When I Can’t Say “No” and the Virtue of Logging Hours

No, a one syllable, two-alphabet word, appears simple and direct, but is in fact one of the most difficult words to utter or type out. When it comes to potential projects that come our way, there are times when we want to or know that we should say no, but just have a hard time doing it. We end up taking on the project and regretting it once we dive into it, knowing that the instincts to reject the project was correct after all.

Knowing the reason(s) why we want to say no is the first step to mastering this difficult task. A few reasons that come to mind are:
1. The pay is too low for the time you would spend on it.
2. The client has a bad history of not paying on time, or paying at all.
3. You’re already over-committed and won’t be able to give the project the focus and care it deserves.
4. You’ve had bad experiences working with this client.

After figuring out the reason(s) why you want to say no, think about why you’re hesitant to cross off this project immediately. Examples may be:
1. Money is money, you can use any amount that you can get.
2. You’re  just starting out and think that taking on this project would get you more experience.
3. This job might lead to future jobs.

These are all logical reasons for saying yes, but ultimately, you’ll have to decide if the cons outweigh the pros. In the end, the main reason you should say no is because: It is not worth your time, energy, or headache! If the pay is too low, then you shouldn’t waste your time on it. If you know that the client has a difficult time paying, and waiting is not an option for you, don’t do it. If you’ve been tormented before with a client, don’t waste your valuable time haggling with the client again.

Know Your Worth
As a freelancer, especially one who is just starting off, any opportunity seems appealing, even if the pay is low. We tell ourselves, 「I’ll do this for a while until I get more experience, then I’ll charge more,」 but I can speak from experience that it does not go this way. Once you agree to low-ball your rate, you’ll be stuck with it, which is why it’s important to know your worth and to try your best to stick to it.

It’s important to know the worth of your time and expertise. One way to calculate this is by calculating your hourly rate by breaking down the salary you would receive as a full-time employee. For example, if your goal is to make a gross income of $50,000, divide that by 52 weeks in a year and 8 hours a day, you’ll find that your hourly rate should be around $24. If you’re able to edit 4 pages per hour, then your rate-per-page would be around $6/page. Use these numbers to guide your rate, and stick to it, as much as you can.

But Where Do We Draw the Line?
But what if you really can’t say no? What if you can’t resist passing on a project? If you feel that you have to take on a project even though it is under budgeted, managing your time by logging your hours is the best way to help you use your time efficiently. For example, if you are asked to edit a 150-page textbook at $2/page, use your hourly rate calculated earlier to figure out how much time you should spend on this project. This project will bring in $300 for you. If your hourly rate is $24, then you should make sure that you only spend around 12 hours on it. This will help you control your schedule and will also minimize wasted time. For tracking hours, I like to use Toggl.com, a free time-management service that helps you to track multiple projects. It’s easy to use and it also has pro service for $5/month that can help you generate bills, estimates, and reports.

How do you decide whether to say no to a client?

Defining Terms: Translation, Copyediting, Proofreading

Someone asked me why I provide copyediting and proofreading services separately from translation services. She would never hand over a translated document without editing and proofreading during and after the translation process. Of course, checking one’s work is necessary to any quality work, but when I say that I copyedit and proofread, I don’t mean copyediting and proofreading my own work but other people’s work. Below is a quick guide to the differences between translation, copyediting, and proofreading.

Translation: Refers to rendering a piece of writing from one language to another while keeping in mind the cultural nuances and meaning of the original language. The best translations are not word-to-word translations, but meaning-to-meaning translations.

Copyediting: Refers to editing a piece of writing for spelling, grammar, syntax, and consistency of usages throughout. Copyediting for a publisher often requires following a specific style guide to ensure that all publications are consistent in style. A few style guides are the American Psychological Association Publication Manual for scientific publications, the Chicago Manual of Style for the social sciences, and American Medical Association Manual of Style for medical publications. Copyediting for individuals, however, doesn’t always require using a style guide.

Developmental editing: Developmental editors, also known as content editors, look at the big picture and edit for substance. Instead of a mechanical line-by-line editing, developmental editors take the whole book’s organization and ideas into consideration. Because of this, changes can range from the rewriting of sentences or paragraphs, to the reordering of the table of contents.

Proofreading: The purpose of proofreading is to make sure there are no typographical errors (typos), weird breaks (widows and orphans), or mistakes at the final stage before putting the writing into print. In publishing, proofreading happens after the copyediting stage, when the typeset pages have been printed. At this stage, it is expensive to make changes, so any changes should be limited to those that are especially jarring.

Because there  is often confusion as to what copyediting and proofreading involve, it’s always important to communicate with the client about what is expected of you.

For differences between translation and interpretation, please click here.

Happy translating, copyediting, and proofreading!

Time Management (How much time should I spend on a copyediting project?)

Your time is money, so logging hours is important. It can help you gauge how much time you spend on a particular manuscript, and allow you to evaluate your strategy for projects to come. Over time, you’ll have a better idea of how much time on average you spend on each page, and will be able to give more accurate estimates for future projects.

When you are paid by the page, you’ll know off the bat how much the project will bring in. Based on that, you can try to set a time limit for yourself, and use that as a goal to complete the project. If you received a 200-page manuscript and are being paid at $2.00 per page, the project will bring in $400 dollars. The more efficient you are, the more you’ll make per hour for the particular project. If you spend 20 hours on the MS, you’d make $20.00 per hour. If you spend 40 hours on it, you’d make $10.00 per hour. Of course, you can’t always control how much time you spend on a project, but it’s still good to set a goal so you don’t go too far over your budgeted time.

If you’re paid hourly, your client tends to already have a budget in mind. This makes it even more important for you to log your hours and review the project before you begin. Scanning through the project beforehand will give you an idea of how much work may be necessary. If you feel that more time may be needed, give your client a heads up and check in now and then to update them on your progress. You don’t want to go over the budgeted hours unless it’s really necessary. If their budget is stringent and there is no compensation for additional hours, you can make the choice to either work overtime without pay, or do your best to complete the project within the given time frame.

These are my basic approaches to managing my time when I take on a project. How do you decide how much time you should spend on a given project?

Elance (and Don’t Say Yes to Any Project)

Many freelancers or those who are just starting as a freelancer must have heard the buzz about Elance.com. I learned about it through my friend, Dale, who found some help through this site for his start-up.

As a translator and copy editor trying to build a larger client list, I decided to give Elance a shot. Excited with the concept and idea of Elance, I began browsing the site for new opportunities to bid on. People who want to outsource their work post descriptions of the jobs they need done, the time frame, and their budget. Freelancers who are finding work can bid on these jobs with a delivery time frame and rate that is within the outsourcer’s budget and expectations The outsourcers will decide who to hire through the bids received, basing their decisions on the experience of the bidder, reviews the bidder has received, and the price the bidder is asking for. The more experience you have and the better reviews you get from your clients, the higher chance you will get selected for a job. But here’s the catch. The employers looking for labor often have a stringent budget, and because this website is open to workers worldwide, the competition is high for freelancers from the US who have a higher standard of living. I’ve found that at the end of the day, the bidder that asks for the lowest amount of money and has the fastest delivery date gets selected for the job.

The Competition

One big thing outsourcers look at is the price that bidders ask for. All of my bids were declined because the rate I gave was too high compared to what other bidders offered, even though I kept my rate within the outsourcer’s budget (the outsources have to select a reason why they declined a bidder’s bid, which is why I know the reason mine were declined).

Realizing this trend, I decided to place a lower bid for an e-commerce translation project. The outsourcer budgeted it at $500, so I placed my bid at $100. Within five minutes, I received an e-mail that said that I got the bid. I was excited to finally get my first bid, and jumped right into it to finish the project within the 48 hours I had promised.

Your Time is Money, Too

After finishing the 6000-word translation that took me six hours to complete and another hour to proofread, I realized that it has taken too much of my time for the money I was to receive for it. The rate for English to Chinese translations is $0.10/word on the low end, which means that I should be receiving at least $600 for this project if I had gone with my normal rate. I received  invitations to bid on projects through Elance after this, but as the one I was selected for, these projects were all under budgeted. I have declined them all.

When trying to get more work as a freelancer, we often fall into the trap of doing work for less, with hopes that the experience and portfolio we build will allow us to charge for more later on. While this is sometimes the case, it’s also important to know when to say no. I tried out Elance for three months and finally decided to stop. Even though it was an experience and something that can be added to my resume, I do not feel it was worth my time.

My Final Thoughts toward Elance

Although Elance may be a good way to make extra cash and get clients if you are from a country with a lower cost-of-living (China or India), I do not feel it is for me or for freelancers in the US. However, if you are someone who is trying to outsource your work, you may be able to find quality and affordable workers. Who knows?