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What Constitutes an Urgent Translation Project?

Although different translation vendors may define “urgent” differently, those definitions have a few things in common. In this post, I will explain what a common “rush” translation project looks like, as well as how translation buyers can save money and improve quality for such projects.

Two types of urgent translation projects

This distinction is helpful in understanding what constitutes an urgent project:

  1. Naturally urgent.” Projects that require more words to be translated per business hour than a typical translator is comfortable with. An average translator can translate about 2,500 words per 8 business hours. If you want them to do 5,000 words in a calendar day, this means they will need to work 8 more hours during that day. Of course, they will want those hours to be compensated at an “overtime” rate. For example, our recent urgent project involved translating 5,000 words from English to Russian overnight. The project arrived at 4 p.m. The translator worked from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. The editor then edited the translation from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. The translation was delivered at 10 a.m. Obviously, this kind of rush service warranted a hefty surcharge.
  2. Individually urgent.” Projects that require more words to be translated per business hour than a particular translator is comfortable with. For example, it is Monday morning, and a translator has a 5,000-word project that will keep her fully busy today and tomorrow (16 business hours total). Another client calls and asks her to translate 2,500 words for tomorrow as well. This request is an urgent project for her, even though it doesn’t look like one to the client, since the client thinks they are giving 16 business hours to translate 2,500 words—twice what is normally required. But the fact is that the translator needs to work 16 business hours (for the first client) plus 8 business hours (for the second client) within two calendar days. Those additional 8 business hours for the second client are obviously overtime for her, so the project for the second client falls under the “urgent” category. The bottom line is that whenever you contact a translation vendor, the definition of “urgent” depends not only on a typical translator’s productivity, but also on how much that vendor is already booked for the same period.

This distinction between “naturally urgent” and “individually urgent” is hard to comprehend for many people. They tend to get frustrated, when a vendor offers a rush surcharge for a seemingly non-urgent translation project. Now that you know this distinction, you realize that the reason is that the vendor will have to fit this project into an already busy schedule, which can be only achieved by working more than 8 business hours a day, hence the “overtime” rate.

What are the reasons for a surcharge?

  1. Most obviously, it is the overtime. People do not want to work on evenings, nights, and weekends at regular rates.
  2. “Urgent” spells a higher risk of failing to meet the deadline, which is bad for a vendor’s reputation. A premium is required to justify this risk.
  3. Urgency means stress and lower productivity, because instead of careful planning, decisions are made in a rush. There is no time to prepare files for translation properly. Instead of sending requests to translators and editors and waiting patiently, a translation agency has to chase them by phone to get an answer as soon as possible. These inefficiencies lead to more hours spent on translation projects than normally required.

Tips for translation buyers about urgent projects

  1. First and foremost, avoid the urgency altogether! This will save you money and improve quality. When it comes to translation, urgency is often overestimated. Translation is not a matter of life and death—at least, this is true for most translations.
  2. Be prepared to pay extra, which can be anything from 10% to as much as 100% with larger translation service providers.
  3. It is critical to give the green light to a vendor, for example to confirm an estimate, as soon as possible, to give them more time.
  4. Urgent projects have a tendency to get canceled just as quickly as they are requested. So be prepared for an upfront payment, as your vendor might want to mitigate the risk of your canceling the project.
  5. Not all vendors accept rush jobs, so your regular vendor may be unavailable. Be prepared to look for someone else and ask your regular vendor to provide a recommendation.
  6. Ask for two deadlines—urgent and non-urgent—to consider your options.

For more information on this topic, read why you may want to avoid rush translations.

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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.