and hung up on him.

As the country song says, I know how to hold a grudge.

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Responses

  1. Steve,

    I staged an impromptu survey on translation differentiation, starting with quality and pricing: http://bit.ly/13zMXZl

    It grew on me, so the results of the survey (100 respondents), posted yesterday http://bit.ly/WpXthC , let me speculate on market(s), marketing, all the usual suspects, “culture and propaganda” in your terminology and “The future is now” in mine

    If you are curious about the statistical results (“Do you quote different rates according to turnaround time (e.g. surcharge for express delivery)”, please check out this post

    You are in the mainstream :))

    Time to make (and give) choices, what do you think?

    Valerij

    Like

    • Interesting survey.

      Good to know that I am in the mainstream by charging more for rush, at least according to your survey.

      Like

  2. I had a rush rate once; not any more. At 150% it wasn’t high enough to be usefully dissuasive. Several of my customers began to take it for granted that merely by paying extra, they could get away with murder. I had to learn that sometimes I must say “No”.

    But that can be quite difficult too, and I lost one of those ‘rush rate’ customers by saying “No” too often.

    For the record, I translate patents too, and for the last 30 years my booking chart has usually been full for the next 10 days, and has rarely had much in it beyond 20 days. That must be something to do with how soon before the deadline applicants let themselves be persuaded to give their patent attorneys firm instructions for filing abroad.

    So I still get feasts (i.e. too much for comfort in the next few days), but I don’t charge extra; either I can cope, or I say “No”. As to famines, I have a vivid memory of the day I took the last job out of my in-tray – but fortunately the ‘phone rang long before I had finished dictating. I have experienced many periods of worrying that a famine might be just round the corner, but that ‘last job out’ day happened about 12 years ago.

    Like

    • Thanks for your comments.

      Whatever works for you.

      The question is, which one of us is losing more money by charging for rush (and having too much free time sometime), or not charging for it (which could mean charging less than what you are really worth).

      Like

  3. No, Steve, I don’t have a rush rate. My regular one is already scary enough. And I want to stay alive and enjoy the happy life of a freelance translator for at least another 2 decades.

    Thanks to Valerij’s post, too. You have about the same philosophy as I do.

    Like

  4. I wonder, Wenjer, how scary is your rate?

    Can you let me know either here or in a private e-mail? (you can click on the e-mail link on my website’s home page).

    Like

    • @Wenjer Me too! I am already scared (please include me, if you don’t mind, Wenjer). Glad you share my thoughts :))

      @Steve I really think you’re a genius with YouTube. So I take the Sopranos.

      Like

    • Well, Steve, when someone comes to me without a serious intention of hiring me for a communicaton solution, I quote him a scary regular rate, the way like Tony Soprano would say to a store owner, “Nice store you got there… It would be a shame if something happened to it.”

      However, when someone comes to me with a serious intention and the project to be done is a one that I’d die for, I quote him a scary regular rate that he stays to work with me.

      You see, how scary my regular rate is depends on personal perceptions of the clients. And you know that people perceive the same thing differently. When I smell a fire in the staircase, I won’t go upstairs to find out the truth. Instead, I go out of the door in the ground floor immediately and search for flames and smoke from outside. It is a client’s damn right to be scared by the rate a translator quotes. It is a translator’s damn right to scare away a client whom he doesn’t want to work with. Right?

      OK, now to you, Valerij. You are not scared by me at all. We are on about the same level of being freelance translators. We know ourselves well enough and we know people well enough to figure out the potential of their becoming (regular) clients.

      I like reading translation colleagues and I like interacting with them. But that’s it. I don’t need to look for clients. There are plenty of them and I need only to choose a few, no more than 21. And I need no more than 5 among them to ensure my annual income. Whoever comes around and ask me to take him/her along with a decent proposal, that would be a nice extra. But never would I take on a rush job from any irregular clients who is not of my choice.

      Andrew above is perfectly right with his observation of “Several of my customers began to take it for granted that merely by paying extra, they could get away with murder.” Well, I declined 7 rush jobs allowing extras of 40% to 100% in the past two months. They were offered by somehow regular (decently paying) clients. But, no, when a lady or a gentleman says no, it means no. :o) I want to maintain my health for another 2 decades, as said.

      Like

  5. “Steve I really think you’re a genius with YouTube.”

    You know, you could be right!

    Like

  6. […] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wfbTzbXo_A I just finished translating a long Japanese patent, almost eleven thousand English words, in two and half days. I charged my rush rate for it, which is 40…  […]

    Like

  7. “I like reading translation colleagues and I like interacting with them. But that’s it. I don’t need to look for clients.”

    That may or may not be true because none of us knows what the future holds.

    I will probably use this as a leitmotif in my next post.

    Like

    • “That may or may not be true because none of us knows what the future holds.”

      Great that you will use this as a leitmotif in your next post. But let me tell you, I didn’t know 20 years ago what today holds.

      Have faith, Steve.

      Like

  8. […] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wfbTzbXo_A I just finished translating a long Japanese patent, almost eleven thousand English words, in two and half days. I charged my rush rate for it, which is 40…  […]

    Like

  9. […] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wfbTzbXo_A I just finished translating a long Japanese patent, almost eleven thousand English words, in two and half days. I charged my rush rate for it, which is 40…  […]

    Like

  10. I have had a rush rate for a long time, but it is not the same as yours. We professionals need to act as such, and having different prices is just regular business practice.

    Like

  11. […] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wfbTzbXo_A I just finished translating a long Japanese patent, almost eleven thousand English words, in two and half days. I charged my rush rate for it, which is 40…  […]

    Like

  12. […] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wfbTzbXo_A I just finished translating a long Japanese patent, almost eleven thousand English words, in two and half days. I charged my rush rate for it, which is 40…  […]

    Like

  13. […] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wfbTzbXo_A I just finished translating a long Japanese patent, almost eleven thousand English words, in two and half days. I charged my rush rate for it, which is 40…  […]

    Like

  14. […] Month How Much Will It Cost? Part I Reading Your Way to Fluency The Sportswriter’s Dictionary Do You Have A Rush Rate? Funny Translation Mistakes ProZ and Kudoz Etiquette Top Ten Grammar Myths Dictionary of […]

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