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Another War On a Translation Agency on ProZ

Photo by Alex Indigo, http://www.flickr.com/photos/alexindigo/2543455185

Make sure to read this entertaining thread on the ProZ.com forum. It is about an agency that asked its translators to reduce their rates by 15%. Threads like this appear on the Internet often, because large translation companies are always hungry for lower rates. Nonetheless, people keep taking such requests personally. In this post, I want to share a few thoughts, mainly about the translator’s reaction, but also about the agency policy.

This does hurt

I know exactly how it feels. This happened to us many times, too. For example, earlier this year, an agency that we have worked with for six years dumped us in favor of someone else with lower rates. This is frustrating, to put it mildly. You feel betrayed, because you invested a part of yourself in the relationship, and now it turns out that no one on the other side cares about you, the little guy. What I do not understand, though, is why people don’t move on as quickly as possible. Some even talking about suing the company. Suing for what? For negotiating prices? Give me a break. Taking negotiation personally is unproductive. The right approach is to make a purely business decision—whether working at these new rates still makes sense to you. It is not like you are chained and have to obey grudgingly.

Are strong emotions really necessary?

Saying that you do not like this policy is important. The agency must be made aware that the people they rely on are not happy about what is going on. Do let the company know by all means. But do this privately. A public forum is the wrong place. They treated you badly by contacting you impolitely. But you do not have to display the very impolite behavior that you are blaming them for.

Some even want to retaliate by leaving a bad testimonial on the Internet. I do not think this is right. We are in a free market. If you do not like a client you work for, that is not a reason to blame them. If everyone left a bad testimonial every time they felt disappointed about business-related matters, the Internet would be riddled with this kind of negativity.

Victim mentality

Business owners (and translators are business owners) venting on a public forum about an offer to reduce rates sounds like a victim mentality to me. Blaming others for what happens to you is unproductive. People need to take more responsibility for their financial future.

Negotiations like this are an integral part of business. To be prepared for negotiations requires being able to walk away without regret. To achieve this, you should have other clients and other sources of income. Betting everything on one horse is simply bad risk management, especially in an industry, where quality and rates are constantly driven down.

Everyone loses in the end

Interestingly, the biggest challenge this agency is creating is not for translators, but for themselves. Reducing rates is hard enough, but this is nothing compared to the real problem: when the rates are finally reduced, how will the agency motivate the same people to produce the same quality of work for lower pay?

Still not convinced that translators should be more proactive? Then read the article about why agencies think replacing a translator is easy.

5 comments

  • I. BRUCHER says:

    Well, as someone said, no customer should represent more than 25%, or even 10% of a translator’s clients portfolio.

    But this is easier said than done because once an agency likes a translator, it usually floods him with orders, which both prevents and discourages him from looking any further.

    Let’s be realistic here.

    Even agencies like to dream that they “hire” translators (I see this very shocking term in job ads ALL THE TIME!) and that they can rely on them.

    It’s to the point that translators do not dare refusing one single order for fear of losing the agency!

    Some idiotic young (!) coach at Proz even once pretended that agencies expected translators to be both “available and reliable” (he liked it because it rhymed…).

    If you are available all the time, some day you will not be reliable.

    And being reliable is much more important – and a contractual obligation, whereas being available is not a legal obligation towards an intermediary!…

    Let’s add that translation schools do not train translators to become freelancers and to do their own marketing.

    Even when you study business administration at university level, you are trained to run a large company, but not a one-person business (including multitasking and time & stress management in this context)…

    This reduced rate story also pleads for contacting end-customers directly, which are OUR customers, agencies being just empty shells who make a lot of money on just “passing on the dishes” most of the time.

    Agencies have more visibility, that’s the only reason why customers turn to them, on top of the fact that large agencies send armies of liers (i.e. salespeople) who totally discourage customers from… make huge savings by addressing themselves to the real “LSPs”, i.e. the translators…

    With translators’ online profiles & credentials, end-customers have exactly the same guarantees as to the translator’s competence as agencies who look for translators for their own purposes.

    All this should be taught in translation schools.

    I even think that translation studies should be post-university specializations, since you need to understand at least one area of specialization in order to translate efficiently. But that’s another subject.

    But as it is too often the case, studies are not in tune with what the market needs… 😉

    Last but not least, rates are so low that it leaves little time to translators to find other customers, all the more that they have not been trained to efficiently & quickly do so…

    So if a translator starts his freelancing career by working for agencies, i.e. at 50% of what he should be earning, which is almost always the case, he quickly finds himself trapped in that one or two-customers scenario…

    This means that a beginning freelancer should look for direct customers at least as much as intermediaries, otherwise he gets trapped in a life threatening/very dangerous system…

  • I. BRUCHER says:

    In conclusion, translators’ complaints about this U.K. agency reducing its rates by 15% without advance warning last July was totally legitimate: agencies make translators agency-dependant!

    And I am very sure that Proz fierce “moderators” made sure no company name was mentioned (even if everybody ended up knowing, via other, more transparent & open social media, which agency was being talked about).

    So what’s the big fuss about this forum supposedly “attacking” a “poor innocent” agency?…

    Give us a break, Velior, thank you!

    • Hi Isabelle,
      Thank you for your extensive comment. I appreciate it!
      The point of my article is only what late Dr. Stephen Covey called “Be proactive.”
      As to your other thoughts about agencies and marketing, I agree with most of them, except for the exclusively unproductive role of agencies. Even though translation agencies create delays and reduce translator rates, they serve important functions, the most important one being the ability to provide translations + DTP + what have you into multiple languages under one roof. Clients need that, they cannot find, and work with, ten or fifteen translators by themselves.
      Yours,
      Roman

  • Ah yes, the “tpt” incident… one of many and several from that same source. I had my own bit of fun with it. But there’s really not much point in whining about idiots like that or waving the banners and calling for the workers of the world to unite. That agency and others like it soil their own nests, and whoever wants to sit in all that shit is welcome to do so and need not fear I’ll be taking the orders they richly deserve 🙂

    >> Even agencies like to dream that they “hire” translators
    Wrong, Brucher. The word is “buy”. Somewhere I even have a poster for one of the auctions. And unfortunately so many colleagues are so passive in their approach to business that they are begging to be bought and sold and scourged, but that won’t change, so help those who will help themselves when you can and then move along….

    • Hello Kevin,
      I just wish I could write as eloquently as you! Your post together with the comments is so entertaining. Thank you for dropping by.
      Best,
      Roman

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About the Author

Roman Mironov
Roman Mironov
CEO & Founder

As the founder of Velior, Roman has had the privilege of being able to turn his passion for languages into a business. He has over 15 years of experience in the translation industry. Roman has helped dozens of clients increase sales by making their products appealing for speakers of other languages.