#986: “We’re like family here” = a workplace red flag, x 1000 when working for actual family.

Dear Captain,

I am desperately in need of some scripts. In November last year, my aunt launched an online women’s magazine. My aunt is a very rich lady, she doesn’t have a job, so she decided to focus on this project. It was a cool idea, based in some feminist principles, so when she asked me if I could translate the articles from our native language to English I was happy to accept the job.

The thing is, I considered it just that- a job. I’m a college senior, I have about a million things to do on any given day, and translating is time-consuming. She doesn’t really see it that way though- she thinks of it more as a “family favor”, doesn’t seem to acknowledge that I have other things to do and gives me ridiculous deadlines. Like, sending me an article at midnight and expecting it to be done the next morning. Or figuring I’d finish a 10 page text in two days or so. We’re close, she knows I have issues with asserting myself (I have BPD and boundaries are a real problem for me), and i have tried mentioning that I can’t really work like that, that she needs to organize things better so I have more time, etc. And she always agrees but then keeps doing it!! It has gotten so bad that I almost feel like she’s pushing my limits, or doing it on purpose because it’s easier for her to impose a ridiculous deadline on me than the people she has writing the articles (herself included).

To top it all of, she doesn’t really pay me… she paid me twice since November. And quite a small amount of money too (I had gotten 300 dollars total for eight months of work now, and what would, by word count, be charged at least ten times as much on a minimal rate). She also likes to try and pin other work on me- illustrations (because she thinks I’m creative!), photos, article writing…I’ve reluctantly done some of it, for no extra money.

She has this plan for me to translate A BOOK during the summer (she already decided that I’ll need about two weeks for that. Two weeks! For a book!) and I feel like I have to say something before I’m expected to slave over that instead of relaxing a bit after graduation. Though I would probably agree to it if I knew I’d get paid a fair amount and have a more realistic time-frame. She’s my aunt, and I don’t want to insult her or seem unappreciative, but I’m getting a bit desperate and I really need to sort this out somehow. Do you have some advice for me?

You don’t want to seem unappreciative? YOU don’t want to seem unappreciative? YOU think that YOU’RE the unreasonable or unappreciative one?

My sweet summer child, no.

It’s time for a meeting with your Auntie where you do the following things:

  • Present her with an accurate count of how many hours you’ve spent on this project.
  • Invoice her for those hours at a real-world translation rate. All of them. Every single hour and piece of “extra” work.

IF you want to keep working with  her on future projects, you 100% need to create a written agreement that includes, at minimum:

  • A defined scope of work and rates. Translation costs $x, photography & graphic design costs $Y, generating original content costs $z.
  • A budget of hours/week that you will spend on the project.
  • A defined invoicing and payment schedule
  • Guidelines about your working hours, frequency of communications, and turnaround times for work (with a HEFTY rush fee for rushed turnarounds). Set business hours, like, 10 am – 6pm, and after 6pm any emails or requests will be answered tomorrow. Her expectations about turnaround times are completely ridiculous.
  • A contract start date and end date, say, per project or for a period of 1 year. There is always the option to extend or contract for additional work, but by ending the first contract at one year it gives you a chance to renegotiate – raise your rates, re-budget your time.
  • Good starting resources: The Freelancers Union, The Freelancer’s Bible

Here’s a script for starting that conversation:

Auntie, I love working on your projects, but now that we’ve been at this a while, we need to more clearly define the project and my position here.”

If she balks at putting stuff in writing, “Auntie, putting things in writing protects everyone. That way the expectations are clear. I really can’t keep working without a contract.

If she suggests that you are ungrateful or suggest AT ALL that your rates are too high or that your totally 100% reasonable requests are in any way unreasonable, BAIL FOREVER. Literally, “Okay, Auntie, I understand if that won’t work for you, good luck finding a professional to help you, I’ll happily transfer all the files I have over to you and that person”(You will transfer them…as soon as she pays your entire invoice).

Other scripts, for the day-to-day times when she agrees to something and then tries to bulldoze you:

Sorry, that won’t work for me. I can have it for you by ____.” Then stick to that deadline. If she’s unhappy, she can hire someone else.

If that feels mean or like you’re the one introducing conflict to the situation, try to think of it as educating her. In my experience as a freelancer, a lot* of (rich) people like to start businesses without really knowing what is entailed. They want the title of “Editor in Chief” or CEO without spending the money to pay professionals or do the work to set up professional practices, and they are used to getting their way. It can create a toxic environment very quickly if it’s not checked. If she’s not purposely taking advantage of you (doubtful, but let’s do a thought experiment), she needs to know the actual costs of translation, graphic design, and editorial services so that she can make good decisions and keep her business viable. Your labor is valuable and essential to what she’s doing, so, she needs to pay you for that. Her money isn’t a gift or a treat or a generous indulgence she’s bestowing on you, it’s payment for your work.

She might try dangling the idea of money or a promotion to a full-time job down the road to get out of paying now. If she sees this as a joint project that you are creating together that she wants you to take over in the future, then, cool, she should treat (& pay) you like a creative partner. But that doesn’t mean she’s off the hook for the work you’re already doing. Your labor is a routine business cost. She better pay you, and if she won’t, find another job that will pay you, and let her figure her own shit out on the free market.

In Solidarity!!!

*#notall, of course, but one way to determine the difference is “Can I have an honest conversation about pay, hours, and other business matters with this person?”

 

 

149 comments
  1. Ellen Fremedon said:

    LW, is your aunt Dahlia Travers?

    • Or Miss Trunchbull out of Roald Dahl’s Matilda.

    • Dear LW, the Captain has given you some good scripts to use, but it sounds like it’s going to cost you about a thousand words a day to make Aunt Dahlia behave reasonably. If I were you, I’d give her one big NO instead.

      • oregonbird said:

        “Auntie, I will agree to do # articles of X words each month, with a non-negotiable ten-day turn-around, with the estimated payment in advance. The current standard of pay is $X, let me know if this works for you. … I’m sorry you feel my work isn’t worthwhile to the magazine, but I understand you have standards to keep. I’m sure you’ll find someone who will be perfect for this work.”

        This sounds like family clan culture, and the OP won’t be able to negotiate payment without negotiating a large-scale battle with everyone taking sides, and will always have to defend herself. So unless you’re devoted to keeping peace in the family by setting yourself on fire, OP, the best thing to do is set work boundaries you can truly live with (for good money) and when they are refused (and they will be) accept the refusal in good spirits and refuse to discuss it again. “It was such a shame I wasn’t what Auntie needed!”

        • EvieG said:

          “This sounds like family clan culture

          […]

          OP, the best thing to do is set work boundaries you can truly live with (for good money) and when they are refused (and they will be) accept the refusal in good spirits and refuse to discuss it again. “It was such a shame I wasn’t what Auntie needed!””

          All of this!!

    • Alas no; Aunt Dahlia was always scraping around for momey so she could pay people to write for her magazine!

  2. Noemie said:

    LW, your aunt may genuinely not have a clue about the fair hourly wage for translation, graphic design etc… since she wasn’t working before. However things like not paying you on time and giving you assignments at midnight to turn in the next day (!) are proof that she knows exactly what she is doing: exploiting you.

    I would invoice her for the hours you’ve worked and then end the arrangement. What are you getting out of this? A lot of stress and very little money and I imagine that it must be interfering with your studies and your social life.

    I’m also curious about what your parents know about this. Do they the details of your arrangement? Personally I would be furious if my sister was exploiting my child in this way. I bet she’s given them a very different version of the story in which she is giving you a great opportunity to develop your skills, instead of the ugly truth that she’s abusing you and paying you next to nothing.

  3. Nanani said:

    Hi!
    Professional translator here, with some advice!

    First, a quibble with the captain’s response: “Invoice her for those *hours* at a real-world translation rate. All of them. Every single hour and piece of “extra” work”
    Change “hours” to “words”. It is standard for translation work to be paid by the word, usually the word count of the source document. Depending on the language in question, another metric like characters may be used (e.g., Japanese or Chinese) . Billing by the hour is rare and is disadvantageous to the translator, since it effectively means making LESS money as your skills improve and you become more productive.
    One way to picture it is to compare yourself to another translator who has less experience, in terms of skill with the languages in question or subject matter expertise. If it takes you 1 hour to translate an article and they take 2 hours for the same article, why should YOU get 1 hour’s fee while they get twice as much? You can do it faster because you spent less time looking things up, have a better workflow, are more familiar with the client’s expectations, and so on.

    tl;dr: In this field we charge by length, in words. Not by the hour.

    For non-translation work related to the same project (illustrating, copy-editing, formatting, proofreading) charging by the hour does make sense though 🙂

    Everything else in the captain’s response is golden!

    I noticed it’s not clear from your letter whether you actually are a translator or even interested in becoming one. I suspect, instead, that you are a convenient bilingual being asked to do translation work. There is a common fallacy that knowing two languages is sufficient to be a translator between them, but THAT IS NOT THE CASE. So not the case that it’s not even a case, it’s a brick.

    Translation is a specialised skill. Just like you don’t automatically know how to write clearly in your native language without practice and/or schooling, you don’t automatically know how to translate things just by knowing two or more languages.
    Your translation fee should absolutely reflect that this is specialised work you are doing.
    On top of that, it sounds like the content requires some subject matter knowledge that you have.
    This is even more reason to raise your fees. Do not accept a lower fee “because you enjoy this stuff anyway” or whatever excuse.
    You have valuable knowledge and skills, and you deserve to be paid for them.

    If you do want to become a translator, or really any sort of profesionnal in a situation where your knowledge of what the work entails is necessarily more than your client’s (because you know the two languages and they don’t; because you can program the computer and they can’t, etc) you will need the ability to argue for a fair wage, reasonable deadlines, and say no to extra work.

    I strongly recommend that you first think about what work you are or are not willing to do. Maybe that means yes to translation, but no to illustration Maybe that means yes articles, no book. Maybe no more translation at all. Maybe you’d be willing to proofread translations she pays a neutral, non-family third party for.
    Whatever it is, figure it out in the privacy of your own head. Don’t let “but my aunt wants/needs…” cloud you at this point.
    Then, go forth draft a written argument as outlined in the Captain’s answer.

    The reason I suggest this is that I, too, was once willing to take on extras and the like, and found that I really HATED doing some of them. For instance, I now refuse to do anything about formatting and design. The clients provide me only with the text, and they are responsible for making it look pretty in their powerpoint/page/website/skywriting. Or you know, they could pay a graphic designer for that. Some translators are willing to spend the time reformatting the text to fit boxes and graphs, but not me. And unless your two languages are miraculously similar in word and sentence length, you probably understand why 🙂

    Also, I don’t know if this has crossed your aunt’s mind, but do not under any circumstance accept a job of “cleaning up automated translation”. It’s a common ploy by less scrupulous agencies to run text through google translate or the like, and then hire people to “proofread” or “give a native-speaker check to” the output. Catch is, it’s always more work to comb through the results*, figure out what the original probably meant, and re-translate that. All for a generally low wage, because as mentioned, the people who do this are unscrupulous players taking advantage of newbies in the field.
    Maybe it won’t come up, but I feel new translators need to be warned about this ploy.

    This is turning into a novel so ‘ll stop now, but please feel free to ask if you have any translation business specific questions! Except “how much should I charge.” I can’t answer that, it varies too much by topic, location, and language pair.

    *Said results will be garbage. No googletranslate apologists please.

    • Re: Google-translate. There’s a line in the movie Dr. Strange where he has, apparently, taken some mystical book in Sanskrit or some other obscure language, and read it overnight, thanks to Google Translate, and now he knows ALL the magic therein. Ummmmmm… I shudder to think of the mistakes he’ll make relying on that magical textbook.

      Also, second the per-word bit.

      And as for the translation thing – YES! It is more than just knowing the language. You have to be able to write the translation in a clear, easy-to-read, and PLEASANT to read format. If there is artistry in the original text, you have to put that artistry into the translation, as well. Puns? Find a new pun that works the same way in the new language. Alliteration? Yeah, work that in, too. Good imagery? Gotta make that happen. A straight word-for-word translation, even with the odd new-language idiom thrown in, or “native speaker” vibe, you’re still going to miss SO MUCH, if you’re not a skilled translator. Why do you think “The Art of War” has so many different translations, and people have their favorite versions? Why do you think the translators get almost equal credit on the cover? It’s because they have the skills and talent for the job, and because those skills and talents make or break the final product.

      Finally – people actually pay native speakers to clean up google translate (or some other software)? Really? THey’d better be paying through the nose, then, because parsing out that “The meat is rotten but the vodka is good” is actually supposed to mean “The flesh is weak, but the spirit is willing,” is so hard, it’s diamond.

      • CoffeegirlKarin said:

        Re: Clean up Google translate:

        I am multilingual (native German and English speaker, fluent in Spanish) and am a legal PA who has worked in various large international law firms. In my previous firm, I would have lawyers come to me all the time to translate contracts/legal documents, either because our inhouse translation department was fully booked, the lawyers felt the turnaround time was too long, or the client wanted documents to be translated, but didn’t want to pay a translator’s fees. Since it was known firmwide that I was capable of decently translating documents, I’d constantly have to fend off people asking me to translate stuff, often with unrealistic deadlines. When I had the time/capacity and/or I liked the lawyer asking I’d sometimes help out and translate shorter texts, but stopped accepting all translation work since I’m not a trained translator, don’t get paid as such (their hourly wages were much higher than mine), and it would keep me from my actual work.

        This long explanation is all to preface that I would have lawyers come to me to “proofread” what Google spat out (because proofreading was a part of my job description!) and I would be stuck trying to figure out what the original was supposed to mean and just ended up translating the whole damn text, since that was faster. But we did have lawyers who would use Google translate and send that unfiltered to the client (on official bilingual contracts/documents)!

        • Nanani said:

          I professionally translate legal documents in one particular field, and while some lawyers certainly do try to use machine translation, that shit does not hold up and boy is it ever FUN when they get to delay their proceedings to hire a real translator to redo it :)))) HAhaha so fun I could just burst 8))))

        • “But we did have lawyers who would use Google translate and send that unfiltered to the client (on official bilingual contracts/documents)!”

          Sweet Jumping Pickles! HORROR!

      • Nanani said:

        Pay… very little. Like I tried to explain in my first comment, this is mostly an attempt to get translation work at reduced rates from newbies/students, with some excuse that it’s JUST proofreading so its totally ok to pay less RIIGHT???
        *eye roll so hard*

        • If it’s just proofreading, I’d say give only just proofreading feedback. So lots of squiggles saying ‘this is unclear’ ‘doesn’t seem to match source material’ ‘doesn’t quite flow grammatically’ ‘is that the correct term here?’ ‘not consistent with [x], probably stick with only one’.
          Valuable feedback but no corrections, they’ll have to do that themselves.

          • Nanani said:

            Smart.
            And probably exactly why this scam is pushed on aspiring translators and not on actual proofreaders… >.>

          • Emmers said:

            Oh I love this. Yes.

      • Re: puns.

        Oh jeebus, yes. I consider myself *good* at translating puns, but it is by no means *easy*. I’m actually currently hard at work on doing just that, and it’s driving me so far up the wall I’m going down the other side. Oish.

        (Though I do think I did something terribly clever with the first one I managed, really. See, Japanese puns work mostly on the *sound* of the words – not the meaning, as is the case in languages like English. So while something such as “futon ga futtonda” (which means basically “the futon fell over”) is the epitome of Really Bad Pun in Japanese, it’s not funny in English, and there’s no way to really circumvent this because the pun needs to stay intact for the whole text to make any sense.

        So what did I come up with?

        “The futon’s fallen bed over heels!”

        …I rather suspect my funny quotient may have peaked with that one, but I still love it.)

        • I don’t really care about puns one way or the other, but that one made me giggle aloud.

          • Then my job is done well. ❤

        • IrishEm said:

          That pun is excellent and you should be proud of yourself 😀

          • Thank you! 😀

        • Clarry said:

          “Bed over heels” Love it!

          The problem of assuming one sort of work is easy when it’s really a much harder sort of work that the person asking can’t even imagine shows up other places. I’m thinking of typing. I can type. Back in the day before word processors, it wouldn’t be unusual for someone to ask me to type something, and I’d foolishly agree. Typing a single page letter actually isn’t that hard assuming the letter actually exists. It would turn out that they had no idea the difference between typing a completed fair copy draft and writing something from scratch. I’d ask for the draft, and they’d give me a bunch of notes filled with unfinished thoughts. For a letter, they’d put “address” and somehow think that looking up an address and making sure it was the right one was the same as typing “123 Main Street.” When taking dictation, I’d get people saying “well just tell them that I wasn’t sure, uh, well, you know …” and then they’d launch into a whole story that showed they had no idea how to organize their own thoughts into anything coherent.

          LW says Aunt also asks her to do article writing. She must think that translating and writing are practically the same thing. They’re not!

          There’s also this in the letter: “she knows I have issues with asserting myself.” I’d caution LW against thinking that because someone knows this, that makes them responsible for not taking advantage. No one has any business taking advantage of another person anyway. No one should exploit another’s weakness. BUT, knowing that someone has trouble asserting themselves does not make them responsible for being extra considerate as to guessing what they might be trying to say but aren’t coming out and saying. It’s up to LW to say no.

          • Thank ye!

            Yes, this is very true. It wasn’t until I started seriously translating that I realized just how much different it actually *is* from writing, which I also do – aren’t they both just, kinda, well, putting down words and getting them to make sense? No, no they are not, and I think that’s a thing a lot of people may not actually get unless they’ve had firsthand experience with it. Not that I am defending Aunt, mind you!

        • Nanani said:

          On the basis of this pun alone I would recommend you to any client who needed a pun translated.

          • Not going to lie, that’s one of the best things anyone has ever told me. Thank you. 🙂

        • 😀 😀

          I was once told a joke in ASL that is, apparently, totally untranslatable. It involved the sign for the noun “park” and the verb “park”, and it makes zero sense in English.

          • This sounds like a brilliant pun even though I know not a whit of ASL. 😀

          • related : why do we park a car in a driveway and drive a car on a parkway?!

          • @Nancy H

            Why do we send shipments by car and cargo by ships? 😀

        • segertsch said:

          Japanese puns can also work on the meaning of the Chinese characters, which has no equivalent in English phonics. Essentially, “you could write this same sound with this totally different Kanji lol.” Or two kanji next to each other make a separate word when smushed together, that kind of thing,

          • This is trufax! The ones I’m currently working with are just of the similar-sound type, which is why that came to mind first.

          • Thanksforallthefish said:

            I know nothing of none of this but could it be a bit like the “sofa king” stuff? Like the fa- followed by -king becomes funny..though that’s through phonetics I guess…

          • @Thanksforallthefish (cause nestiiiiiiing!)

            It depends on the pun, honestly! Some of them can easily come off like that. Others…you really have to strain for an English equivalent, or there just *isn’t* one at all. But you’re not wrong in thinking there are indeed puns that follow that sort of pattern. 😀

        • I love it! Awesome!

          You know what blows my mind? Asterix comic books. They are full of puns, like a pun a page, practically, and they have been translated WITH PUNS into at least twenty languages.

          • Thank you!

            Ooh, I have not heard of this. I will have to look into it

          • B. said:

            Yeah, the Astérix comics’ various translators are my heroes and what I sometime aspire to be. So many beautiful puns, so beautifully translated!

        • “The futon’s fallen bed over heels!”

          *snuggles it*

          • *hee!* 😀

      • This, SO much this. I am not a translator, but I was tech support for the language department at my university, which included supporting all the translation classes, providing support for their specialized software for machine-aided translation courses, and spending a lot of time with them, as well as with the language department in general. In addition I’ve done a lot of reading on the topic because of my interest in certain topics.

        People REALLY underestimate how much work it takes to make something flow like it did originally, then there’s choices like “oh, this is written entirely in katakana, which probably means ‘robot voice’ in this case, how can I portray that naturally in English?” or “these two characters speak in a very exaggerated stereotypical Osaka and Honshu dialect, respectively, how do I portray that? New York and Deep South? Chicago and Appalachian? New Jersey and Minnesotan?” And then there’s having to translate things that straight up have no translation, words that have deep shades of cultural meaning, or widely variable meaning. is a reasonable amount you might have loaned a neighbor that you would get really upset about, or translate it as ‘a gazillion dollars!'”

        Then there’s the judgement calls, “it says here they loaned their neighbors 100,000 yen, but 100,000 is often used as a ‘generic exaggerated big number’ in Japanese, like bazillion or gajillion, should I translate that as 10,000 dollars, which

        Translation really, really is as much if not more of an art as anything else, because of how much of your own input you necessarily MUST use.

        • Oh, yeah. “It just doesn’t translate.” It’s a real thing. There are some words that just have such a deep and layered meaning that you can’t simply translate it. You can spend a whole page explaining, but you can’t just translate it.

          My family, having traveled a lot, have encountered this a lot, and when we know the deep meaning of the foreign word, we’ll just use that, instead of trying to say it in English. Makes it awkward for non-family members listening in. “What is that clear-the-throat sound, followed by ‘zellig’?” “That’s a word we use to mean (insert loooong explanation here about warm-fuzzy family comfortable happy cozy relaxed fun and more feeling).” Unfortunately, the younger generation were never in Holland, never learned the word from natives, and just don’t get it.

          It’s basically the equivalent of an in joke or a “I guess you had to be there” joke. Except it doesn’t have to be funny.

      • clorinda said:

        I just assumed the google translate in the magical library would be perfect because it’s magic, right?

        • Good explanation for a suspension of disbelief.

          There are a lot of movies I cannot watch while I am on my pain pills, because I take everything literally, and can’t suspend my disbelief. My family thinks it is absolutely HI-larious to watch me watch SpongeBob Squarepants, while I’m on my pain pills.

          “But… How did he even get in the bottle?”
          “How can they have a beach underwater? With surf!? Wait! There’s a campfire?! THAT’S NOT POSSIBLE!”

          It’s a cartoon, but I still want it to make sense!

          • Willow said:

            I love that when Sandy comes to visit, she wears a bubble of air, and when Bob goes to visit Sandy, he wears a bubble of water.

          • Willow said:

            And “The Princess Bride” is interesting to watch on morphine (calm down, it was after surgery).

          • Years ago, I discovered that despite all the funny languishing jokes (like “mostly dead” and “inconceivable”) “The Princess Bride” actually works for people who do not speak English. There’s enough action to make it entertaining, and they set it up visually enough that you can follow the plot well enough.

            We had some German kids visiting us, and put the movie on, and they loved it, despite not speaking a word of English.

      • Cannibal Queen said:

        “The meat is rotten but the vodka is good” – snigger! Sounds more like a restaurant review!

        But I agree 100% with everything the above commenters have written about translation being a distinct skill set.

        • that is actually a direct quote from a computer translation. They translated from English to Russian and back again, via a computer program, and that’s what the program spat out.

          And that is why you NEED the human element for translation work.

          • sistercoyote said:

            I thought that sounded Russian!

            Invisible, Insane!

      • Emmers said:

        I laughed out loud at that scene in Dr Strange. 🙂

    • Nicky said:

      You’re absolutely right about invoicing by word count, but I do think that LW needs reference the amount of time it’s taken to do that work, if only to confront her aunt about the wildly unrealistic time spans she’s been setting for each project. Especially if she is viewing the work as a favour for family, rather than the paid job it should be.

      I’ve no idea whether Aunt is one of those privileged but infuriating people who float through life on a cloud of blissful ignorance and the assumption that the job she set you must be easy because it got done, or whether she’s actively setting out to sweat as much free work out of her niece as possible before she wises up, but either way, LW needs to find a way of drawing that line in the sand and saying “The only way a mere human could manage this workload, is with the help of Superman or a Time-Turner!”

      • Nanani said:

        Oh for sure, track hours for deadline setting and realism, and LW did mention other tasks for which it makes more sense to charge by the hour. Knowing that translation charges by the word is important to know if LW decides to keep doing the work but know what to charge for it, though.

    • shunra said:

      I came here to say I’m a professional translator and then make exactly the same points Nanani did.

      So I’ll just endorse those points, and add one more thing, about the deadline pressure: it is extremely common to expect translation to take as much time as *reading* or *retyping* a text takes. This is very wrong, and seems hard for some translation clients to grasp. I’ve found that explaining that it is more like rewriting/rephrasing than like reading or retyping tends to get through to the clients who are willing to listen. The ones who are not willing to listen are not very effective for me to work with – I cannot produce what they want, when they want it.

      • Nanani said:

        Yes!!! This so much.
        I think it really comes down to the fallacy I mentioned, by which people (especially but not exclusively monolingual people) think translation is automatic once you know 2+ languages.

        Nope nope nope. It’s skilled labour and you gotta pay.

    • Kitty said:

      Just wanted to add as an editor: freelance copy-editing and proofreading are also generally charged by the word, for the exact same reasons you mentioned – if I am more efficient at getting through a document than someone else, I should not be paid less. 🙂

      • I always charge by the hour for copy-editing because 10,000 words of basically good prose takes half as many hours as 10,000 words of convoluted, passive voice run-on sentences full of business acronyms that no one outside the department ever uses. Etc.

        • Manattee said:

          I do the same McKinley. Really glad to see your comment; I was getting worried I was the only one charging this way!

          • Vicki said:

            For what it’s worth, the (very approximate) fee guidelines on the Editorial Freelancers’ Association website are generally in terms of price/hour, though of course some people charge by the word or page.

            If you’re charging by the word, page, or project, or are being offered a job on that basis, get a sample of the text–the last time I did that, I said “please send me pages 117-120,” on the theory that if *I* picked the sample, they couldn’t send the cleanest three pages. (I am dubious of per-project fees, because of the sort of scope creep LW has been dealing with.) Getting a sample is a good idea for hourly as well, so you can estimate how long it will take, and check that they are prepared to spend that much: people will say “$30 an hour is okay” because they assume it’s a five-hour job, and then balk when it’s actually taking fifty, or even ten.

    • Hi! Another professional translator who wanted to write what Nanani already wrote here:) Another two cents: contact translator organizations/foras for your country and/or language pair to figure out the most decent rate and method of rating — due to very different word counts in Poland we rate per billing page (=1800 signs with spaces), with different rates being standard for different text types and language directions. I also recommend establishing a higher rate for “express translation”, i.e. your aunt would have to pay you more if she sends the text with a shorter deadline (here, I mean about a week or two, not 12 hours!). From my own experience the translator community is a very friendly and helpful bunch, you can find many translator groups even on fb to provide council and moral support:)

      As to the book: two weeks is outrageous for any text longer than 10 pages! I translate novels and it usually takes about 4-6 months per book!

      • Nanani said:

        Oh yes! I also charge rush fees, really a percentage based surcharge. My clients know about this in advance and will only send last minute work when they are desperate enough to pay the extra, plus I can and will say “nope” if I’m already booked solid.

        The trick is to make the rush fee high enough that it “hurts” the client to rush. If it’s a token fee then they don’t actually feel the pain in their pocketbook and may just keep sending work at unreasonable deadlines >.>

        • In this particular case, I’d also add an extra fee for all work done during exams, and the period just prior when a bunch of assignments always seem to end up due. I say this as someone who charges their beloved parents for their time and labour, to ensure that they think twice about whether they truly need to get me to do it.

          • Thanksforallthefish said:

            Great point

    • aebhel said:

      Google translate is basically only useful for getting a rough idea of what a bit of text in an unfamiliar language means. I use it for translating comments on my fic sometimes, and it’s usually enough to get the gist of what someone’s saying, but I’m endlessly baffled that people actually think that it will translate anything accurately to another language. Translating is a skill!

      • sistercoyote said:

        I occasionally write fic (under a different pseud) and where I will go to Google Translate for things, I then go through EACH of the Google Translate options for the thing I’m hunting for to find the most correct one connotationally in addition to denotationally; if I’m looking for “part of the Heavenly Host” but the first word that pops up is a better match to “pure; beautiful; saintlike” and I use it then I’ve not done my story justice.

        I cannot imagine translating as a career, despite being a polyglot. I don’t use my languages often enough to be confident to translate with them anymore, even when I understand what is being said. So my hats are off to the translators in this thread!

      • Emmers said:

        It’s like anti-Luddism or something – people are way too quick to assume computers do everything perfectly. Computers are awesome, but they’re not human – not yet, and not for a long time yet. No, not even with neural networks.

    • Thank you so much for pointing out that “writing is work” and should be paid. Furthermore “but it’s something you like” is not a reason not to get paid.

      Think of the common definition of “kinder-garden teacher” as “someone who once thought she liked children.” Doing what you like, for someone else, for minimal pay, at terrible conditions, will make you hate the thing you like.

    • Emmers said:

      Nerd time! Working from a seed translation can sometimes be helpful, if you’ve got the right sort of context for it, like a regular Computer Assisted Translation tool with, like, terminology management and shit. But in all of those cases, it’s the translator who decides to use the seed translation, and they always have full access to the original data, and – most importantly – this setup isn’t used as an excuse to pay the translator less.

  4. Mir said:

    It sounds like this aunt is someone you care about, or at the very least someone you want to maintain a positive relationship with, if possible. As someone who can get very anxious at the idea of conflict, I understand that taking a stance like the one the Captain described might sound scary and impossible.

    When I need to work up the courage to do something like that (and I do think you should take a stance, and lay down some firm professional ground rules) it helps to have a true reason to point to for the change. Because, for your aunt, this might seem like quite a surprise – it has been going on a certain way for a while and she has gotten used to it, so she will be more resistant to strict guidelines now than at the start. Because she will think, why now, why all of a sudden, etc.

    So, for example, you could say, “I’ve found that the unpredictability of freelancing is stressful and makes managing my time difficult. I have been working too much and not getting paid enough for my time, so this is my new policy with all freelancing projects, even for family. I know you will understand.” This is true even if she’s the only freelance “client” you have, it’s non-confrontational, and it allows her to save face.

    You could even say things like, “you know I have trouble with assertiveness, and I find structure is really helpful for me in feeling like I am acting professionally and can be proud of my work” if you think that will help. If she says she cares about you, try to tap into that, while at the same time remaining politely but inflexibly firm about your actual ground rules.

    Good luck! As a rule, I try to avoid working for family or friends unless (a) they are experienced in their field and financially stable enough that they won’t need my work discounted to keep their business running and (b) I know they have the kind of personality to handle professional conflict and disagreement without making it personal. Those two things combine pretty rarely though.

    • My nephew is “my IT guy,” because he’s really good and he’s willing to help. He’s often willing to help for free. But I always offer him something. Mind you, I’m unemployed and broke, but I’ll offer him things like books from my collection, or a craft item, or some sort of favor/barter, if I can’t offer him actual cash.

      Why? Because I truly believe that verse in the Bible, “The laborer is worthy of his hire.” The good news for me is that, because he is family and loves me a whole whole lot, he’s willing to do the barter thing, rather than a strict monetary charge. But dang it, it’s still worth SOMETHING!

      And, yes, I do give him “exposure,” in the form of bragging about him to my friends. 1) I don’t get out that much, and 2) my friends mostly already know him and they’ve all already heard of him, so that exposure is worth bubkiss.

      And if I were rich, I’d put him on a retainer for a real, market-competitive fee, because I actually value his work.

      If the OP’s aunt doesn’t think OP’s work is worth real pay in some form or another, then she doesn’t really value it, and won’t miss it when it’s gone. I think OP should try to get paid for what OP has already done, and then just walk away. Once Aunt has to get a professional, with professional pay, to do the job, she might rethink her position, and realize how awful she was and forgive OP. Or not. She might dig in her heels and say that OP “used” her (yeah, users and abusers will often turn it around on their victims like that), and say that OP is horrible and mean and selfish and awful and never to be forgiven. If so, well, OP, she doesn’t deserve you, and you’re better off without her in your life. Let her cut you off and save yourself the trouble.

      Good luck, OP!

    • sebbygrrl said:

      I think the Captain covered it well with her*

      I work with entrepreneurs and they all want someone to ESECUTE (sorry, that’s a funny typo, I’m leaving it) their VISION with no care or concern of cost (money or resources) and then are insulted when THEIR GREATNESS is ‘diminished’ by some lesser being than THEMSELVES.

      I think your Aunt might be one of these. So come armed with contract, if possible bring verifiable comparisons with you and be VERY prepared to use your POWER of “No, thank you.”

      There is nothing ungrateful or otherwise negative in properly standing up with yourself on this.

      “I’m sorry, but I have expenses and even as a student I need reliable income for my work. If you aren’t comfortable with that, you need a professional and I need to focus on work in the field I am training for.”

      No blame, now power differential, just basic truth, you get to use that and expect others (in any capacity -Aunt, boss, friend,etc.) will treat you as such also. If they don’t-there’s your sign to move on.

    • Part-time Jedi said:

      Another way to try to change this dynamic while being low-confrontation is to phrase it as a natural consequence of you aging and getting to a point where you will need to support yourself.

      Something like, “Hey, Auntie, as you know, I’m getting close to graduating from college, and it’s really important to me that I have a financial cushion to support myself once I’m out of school. That means I have to be looking for a more “grown up” job than what I’ve been doing for you. If you are willing to start paying me at a more professional rate of $XX per word/hour/project, I’d be happy to continue. But if that’s not in your budget, I’m afraid I’m going to need to seek other employment, which will mean that I won’t have time to continue translating for you.”

      It a) makes it clear that what she has been paying you is not at all in line with what a person would need to support themselves, let alone what a professional translator could make, and b) gives a hard-to-argue-with reason for what in her perspective will be a sudden change. I mean, she’d have to be pretty unreasonable to argue with her young family member becoming financially stable. (That may not stop her from trying, but it at least exposes how ridiculous she’s being.)

      • crooked bird said:

        Oh, I like this advice. Because it def sounds like the LW comes from a traditional family-oriented culture of some kind, and I feel like she’s going to need some buffer–the direct “draw a line in the sand” approach could turn into a big family Thing about respect for elders. But this provides the buffer very well.

    • Emma said:

      LW mentioned graduating college, they could be a good excuse of they’re still struggling with the prospect of setting boundaries with auntie.

      “Now that I’m graduating college, I need to be looking at my long-term career prospects and financial stability. That means I can’t do this work unofficially any more, but I would love to set up a proper contract with you so I can build experience, get paid, and continue contributing to this great project.”

  5. OMG! Has she even mentioned the “exposure” she’s giving you? Because that’s a big thing exploiters like to do.

    “Why should I pay you for your art work? I’m giving you EXPOSURE!” “You want me to pay your for that article? But, I’m giving you EXPOSURE!” “Yes, you cleaned that house so well, one could eat off the floor. And I’ll tell all my friends how good you are at the job. That EXPOSURE is payment enough, surely?”

    Ugh. I hate people like that.

    LW, please only do the translating work for your aunt if 1) she pays properly, 2) she gives you adequate time, and 3) You actually, truly, really, honest-to-superior-beingness WANT TO. If you just don’t want to do it, don’t do it! “No, I’d rather not” is perfectly acceptable, including with your family!

    Now, if your aunt is truly in need, and can’t afford to pay anyone, then family ties would push you to help her out of a pickle until she can afford to pay someone, or learn to do it herself. But that is not the case here, and you are in no way obligated to do for free what she can very well afford to hire someone else to do.

    Remember, blood is thicker than water, but so is sewage, and you don’t want to work for that, now do you?

    • Clarry said:

      Exposure! Or advertising. I remember that one from when I was in business. The proposed deal is that they’ll pay me a ridiculously low rate, but they’ll tell all their friends (costs more if they’re called contacts) what great work I did. I’m remembering the time it dawned on me that all those friends wanted the same thing at the same cut rate.

      • Nanani said:

        “We can’t afford to pay you! So will you do more work for my friends?” really means, consciously or not “Now that we know you’ll work for free why would we start paying?”

        • Clarry said:

          In business terms, this is called the “anchor” price. None of us really knows what something is worth. All we know is what we’ve paid for it in the past. This becomes the anchor such that when we see the same item or service for a higher amount, it seems like an enormous jump in price.

          LW’s aunt may honestly believe she’s paying LW the going rate for translation work since she now has free etched in her brain as the anchor amount that translation is worth.

          Again, memories flood back to me. I donated professional services as a favor to a religious congregation I belonged to and wrote up a sort of “contract” in which I specified what I needed from them in terms of advertising, times the building would be open, set-up, clean-up, materials they’d bring, etc. They called me thorough, agreed readily, then promptly ignored everything on my list. A few months later, they paid hundreds of dollars to an outside source for the same thing. Naturally I was sputtering mad until it dawned on me that they’d valued my expertise at exactly the price I’d valued them myself: Zero.

          Back to the LW: Don’t make the mistake of putting the value of your work at zero. If you think about it, Aunt is following your lead.

          • Clarry said:

            Following up on my own post. LW– Could you scope out other translation services and find out what they charge, what their terms are, what their availability is? If your aunt balks at paying you the rates you give her, you can then tell her, “This company comes well recommended. Here’s their webpage/brochure/advertisement.” (Don’t go into detail about what you’ve learned about what they charge and their terms. Keep that information in the back of your mind.) Then wait. One of two things will happen, both satisfactory. Either your aunt will realize that she prefers to continue to use you, only now her anchor for what the service is worth will be much higher, or your aunt will prefer the other company.

      • Raptor said:

        And then your artist friend died of EXPOSURE

        • Raptor said:

          (Which isn’t meant to be a joke at the expense of homeless people. That just occurred to me. I live in a city with a large homeless population and I really feel for them. This is the punchline to a comic about EXPOSURE that I saw and then I instantly felt bad.)

          • zeph said:

            Don’t feel bad, you were doing no harm to homeless people, you were just pointing out that “exposure” can be understood either in a positive or negatie light.

          • Traffic_Spiral said:

            I read it as “if you don’t pay someone they might literally become homeless,” as opposed to a joke at the expense of homeless people, but I suppose others might have taken it differently.

          • Squibbledee said:

            This made me a think of a (relevant, I believe) Nick Cave lyric: “I thought of my friends who had died of exposure; And I remembered other ones who had died from the lack of it”

      • The one time I had a good outcome on that – the magazine didn’t pay its writers, but instead of getting money from advertisers, the advertisers provided free services to the writers. So I got free healthcare from a doctor that advertised in the magazine, free donuts from a donut place, etc etc. It was honestly a great system.

        (This is purely an anecdote, not a point in the debate, it’s not really relevant.)

        • Breadpudding said:

          That’s actually pretty cool, though, as it seems like a good system for everyone involved – everyone gets something, plus likely also gets a boost in word-of-mouth advertising.

  6. policychick said:

    If you can, think of your aunt as any other business person and approach it that way. She’s not a relative, she’s a business person, and treat her (and your correspondences and invoices etc) as such. You can also ‘pretend’ in your head, that you are representing someone else. You can write out all kinds of scripts for your ‘client’ that make sense for you – because you are repping that person, so you are looking out for her interests! Then you just substitute ‘I’ for ‘she’.

    “She needs to be paid for work produced to date, and have a proper contract for X, Y, and Z before taking on more work.”
    “I need to be paid for work produced to date, and have a proper contract for X, Y, and Z before taking on more work.”

    When I freelanced in advertising, I went through a period when I raised my rates and BOY was it hard to tell my clients! But I pretended I was talking about someone else, and it made it easier. I didn’t get flustered or apologetic, because that someone else deserved to earn that rate!

    Good luck!

    • This is a great idea! Oftentimes, we are kinder to other people than we are to ourselves. The body positivity movement, for example, is filled with people who started out being able to be kind and accepting of other people’s bodies, but they still beat themselves up for not being the conventional model type. And while I will fight for the people I love, if it’s “just me,” I’m more willing to just suck it up and say, “I don’t have the right/energy/time to fight for what’s right here,” and that’s just too common.

      I LOVE your suggestion, policychick!

    • Nanani said:

      Raising your rates is hard and weird, and sometimes you will hear “no” and other times you will hear “yes” followed by mysterious lack of work for you… But it’s a valuable skill to have in your toolbox and your approach sounds brilliant for cutting past the weird.

    • Sticking up for someone else’s pay raise instead of your own? Brilliant.
      So much like the people who will take domestic bad treatment for themselves but flare up when a sibling comes under attack.

  7. Dia said:

    LW, good job for having already mentioned things to her about stuff needing to change! I’m sorry she’s kept doing it even after she agrees with you, that’s really inappropriate of her.

  8. PrairieChick said:

    I hope that you are keeping a portfolio of your work, as well as a record of words translated /hours spent, etc. This is helpful in several ways: 1. as solid evidence to your aunt about the quality of your work and your claim for compensation; 2. validation of your worth to yourself; and 3. material for a future job search . Samples of your work say much more than mere words.

    I’m a freelance writer who had similar unreasonable requests made for my time and energy. Being assertive about what I saw as fair, and dropping clients who wouldn’t cooperate was extremely liberating. Best wishes for success with your situation; and Jedi Hugs, if you need/want them.

  9. Dia said:

    LW, good job for having already mentioned things to her about stuff needing to change! I’m sorry she’s kept doing it even after she agrees with you, that’s really inappropriate of her.

  10. Rana said:

    A related strategy you might consider is looking up the professional organization associated with the skills she’s asking you to perform and see if they have a rates page, or a directory. Seeing what professionals expect (or don’t) both gives support for what you’re asking of her and might help her see what a bargain she’s been getting up to this point. “Well, if you aren’t willing to pay me or give me enough time to complete these projects, you’re free to hire someone else” is a lot more effective if she can see for herself just how much the alternatives are going to cost her.

    But you’re also free to just say no to any further work. “Firing” clients happens all the time; there are all kinds of reasons for it, and it is a normal part of freelancing.

  11. You have to be strong and assertive. She has unrealistic expectations. It took me two months to edit a cookbook for $400. It was my first so I didn’t know better. Plus the client kept adding. And I wasn’t assertive enough to call it. But I have to eat and $400 for two months doesn’t do it. I’m still waiting for the second half of my money and struggling. And she wants more work from me.

    As a former graduate student and college professor, I know your struggles from both ends. I’m still working on assertive. I suck at it. But it must be done. My tummy talks louder than my clients.

    Do what you have to and don’t feel the guilt. She isn’t paying your bills and doesn’t know what your check book/calendar says.

    • One of the most useful phrases in a copywriter’s vocabulary: ‘I’m happy to do the extra work if you can arrange a top-up fee.’

  12. e271828 said:

    Fair pay for work is a feminist issue.

    Your aunt may need to think about that.

    • Tjoffex said:

      This!!!

    • Marcy said:

      YESSS 💯

      • rontoad said:

        Another YESSSS! I’ve been sitting on my typing fingers all the way down this reply string, waiting to say exactly that.

    • B. said:

      If there was an award at CA.com for aptest comment in the thread, I’d give my vote to this one.

  13. Looc64 said:

    One concern I have about doing an in person meeting is that it might be similar to breaking up with a manipulative SO in person, where the SO is kind of able to twist the conversation.

  14. meadowphoenix said:

    Present her with an accurate count of how many hours you’ve spent on this project. Invoice her for those hours at a real-world translation rate. All of them. Every single hour and piece of “extra” work.

    Okay, Auntie, I understand if that won’t work for you, good luck finding a professional to help you, I’ll happily transfer all the files I have over to you and that person”(You will transfer them…as soon as she pays your entire invoice).

    Captain’s extremely wrong here (if she’s being serious). You can’t invoice people for rates they didn’t agree to, even if the new rate is the fair one, and you can’t hold on to documents which belong to a company, whether they pay you or not. Most intellectual property in the context of work you did specifically for the company favors the company. It doesn’t belong to you (in most cases).

    Absolutely DO invoice her for what she agreed to paid you and hasn’t and absolutely DO give her a list of your new FAIR rates. Absolutely DO mail her back every bit of work you did, if she won’t accept the new rates and accept no more work from her, especially if she wont pay what she already owes. (Also….is she paying your payroll taxes or do you already know you’re supposed to be paying them?)

    The rest of Captain’s advice is good, but this part involves the law, and needs a bit of correction.

    • Yes. I was going to say this so am chiming in to agree!

    • Vicki said:

      I am not a lawyer, but I don’t think the aunt can claim that LW’s translations are work for hire—which would be the basis for the aunt claiming ownership of the translations—if she isn’t an employee, there is no contract, and Aunt hasn’t paid her at least the legal minimum wage. (Yes, a person can sign a contract for a specific task at a flat rate for the project that works out less than minimum, but it doesn’t sound like anything of that sort has happened here.)

      LW doesn’t have legal standing to force her aunt to pay an invoice for a fair rate, or even for the state minimum, but she can say “I’m not available for any more work until you pay for what I’ve already done.”

      LW, would it help to frame it as “Aunt, I know you’d like me to do X for your magazine, but I have to finish this paper for my class, and study for my exams. I’ll let you know when I have time to work on your project, but for anything urgent you should hire someone else.” Your aunt is trying to frame this as a family favor, but even if this project is incredibly important, she’s a very rich lady and can afford to treat you right.

    • B said:

      Yeah, I kind of winced at the idea of presenting an invoice as if there had been a price agreed on previously.
      Though if there was some vague promised amount that has not really materialized thus far, I think it’s okay to say “I need $X for the work I already did to even consider doing more”. It’s subtly different than saying “you OWE me $X for the work I already did”. The first indicates that after having done the work you’ve decided it was of X cost to you and if they agree then they can pay you for that and continue to use your services at that rate. The latter implies there was a specific prior agreement, which isn’t really the case.
      At least that’s how I see it.

      • Emmers said:

        It feels to me like the invoice indicates a moral obligation, not a legal one. LW should not lawyer up to get money from her aunt, certainly. But refusing to do FUTURE work is definitely okay.

    • JenniferP said:

      I appreciate the information, thanks.

    • If Auntie is actually trying to set up a serious business, it might be a good opportunity to give her a needed lesson:

      ‘Auntie, we haven’t been doing this on a systematic basis and it’s time we did. I’ve done some research, and the going rate for translation work is between X and Y. Now, since we didn’t discuss that before now I’m prepared to let it go on work I did previously, but from now on I think it’s only fair to be paid the going rate. Since you’re family I’m willing to invoice you at the lower end of those rates, but I think we need a contract before we go any further. Can we draw one up?’

      Going rates are information she actually needs, so if she’s acting in good faith, this is a way better way for her to find out than if she tried it with a stranger. It also gives you the opportunity to show her that you actually are doing her a family favour – just within reasonable bounds.

    • Broke Law Student said:

      Yeah, I’d say that if she actually does agree to pay for all the work that’s already been done (really unlikely, since that’s not what she agreed to) then LW is going to have to deal with taxes and possibly getting a business license. When I was self-employed, I had to pay taxes quarterly and had to have a business license before I did a lot of work, so it may be worth checking with a free legal aid lawyer if she’s in the US for the consequences of this kind of request.

      Also, even apart from the law, it’s not fair to do work for someone and then charge them later without notice. Yes, it was wrong for the aunt not to pay and to make the ridiculous demands, and I think it’s totally fair for LW to show how much she worked and what it would have cost a professional translator to do, but that’s kind of different. Honestly, if someone did work for me and I thought it was reduced/free, and then they came to me with a bill and refused to turn over the work until I paid it, I would definitely bristle (although I’m someone who wouldn’t ask a family member to do this for free, so who knows).

      • JenniferP said:

        It’s also not fair for a 50-something businessperson to hire on a college student and then not really pay them for work. The aunt knows she’s supposed to pay “something” (since she is paying something) – the omission in never talking about a payment schedule or rate is also her mistake, and since they are family it’s also not fair if “fairness” and “professionalism” only work in the aunt’s favor. Like, maybe it’s not fair to invoice for all that time, so, think of it as presenting an accurate accounting of hours spent, and instead of only negotiating for future projects (which the LW might not even want to do), would it be fair to say, “I’ve spent 300 hours on this so far, and been paid $300 total. A fair payment for that time would be $xxxx. Before we talk about more work, are you able to compensate me for what I’ve done so far?” The aunt could say no, from a legal standpoint, but the “We’re a faaaaamily” works both ways.

        • Yeah, I totally agree with you! The way you phrased it there seems totally legitimate–I was just focusing on this idea that she would invoice her for a specific amount based on an hourly rate that they hadn’t even discussed. (Personally I don’t even think family should come into it unless there’s something going on that’s not in the letter, like the aunt is paying for LW’s schooling or something–I’m definitely not saying “but family” and I think family members should pay one another for business expenses)

        • Broke Law Student said:

          Jennifer, the comment below for some reason posted with my full name–can you remove? Thanks.

          • JenniferP said:

            I got u!

        • I totally agree that “We’re a family” works both ways; who’s to say that you shouldn’t be expecting her to pay you at a higher rate since you are the broke college student and she is the rich older person.

          Given the points about the lack of solid legal footing for insisting on a specific price for past labor, I’d like to pipe in with a some language I saw used in a difficult situation that really impressed me. In college, my dance group hired a professional dancer to choreograph a piece for our show as sort of a headliner along with all the student choreographed work. This woman did rehearsals with her group of dancers for a while but became increasingly unavailable and ultimately bailed on the show. We didn’t have enough of the piece together to end of performing it. The head of our club sent her a very polite and professional email asking her, how much of the original agreed upon amount she “would feel comfortable accepting” for the work she did deliver on. I really like this wording because it creates a sort of social pressure and expectation that of course you are going to be a good person and ask for a reasonably reduced fee given the situation.

          Maybe the LW could do something similar? Write up something that professionally documents the hours and volume of work completed. Attach it to information about the going rate for such work. Then ask her, “What do you think would be fair compensation for this work?” or “What would you be comfortable paying me for this work?” Whether or not this is a good approach depends a lot on what type of person she is. If she is exploiting you because she is clueless, this might be effective while creating less family drama. This negotiation could also turn into what your rate will be going forward, or that can be a separate conversation.

        • Emmers said:

          This feels like really good phrasing.

      • Nanani said:

        Re: business license
        To my knowledge, no business license is required for translation work in any country. Some countries require certification before certain types of clients (like the local government) will hire you, but that’s not the case in the US afaik (n.b. I’ve never lived in the US, but I do have clients based there). Translation business is kind of a free-for-all, as it happens.

        Taxes though. Yes, do worry about those. Talk to an accountant or financial planner. Where I have lived, quarterly taxes vs annual are optional until the government decides it’s not, and then they send you paperwork to the effect that they expect quarterly tax filings instead of annual as of financial year X. So, if you are making very little money just starting out, or maybe, perhaps, hypothetically, because someone’s not actually paying you a fair wage, then you won’t get into any trouble. You still have to pay taxes on your freelance income no matter what, but it can wait until your annual tax filing just like for people with salaries.

        This sort of thing varies a lot around the world and does change over time, though. Keeping up with it is part of freelancing.

        • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

          One thing to bring up with an accountant (there may be people who advise students for free/a low fee) is whether working for no money or next-to-none will be treated as a donation by the taxman, and whether you’d still have to pay tax on it. (I’m not familiar with US tax law, but this is a topic that, IIRC, came up on a professional mailing list at some point; it’s worth checking whether you’ll be penalised for your generosity.)

    • Personally I agree that invoicing someone for past work based on rates and times that haven’t been discussed ahead of time is a Bad Idea. I think it’s bad if everyone is an unrelated professional and I think it’s absolutely sure to turn into A Thing when you have clients who are family with entitlement issues. I’m also inclined to think that this is the kind of action you take when you’re okay with burning bridges and maybe even would prefer that; Grodd knows I have had clients that I made an effort at discouraging from being my clients. Withholding work product as a way of forcing payment just ups that likelihood of grar even higher.

      That aside, I don’t think this is correct about ownership of the work. The provided documents from Auntie Nopay are unquestionably hers, both in physical object form and in copyright, which attached at the moment of creation. The translations LW has created, however, are hers in every way. As an independent contractor she used all her own materials, presumably, in the creation of them. Copyright on translations are tricky for licensing purposes if you’re going to publish, as I understand it, but LW absolutely has a copyright claim on what she’s created. Further, it’s LW’s copyright and it absolutely does not automatically become work for hire.

      I am not a lawyer but I began taking photos for money right around the time when there was a notable WFH copyright case in 89, so this has been on my radar for a long time and I was primed to pay attention when it occurred. The bottom line is that when you’re hired as a contractor it’s not work for hire unless you documented ahead of time that it was work for hire. So unless there’s something resembling documentation between auntie and LW, those translations belong to LW. There’s a good writeup of the three part test at this url, though the only one that really matters here is the “decided in writing ahead of time.” http://copylaw.com/new_articles/wfh.html

      If this was a situation where LW wanted to really play hardball, that copyright claim would be useful against an online magazine since LW could issue a DMCA claim. I’ve done plenty, unfortunately, and they’re very easy. However causing auntie’s website to be shut down seems pretty sure to harsh on family mellow, no matter how legally right it is.

      In your shoes, LW, I’d focus exclusively on setting up a new deal going forward. Not just because of the uncertainty of the questions above, but because of something more practical: People with entitlement issues about you doing work for them will, in my experience, recharacterize every conversation they have ever had with you to help support their interpretation of why what you should have been paid in the past is right. It’s an unwinnable argument because they will never let facts get in the way of proving that they’re right and because they want the situation as it is right now: with the work done and you not paid. So to get what they want they have to do nothing.

      There’s a cost to walking away from that compensation, of course, but if you can afford it I highly recommend it. Every time I’ve traded family hassles for money I’ve paid way more than the money was worth.

  15. Lampi said:

    Hi LW! I work as a translator for literature and I was shocked to see that she thinks 2 weeks is an acceptable time for translating a book. For reference, publishering houses in my country give me 2 or 3 MONTHS to work on a proofread translation of a novel that is then worked on together with an editor.
    There are several online translation communities that especially discuss freelance rates, probably also specific for your language pair(s).
    I wish you all the best when you put in professional standards when working for her, because it really is highly specialised and professional work, not just a family favour (it bears repeating! 🙂 )

    • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

      If she doesn’t want to understand that two weeks is nowhere near enough, ‘I cannot even type this many words in that time’ should be enough of an argument: it’s _physically_ impossible for most people to do this, never mind mentally.

      (Never mind that translating fiction is much harder than non-fiction etc etc.)

  16. Anisoptera said:

    Here’s a pro tip from the working world on dealing with unreasonable expectations. Let the wheels fall off.

    By which I mean, let things fail. First you set an expectation around reality, then you stick to it – right now your Aunt knows she can ask you to do work at midnight. How about if you didn’t answer the phone at all? Or if you did you said something like “I’ll work on that tomorrow, it will be ready by 5pm”, or even “I can’t work on that until next week – do you still want me to take it on or do you want to try to find someone else?” If an email comes in you ignore it until your normal working hours.

    I have noticed in my professional life that people won’t fix things that aren’t broken for them – if you bend over backwards to make something work they learn that’s how much notice/money/time you need to get it done.

    People don’t like being pushed back on about this stuff, and it can burn bridges (obviously many people have jobs they can’t afford to risk so I totally understand why they can’t push back) but honestly it often doesn’t burn bridges or cause drama, often it fixes the situation. The key is to be calm, polite and professional about it, and don’t bend over backwards to make unreasonable things work out.

    Your Aunt may try to blame you for any failures, which is why you want to set the new expectations in advance and ideally in writing (so she can’t say she didn’t know or understand). You may also find a lot of forced teaming, where she plays the “faaaaamily” card or the “do it for the cause” card and says everyone has to just pitch in – you don’t actually need to engage with that, just reiterate what you need in terms of notice/money/time to work.

    This is a key aspect of boundary setting – inform someone about the boundary (don’t ask – tell them) then stick to it. That last bit is critical, and very hard to do when you care about your work – but most situations aren’t exceptional, and it’s OK to stop protecting other people from the consequences of their choices.

    • Tea Rocket said:

      To add to this, I think it would be a good idea for the LW to think about what she’s so afraid of that she hasn’t felt she can let the wheels fall off. Does she think her aunt will stop being her aunt? That her aunt will turn the family against her? Does she believe her aunt’s online magazine will crash and burn horribly if the translations aren’t done on her aunt’s unreasonable timescales, consequently bringing financial ruin to her aunt?

      It sucks to disappoint people, especially people you love. But it’s inevitable when they make unreasonable demands. LW, if you try to keep up with the workload your aunt has given you, you will eventually fail, your aunt will be disappointed, and you will be exhausted—physically and emotionally, which can only make the situation worse. Since disappointing your aunt is an inevitability, you should do it now before you reach your breaking point rather than putting it off.

      Whatever you’re so afraid of, it’s probably not as bad as you’re imagining. Your aunt might be angry, but no reasonable person is going to take her side if she tries to turn this into a feud. And unless she has a history of feuds with lots of different people for a variety of reasons, then she’s probably not going to start one with you over this. Most people, when disappointed (whether due to unreasonable expectations or not), are miffed for a little while, get over it, and eventually readjust their expectations (though this might be a longer process than you’d like). Unless you have reason to think otherwise, this is probably what will happen once you establish boundaries with your aunt over your translation work.

      Good luck!

    • Serin said:

      This is very smart.

      And even people who work at big companies sometimes need to let things fail. Employers learn how long things take and what constitutes “fully staffed” from experience; if they lay off five of your coworkers and you absorb all their work at the cost of a ton of unpaid overtime, from the company’s perspective your department is still fully staffed. It won’t be an issue until the work stops getting done.

      I get that people have professional pride, but sometimes workers know things that their employers need to be taught, and this is the language in which employers learn.

      • Anisoptera said:

        Yes I have mainly seen this play out with understaffing. It’s so hard for people with professional pride and dedication to clock off at the end of the work day with a bunch of important stuff not done. But it’s often the only way to get the message across.

        Additional pro tip: if you have this problem at work you’ll be tempted to drop the least important, least visible things. Instead you need to drop stuff that’s very visible, which is hard, but it doesn’t work if you don’t. I’ve found it’s best to communicate early and often about your priorities and deadlines while doing this, and be ready with a list of what you *are* doing and how long it takes.

        But from the LWs perspective they’re not even being paid, so at that point there’s nothing to lose by pushing back *ruthlessly*.

  17. Chickie Feels It All said:

    I agree that it would be difficult to invoice now for work that has been completed and paid for. What the LW could do, however, is say something like the following: Auntie, you probably didn’t realize it, but that last job was 400,000 words. The going rate for a job like that seems to be around $xx,xxx. While I’d love to be paid for past work, what I’m really suggesting is that we bring my rate up to the going rate (or even offer a 10% family discount if you are feeling generous) for future projects.

    Having said this, my real thought is that you need to carefully consider if an arrangement like this makes sense at any pay rate. Family dynamics are challenging enough without adding in a contractual/financial element. If you are ready to be done, this is the perfect time, and you could easily say that you are embarking on a full-time job hunt/wrapping up school.

    Best of luck to you, LW.

  18. LucySnowe24 said:

    She’s creating a site ‘based on some feminist principles’ that involves exploiting your time and labour when you’re afraid to say no because family! And wanting to be nice!

    Ahaha, no. LW, your aunt is being wildly unreasonable. You deserve to be properly paid for your work. And her feminism is more than a little screwy.

  19. Victoria said:

    One point of disagreement with the Captain: if you hadn’t previously discussed a pay rate, you can’t go back and retroactively bill your aunt for the work you’ve already done. You could *ask* (“I’ve done about 20,000 words of translation over the past year, and I’m realizing now that what you’ve been paying hasn’t been enough to cover the amount of work that’s taken. I’d love to keep working with you on this but I’d need some back pay to catch up to where I should have been in terms of pay.”)… but even that is iffy (imagine if folks could come back at a later date and change what they charged us? “Oh, actually, that dress was worth more than. The $30 you paid. I’m going to need you to give me another $75.”).

    You should focus your conversation on what you need to make this worthwhile going forward.

    • JenniferP said:

      I think this is a great suggestion.

      Rather than an invoice, think of what you present to the aunt as an accurate record of the hours you’re spending and the basis for a negotiation. “When I agreed to x work, I thought it would take about y amount of time, but really it’s taken z. Going forward, I need to be compensated like ___ to make this worthwhile.”

      I’m still gonna say the aunt owes her some real money for all that time. The difference between $300 worth of work (what the aunt has paid) and $3000 worth of work (what the LW estimates she’s done) is ENORMOUS and the Aunt, as the experienced, non-college student in this scenario should make this right.

      • B said:

        I do think asking for $X back pay before even thinking about going forward would be a good litmus test to whether the aunt will be worth continuing to do work for. The quibble is I think mostly the phrasing and presentation. But I actually do think LW should request that amount in some way and bail if aunt won’t consider it.

      • Victoria said:

        To me, it depends on what they agreed to.

        If the LW agreed to the $300, then they should consider that $2,700 difference a lesson learned (in pricing their work appropriately, working with family, etc.).

        If they agreed on $3,000 (or the hourly or per-word equivalent that adds up to that amount) then damn! Go get that money you’re owed.

        If you never discussed an amount, then you use one of the “negotiating, not invoicing” scripts in the comments. Your goal here is to say that it was a mistake not to set a clear payment structure, that the work ended up being more than you expected, and that $300 isn’t a reasonable payment.

        My overall point is that you can’t invoice someone for an amount they didn’t agree to. $3,000 may be the going rate, but it may also be more than this work is worth to the LW’s aunt, and she should have been given the chance to say “Whoops, that’s too much. Let’s scrap the second article I sent over. I can afford $650 — what do you think we can get done for that?”

        • JenniferP said:

          I think this is smart!

          I also think that the aunt & Letter Writer agreed, loosely, to something way back when and the aunt has not been keeping up with the pay schedule and the LW is nervous to bring it up. Time to break the ice, if not with an invoice, with an honest accounting of the time spent and a plan for getting paid.

  20. ladybear said:

    I think it’s time for an old favourite of mine: F*ck You, Pay Me https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVkLVRt6c1U

    Link is to a youtube video of a talk by Mike Monteiro about how to make sure you get paid as a freelancer. His field is graphic design but his advice works for pretty much any freelancer including a translator. There is some law-talk which is US specific, but the legal principles probably exist in similar form in most countries.

    Of course he’s talking to a room and internet of professional freelancers. I suspect he would advise against working for money for a family member or friend in general specifically because of this issue.

    See also the female-oriented business advice from Jen Dziura over at http://www.getbullish.com, which is all about being assertive and running your career like a business. Your mileage may vary with the “ladyboss” stuff, but it’s intended to be empowering and there is a lot of good advice.

    LW, be realistic. How much time do you have left over after accounting for your existing responsibilities, socialising, self-care, chores, etc? Ok, now halve that, because I know I always lowball how long things take me to do.

    So now you have x hours a week you could spend on translation work for your Aunt. Do you want to spend that time on translation work? You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. You can say “I can’t do this anymore, it’s not working out for me”. If that’s too on the nose, maybe you don’t have time anymore. It’s not a lie, you don’t have any time allocated for this work because you don’t want to do it.

    Is there an amount you could be paid that would make you want to do that work? Are you prepared to ask for that pay?

    You don’t have try to tread the line between family and work if you don’t want to. You aren’t somehow failing at being an adult or a professional if you cut the knot and just back out. But you have tried just putting up with things and it hasn’t worked out for you, so if you don’t want the status quo and you don’t want to negotiate for better terms, the other option is to stop doing the work. Yeah your aunt could suddenly see reason, but that seems very unlikely. Whether or not she means to, she is being pushy and she has ended up exploiting you. You don’t have to put up with it.

    • zeph said:

      Exactly. It seems to me that LW, in the interest of being “fair”, is trying to figure out how to approach rich, expoitative Auntie and reasonably discuss fair payment etc. It also seem to me LW isn’t really at all into doing this time-consuming work, even if Auntie saw the light and paid fairly, gave sufficient lead time, etc.

      All the advice here is useful re negotiating but I don’t think LW wants thu burden of stressful negotiation, really. it’s a huge amount of emotional work and the “payoff” is going to be working at a job LW doesn’t want to do or have time for.

      The whole situation sounds like a huge emotional-pain-fraught burden (“If I say no to Auntie (eeek!), how will other family members react? How will our work life together be? How long before Auntie goes back to her old Auntie self? etc etc).

      I second marthooh with the “No, thanks, Auntie” suggestion. Get out, she’s a rich lady exploiting a family member (likely via a bit of guilt-induction). Just get out of there, she’s just a big pain in the assignment.

    • thank you for the “getbullish” shoutout, it is a very interesting site.

    • “Ok, now halve that, because I know I always lowball how long things take me to do.”

      Wanted to say I love this and it resonates so much with me.

      The question about “Is there an amount you could be paid that would make you want to do that work” is also really important. I am lucky enough to have a full-time job, but that means that when I do part-time work on top of that, the my rate is not only defined by “wait, am I charging a fair market value for what I am doing” but also by “wait, am I being paid enough to make it worth giving up what I am giving up?”

      Let me do some made-up math: Your aunt is a very rich lady. She doesn’t have a job. She is, perhaps, coming to you with the attitude of someone who has (24 – 8 (for sleep) – 3 (for eating personal grooming w/e) 13 hours in the day that she is not obliged to commit to anything she doesn’t want to. You do not have ~13 utterly free hours in the day. (I am guessing you have somewhere between 3 and 1? Possibly less, because exams?)

      Your aunt is asked to do a couple of hours work on nearly no notice. What is this for her? “Oh, la! I have no commitments tomorrow that I cannot shuffle around, and it imposes on no-one but myself if I sleep indulgently late! Surely this is no trouble.”

      Your aunt asks you to do a couple of hours work on nearly no notice. What is this for you? “1 hour free + non-negotiable sleep requirements due to commitments tomorrow – 2 hours of work = divide by INSUFFICIENT COPE ERROR ERROR DOES NOT COMPUTE.”

      Her two hours are not the same as your two hours. Maybe she really doesn’t get this; maybe she’s thoughtless; whatever. It doesn’t matter. You still can’t pour water from an empty pitcher. She’s asking for too much and giving back too little.

  21. NotAGraphicDesigner said:

    Dear LW, I had a slightly similar situation with MY wealthy aunt!

    I’ll share my experience just in case it’s useful for you… but I’ll note that your aunt sounds WAY more unreasonable and deliberately exploitative than mine was! So, YMMV.

    My aunt was starting her own small business, I agreed to do a small graphic design job for her. I quoted a set price of a few hundred dollars. The project blew way out of scope to be many, many more hours than I had anticipated. She kept on adding on tasks, and the small job became a massive job and I was doing work waaay below the price she would have had to pay a professional. At first I went ahead and just did all the extra work, without raising my fees, then felt really resentful about it.

    After the initial project was over, my aunt started suggesting all sorts of other work I could do for her business. I did not want to do it! I was a people pleaser and not good at saying “no” to people, but I had to do stuff Captain advises to change the situation.

    – I framed the fact that I was making a change like this, via email:

    “Hey Aunt, the other day you mentioned getting me to work on [new project] so I’m sending through this email to let you know what my costs for that would be. It was great working with you on [graphic design project from hell] but I want to let you know that my schedule has changed a lot in the months since we did that project.

    When we first worked together I had more spare time on my hands, and was so excited about your interesting new business, that I was happy to take on the project as an interesting family/hobby project. Now, my schedule is really busy, so I can no longer afford to take on any personal interest / hobby projects. My schedule is completely full with my studies and my job at [regular part time job].

    If I’m going to make time to take on [new project], and give it time in my schedule by adjusting my hours on [study or part time job], I can only afford to do it as a fully paid job, at industry standard rates. My usual standard hourly rate for all graphic design services is X.”

    Then I went on to outline in detail all the stuff Captain says about office hours, turnaround time, communication time etc.

    I made my availability hours for her project really tight, like, I would only be available for her project work, and all meets or communication about her work, on Thursdays between X and X hours.

    Then I gave her a quote for the new work she’d mentioned, based on all the conditions:

    “Based on your description of [new project], I would roughly estimate that we would need X hours, over a timeframe of X weeks to get it done, which would come out at X dollars. Of course, if you need further tasks added and the project takes more time than that, I will need to add the extra hours to the overall fee, but don’t worry, I will keep an hourly log, and keep you informed and updated each time we are adjusting the scope and adding hours to the project.”

    – I made my “standard hourly rate” for my aunt actually HIGHER than standard industry rates. This was a secret penalty fee for her being really indecisive and difficult to work with, and taking up more time than other clients – mostly through being totally clueless and oblivious, rather than deliberately malicious – but still, a pain to work with.

    This way, if she thought I was too expensive it would drive her to seek actual professionals who were cheaper, and I wouldn’t be doing the work, yay! If she still wanted to work with me at that high rate, I’d then be happy with the arrangement.

    Good luck LW, you can do it!

    • JenniferP said:

      This is perfect. Wonderful!

    • cartesiandaemon said:

      Yes, well done so much!

    • ReginaMint said:

      I especially agree with setting the standard hourly rate to be one that makes it worthwhile FOR YOU. One of the best things about freelancing is that you can set your fee to be whatever amount would make you feel genuinely enthusiastic about having the work. If in this case that includes a few extra dollars for the stress, that is okay. The amount you quote should be an amount you are HAPPY with, not settling for.

  22. NotAGraphicDesigner said:

    Oooh also I gave my aunt a list of professional freelancers. It took me some more unpaid time to compile, but I felt it was worth it and gave Aunt a face-saving out to stop working with me:

    “Thanks for thinking of me for this new work Aunt, I hope this outline is helpful for your business planning. I know this is different to how we were working previously, so if my standard rates and current availability doesn’t sound like a good fit for your new projects, please don’t feel obliged to work with me just because we are family. I really will not be offended in the least of you feel that another person will be more suited to the job. A professional who is doing this kind of work full-time might actually have more availability to respond to you faster. If you do want to have a look at other freelancers, here is a list of people based in our area.

    *list of freelancers all linked to their websites displaying hourly rates*

  23. Jack V said:

    I sort of approached this in the opposite direction to everyone else. It would be lovely if Aunt suddenly because able and willing to pay professional rates. But I assumed that was not likely. I assumed the conversation would be more like “I was happy to help you out once or twice, but now you’ve been asking me to do so much work my [studies/family time/etc] are suffering. I don’t think I can help you any more. If you want to actually hire me like a professional we can talk about what commercial rates would be and I’d really enjoy that but I don’t think that’s likely to work for you”.

    Or maybe, if you agreed SOME pay even if it was overly vague, say your finances can’t afford to do more for free unless she pays you what she already owes you. This puts the onus more on her.

    If you CAN get actual pay out of her that’s great, but I assume the options are “she resets you and doesn’t pay you” or “she resents you slightly less and doesn’t pay you”, so feel free to choose whether you’re maximising the chances.

    I may be way too negative. I really hope she would start seeing you like a professional, and if that’s possible, I definitely say go for it. But it sounded like from your letter, the older generation will just never see this as a professional thing you do as opposed to a communal family helping-each-other-out, in which case, there’s little go gain apart from “stop her taking advantage of you from here on” 😦

  24. cartesiandaemon said:

    Less negative thoughts. If you’ve already agreed a low rate, I agree with people saying you can’t really re-bill at a higher rate. Although, I mean, you can ask. If she actually agrees its unfair and she has the money, she might agree.

    OTOH, if the actual pay was vague, there’s no reason that has to translate to “it meets her expectations and you’re screwed” it could equally well be “it meets your expectations and she realises she should have checked before asking you to do so much”. I doubt she will pay if you did ask for that, but if she agreed she was going to pay something and didn’t agree what, you can think of the default as “an actual professional rate” not “zero”.

    And also, if it’s too intimidating to have this conversation all at once, but you basically just want to get out of it, you can wait for the next unreasonable request, and just be unable to fulfil that request.

    Her: I know it’s 3am, but can you do this by tomorrow?
    You: I’m really sorry! I’m studying. I wish you’d asked earlier.
    Her: Well, can you see if you can fit it in?
    You: Well, I’m really not hopeful, but I’ll let you know if I have any time.
    Her: *Email with a zillion impossible details*
    You, half an hour later: I’m sorry, I haven’t got to this, there’s no way I’m going to be able to. Sorry.

    Or,

    Her: Can you do X?
    You: I’m sorry, I need actual paid work if I’m going to [get a good job/marry well/look after mum and dad/whatever]
    You: If you want to pay my commercial rates, I can do it easily, it will take about N hours, but I’ll bill you for what it actually takes[1], and because it’s for a good cause, I’ll do it for blah less price [2]

    [1] ie. any overruns are HER problem not YOUR problem.

    [2] ie. the price you were going to charge anyway, but have an even bigger number in mind.

    (I always have the temptation to say, “Oh no, that must really suck for you” when someone tells you that they need something for tomorrow, but I never actually do it because I’m not rude enough. But the basic attitude is, if they’re asking me to do something completely unreasonable, I’ll react like they wanted me to do something completely unreasonable, and if that’s inconvenient for them, that’s their problem.)

    (OTOH, it’s totally ok to have rates whether or not other companies have actually taken you up on them yet. You know what you WOULD charge and what’s fair.)

    • Squibbledee said:

      This may not strictly apply to the current situation of the LW, as they ought to be being paid properly/turning down the work entirely. However, a tactic which has been useful for my people-pleasing, workaholic (life & business) partner when clients say, “I need this by tomorrow at 8am,” is to respond with something like, “The soonest I can deliver is Wednesday at noon. Let me know if that’s any good for you.”
      I think the fact that it’s a considered response, rather than a “no, sorry,” is psychologically more satisfying for the client, and the hard boundary is much harder to argue with. Though some clients do literally come back with, “pleeeeeease! It’s URGENT,” they are now more likely to also offer a rush fee, and to be unsurprised at being rejected again. Initially, this was a big change in how my partner works – but a non-negotiable one following heated domestic discussions about our private life and my partner’s mental health being sacrificed on the altar of work – so some early client retraining was involved along the lines of: “Unfortunately I would not be able to deliver work to the appropriate standard in that timeframe, so I’m sure you understand why I must refuse.”
      I think it’s also made them value our work more tbh.

      • Jack V said:

        Oh yeah, good line.

  25. KS said:

    All of the advice offered by Captain and comments is good, but I just wanted to say: this is a lesson that I think most freelancers have to learn the hard way, LW, so don’t feel bad! You didn’t do anything wrong by wanting to help out your aunt in a venture you feel is positive and worthy of success. Unless you have a lot of experience already with having to set firm family boundaries, it can be counter-intuitive that your family are some of the most likely people to exploit you in a business setting–I mean, they’re your family, and they love you, so they should treat you fairly, right? Unfortunately, for whatever reason, that’s usually not the case. Most freelancers I’ve known (I’m a designer) have a story like yours that they cite as the reason they will never do work for their family again. Nearly all of us got caught in this trap at least once.

    (Also worth remembering, if a bit cynical: wealthy people generally did not become and remain wealthy by being generous with their money. Clients perfectly capable of paying market-rate or above will frequently grub for discounts even more aggressively than ones with tight budgets, and unfortunately family have a lot more buttons available to push while doing so.)

  26. Jen said:

    LW, in my work I have translators as coworkers. They are paid $50k CAD and $60k CAD a year (one’s in a more junior position), and their *maximum* capacity — with no distractions or other work — is 1,000 words a day.

    Just if you need some kind of leverage to use when setting pricing/billing. Granted, these are people who have trained to be translators, which I believe you are not (please forgive me if you have been trained in this way!), but if you want a market price to base yourself off of, please feel free to use mine.

  27. Megsammor said:

    LW, as a full-time freelancer, I 100% advise you to do the opposite of what it feels like you should and start giving absolutely zero f*cks. With my most difficult clients, I have found that approaching them with attitude of “and if we never speak again I will continue living my life and running my business” generates far, far greater results than begging for work. A lot of them apologize and come crawling back. Keep in mind that SHE needs YOU far more than you need her, and that speaking about yourself like you’re the baller that you are will generate far more respect (and eventually money.)

  28. IrishEm said:

    I have a friend, whom I love dearly, but she is a bit … let’s say unaware of how other people were not placed on this earth to do her bidding.

    When she was finishing her MA she came to me, said, “IrishEm, you have an English degree! Proofread my thesis for me!” And I, who am unemployed and value my time (for the first time in my life) explained that, “Actually, since proofreading is skilled work and the Irish market average is to charge €0.50 per word, I’ll do it for you for €0.25 per word because you are my friend.”

    My friend basically went “but, whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy? You USED to do stuff like this for freeeeeeeeeee!” and “But I’m a poor, broke student and have no money!” and I helpfully pointed out that I, on unemployment, got less than €200 per week from the government, and she, working part time over two days makes considerably more than that (while also entitled to claim off the government if she so chose*), and if she can’t afford my rates then maybe she should find another friend with an English degree to mooch off.

    I did this because proofreading is a highly skilled task, and I need money to, you know, eat, and because she has a habit of asking me to use my English degree to benefit her without reciprocity. (The lack of reciprocity is not out of malice but a combination of obliviousness and insecurity about her own English skills.) She has never asked me since then to do any proofing/critical reading.

    She had kept asking me to do stuff like that because I had done so in the past for free, and she placed the same value on my skills as I had done. As soon as I placed a monetary value on my skills she also placed a monetary value on my skills. Good luck, LW, and I hope that by placing value on your work and time your auntie will, too.

    *She chose not to claim, I don’t know why. Possibly because she made more in two days than is offered for a week by the govt.

  29. Toincoss said:

    Hate to disagree, but I think it’s a bad idea to demand payment at a rate for work that wasn’t originally negotiated. This is destined to fail and create personal problems which I get the impression the LW wants to avoid.

    IMO, the LW should write-off compensation for the past as a learning experience (on how NOT to be exploited) and focus on the present and future. Definitely present the total words/hours and minimum rate that she should have expected to pay for all that, but focus on how you don’t have time to meet her deadlines and it’s more time consuming than it may appear.

    Honestly though my gut says the best thing to do is just say no to continuing to do more translation using a “I don’t have time for this” type script. You don’t need to give details on WHY you don’t have time, just keep it to how time consuming it is and you have other priorities. This Aunt is manipulative and pushy… why would you want to work for someone like that? It’s just setting up more conflict in the future, contract or not.

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