Translation agencies and freelancers: win-win relationships

Translation agencies and freelancers: win-win relationships

That’s a lot of posts and articles for freelance translators/interpreters how to build successful relationships with translation/interpreting agencies. But I’d like to write on an opposite topic – how an agency can win a freelancer and build successful working relationships.

It all starts from the first contact, first impression, first e-mail. The worst thing is when you get a non-customized e-mail from mass e-mailing starting with ‘Hi all’ or more polite ‘Dear translator’. Forget it. The same is for letters without an introduction, when a potential customer jumps directly to the word count, deadline and budget. My dear, you write me for the first time, so please spend some time on introducing yourself. It’s like when you meet a guy in a bar, and he skips the foreplay in goes directly to… Well, you’ve got it.

Also what might be disappointing in a very first e-mail, is when a PM after a polite text add at the end something like ‘we’ve also contacted other translators, so we’d really appreciate you to react quickly’. Excuse me, what?

Sample translations. That’s perfectly OK for an agency to ask for a sample translation from an individual translator, whose job is not so easy to be tracked and checked, like, for example, of an accounting firm or a designer (that’s to the point why they can ask for a sample from a translator, and never think of asking a sample from an accountant/lawyer). But this sample translation, to my opinion, should not be done for free, since it takes time and effort, and it’s translators intellectual product worth paying for. If an agency wants a free sample, why not to offer them a sample from previous translation (non-confidential, of course). This what designers, software developers and many other freelance proffessionals do to show a new potential customer how they work.

Let’s assume you’ve passed the ‘first date’ step, and you’re working on your first project for this agency. You might have some questions on the text/terms, and you really expect PM to react quickly… but you’ve got no answer. That’s strange, you think, but continue your work on this project. This lack of feedback is one of the most frustrating things that might happen in translator-agency relationships. A quick feedback on terms/project issues, as a well a quality feedback after the project has been delivered and reviewed, makes a translator feel the importance of his/her work and behave like a team-player.

Payment issues are for sure very important, and transparent and translator-friendly payment practices in terms of payment method, invoicing and time to actual payment are usually primary parameters considered by a translator. Most translators got used to net 30-45 days to payment, and it’s considered normal, since most agencies rely on payments from clients and have sometimes very complicated invoice-processing algorithms. But when this period is extended by an agency for some reason, that’s the point where frustration begins. The explanatory e-mail on delay in payments from project or accountant manager could be helpful to keep translator-agency relationships alive, but better for an agency to stick to payment terms and not violate the mutual agreement. That’s easy: agency gets angry when translator doesn’t meet the deadline, translator becomes angry and frustrated when agency doesn’t pay in time.

Coming back to e-mails and project placement, there could be situations when a PM asks you if you could translate one sentence as a favor to the agency/client. That’s OK when the number of such one-sentence-letters doesn’t exceed 1-2 per month. But when they land in translator’s inbox regularly, that’s the time to think about a minimal fee for every small translation, even one-sentence job.

Rates. Of course, we will not speak here about translation agencies with ridiculous rates. We ban them and go forward. Let’s say you’ve negotiated a decent rate with the agency, and worked for them successfully for a year or so. Then you decide to increase your rate, and got rude ‘no, your rate is already too high for us’. Well, you can continue to work for this agency, but they’ve already lost you, since you’ve switched on your client-hunting mode, and that’s only a question of time when this agency would be replaced by a new client. Same is for agencies asking for discounts on bulk projects (however, this is negotiable, but when the project is really big and juicy, the deadline is friendly, and you have very good relationships with this agency) and hesitating on extra fees for PDF/formatting/urgency/work during the weekend.

Take-home message: We are all human beings, and we got happy when our work is valued, both financially and with decent feedback, and we got angry when somebody treats our services as commodity. Of course, there is a bunch of young and hungry freelance translators out there ready for low rates, tight deadlines and slave-master relationships. But true professionals worth hunting for expect to be respected for the time and effort they put into translation product an agency sells to the end customer.

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