Creating and managing a translation team, part 2

This is a guest post by Michelle Bradley. If you missed part 1 of this series, you can find it here. Michelle began her career in translation 26 years ago after earning her M.A. from NYU in Madrid, Spain. Some of her first assignments as a newly-minted project manager included searching the Yellow Pages for Arabic translators, and fixing dial-up modem settings to meet late-night deadlines. It’s no wonder Michelle is now grateful for technology. Subsequent roles as Vendor Manager and Director of Operations prepared Michelle to open her own company (Colorado-based Wordtrail LLC) in 2010. Michelle currently wears multiple hats: project management, cultural consulting (including video creation), transcreation, copy-editing, transcription, DTP and translation from Spanish to English.

Why create and manage a team?

Creating and managing a translation team, part 1 gave a brief overview of basic steps to keep in mind when teaming up with colleagues on large projects. In part 2, we look at payment considerations and choosing your teammates.

There are many benefits to bringing colleagues together on projects. Most of all, your team could be very appealing to both direct clients (e.g., ABC Inc.) and translation agencies. Being more appealing may suffice as (intrinsic) payment for you, and it may provide you with a steady pipeline of work. If so, keep all charges as is for your client, and pay your fellow translators the same rate you’re charging your client, while seeing the workflow and job satisfaction as compensation.

These are some other considerations when approaching both clients and colleagues, and scenarios to mull over.

Projects for direct clients

Increased flexibility means you’ll be getting more work from your end-client (we hope). You could keep your rates as is for your end-client, and pay your translator colleagues a slightly lower rate. How to determine this? Offer your colleagues a lower rate based on a margin percentage you think is fair to keep. Try to pay them higher than their standard agency rates, when possible.

In any case, you can make a slight margin on your colleagues because you’ve worked hard to find this end-client and your reputation is at stake. You are the PM, project strategist, and you’re taking on the risk. If you pass terminology management to a team member whom you designate as “Lead Linguist”* – then raise their per-word rate to compensate. A small margin for bringing ongoing work to colleagues is reasonable. I expect my colleagues to do the same when they offer me joint projects.

Projects for translation agencies

– There’s more gray area on big projects from agencies, and it depends on which tasks you agree to. If you are simply bringing a team of linguists to the agency’s PM, and he/she is splitting/combining files, you may not see a need to adjust rates at all. Under this scenario, you’d just enjoy more frequent projects and do no extra work beyond your own translation (and paying your colleagues). Keep in mind that the PM would normally have to find appropriate, qualified, compatible linguists for this project, so you’re doing him/her a favor which helps build bridges. You’re doing everyone a favor which is good karma.

– Charge agencies more per-word for added services; add on $.xx per word for editing. Formatting is usually paid hourly, so establish that up front. Add hours to cover proofing the format and entering proof changes.

– Furthermore, if you’re managing terminology, TMs, and handling file management, the agency should offer you compensation for your PM time. Track your time on these projects – after all, every “non-translation” minute you spend on the project, you’re saving them time. Agree on compensation up front, preferably at your hourly rate.

– Establish who owns what tasks. (This conversation goes hand in hand with compensation, and usually you only have to establish this once for on-going projects/clients.)

Paying your colleagues

– For on-going teams, your colleagues may agree to charge slightly less. Offer them your best possible rate and see if they accept. In short, you’d pay your teammates a slightly lower rate than what you charge the agency. The idea is not to exploit, but to compensate yourself for a) bringing them work, b) communicating with the agency, and c) doing the bookkeeping.

– Agree on payment methods and terms with colleagues before you start the project.

– Only you need to know what the client is paying, as you will be handling incoming/outgoing payments. You may be paying each translator the same, or some people may offer you a discounted rate. That’s your business.

Forming your team

For close teamwork, refrain from finding your team on-line or elsewhere because your client is at stake (and your reputation). Resist the temptation to approach “friends” you’ve met at conferences. If you admit an unknown onto the team, do substantial testing and have a backup in place. If it doesn’t work well, you look bad. Be sure:

– you trust their work; you have read their translations and edited them. (Sample translations aren’t an accurate reflection of their work, and especially not of the kind of work they do under pressure.)
– they regularly work in this subject area. They need not give you client names but can name several long projects (with volumes) they’ve handled.
– they’ll raise content/terminology questions when appropriate, and not bother you with separate emails for every question (i.e., they operate efficiently).
– you can trust them to meet tight deadlines (they don’t bite off more words than they can chew).
– they have an appropriate level of CAT tool expertise in the tool you use, or know exactly how to work their CAT tool to be seamlessly compatible with yours (generating target files, terminology management, etc.). This is the area that will go wrong if it can go wrong, so run file import/export tests (not just theoretical discussions) with them before you collaborate.
– to approach these colleagues with potential scope and deadline, sharing a few sample paragraphs (get a signed NDA before you share client content).
– you trust them enough to tell them who the end client is, so they can deliver files directly (via a portal, FTP, Dropbox etc.) in a pinch.

**The role of the Lead Linguist

– decides terminology as questions emerge;
– collects/tracks client Q&A spreadsheet (via chosen communications method) so that everyone sees everyone’s comments/questions and Lead Linguist or client answers;
– may troubleshoot CAT Tool issues;
– establishes or manages glossary/termbase;
– reviews/distributes updated terminology;
– runs QA software when applicable;
– Option: translators deliver draft (3-4 page samples) after day 1 so Lead Linguist sees samples. This greatly informs direction and tone during rest of project. He/she reviews register and terminology after day 1… giving tips, samples and suggestions as needed, fomenting consensus/discussion. It also avoids someone veering into a different direction early on. If a translator is not following the style guide, request to recheck on day 2.

One added bonus that can emerge: you may just find someone whose work is so similar that you trust them to partner up and handle your inbox while you’re on vacation and vice versa! Bottom line, most of us enjoy camaraderie with fellow linguists, and chances are you’ll learn from them. You may get a bigger stream of work if you offer this service to clients, so you’ll want to strike a balance with the benefit and the costs of putting teams together.

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