There is a lot that can go wrong in any project, but unexpected rush projects are especially dangerous because there is no margin for error. If anything goes wrong during a rush project, I am either losing money, damaging my reputation with my client, or both. I would like to take a moment to discuss more about why rush fees exist, which will lead to a reflection on some of the inherent issues with rushing projects, and then summarize by discussing what we can all do to avoid them so that I never have to charge you rush fees again!
Reasons for rush fees
Rush fees can and will be charged for a number of reasons. The practice varies widely among translators. Sometimes they are charged by translators just to deal with the inconvenience and stress of having to cancel their current assignments/plans. Sometimes translators are business savvy to take advantage of supply and demand in a free market.
The most common and easy to understand reason, though, is that it is a charge for the overtime that has to be worked in order to complete the job. It actually may be more appropriate to think of these rush fees as overtime charges.
If you think about it, the translators are probably not translating any faster. In fact, you don’t want them translating faster and skipping steps. They are simply working overtime to make sure the job is done on time. In a world where it is standard practice to pay 150% overtime to regular and contract employees, why shouldn’t translators be paid the same?
Other times, rush fees could be thought of as an inconvenience fee. Sometimes it is necessary to charge an inconvenience fee in order to encourage requestors to be organized. If there is no penalty for throwing last-minute requests at translators, then what motivation is there for project managers to go through the work of creating schedules and negotiating timelines? It’s much easier to just place that burden on the translators.
“As a new father, I can think of a great example of this: child care centers that charge extra for late pick-ups. If you pick your child up after 6:00 pm, you will be charged an additional fee. Oftentimes, they will waive this fee if you have a special circumstance or get stuck in traffic. But if it happens too often, they will soon stop waiving.”
What are the negative consequences of rushing?
I can’t think of anything in life that is better when rushed. Quality will be the first and most obvious thing to suffer when you have to rush a project. Important steps may be rushed or skipped entirely. You may not be able to get your preferred translator on short notice, so the translation could be performed by somebody not as familiar with the project. Furthermore, if rush projects become a recurring theme, translators may eventually get tired of the stress and chose to work on more steady projects for other clients.
I would also propose that charging and paying rush fees is lazy, or at least, the easy way out. By writing off the extra costs associated with rushing translation, you are doing yourself and your whole team a disservice by ignoring an opportunity to improve your processes.
If you are sick of paying rush fees, I would suggest taking a close look at the processes (or lack thereof) that are leading to the situations that are causing them. It is oftentimes much simpler to fix the root issues.
For instance, if your content creation team is constantly making last-minute changes that need to be translated immediately, then it may be prudent to have a conversation with them to either better understand their driving needs or to set expectations appropriately. After explaining to them the burden that is being placed on the translators, they may be able to adjust their requirements.
As long as they are unaware of the issues they’re creating, they are not going to change their ways. If, after carefully explaining to them the importance of allowing time for localization, they are still not cooperative, then you may choose to pass the pain onto them, explaining how this negatively effects their budget, or even setting a cut off time for new content, after which no new content will be accepted for localization. If they feel the pain themselves, then they will be motivated to change their behavior.
How to avoid rush fees
So now that we have discussed why rush fees exist and how they are negatively affecting our localization processes, how do we avoid them? Keep in mind that sometimes they are just plain unavoidable, but there are certain things that can be done, in cooperation with your localization supplier, to minimize these costs.
- Setting clear expectations. By setting clear expectations with your vendors, you will always know how your rush projects are going to be treated. Clearly outline the expected throughputs and SLA’s in your contract so that you can use them as a point of reference. All too often there are not clear expectations set. Why? Because writing rush fees into a contract is essentially admitting that there will be times when your workflows and processes will fail. However, it is still better to plan for this potential scenario than to assume that it will never happen.
- Organization. The more organized your processes are, the less you find yourself in a dire situation where you have to have 500 words translated into Hungarian in 30 minutes. Do you need four-hour turnaround times for 50+ languages? Fine — if you are organized enough to make sure that your drops are sent in a consistent size and format on a reliable schedule, it should be no problem to make sure the translators can prioritize them right away!
If you are lucky enough to be able to invest in technology, there is also a variety of automated solutions that can be customized to fit your needs, which is how some localization teams are able to manage hundreds of hand-offs every day with turnaround times that would normally be categorized as rush projects, yet do not incur any additional costs.
- Plan ahead. Rush fees are often incurred because of the last-minute nature of the requests, which makes them very difficult to complete. Planning ahead may prevent additional expenses on a job that would normally be considered rush. For example, if you are able to provide the translation team a heads up in advance then they can get to work early to assemble a larger translation team.
- Just ask. If rush projects are a rare occurrence and you are sending a lot of work to a supplier, then it never hurts to just ask whether rush fees will be charged. If you have a trusted partner relationship with your suppliers, then usually they will be willing to waive the occasional rush fee, even if that means dipping into their margins.
I’ve personally done this countless times and am happy to do so because I already hate charging rush fees! Just be advised that I am recommending “asking” as opposed to “mandating” because there is no quicker way to ruin the trust that is built with your translation teams than imposing upon them a rate structure that doesn’t allow them to profit from the relationship. If this happens frequently, the working relationship will not be mutually beneficial and you run the risk of losing their good will and eventually losing them as a supplier.
I would like to make it clear that nobody is getting rich off of charging rush fees. Rush fees are a device not so much to make money, but to avoid losing money. Nobody likes charging their clients more, but it is a necessary evil to protect the bottom line and stay in business.
To summarize the above discussion, I would recommend engaging with your translation suppliers to fully understand why and when rush fees are being incurred and then working together from a point of mutual understanding to identify means to eliminate them. If I can set clear expectations with my clients and my suppliers and help them design good processes, I will never have to charge a rush fee again, which will make me very happy.