Five reasons to turn down a translation job

January 9, 2017
Five reasons to turn down a translation job

As a freelance translator, it can be difficult to say ‘no’ when presented with an opportunity to provide professional translation services. However, there are legitimate reasons why turning down a translation job could be of benefit to both your wallet and your peace of mind. 

Here we look at five reasons why you might want to turn down a particular job. 

1.    Low rates of pay

Whether you charge by the word or by the hour, every job you undertake needs to at least meet your minimum income requirement. However, there can be times – when work is thin on the ground or when you have a big expense like a holiday coming up, for example – when you might be tempted to work for a lower rate that you would usually accept. 

Stop right there! Remember that your minimum income requirement is (or certainly should be!) based on careful calculations of what you need to earn to get by. If you accept a job for less than that, you won’t be earning enough. Your time would be better spent on marketing activities designed to find new clients who will pay you a decent wage. 

Accepting low paid work also contributes to driving down prices across the translation industry, by showing clients that they can pay a pittance and get away with it. 

2.    Unrealistic deadlines

It’s also important to say ‘no’ to clients who seek to impose unrealistic deadlines on you. Translation and localization services take time if they are to be done well, so don’t commit to delivering a translation if you don’t have time to do it well. Rushing a job in order to meet a client’s deadline is a sure-fire way to let mistakes creep in, which could mean the client opts for another, ‘better’ translator next time. 

Instead, explain why the client’s deadline is unrealistic and ask if they have scope to extend it. If they really can’t do so, it’s advisable to turn the job down… or else to reach for the coffee pot and charge an additional fee for staying up all night to get the work done as an urgent translation job!  

3.    Other commitments

The same applies if you are already fully booked with other work. Although turning work away can be a painful experience for a freelancer, if you know that you are already overloaded then that’s what you will have to do. 

If you are regularly so swamped with work that you are turning clients away, then it can help to have a couple of fellow translators that you can pass work to – either with a ‘finder’s fee’ for your trouble, or on the understanding that they will pass work your way during their own busy periods. 

4.    Offensive content

Offensive content can also be a legitimate reason for turning away a translation job. You are not obliged to work on something that you find offensive or inappropriate and are uncomfortable with spreading in another language. This is a moral decision for each translator to make based on the work they are asked to complete. There are no set rules, but if you find that the content of a document feels unsavoury, it might be best to decline the job rather than live with a nagging feeling that you shouldn’t have done it.

5.    Dubious client credentials

Finally, remember that it there is no shame in turning away a new job if you have a bad feeling about the client. All freelancers know that there are clients out there who don’t pay, or who take months to pay, or who keep moving the goalposts of a job and asking for additional copy to be translated. It’s frustrating but it happens, so trust your gut and if a new client is trying to push for a long free trial translation or anything else that makes you uncomfortable, walk away. 

Final thoughts

Have you ever turned down translation work? What were your reasons for doing so? Was it the right decision? Let us know about your experiences by using in the comments section. 

By Ofer Tirosh

Ofer Tirosh is the founder and CEO of Tomedes, a language technology and translation company that supports business growth through a range of innovative localization strategies. He has been helping companies reach their global goals since 2007.



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