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Bulk discount by agency to customer means lower rates for translators???
Thread poster: Alex Farrell

Alex Farrell  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 02:08
Japanese to English
Jul 18, 2008

Hi all. I received a job offer from an agency that doesn't seem to make sense, and I'd like to hear the opinions of others.

A customer made a very large order to the agency, and so the agency "had to" offer a discount. Perhaps that's their policy? That would make sense because it takes less paperwork to process one large order than several small ones, and if the marketing and sales staff are pulling in these kinds of orders then they theoretically have less work to do. So basically big orders are cheaper for the agency to handle than lots of small ones.

However, an agency that I work with received a big order and says they are offering a lower rate than usual to their translators. But if the agency is saving money when it receives the order, then why do they have to cut the rates of their translators?

I suppose they may want to if the discount were larger than the savings to be made, but then why offer such a large discount in the first place? They should make it smaller. Of course I know the answer is that the agency wants to undercut the competition, expects enough translators to accept the lowered rate, and the job will get done. Probably not well, but it will be completed.

I don't work for this agency much anymore, and I didn't respond to the offer.

I'd be especially interested to hear opinions on this from anyone representing an agency, as it's always good to have a well-rounded perspective of the industry one works in.

Thanks!


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casey
United States
Local time: 13:08
Member
Japanese to English
Common but silly Jul 18, 2008

It's commonplace, but what they don't seem to understand is that as freelancers, we cannot lower prices and accept more work to make up for it. There is only a fixed amount of pages that we can possibly translate in a month, because we are working alone. When we give discounts (assuming that we are getting as much work as we can handle already) the only effect is to reduce our income by that amount. It's a ridiculous thing to do. Why would I want to do the same amount of work for less money? I have explained this to several of my clients, and they have understood where I'm coming from. (Of course the job in question is always sent to someone else, but I don't lose the customer.)

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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 13:08
English to French
+ ...
Commoditization Jul 18, 2008

This is an increasingly common practice. It is plain commoditization, and in my opinion, it is not far from slavery. If translators allow for this practice to become a standard, most translators will have trouble keeping up and thus, they will not be able to make a living on translation alone.

It is simply a kind of buy-two-get-one-free philosophy. However, if you went to see a doctor and you asked him to treat both your broken legs, will the doctor give you a rebate on your second leg? If you had two cavities to fill, would the dentist give you a rebate on the second cavity? Would a lawyer give you a rebate on the second court case he's handling for you? I don't think so...

The only thing translators can do about this is to simply refuse to take on such projects. If all translators said no to such offers (and explained why), I doubt agencies would be able to offer such deals to their clients.

Just yesterday, I got the following ProZ mail in my inbox:

We are in need of English to Canadian French proofreaders
for a forthcoming job related to telecommunications/mobile
phones and involving deep training materials for customer
service and retail representatives. Please let me know
if this applies to you, and, if so, I would appreciate an
opportunity to review your resume and contact three
professional references with whom you have worked in the
past two years. I would also like to know what discounts,
if any, you offer for volume.


To which I replied:

Thank you for your interest in my services.

In order to be able to confirm that I am the right person for this project, I would need more details and/or a sample of the actual source or target text. I am not a telecommunications specialist. On the other hand, I am an experienced technical translator and have extensive knowledge of electronics.

I would love to be able to provide references to you. However, most have declined to be contacted for such purposes, and those that have not are direct clients whose contact details I am prepared to share only once I have established a relationship of mutual trust with a client. I am afraid that we would need to find an alternative means of establishing my credibility. I propose a paid translation test, the amount of which can later be credited on the first invoice to your company, should I be chosen for this project or a subsequent one. Please, feel free to propose other alternatives if you have ideas.

As for volume discounts, I do not offer any, since, once again, we do not have a close enough relationship to justify it and also because a large volume of work would keep me busy for a longer period of time without being able to cater to the rest of my clientele, which could eventually result in a loss for me.

If you are still interested in my services, please, contact me and it will be my pleasure to send you my résumé.


I have received no reply to my mail - which is just as well. I think they got the message...

[Edited at 2008-07-18 02:37]


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The Misha
Local time: 13:08
Russian to English
+ ...
Who makes you take the rate offered? Jul 18, 2008

Tell them how much you want, and if they don't like it, well, they can take a hike. Plenty of fish in the sea. Plenty of better things in life too.

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Ivana Friis Wilson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:08
Member (2008)
English to Danish
+ ...
Excellent! Jul 18, 2008

Victoria, that is just the best reply in this category I have ever seen!

You are quite right with references. I think it's a silly idea - most of us sign NDAs with clients so that is just not a possibility. I think your suggestion of a test payable only if you end up working for the client is an excellent idea.

If you don't mind, I will use your reply as inspiration in my next reply


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Daniel García
English to Spanish
+ ...
It really depends on your income per hour Jul 18, 2008

Am I the only one who finds that volume discounts are not unreasonable in all situations?

I see two circumstances that make these offers reasonable:

- If the volume discount is for a given project of related content: certainly, if you translate for months the same type of materials, you will be familiar with the terminology, the style etc and you will translate faster than if you had to translate the same volume from 100 different unrelated jobs.

- The agency guarantees the work for those volumes and the discount is not excessive, of course.

For instance, say an agency normally pays you 0,10 per word.

Then they offer you a large project which will get you busy for the whole year at 0,08 per word.

Well, it's a kind of gamble, you can either reject the offer assuming that you will get other better paid jobs from this or other agencies or you can accept the offer.

If you reject it and then you work only a 50% of you capacity for the rest of the year, you would have lost income.

If you reject it and then work at more of 80% of your capacity, then you will have earn more money.

I have had volume discounts for non-translation services in the past. It is not so strange. Some times it's better to offer a service at a discount than offering no service at all.

Volume discounts as such are not so crazy I think.

But then again, it is true that final clients want to decrease the cost of translation and more often than not, they are ready to risk a loss in quality.

Probably, their own customers do not base their decisions on buying this or that product on the quality of the translation.

We all laugh when we see a poorly translated manual but does that prevent us from buying a product from the same manufacturer the next time?

Daniel


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 13:08
English to French
+ ...
@ Daniel Jul 18, 2008

What you say makes sense at first, but if you consider that you would then become dependent of this one outsourcer for the entire year, then it is not such a good deal anymore. Never mind that you might earn less if you accept the discount - just consider that you waive some of the control over your business to a company which, in a way, is competing with you. I am not willing to risk losing my long established, tried, tested, true, broken-in clients for something that will not allow me to be there for them. And I am not willing to end up with only a couple clients as a result of that, who, when time comes for a raise, will just leave me there. You can imagine what kind of a disaster that would be.

In any case, I have only ever been asked for volume discounts by prospects, never by established clients. Whatever makes them think that I will give them any kind of rebate when I haven't even got a clue who they are...?

Edit: To answer the question at the end of your post, yes, it prevents me from buying from them again. First of all, it disgusts me when foreigners are after my money and don't even bother speaking to me in my own language in my own land. Second, I am not willing to get electrocuted just because somebody somewhere wanted to save on translation to the point where the documentation makes no sense. However, I do realize that I may be part of the minority. Maybe it's because I live in Quebec...

[Edited at 2008-07-18 06:59]


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avantix  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 19:08
German to Dutch
+ ...
@ Viktoria Jul 18, 2008

I think Daniel has a point. Although a 20% discount is, in my opinion, horrendously high!
I work for several clients in the same lines of business who send me recurring jobs month after month, year after year. They get 3 - 5% off my regular rate, which makes them happy and also makes me happy, since it guarantees a steady workflow. And because one gets more and more familiar with terminology etc. the amount of time to spend on each job gradually decreases in course of time, so that - in the end - earnings (per hour) increase.
I am fully aware of the risk that one could become dependent when too much concentrating on just one client for a longer period (I did this once years ago) which might lead to finding oneself in a black hole as soon as the assignment for whatever reason comes to an end. That's why I do not allow such recurring jobs to take more than approx. 50% of my time. It works fine for me.

Herman


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Ralf Lemster  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 19:08
English to German
+ ...
Don't accept unless it fits *your* calculation Jul 18, 2008

Hi Alex,
I'm outsourcing work on a regular basis, and occasionally get a client asking for a volume/preferred client/whatever discount.


A customer made a very large order to the agency, and so the agency "had to" offer a discount. Perhaps that's their policy?

Who told them they had to? This was their decision entirely, as it is your decision whether or not to accept their proposal.


However, an agency that I work with received a big order and says they are offering a lower rate than usual to their translators. But if the agency is saving money when it receives the order, then why do they have to cut the rates of their translators?

Think about their profit margin...
I prefer to work the other way around: the better the deal I negotiate with the (end) client, the better (and faster) I can pay freelancers.

Of course I know the answer is that the agency wants to undercut the competition, expects enough translators to accept the lowered rate, and the job will get done. Probably not well, but it will be completed.

Pretty close to reality, I'd say.

Best, Ralf


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Steven Capsuto  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:08
Spanish to English
+ ...
Backward thinking Jul 18, 2008

It should be the other way around: they "have to" charge their customer more because they must pay the people who are doing the actual work!

It's like a developer selling a new house: plumbers and electricians won't lower their fees just because the developer expresses the intention to lowball the price of the house.


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 13:08
English to French
+ ...
@ Steven Jul 18, 2008

I fully agree with what you say. I just want to add that it's high time people realized that being an independent means you run your own business and you set your own terms. Otherwise, you might as well go looking for a job.

The problem is that there are so many uneducated translators who, instead of deciding how they want to run their businesses themselves, they ask others how they should do things. Isn't the point in being independent precisely to decide for yourself rather than have someone else decide for you? There is even a recent thread asking for the going rate - there is no such thing as a going rate in translation. Set your rates as per your experience, your credentials, your specializations, etc. Don't have your clients tell you what you should do. It should be the other way around (and this advice goes to agencies as well).


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Alex Farrell  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 02:08
Japanese to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks Jul 18, 2008

Thanks to everybody for their replies so far. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who thinks this practice is odd, though I can also see the logic behind giving a discount to an agency if the project is really long-term (a month or more) and will save you time that you otherwise would have spent looking for other work, and which you will likely be able to process more quickly as you become acquainted with the terminology. We just have to be careful not to put all our eggs in one basket, I think.

Also, we've gotta do our research and find out what the standards and practices are in this industry, as well as in our specific language pairs. Asking questions in forums is but one tool. We can also search the forums for similar discussions used in the past, view experienced translators' profiles as examples, and probably most importantly learn through trial and error by just jumping in and doing some work. I only started translating about a year ago, but most of what I've learned I've gone out and found myself, because there's just so much information and so many resources out there on the net.

Okay, that was going off on a tangent a bit. Anyway, thanks again to everyone and anyone else who wants to contribute their thoughts.

- Alex


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Andrea Riffo  Identity Verified
Chile
Local time: 13:08
English to Spanish
... Jul 18, 2008

dgmaga wrote:

If the volume discount is for a given project of related content: certainly, if you translate for months the same type of materials, you will be familiar with the terminology, the style etc and you will translate faster than if you had to translate the same volume from 100 different unrelated jobs.



In which case, you have become highly specialized in that particular type of text and can thus do a much accurate and faster job for your client, who will lose less time checking that everything is OK and will have the translated material sooner than if they were to hire a new translator every time.

If anything, this constitutes grounds for raising your rates, not lowering them!


Greetings

[Edited at 2008-07-18 19:17]


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Venkatesh Sundaram  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 22:38
Member
German to English
Is it so common the world over? Jul 18, 2008

The story and the comments of colleagues sound so familiar! Verily is the world quite small!

I appreciate the comments of Victoria Gimbe, Steven, Avantix, Ivana and Ralf Lemster among others.

There seem to be too many self - styled translators around for comfort. And too many agencies who do not recognise translation for the art and science that it is, and relegate it instead to the status of unskilled toil in a "third world" country

Is it just a coincidence that the customers who demand the best discounts also seem to be the worst paymasters? Not just delayed payment - one of my customers has not even sent me the statutory 'Tax Deduction at Source' (TDS) certificate which he ought to have sent in April / May - which means I have to file my Income Tax return late (the due date in India is 31st July for the financial year ending March 31st) (and / or lose out on the tax already paid by the customer on my behalf and pay the amount all over again)

Perhaps translators ought to form professional bodies, similar to those of lawyers doctors and other professions. And set norms for agencies too!


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xxxUSER0059  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 20:08
English to Finnish
+ ...
Translator association in India? Jul 18, 2008

Venkatesh Sundaram wrote:

Perhaps translators ought to form professional bodies, similar to those of lawyers doctors and other professions.


Do you mean a body such as ITAINDIA, or something entirely different?


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