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To Wait or Not to Wait

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Do you hate it when you turn down one or more jobs while waiting for a previously confirmed project, only to learn later that this project has been postponed or canceled altogether? This article provides a few thoughts about why you may want to feel differently about this.

Expecting this will never happen to you is unrealistic

In the real world, clients often change their mind about orders they have placed—and doubly so with translation orders, because translation is often not a real need, but a formal requirement. Clients understand this and are keen to continue looking for ways to do without translation, even after placing an order.

You have to choose

A freelance translator once offered us a deadline longer than we had originally offered her. We asked for an extension from our client and were waiting for an answer. In the meantime, even though just a few hours had passed, the translator requested that we confirm her deadline right away, or else she would consider her commitment annulled. Not only did she not want to wait a few hours for a lucrative potential project, but she also did not feel any commitment to the deadline she herself had offered.

You cannot have your cake and eat it, too. You cannot both keep yourself available for a large potential project and accept other projects with deadlines clashing with that of the potential project. Either you wait for the project patiently and turn down other offers, or you take whatever comes your way immediately, despite your commitment to the other client, just because that commitment is for a “less confirmed” project. In essence, you are choosing between a reputation as a reliable partner in the long term and healthier momentary profits. I’d choose reputation.

Suggestions for working out a deadline policy that is right for you

  1. It is best to quote in business days, rather than set dates. When you offer a set date, you have no idea when your quote will be confirmed. We once made this error and received a confirmation for a large project literally one day before the set date, and the client actually expected us to deliver on that date! So do not make the same error: quote in business days. This is not an ultimate solution, though, because when a quote is confirmed, you might already be busy and unable to start right away. The number of business days quoted will no longer make sense as a result.
  2. Look at profits lost due to rejected projects as just another business expense, the cost of doing business. If you want to be in the translation business, you should be tolerant of waiting for confirmations, as well as project cancellations. Everyone would prefer to have deadlines confirmed immediately, but this is not how things work, when several levels of decision-makers are involved.
  3. Use those days that you “lost” to work on your business or just take an extra day off. Enjoy the free time, when you have it!
  4. If you are intolerant of waiting, you are better off working with direct clients, rather than agencies. In theory, the fewer middlemen are between you and end clients, the less the waiting time, hence the risk of losing other projects while waiting for a confirmation. If you work with end clients directly, you may expect the confirmation time to decrease significantly. But remember that you are still working with people who have their own agendas: just because you are talking directly to a decision-maker does not mean he or she will not procrastinate on a decision.
  5. Charging a cancellation fee, whether just for canceled projects or for non-confirmed projects as well, is also a possibility. Note, though, that whatever cancellation fee you devise, you will be less competitive than your competitors who generally do not charge one. You will need to put something else on the table to make up for it, such as excellent quality.

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  • Sam says:

    I think the tip about quoting in business days is a good one. I’ve been in situations where I said I could get something done by a certain time, but then wasn’t able to start work until considerably later than planned. It would have been simpler if I’d said I could deliver it X business days after receipt of documents.

    • Exactly!
      Clients often request delivery on a specific date, and it’s natural for us to start thinking only in terms of that date. Learning to think in business days is challenging, but definitely worth it. Thank you for your comment, Sam.

  • Oleg says:

    Beginning of the article is written from the LSP’s point of view. If you did not confirm a project to your translator, why do you expext she’ll reserve the time for it? And the fact that your translator received other offers within several hours evidences that she is valued by other clients and her services are of high demand. You can’t just say “wait or loose the project” – that way you probably get less-demanded, thus less-qualified translators. The problem is not in lost profit only, but also in reputation of reliable partner in respect of her other clients.
    As a freelance translator, I always respect deadlines and my clients respect my schedule either. If HO time is shifted – they always offer respective deadline shift to fit it into my schedule (and I always do my best to go extra mile and to finish the project ASAP, WITHOUT AFFECTING OTHER, timely-delivered projects).

    • Thanks, Oleg.
      How do you tackle this challenge in your translation business? Since you wrote, “why do you expect she’ll reserve the time for it?”, I assume you do not reserve time in such cases. How do your clients feel when you tell them you did not honor your commitment made a few hours/days ago?
      And to answer your question, when a person tells me I can count on them, yes, I generally do expect them to reserve time for that commitment and not to ditch me in favor of something “more confirmed.” Otherwise, what is the point of commitments to begin with?
      Best regards,

  • Oleg says:

    Hi Roman,

    There is a difference between an initial project offer, when client asks my best rates/availability, and confirmation, when client agrees on my terms (or when it’s regular client – usually they provide “hard confirmed” jobs). Often I get no answer after responding to initial offer, so I don’t reserve a time in such case. When the client answers something like “Thanks” or “We’ll send the files shortly”, I consider an agreement is made and client gets the project delivered on time in case of timely handoff. Anyway, I do not make any promises until the project is “more confirmed”.
    I’m not aware about your exact situation with the translator. Your post says “translator requested that we confirm her deadline right away, or else she would consider her commitment annulled”, so I think the ball was on your side.
    Of course, I also face situation when the deadline is not acceptable for me because of other commitments. In such case client changes the deadline, selects other vendor or splits the job between me and other people – it’s the right of client and I accept any choice.

    I believe, the clue is mutual respect – when I value my clients, meet deadlines, go extra mile if needed, and client also respects me, my other commitments, my schedule. Anyway, if you don’t like an attitude of particular translator – you go on the market and hire another one. The same for translators who are not happy with your PMs.


  • If I accept a project I feel committed and I do reserve time. If the project then gets delayed, I wait for a certain time but not open-endedly. The cost of doing business should not outweigh the potential gain. I am not obliged not to accept any other substantial work for maybe 10 or 20 days while waiting for a project worth three days of work which I had accepted on the assumption that it was ready to start tomorrow.

    When the delay gets too long and the cost of business gets too high, I contact the project managers to let them know that I can no longer afford to put down other work offers by now. Fortunately, they usually understand this. Communication from both sides is crucial for successful handling of a project delay. The worst cases are those where translators accept other projects without getting back to their clients first – and, on the other hand, those where clients book you for a large, urgent translation and then simply disappear, not even bothering to explain why the project didn’t start as expected.

    • Anselm, this is exactly what I am advocating in this post! A common-sense approach plus respecting the other party.
      Thank you very much for your comment.

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About the Author

Roman Mironov
Roman Mironov
CEO & Founder

As the founder of Velior, Roman has had the privilege of being able to turn his passion for languages into a business. He has over 15 years of experience in the translation industry. Roman has helped dozens of clients increase sales by making their products appealing for speakers of other languages.