Translator’s guide to Project Manager pitches

Are you sure you know what you’re getting into when you accept that great new job from your friendly neighborhood translation agency? Don’t jump at that offer too fast, because not every great project is what is seems. Sometimes job offers are like real-estate pitches; you have to read between the lines or that “minimum editing” job you commit to may turn out to be a major reconstruction project. Watch out for these “opportunities”:

Great curb-appeal!

In PM-speak, this would be an offer of a great new job. This description may seem innocuous enough, but it makes me sit up and take notice because it’s still a pitch. No-hassle jobs sell themselves and don’t require any special introduction. If it needs to be mentioned that the job is actually really great, do yourself a favor pronto and take a closer look.

Unique property

Charming, quaint, unique; these types of qualifiers all mean you’re going to be stuck with chartreuse carpet or a crazy floor plan.  Beware the interesting project. I remember how disappointed I was the first time a PM made me this offer and it turned out the interesting bit was the fact that the source was a 300-page document filled with messy track changes which were to be reflected in the target pdf as sticky notes. Interestingly enough, I passed on this job.

Needs some TLC

This one is related to the previous one in that it involves an unusually difficult or unpleasant job, but the approach is different.  Rather than talking up the project, the PM flatters the contractor. “It’s an important client so you’re our first choice for this project”, the PM might say, or “you have such an excellent reputation in this field, we really need you on this project”. Now I love to hear nice things about myself so I want to believe it, I really do … but the cold hard reality is that their job is to get bodies on projects, not to bolster my self-esteem, so you have to take these things with a grain of salt and be very clear about what it is you’re being asked to do.

Cozy cottage

Picture: herb garden and tea by the fire. Reality: square footage of a 1-bedroom apartment and no storage space. In PM-speak, a tiny job evokes notions of a 5-minute job for a nice fat minimum fee. Easy money, won’t take much time, so sure, you agree to squeeze it in between the two big jobs you’re working on. And then you find out their definition of “tiny” is a ten-page contract. Or yes, it’s 50 words, but it’s a marketing slogan which will require a lot more time and consideration than is covered by the minimum fee.

Priced to sell!

These jobs are advertised with a great rate as a flat fee for a fixed word count. Based on the listed word count, the fee will be higher than average so you feel like you better jump on the chance, but I’ve learned from sad experience that the final word count will often be much higher than promised, dramatically dropping the actual per-word rate. There are several variants to this bait and switch theme:

  • It’s a pdf file so it’s really hard to judge whether the promised word count is correct. Unless I am sure the count is in my favor, I renegotiate to a per-target-word count or I pass.
  • The PM shows you a word document when presenting the job, but after you commit to the job you receive a Trados or Wordfast file along with a PO deducting for perfect and fuzzy matches.
  • After signing up for a fixed rate you receive the instructions, which specify, for example, that all acronyms and institution names must be expanded/retyped in the source language and translated, adding significantly to the expected word count and time spent on research and verification. Or they want a notarized certificate of accuracy sent to the client, both by email and certified regular mail.

So these are some of the pitches that set off my mental “caution” alarm. Colleagues, what are some of the phrases or approaches you have learned to be wary of?

6 thoughts on “Translator’s guide to Project Manager pitches

  1. Interesting post. However, in my experience and these pitches come mainly from very big translation agencies. I have been a project manager for 15 years in several agencies and never ever used these types of pitches (or any pitch for that matter). I did not need a pitch, as translators knew exactly what to expect.

    There are two general rules in my view:

    1. If a project manager delivers a pitch, (s)he is de facto lying.

    2. Never commit yourself to any job before you know exactly what you are in for. That means: you have seen the source text, you have seen the file you are supposed to work on, the rate and deadline has been confirmed by both parties.
    If the client changes any of these items after you have committed yourself to the project, that commitment becomes void and may need to be re-negotiated. It is important in this case to feel self-confident and to act accordingly. That’s usually the hard part.

    Incidentally (and pardon the ad), I am giving a presentation on the life and work of a project manager in the upcoming international translators’ conference in Budapest (

    • Hi Herman, thanks for your thoughts. You are absolutely right about these pitches coming mainly from big agencies; that’s where all these examples are from. I also learned the hard way early in my career to have all the info before committing! The smaller, more specialized and higher-paying agencies, interestingly, are far more laid back, even informal sometimes, but absolutely straightforward and reliable and I love working with them. And thanks for sharing about your presentation; I wish I could be there but it’s a bit far to travel from California, but I have always been curious about life from a PM perspective. Any chance you could turn it into an article or webinar?

      • Hi Marie, one article would not be sufficient to cover the presentation, I’m afraid, but a Webinar is a good idea (or turn it into a series of articles). There is also a slim chance that the presentation will be recorded.
        Small, reliable agencies are indeed often a delight to work for. I know that direct clients are to be preferred in many ways, but those who have them often oversimplify the way to find and get them or are in a totally different situation from most other translators. But that’s another subject.
        Now I need to add your blog to my rss reader! 😉

  2. Yes, direct clients are nice, but I a good agency is a treasure worth keeping! Keep me updated on your presentation; if it gets recorded I definitely want to see it. And thank you for adding me; you’re on my list as well 🙂

  3. Appreciating the hard work you put into your blog
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    across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same out of date rehashed material.

    Wonderful read! I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m including your RSS feeds to my
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