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What to do if a direct customer approaches you behind your agency's back ...
Thread poster: Sarah Downing

Sarah Downing  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:37
German to English
+ ...
Jun 21, 2006

Hi guys,

I am currently faced with a bit of an ethical dilemma. A while ago, I did a job for an agency for a customer who has now approached me directly and wants a quote for further work.

I haven't signed anything with this agency, but I wouldn't dream of poaching someone elses's customers. In principle, I don't think this would be me poaching a customer if I took on the job because it was the customer who approached me and not the other way round. I also have no idea how this person got hold of my contact details. However, whatever I do it is important to me to act in a fair, ethical and professional manner.

Does anyone have any advice or has anyone come across a similar situation in the past?

Thank you in advance for your input.

All the best,


Sarah


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Elena Pavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:37
Member (2005)
French to Italian
+ ...
Personally... Jun 21, 2006

I would explain the customer that I have a professional morality and that I don't want to "steal" their customers; I could work with him, but I prefer talking to the agency first. I am probably simple, but I think that honesty is always the best way of acting.
Sure that if the agency is a bad one, unpolite peole, who take ages before paying, despite your reminds, well... that's a different story!!!!
Elena


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Jabberwock  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 14:37
Member (2004)
English to Polish
Notify the agency... Jun 21, 2006

I would notify the agency. I have, in fact, once or twice. What follows next depends mostly on the agency's reaction - most of them realize that they cannot really forbid you to work with the client, so they might even agree to it. And your conscience will be clear...

Of course, they might also threaten that if you do this, they will no longer work with you... but again, this is your decision.


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sylvie malich
Germany
Local time: 14:37
German to English
Sarah, have you seen this post Jun 21, 2006

http://www.proz.com/topic/47459

Food for thought.

sylvie


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Armorel Young  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:37
Member (2004)
German to English
Happened to me .... Jun 21, 2006

This happened to me just a few weeks ago. I told the customer I couldn't work directly for them without the agency's permission, and also told the agency I had been approached (I had built up a good relationship with the agency and wanted to maintain this). In this particular case the agency said I was welcome to work for the client direct - but in fact nothing has come of it and I have noticed that the customer has been advertising jobs on Proz at precisely half the rate I was previously receiving from the agency for doing their work.

Which begs the question of why the customer has approached you direct. It is highly likely that they are hoping to get a cheaper price than they got through the agency, and if you tell them that you don't play the price-cutting game the whole thing may go away anyway.


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Sarah Downing  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:37
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I've meanwhile contacted the agency ... Jun 21, 2006

... and told them that I have been contacted by their end customer. They said they would get back to me about it tomorrow morning.

Thank you to everyone for their input thus far. On the one hand, I feel that I have done the right thing by being open to the agency, but they mentioned something about their getting a cut of the earnings, which I personally think is taking it a bit far. The end customer is perfectly entitled to contact me, albeit I find it a bit underhand. I, in turn, am technically entitled to accept the job - after all, they contacted me and not the other way round. However, I felt that I was being reasonable and ethical by letting the agency know, but as far as I'm concerned they can either respond in one of two ways - we don't want you to work with our end customer, or you are free to take on the job.

As you so rightly pointed out, Armorel, they will have had their reasons for contacting me directly - it also occurred to me that this could be because of price. I am not so fussed about the job one way or the other. I could take it on, but whatever I do,. I want the solution to be one that is fair to everyone, including myself.

What do you reckon about the agency's comment that they should get a cut if I take on the work? Is this justified in your opinion?

Thanks and all the best,


Sarah


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Sonja Tomaskovic  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 14:37
English to German
+ ...
Who told the end customer Jun 21, 2006

Regarding the agency's comment that they want a cut of the job: do you know who gave your contact information to the end customer?

If the agency did (for whatever reasons; I can't really imagine why, unless this customer of theirs is a very difficult one), then they could argue they did you a favour. In this case, I would probably consider giving them a small, but fair share.

Otherwise I don't see any reason why you should let them profit from your work if they haven't directed this customer to you. I wonder if they would give you a share of their profit if you directed one of your customers to them.

In fact, you have been very cooperative to this point; I wouldn't go any further from here.

Good luck,

Sonja


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Sarah Downing  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:37
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Who told the end customer? Jun 21, 2006

Hi Sonja,

Thank you for your comments. I feel like I have given them an inch and they want to take a mile.

As for who told them, the last job I did for this agency and for the end customer, the agency requested that I send the job directly to the end customer and a Cc. to them because they were out of the office when the job was due. That seems to be how the end customer got hold of my contact information. The agency wasn't really doing me a favour - it was more out of convenience.

How would you proceed in this case?


All the best,


Sarah


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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 14:37
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
The end customer got your details from a website, Jun 21, 2006

such as your profile page here, or perhaps your own web site. It has happened to me already, that a person I used to translate for at a particular company left the company, did not have my details, and the next time they wanted a translation found my details via the Internet.

If an end customer finds your details in that way, it does not involve an agency.

Astrid


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Sarah Downing  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:37
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Not from a website Jun 21, 2006

Hello Astrid,

As I said above, I was asked by my agency to directly mail the translation to the customer and that is why they have my email address.


All the best,



Sarah


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 08:37
English to French
+ ...
I just wanted to say... Jun 22, 2006

...that I agree with Tonja. I don't see why you should refrain from working with them, as long as your contract with the agency has been respected. You didn't contact the client, the client contacted you, so you are probably allowed by your contract to work for them.

Also, as mentioned before, I wonder how much profit the agency would give you for referring a client to them. You should be happy that you have a chance to get a direct client.

And my experience with agencies tells me that this is actually how agencies get part of their clients. Agencies get jobs from other agencies and they search all over the documents to find out who it originated from. Then they contact them - and steal the client. Agencies already get more than their share considering how much they work vs. how much you work for the same amount of money. They already have - often unfair - advantages over you. Why give them more?

Of course, respect your contract. But otherwise, I don't see why you would give it up to them. After all, they have many more clients than you do.


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Sonja Tomaskovic  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 14:37
English to German
+ ...
... Jun 22, 2006

I find it rather strange that an agency gives you the contact details of their client, especially if you have not been asked to sign a contract. As such, I consider it extremely negligent on their part.

Nevertheless I would prefer a situation in which the end customer finds my contact details by themselves. They may not be aware of the fact that you are an independent contractor for the agency, and not part *of* it.

I must confess that I would be somewhat uncertain myself as to what to do. My best advice is to simply wait what happens - whether the end customer actually gives you the work and whether the agency comes back with a concrete figure for the "cut" they expect.

Good luck,

Sonja


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 14:37
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Do the right thing Jun 22, 2006

Sarah Downing wrote:
A while ago, I did a job for an agency for a customer who has now approached me directly and wants a quote for further work. ... I haven't signed anything with this agency...


The whole point of ethics is to behave professionally even if you didn't sign an agreement to behave professionally.

It is common practice, IMO, to maintain the client-translator relationship for at least two years after the last job was given. My suggestion would therefore be to inform the client that you may have to refer him back to the agency since there may be an understanding between you and the agency which precludes working for the client directly. Ask the client to contact the agency (and encourage him to let the agency know that he wants you do have the job).

Do not contact the agency unless this client persists to ignore your protestations (because the fact that the client had contacted you, is confidential information between you and the client).

My2c


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Sonja Tomaskovic  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 14:37
English to German
+ ...
Common practice Jun 22, 2006

Samuel Murray wrote:
It is common practice, IMO, to maintain the client-translator relationship for at least two years after the last job was given.


It is? Why for two years, why not for one or for three? I have never heard of any such "unspoken law". If I choose to behave ethically, then I do so on my own account, and I don't think anyone can honestly expect me to turn a client down just because I used to do some work for him through some agency two years ago.

My 2 cents.

Sonja


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tectranslate ITS GmbH
Local time: 14:37
German
+ ...
So THAT'S what agencies are? Jun 22, 2006

Viktoria Gimbe wrote:

And my experience with agencies tells me that this is actually how agencies get part of their clients. Agencies get jobs from other agencies and they search all over the documents to find out who it originated from. Then they contact them - and steal the client.


I could agree with that if you added the little word "some".
Some agencies certainly do that, but I find it a bit bold to make such a general statement out of it, to be honest.

Agencies already get more than their share considering how much they work vs. how much you work for the same amount of money.


Oh really? How interesting.

And what, in your opinion, constitutes a "fair share"? Also, have you worked at an agency before to gain this knowledge? What is "an agency" in your opinion, anyway? Do you know that we often spend just as much time as the translator does, or even more, to
  1. secure the contract
  2. find a suitable translator (especially nice during the summer holidays when we often have to spend hours chasing after ten translators to get a frappin' two-page document translated before tomorrow)
  3. convert files, prepare TMs, write up purchase orders, write up instructions, communicate terminological aid when needed, help the translator with software problems etc.
  4. proofread, edit and post-format the documents
  5. write the invoice and run after the end client for months to make sure we get paid while we paid your invoice already?


Sonja Tomaskovic wrote:

I find it rather strange that an agency gives you the contact details of their client, especially if you have not been asked to sign a contract. As such, I consider it extremely negligent on their part.



I fully agree. Their own fault if the client approaches you. Seriously, I can't see how they could hold you liable for losing this client to you.

Regards,
Benjamin


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