Let’s talk about the minimum charge

Request from a customer

We need 20 words translated into 27 languages. Can the regular translator do it? Please also consider the agreed terminology, translation memory and reference material. Unfortunately, we only have the reference document in the target language. Could you provide us with the translation today and is it possible to do it without the minimum charge?

Project manager’s thoughts

We cannot send the 20 words to the translators just like that because the terminology, TM and reference material have to be considered, i.e. we have to create a project and 27 jobs for the respective translation teams. Translators should study the reference document beforehand so that the context is clear. All this has to be taken into account and communicated in this way. Oh right, the regular translators for English (US) and French are already fully booked for today. So we have to find a different solution for that. I will have to contact the customer again to see if we can postpone the delivery date.

What’s the issue here?

This topic is more of an issue than ever in these fast-moving times thanks to CMS systems and a lot of existing target-language content, and it keeps both clients and translation agencies and their translators busy. But what exactly are we talking about? I’ll tell you: the minimum charge is for small projects that are maybe just a few words long.

We talk about a minimum charge if the analysis reveals that the total price for the words is below a certain value. Every translator has a minimum charge and our customers usually do too. However, this is often met with a lack of understanding or questions from almost all customers. Unjustly so, as you will see in a moment.

The same and yet different

Not all small jobs are the same and sometimes they may not even be the easiest job the translator gets their hands on. The days of simple Word files, where everything had to be translated and there were no customer specifications, seem to be pretty much over. Now we get small, missing snippets of texts (text blocks or nodes or modules) from CMS systems. The formats are xml files that require different import filter configurations depending on the CMS system. We also often get requests for Excel files in which translations are to be entered in predefined columns and the assignment of languages to columns varies each time. Or there is a mini update to an Excel file: the change is not marked and is hiding somewhere among the 2,500 lines. From time to time, minimum charge jobs are joined by a Word file in which only the text passages highlighted in colour need to be newly translated.

These kinds of jobs are as time-consuming for a project manager to prepare as any other project. The small size does not reduce the amount of work involved. Minimum charge projects also require the usual preparation of data: hiding texts; configuring xml/xls filters; blocking texts that are not to be considered in the analysis; feasibility check; writing the work instructions for the translator; activating the correct resources (termbase, TM, reference document), etc.

As far as the translator is concerned, the work is often more complex than a two-page translation of a continuous text. Why is that? If the translator only gets a few terms without any context, they have to do research or even ask questions to find exactly the right term that fits into the intended context. If only a few text passages need to be newly translated in an already translated file, the translator has to match the existing style and search the document for previously defined terminology. Or they have to comb through a 120-page reference document only available in the target language to find those ten terms they actually need. It is not uncommon for slogans or titles that require some creative thinking and time to be “hidden” within a minimum-charge projects. The nature of the minimum charge is such that it is not usually compatible with complex preparation processes and the consideration of additional reference materials, and certainly not creative work, because the flat rate applied is calculated too small. Last but not least, the immediate availability of a regular translator is also an issue: good translators are usually always busy and cannot deliver immediately and on the same day. When changing projects, translators have to change their whole thinking, adapt to different terminology and a new subject. A minimum charge job makes you think that the project can be completed quickly, but in the end this project also requires the translator’s full concentration and attention.

What is the solution then?

We do not have the ultimate solution. The correct approach would definitely be to standardise the files where a minimum charge is due in any case. Processes can only be automated if the files are standardised. And automation means faster completion times and offers a better basis for price discussions.

Have we sparked your interest? 
Simply contact us if you would like to know more.

Marija Sperlich
Phone: +49 (0)9721 7035-19

Translations GmbH
97421 Schweinfurt, Germany