by Steven P. Venti
Anyone who wants to operate a business successfully needs to establish protocol for deciding whether or not to accept a particular job from a particular client. My personal philosophy is that the best way to develop a business is to build stable, long-term relationships with a wide variety of clients. Easier said than done, of course, especially in light of the fact that over the course of time you will find that there are always clients out there with whom you might prefer not to maintain long term relations. Yes, you heard me correctly. A translator shouldn't feel that it is only the client who has the right of refusal—a business relationship is a two-way street. That's why one important skill that a translator should try to develop is the ability to ascertain relatively early on just how deeply—if at all—to get involved with a particular job or client. The following list is intended to be a guide in obtaining the information you will need from a client not just to prepare a quotation and decide whether or not to tender it, but also to do a good job translating the document if you do get the work. There are other kinds of information that you will need, too, such as price and payment terms, but the focus here is on what you need to know to actually do the translation. Any client who is able to provide this kind of information without being asked is well on his way to becoming a valued customer. Conversely, if you ever run across someone who won't or can't provide you with this information, you might want to be very careful in your dealings with them.
1. What's it about?
The first thing you will want to know about any job is the subject matter. There isn't much sense in accepting or even doing an estimate for a job unless you are qualified to handle it yourself or prepared to find someone who is.
2. How big is it?
This might not be the most important question on this list, but nevertheless it always helps to be able to verify up front that you will have the time available to do the job, especially considering the fact that a lot of clients will blithely assume that theirs is the only job you have to work on. Which brings us to the next question.
3. When is it due?
Not surprisingly, the bigger the job, the more critical this question becomes, especially when someone shows up with 150,000 words that he wants done by the end of the following month and you are forced to ask yourself whether it is worth your while to cut yourself off from all your regular customers for the next several weeks. Are you really prepared to do 3500 words a day for an extended period of time to the exclusion of everything else? And don't forget that, like everything else, deadlines are negotiable.
4. What file format does the manuscript come in?
Have you ever found yourself wondering just what application you have to use to open a file with an "xyz" file extension? Verifying the file format before the job arrives can easily save you from having to search frantically on the Internet for a particular plug-in or software package.
5. What file format do I deliver the translation in?
I will even give a discount for a job that can be delivered as a text file because it obviates the need to deal with the issue addressed in question number six.
6. Should the translation be formatted?
Anyone who has ever had to "translate" a PowerPoint presentation or an Excel file knows the importance of this one. It is in a translator's own best interest to understand as well as to make sure that his client understands the difference between translating, editing, and formatting. And, no, they are not all included in a single price. For documents created in MSWord, I will usually format headings and do simple tables for no additional charge, and in fact providing that level of service is essential to establishing a reputation as a translator who provides value-added services, but be sure that your client is aware that this is something he is receiving for free—not something included in the price of translation—and that more complex formatting, such as working directly in Excel or PowerPoint, will require additional charges.
7. Is the manuscript a final draft, and are all the tables and figures referred to in the text included?
There is nothing worse than trying to translate a draft so full of typos, henkan-misu, and non sequitur that it is obvious that it was not proofread. And although there are times when the manuscript is written well enough that you don't actually need the tables and figures to see the point, they are few and far between. There is no excuse for the translator not receiving all the same information as the reader.
8. Will the translation be checked or edited by someone other than the translator?
Knowing that the translation will be checked and edited by someone else is not an excuse to be sloppy, but it is a good reason not to waste your time doing extensive formatting to a file that you already know will not be used "as-is."
9. Who is the author and who is the intended audience?
In this case, the question "who is the author" refers not so much to the identity of the author as the capacity in which he produced the text. Is it an in-house document written by an engineer for other engineers? Is it a business letter, written by the president of one company to someone in an equivalent position elsewhere? Or is it an operating manual, written by a technical writer for distribution to end users? These materials all have different objectives and styles, and it is just as important for the translator to know this as it was for the author.
10. Is the author available to answer questions? If not, is there anyone who is capable of answering questions?
Not surprisingly, much of the material that needs to be translated in real life is not self-explanatory. Nor should it come as any surprise that there are always some clients who can't seem to fathom why the meaning isn't obvious. All the more reason to have access to the person who knows best what it was he was trying to say.
11. How will the material be presented to the audience?
Is this material for publication? Will it appear in print, on the Web, or as a PowerPoint presentation? Is it a script for the narration of a video? All these cases require different approaches to everything from the idioms you use to how you format your text.
If you can think of any other questions that ought to be added to this list, please contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2002 Japan Association of Translators