How to Drop “minimum Charges”, Keep Customers and Profit

In the past, technical documentation used to be written like a book. The author tried to describe the product, its features, maintenance, repairs, etc. Each operating manual was slightly different. However, for more than a decade now, technical writers have been using special tools developed especially for their needs – Content Management Systems (CMS).

Using this tool, operating manuals are “constructed” from “pre-fabricated pieces” or segments, for example, a paragraph containing several sentences. The shortest segments, such as table headers, can even consist of a single word.

Once the text of a manual is approved for printing, such segments constitute a “library” of phrases – “pre-fabricated pieces” for future manuals. For a manufacturer, it is very useful to have such a library of phrases – the approved content. When a new version of the product comes out, the majority of its operating manual is already written, edited, proofread and approved. In other words, if the product manufacturer already has the translation of a manual, only the translation of a few new phrases is required. The recycling of the original phrases in the next manual means significant savings for the manufacturer.

From the point of view of the translation agency, this becomes a problem. It receives only these short phrases for translation. If the total volume of these modifications is very small – as a rule less than 1 standard page or less than 250 source words – the translation agency offers a “minimum fee” (the equivalent of at least 250 source words).

But the manufacturer wants to pay for only a few words of the new segment (let’s say 1-2 €) – not for 250 words (let’s assume 25-30 €). Of course, project management costs are much higher than this 1-2€. For the translation agency accepting such “spot jobs” means making a loss. On the other hand, the manufacturer refuses to pay 25-30 € for “nothing”.

As a rule, such quick spot jobs are very frequent – even 2-3 per day or 30-50 a month. For the customer, the prospect of paying 50 times 30€ is hardly acceptable.

However, the customer expects that each rush job will be started immediately and the proofread translation will be delivered within a few hours. The translation agency cannot accumulate these short phrases and contact the translator, for example, only once a week. Therefore the costs of project management remain unchanged even if the projected volume is extremely small. How can this conflict of interests be resolved?

The only choice for a translation agency is automation! The solution is the complete elimination of all repetitive activities of the project manager: initial correspondence with the customer, confirmation of providers’ (translator’s and proofreader’s) availability, handling files, preparing purchase orders for providers, final delivery to the customer, etc.

Such a solution is feasible thanks to state-of-the-art Translation Management Systems. The customer delivers the file(s) any time via the TMS customer portal. The system launches an automatic workflow which includes all the required operations, e.g.

  • CAT analysis of the source file(s) to define the total volume;
  • generation of order confirmation including total amount due and suggested deadline;
  • pre-notification of all providers involved;
  • pre-processing (by a DTP freelance expert),
  • generation of purchase orders for all providers;
  • launching the translation by the translator from a team assigned in advance;
  • launching the proofreading process by the proofreader from a team assigned in advance;
  • launching the QA process;
  • launching post-processing (by a DTP freelance expert);
  • delivery of the approved target file to the customer;
  • issue of an invoice covering the period agreed with the customer.

From my own perspective, the solution described above is not just wishful thinking. It was successfully implemented in our company and solved the problem. The minimum fee is no longer charged by the company and spot job projects have become profitable.

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Jurek Nedoma
Jurek Nedoma has worked in the language industry for over 25 years. He is the founder and former manager of LIDOLANG Specialist Translations, which in 2015 was ranked the 16th translation company in the CEE Region (CSA Report 2015). In the period 2013-2015 Jurek was Treasurer of the European Language Industry Association (ELIA).

Jurek Nedoma is also co-founder of the professional TMS software development firm XTRF Management System.

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