We’re back in Hristo’s small apartment. He is sitting at his table in the kitchen with his computer open. The tidy table of yesterday has now taken on an aspect more becoming of a translator. Multiple coffee mugs and cumbersome dictionaries occupy the majority of the table. After running both hands slowly through his hair in an apparent attempt to squeeze a bit more energy out of his depleted batteries, he clacks out a quick email to two colleagues.
[Appears above him in the original Bulgarian but dissolves into English]
“Hi Milena and Andrei,
Will you have time later today around 13:00 to chat? I’ll be on Skype.
Andrei is a financial translator who has been working as a freelancer for four years. Those who know him know that he is generally busy and he hates to say no. His speciality gives him the ability to charge nice rates for Bulgaria but other than that, he is simply tireless in his work. His Skype handle is [XxBullGarrishxX]
Milena is a hardened lawyer-cum-translator. She left the courtroom six years ago to have more time to spend with her kids and husband. She is also an interpreter doing consecutive and simultaneous gigs after getting a Master’s in interpreting in Vienna. Her Skype handle is [Legal_Translator]
Hristo is slowly and clumsily straightening some things around the kitchen. Washing a mug here and there, wiping something, leaning against the counter. Leafing through an open dictionary and then closing it and piling it on top of the other two. He hears the Skype notification of a new chat and lumbers over to the computer.
[Chat to be carried out in Bulgarian but then have a morphing effect into English as they are played out overhead]
[Legal_Translator]: Hey Hristo, are you there?
[Hristocracy_1986]: Hey Milena, I’m here, you got a minute?
[Legal_Translator]: Yea, I just got back from a deposition.
[Hristocracy_1986]: Yea? How did it go?
[Legal_Translator]: The guy was late but it only lasted half an hour and got paid for two.
[Hristocracy_1986]: How is that?
[Legal_Translator]: Minimum fee. Never leave home without one.
[XxBullGarrishxX has been added to the conversation]
[XxBullGarrishxX]: hello people, how we doing?
[Legal_Translator]: Hey Andrei
[Hristocracy_1986]: Hi Andrei, how’s it going?
[XxBullGarrishxX]: hey hey, yea, good, worked the last 6 days straight so today is light
[XxBullGarrishxX]: just invoices and stuff and i finally get to go grocery shopping
[XxBullGarrishxX]: been eating apples all week
[Legal_Translator]: What project were you working on?
[XxBullGarrishxX]: i had to go over about three years of financial records for this company. like end of year reports and stuff, pretty easy but i had to make sure all the numbers were there that they added up and blah blah blah
[Hristocracy_1986]: Sounds like fun.
[XxBullGarrishxX]: yea, not too bad. whats up with you guys?
[Legal_Translator]: Same old stuff, had a short deposition today, two contracts to translate for tomorrow. Next week I’m in the booth for this human rights’ conference at the university.
[Legal_Translator]: I’m looking forward to a free weekend.
[Hristocracy_1986]: Well I just got an offer to do a technical translation for this agency in California.
[XxBullGarrishxX]: nice! which one?
[Legal_Translator]: Huh, I don’t know them. What do they want you to translate?
[XxBullGarrishxX]: haha, i think i did a test translation for them last year. something about paint, anyway i never got any feedback nor have they called me
[Hristocracy_1986]: Yea, I did the test translation, it was on quantum encryption software, it wasn’t too bad but I had a ton of questions for the editor but I never got word back, just that I ‘passed’.
[Legal_Translator]: That means there was no editor.
[Hristocracy_1986]: What do you mean? They said they had their team look at it.
[Legal_Translator]: Do you believe everything you’re told? Especially from an agency?
[Hristocracy_1986]: Why would they lie to me?
[Legal_Translator]: No comment.
[XxBullGarrishxX]: good for you, man. you passed, who cares. so how long is the text?
[Hristocracy_1986]: Um, it’s like 15,000
[Legal_Translator]: Ooh, big one.
[XxBullGarrishxX]: awesome man, congratulations on your first real gig
[Hristocracy_1986]: I haven’t really accepted formally yet.
[XxBullGarrishxX]: why not?
[Hristocracy_1986]: That’s kind of why I wanted to talk to you guys. I don’t know if the job is very good, I mean, pay-wise.
[Legal_Translator]: What’s the rate? And what’s the turnaround like?
[Hristocracy_1986]: The PM told me she wants it back by Friday, which gives me like three and a half days because we’re 9 hours ahead. The budget is $400 US
[XxBullGarrishxX]: sweet. 400 bucks, that should get you through the month at least.
[Legal_Translator]: You’re joking right?
[Hristocracy_1986]: Yea, I mean no, $400 US, I would have to work pretty much straight through until I finish, but, it’s not like I haven’t pulled all nighters before.
[Legal_Translator]: You’re serious?! You’re actually considering this?
[Legal_Translator]: You realize that’s like 2.5 cents a word?
[Hristocracy_1986]: Is that low?
[Legal_Translator]: Very low.
[XxBullGarrishxX]: it’s below average but work is work
[Legal_Translator]: Andrei, you’re kidding yourself, you can’t accept a rate that low, Hristo.
[Legal_Translator]: Especially if they are giving you such a short deadline, a rush fee should be included too!
[XxBullGarrishxX]: look, Hristo, yes, it’s a low rate and yes the time could be a problem but you got to get your feet wet some time. i had jobs when i had just graduated for rates that low too.
[XxBullGarrishxX]: so did Milena, she just doesn’t want to admit it.
[Legal_Translator]: No comment. Hristo, look at the numbers.
[Legal_Translator]: 2.5 cents per word, let’s say you fly through thing at 500 words per hour, you’re only making $12.50 per hour.
[XxBullGarrishxX]: he should be so lucky! minimum wage here is less than $200 us dollars a month
[Legal_Translator]: Andrei, this is not a discussion on wages and microeconomics, it’s about principle.
[XxBullGarrishxX]: Yea, you dont want to enter into a conversation about microeconomics with me because you know you’re in over your head
[Legal_Translator]: Hristo, this is about principle. You are worth more than that, no matter where you live. You happen to live in a country that has a lower standard of living but you are a freelancer, you conceivably could be anywhere. What if you were in Switzerland? What would you do there, making $12.50 per hour while working your ass off?
[XxBullGarrishxX]: look, this has nothing to do labor laws and standard of living, the bottom line will always remains just that. the reality is, he’s not in Switzerland and 400 dollars is a lot of money, especially here. especially for a young translator
[Hristocracy_1986]: I could actually really use the money…
[XxBullGarrishxX]: of course you can, we all can
[Legal_Translator]: Andrei, you’re missing the point. If Hristo takes this job, he’s setting a precedent that is very hard to reverse. Now that client, his only one so far, will just punch in 2.5 cents per word next to his name.
[XxBullGarrishxX]: and if this client regularly gives him work, he’ll be making more than enough to live
[Legal_Translator]: But he’s worth more than that! We all are!
[XxBullGarrishxX]: i don’t disagree that we feel we are worth more than what we’re paid and we’d all accept higher rates and hourlys, but economically speaking we are worth exactly what we are paid.
[XxBullGarishxX]: you and i (sorry Hristo) charge more and have more flexibility to say no to clients because we have been doing this for years. He’s just starting, he needs the experience. he needs the money. he should take the job
[XxBullGarishxX]: think about it this way too, if Hristo doesn’t take it, someone else will
[Legal_Translator]: Maybe not…
[XxBullGarishxX]: but probably most likely it will totally get sent to someone else. someone who probably doesn’t even know what quantum teleportation software is, i say, it might as well go to Hristo
[Hristocracy_1986]: encryption, not teleportation
[Legal_Translator]: Hristo, ask for more money or time or both. Rush fees are commonplace and I feel like this PM is trying to take advantage of you because you’re green.
[Hristocracy_1986]: I’ll ask, but the email was pretty clear that the budget was set.
[Legal_Translator]: There is always more money.
[XxBullGarrishxX]: not true.
[XxBullGarrishxX]: these agencies all fight each other to come in the lowest (classic competition scenario, by the way) and the end client just picks the lowest number. 99 times out of a 100
[XxBullGarrishxX]: after the agencies pay for the office, the pm’s, the computers and software licenses, takes its cut for profit, there is very little left to do the actual work,
[Legal_Translator]: Yea, I know, but they can’t treat us like this. We are the ones on the ground DOING the work! They are just intermediaries!
[XxBullGarrishxX]: Of course, why do you think everybody values direct clients so much? but at least this time they found someone qualified to take on this heinously technical translation
[Hristocracy_1986]: Direct clients? You can do that?
[Legal_Translator]: Absolutely, that is what you want to do, have a direct client, set your own rates and terms.
[XxBullGarrishxX]: yea but many would-be clients don’t trust individual contractors when they can hand over the whole multilingual translation job to another company with a shiny website instead of spending time on finding 5 separate translators.
[Legal_Translator]: Not to mention editors.
[Hristocracy_1986]: I can make my website shiny. I have to make one first but I can make it really good.
[Legal_Translator]: I have to make a website too. I’ve been saying that for 6 years.
[Legal_Translator]: Look Hristo, what I am saying is, this is not going to be your only client. There are millions of them out there, with your abilities, you’ll find some good ones. Just don’t sell yourself short. The industry as a whole can only grow with a concerted effort by its constituents to not accept piddly rates.
[XxBullGarrishxX]: always the battle crier, eh Milena? you know that will never happen, you just can’t accept it. many people treat our industry like a fun way to make some money on the side
[XxBullGarrishxX]: those who treat translation as a hobby will always undercut us, they probably all have day jobs but think ‘languages are neat’
[XxBullGarrishxX]: i just consider them occupational hazards, just avoid them as colleagues and work that much harder to distinguish yourself
[XxBullGarrishxX]: Hristo, take the job, learn the ropes, getting experience is the only way to break the paradox of need experience to get experience. this is your chance
[XxBullGarrishxX]: but you need to learn how a project works, how negotiation works, how to invoice and get paid,
[XxBullGarrishxX]: cut your teeth for a bit, make rent and eat rice–you’re not going to get rich, especially at the beginning. nobody walks into the translation industry charging 20 cents a word, it’s a process, work through it, and your next clients, charge them more
[XxBullGarrishxX]: anyway let me know how it goes and good luck either way, but you should take it. i gotta go walk the dog and get back to my invoices.
[XxBullGarrishxX]: talk to you later, folks
[Legal_Translator]: Andrei has a point, you need to work your way up. But you don’t have to start SO low.
[XxBullGarrishxX has signed out]
[Legal_Translator]: Do this, Hristo
[Hristocracy_1986]: yea, what?
[Legal_Translator]: Sit down and look at your finances. Take a look at your expenses for your apartment, food, going out, transport and tally that up. Add in a line for medical stuff too.
[Legal_Translator]: Take that number and use it as a minimum monthly goal, now how much do you have to work to get reach that goal? Use different rates, 2.5, 5, 7, 10 cents.
[Legal_Translator]: How many words is that? 5,000? 10,000? 20,000? How fast do you translate?
[Legal_Translator]: You have to keep in mind that you will not be working 40 billable hours per week.
[Legal_Translator]: If you charge by word, the faster you translate means you are making more, the slower, the less money you make, obviously.
[Legal_Translator]: But you’re not making money on the time you have to ask the PM a question. The time you have spend to invoice your clients.
[Legal_Translator]: The time you must spend formatting stupid documents or trying to read handwritten text. Or looking up terms, which in your case may be significant.
[Legal_Translator]: This is ‘free’ work that must be compensated for by the time you ARE making money, that is why it is so important to have a higher rate. OK, $12 per hour is OK but you’re not going to be able to count on 40 hours at $12 per hour, count on a fraction of that, even though you may have 40 hours of work.
[Legal_Translator]: Do you understand?
[Hristocracy_1986]: I think so, I hadn’t thought about that.
[Hristocracy_1986]: So you think I should ask for more money or not take it?
[Legal_Translator]: Yes. No one should work for that low. I don’t care where you live.
[Legal_Translator]: Plus you’re not someone’s nephew ‘who knows Bulgarian’, you’re a scholar and you are now going to make this industry proud with quality work unlike those other hacks who treat it like a hobby thereby giving translators a bad name.
[Hristocracy_1986]: OK, but maybe I can do this job at this rate and then the next one say that it’s going to cost more.
[Legal_Translator]: Yea, that’s not going to happen. You have to be quite firm with agencies because they are interested in paying the least amount of money. If you accept 2.5 cents this time, that will be your rate for them.
[Hristocracy_1986]: OK, got to be firm. Thanks for the help, I forgot to tell Andrei thanks.
[Legal_Translator]: No problem, let us know how it goes. You can tell him later, we’ll take you out for a coffee this weekend, OK?
[Hristocracy_1986]: OK, sounds good.
Hristo takes a small break and sits back into his chair and stretches his hands high above his head. He leans forward, elbows on the table and rests his head in his hands. He stays like this for a few moments as he runs the situation over in his head. Hristo clicks around the computer and closes the Skype window and brings up his Outlook. The email is typed in real time above.
Thanks for the email. OK, I’ll have it for you by Friday.
With that, Hristo closes his computer and puts his head down on top of it. Lights dim and curtain falls.