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Agency wins an Account, then looks for Translators. Normal?
Thread poster: Maciek Drobka

Maciek Drobka  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 01:24
Member (2006)
English to Polish
+ ...
Aug 28, 2008

Hi all,

Spurred by this topic:
http://www.proz.com/forum/proofreading_editing_reviewing/113849-the_quality_initiative_of_a_major_lsp_zookeeper.html
I decided to ask a question that's been bugging me.

For what I think was the third time in about three months, I saw a job posting on Proz.com about two weeks ago from a UK-based agency which shall remain anonymous (though it writesitsnamelikethis).

What struck me in all three postings was the way they went about winning their clients (wrong, accounts they're called).

In all three postings, the agency said something along the lines of 'we have just won a contract with a big [industry name] account, and are now looking to set up a team of translators who will handle all translation work from that account'.

I replied to all three job postings as they were within my specialty areas, but it finally came to nothing as the gap between what they could offer and what I could accept rate-wise was, well, not one easily bridged, so to speak. After the latest failed attempt, I have vowed never to approach them again.

And that's the crux I think. First the agency wins a new client by offering them what looks like good value for money, and then they look for people to deliver on their bid.

It's a bit upside down, isn't it? Shouldn't they first try to set up a team of translators that meets a set of criteria, then see how much their work will cost, and only then try to win the client?

I wonder whether the agency I am talking about is a special case or it's a more common practice in the industry. And if anybody thinks the order presented above is justified in some cases, I'd be happy to learn.

Maciek


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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 01:24
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
Yes, it is upside down, but how a lot of agencies appear to work Aug 28, 2008

Hi Maciek,

When I outsource, from time to time, it is invariably for one of my regular end clients and I arrange with them that I will find out how much translators in the language pair in question want and then make them an offer. However, since they are clients that normally come to me, as their translator, I do not feel any competition. If I ask colleagues how much they charge and then add my fee for organising it and making .pdfs into Word documents to send out, or whatever, I know that this is unlikely to add up to any unreasonably high fee. Therefore, I can then go back to my client with the resulting offer, and they are much more likely to accept it than to start phoning round translation agencies.

However, most translation agencies are not in this position. They have overheads larger than mine, sometimes staff, and they have to double the price in order to run their business. They are also an agency, not a translator, and competing in the market with other similar agencies. In their case, the enquirer could be phoning round at least six of them asking for quotes. Therefore, if they feel such competition, they are much more likely to feel the need to set a price for a project first and then look for translators at the right price to do it. Nevertheless, it is not a practice exactly tailored to encourage quality.

Astrid


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 00:24
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
Backward business Aug 28, 2008

Maciek Drobka wrote:
It's a bit upside down, isn't it? Shouldn't they first try to set up a team of translators that meets a set of criteria, then see how much their work will cost, and only then try to win the client?

I wonder whether the agency I am talking about is a special case or it's a more common practice in the industry.


For zookeepers like the ones you mentioned I suppose this is standard practice. However, the agencies I work with and respect seem to be pretty careful in most cases about ensuring that they actually have the resources to deliver a job before accepting it. They know the areas of competence for their teams and plan carefully before making major excursions into an unfamiliar subject area. But then they aren't greedy twits, just good businesspersons who care about their customers, their translators and their reputations. I guess if you're big enough you can afford to ignore all three


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 19:24
English to French
+ ...
It's upside down - but it seems translators are content Aug 29, 2008

Maciek Drobka wrote:

It's a bit upside down, isn't it? Shouldn't they first try to set up a team of translators that meets a set of criteria, then see how much their work will cost, and only then try to win the client?


Of course, it's upside down. You are right, they should set their team up first and represent them when trying to win the "account". But they don't have to. That's the problem.

Of course, this often affects quality as well. they're working with translators they don't know, and I bet if you pick a dozen translators who seem OK on this site, half will let them down on quality (and probably deadlines, too). They are selling a product to their client that is most likely not worth the price the client pays for. The client is willing to buy it, though, it seems.

Many a translator or translator is willing to work that way, without realizing that these people are dictating rates to translators, since these translators are only contacted once the price has already been fixed. Downward pressure. It's the nature of things, especially when there are people willing to accept the work at the rate proposed by the agency, no questions asked. Even if they find it lowish, they probably say to themselves that that's what the standard rate is nowadays anyway.

Ultimately, everybody loses. Even the agency.

[Edited at 2008-08-29 01:13]


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:24
English to Spanish
+ ...
Zookeepers Aug 29, 2008

That's a good term for them, Kevin. I suppose they like to have monkeys working for them for peanuts.

Another insult to our profession.


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Stuart Dowell  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 01:24
Member (2007)
Polish to English
+ ...
Upside down is normal Aug 29, 2008

In a lot of business sectors it is normal to secure contracts and then source subcontractors.

It looks like the same is happening here.

If the agency in question has effective procedures in place to find and vet appropriate translators and the client is happy with this, which I guess they must be if they do not demand to see translator profiles before awarding the contract, then it seems reasonable to me.

The alternative is that agencies source translators for "potential" jobs, which seems to irritae many colleagues on this form.

Stuart

[Edited at 2008-08-29 05:47]


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Ken Cox  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:24
German to English
+ ...
you probably don't want to work for them anyhow Aug 29, 2008

It sounds like this agency is only in the business for the money. If they did in fact win a major job, they probably hoodwinked their client (misrepresented the resources -- i.e. translators -- they have available to do the work or plan to use to do the work), or their client has absolutely no understanding of the translation business). Possibly the agency has a portfolio of competent translators they present when they're bidding for the job, but they would be too expensive (i.e. the agency bid low to get the job), so after they get the job they go looking for people who will work for peanuts. Or maybe they don't actually have this 'major job' at all and are just fishing for people who will work cheap.

I see this occasionally -- an agency lands a major job that involves doing too much work in too little time and starts sending out 'how much can you do by Friday next week' messages to their freelancers. IMO it's a recipe for poor-quality translation.


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Stuart Dowell  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 01:24
Member (2007)
Polish to English
+ ...
In it for the money!! Aug 29, 2008


It sounds like this agency is only in the business for the money.


Why else would they be established as a commercial company!!

[qoute] If they did in fact win a major job, they probably hoodwinked their client (misrepresented the resources -- i.e. translators -- they have available to do the work or plan to use to do the work) [/quote]

A completely groundless accusation, extremely loose talk and best avoided in my view

or their client has absolutely no understanding of the translation business
.

If I have guessed correctly from Maciek's hint, the agency's clients are some of the largest buyers around and are certainly not fools when it comes to setting out their conditions.



[Edited at 2008-08-29 07:32]

[Edited at 2008-08-29 07:34]


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QUOI  Identity Verified

Chinese to English
+ ...
It's normal. Aug 29, 2008

It's called up-to-the-minute inventory control and production.

Maciek Drobka wrote:
Hi all,
Spurred by this topic:
http://www.proz.com/forum/proofreading_editing_reviewing/113849-the_quality_initiative_of_a_major_lsp_zookeeper.html
I decided to ask a question that's been bugging me.
...


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 01:24
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Think just a little further... Aug 29, 2008

Maciek Drobka wrote:
Shouldn't they first try to set up a team of translators that meets a set of criteria, then see how much their work will cost, and only then try to win the client?


Are you seriously suggesting that before an agency wants to bid/quote on a job/account, it should first find translators and pay them a retainer fee so that those translators will be available when/if the contract is awarded to the agency?

As an outsourcer, you may ask translators "are you available for X job that will last from Y to Z", but no translator in his right mind will commit to that without some sort of guarantee or a retainer fee. Translators may say "I'm currently available" but no translator will keep his schedule clear for you simply because you're bidding/quoting for a job/account/contract that may or may not realise.

Certainly, the outsourcer should be aware of what translators are likely to cost him before he submits his bid. A bid should ideally include a breakdown of costs, including the cost of translators, and a client with half a brain will not award the contract to an agency whose quote seems unrealistic.


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 19:24
English to French
+ ...
Why does it always have to be two extremes? Aug 29, 2008

I work with agencies who sometimes win "accounts". Here's what they usually do:

They regularly browse ProZ and other sites and flag potential collaborators (they have enough respect to view them as such). When they have a smallish job to do, instead of giving it to their regular translators (me, for instance), they give that smallish job to the people they flagged on ProZ or elsewhere. It's basically a paid test. Then, they have one of their regular translators review the smallish translation and ask for comments (they work with the same two or three translators to do this - they need to work with translators who will be honest in their comments). I have reviewed a few of these smallish translations myself, and have had the occasion to report to my PM that the translator in question did a great job and is definitely a keeper, and I would be happy to work with that translator if we have the occasion. One of my favorite collaborators through that agency was actually "hired" that way, and I now work with him regularly on larger projects (one of us translates, the other reviews and we are in close contact). Then, when the agency feels it has a large enough team of translators whose credibility has already been established, it goes for the "account". Several of my agency clients also advise me when they have a potential job coming. They do tell me the job is not for sure yet, but they let me know also that if the job is confirmed, it will be this size, starting on this date, with such and such tentative deadline. Now, this really makes me happy: I know in advance what work is in view and I get to manage my business in a way that will allow me to pick up the contracts.

Intelligent agencies will look for translators to work with before they are even aware of the "account". Therefore, they are always ready when they do quote for an "account". The key is to look for competent translators regularly, not only when the need arises. The other key is to test the translators instead of just filing their resumes.

The result: the client gets high quality translations because the agency only works with tried-tested-true translators who are in touch with each other, the agency wins a lucrative contract which may (and in most cases does) lead to many more, and the translators are happy because they are getting paid the rate they negotiated with the agency (and which was factored into the price the agency quoted to the client) and they get regular work. Everybody wins!

So, why does it have to be either black (as per the initial post in this thread) or white (as per some of the latest posts)? There are convenient and efficient ways to handle work in an agency. There are ways to make sure everybody is happy. Why do those who don't agree with the initial poster have to go to the opposite extreme?

[Edited at 2008-08-29 17:04]


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Maciek Drobka  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 01:24
Member (2006)
English to Polish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
A follow-up... Sep 8, 2008

Thank you all for your comments, both those confirming my point of view and those, like Samuel's, offering a different perspective.

Interestingly, nearly three weeks after the original Proz.com job posting, the youknowwhich agency is still looking for people to set up a team of translation suppliers for their newly won 'account'.

The way I see it, it looks like the money they are offering can't easily attract the sort of people they are looking for. So maybe the approach they used for this client isn't working (so well) after all...

M


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Marcel Vilanez
Canada
Local time: 19:24
Member (2013)
English to French
+ ...
Agency Outsourcing Nov 12, 2008

As a Project Manager for an agency I'd like to touch a bit on this subject. I get a lot of leads (some days I can't pick up the phone fast enough) for people wanting translations. And if the job is big enough you can bet they're shopping around for quotes and will go with the first person that convinces them that they are the best person for the job. The trick is to mark up the margin high enough so even if you find out that you have to pay more than thought you have a safety zone. Having a steady stable of translators I know what the going rates are for most languages and if it's something obscure I have the client wait while I research the information (as they are probably getting the same results from other agencies). Translation leads go fast and if you don't pounce on them quickly they're gone in the blink of an eye. In my opinion that is why translation agencies promise to get the job done first and find the translators afterwards. I find too that by being generous on one or two projects where the opportunity allows comes back to you in karma where can convince a translator to do some work for slightly less than what they're used to once in a blue moon (since you're giving them a lot of steady work at their regular price). I would think this should be a pretty decent explanation of translation agency methodology

Astrid Elke Johnson wrote:

Hi Maciek,

When I outsource, from time to time, it is invariably for one of my regular end clients and I arrange with them that I will find out how much translators in the language pair in question want and then make them an offer. However, since they are clients that normally come to me, as their translator, I do not feel any competition. If I ask colleagues how much they charge and then add my fee for organising it and making .pdfs into Word documents to send out, or whatever, I know that this is unlikely to add up to any unreasonably high fee. Therefore, I can then go back to my client with the resulting offer, and they are much more likely to accept it than to start phoning round translation agencies.

However, most translation agencies are not in this position. They have overheads larger than mine, sometimes staff, and they have to double the price in order to run their business. They are also an agency, not a translator, and competing in the market with other similar agencies. In their case, the enquirer could be phoning round at least six of them asking for quotes. Therefore, if they feel such competition, they are much more likely to feel the need to set a price for a project first and then look for translators at the right price to do it. Nevertheless, it is not a practice exactly tailored to encourage quality.

Astrid


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