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Agencies - how to spot good and bad ones ????
Thread poster: andrealuthe

andrealuthe
Austria
Local time: 18:12
German to English
Dec 29, 2008

I've done mostly private work up until now but have done a couple of small translations now for an agency. My question is, since they are faceless individuals with maybe a glossy website, how do you spot an agency who will pay on time etc etc ?

Before my first job for this agency I asked for a PO which was never forthcoming and i'm assured payment terms are 35-40 days despite not having yet been asked for any nformation about myself or my bank details etc.

Am I being too cynical ? Is there a list somewhere which helps us to decide who's good to work with and who to avoid like the plague ?

Can anyone help ?

Many thanks

Andrea


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Ralf Lemster  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 18:12
English to German
+ ...
Blue Board Dec 29, 2008

Hi Andrea,
Is there a list somewhere which helps us to decide who's good to work with and who to avoid like the plague ?

If only things were that simple...

The Blue Board is a good starting point. As useful as it is, there's no such thing as a perfect tool, nor can any reference list give you the complete 'picture'. The quality of a business relationship is defined by a variety of factors, including (but not limited to):

- professional attitude and behaviour (to be shown by both parties);
- mutual fulfilment of obligations, on time and as agreed;
- reference material provided beforehand, and feedback afterwards;

...and, of course, a good working relationship amongst the people involved. (This may sound a bit romantic, but the value of good personal relations is usually shown when problems arise.)

HTH - best regards,
Ralf


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andrealuthe
Austria
Local time: 18:12
German to English
TOPIC STARTER
A note from site staff about this agency..... Dec 29, 2008

Hi Ralf,

Thanks for the tip about the Blueboard, it's something i'll certainly keep an eye on.

The agency I've been dealing with is indeed listed but with no information attached apart from this note .....

December 24, 2008, 3:40 am
No further contact information available anywhere, and, most likely, none will be found.

Any ideas what that means ?

I would really like to find out if this agency is reputable, the trickle of work is turning into a flow, great if they are kosher, a financial disaster for me if they aren't !

Thanks very much for your help

Andrea


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 17:12
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
Zahlungspraxis Dec 29, 2008

Andrea, you might want to subscribe (free) to the Zahlungspraxis list on Yahoogroups. It is a valuable additional source of information.

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gianfranco  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 13:12
Member (2001)
English to Italian
+ ...
Some quick tips Dec 29, 2008

Dear Andrea,

unfortunately there are not hard and fast rules. Working on-line implies some degree of risk and all possible techniques can be used only to reduce, but not to eliminate completely such risk.

Here are some quick tips:

andrealuthe wrote:
Before my first job for this agency I asked for a PO which was never forthcoming and i'm assured payment terms are 35-40 days despite not having yet been asked for any nformation about myself or my bank details etc.


If you started to work without a clear contract, at least a Purchase Order stating the work requested, instructions, the payment agreed and the IDENTITY of the customer, in my opinon you have already made a mistake.
If they promised a PO, but never issued it, it is a bad sign. Either they prefer do not have a clear agreement or they are very unorganized. In both cases, you may agree, not a good start.

Note that if you have all the details in one or more emails from them, you have something in your hands, but a tidy document stating all the details is common and safer practice in this business, in particular when working with new customers.
In any case, it is good practice and much better with old customers too.


andrealuthe wrote:
The agency I've been dealing with is indeed listed but with no information attached apart from this note .....

December 24, 2008, 3:40 am
No further contact information available anywhere, and, most likely, none will be found.

Any ideas what that means?


If their BlueBoard record is incomplete, for example missing their full address, phone number, etc, it means, in practical terms, that this company may be not easy to locate in case something goes wrong.

It is clearly wise and good business practice to know exactly with whom you are dealing with, in particular if they are based abroad.



andrealuthe wrote:
I would really like to find out if this agency is reputable, the trickle of work is turning into a flow, great if they are kosher, a financial disaster for me if they aren't!


And finally, if you are dealing with a new customer, and have been suddenly flooded with work, I'm afraid but that is another small alarm bell going off.
There are many translators in your language pair, ask yourself why they suddenly have unloaded on you a lot of work... It could be that you are excellent and they simply like you, or, being pessimistic, that they plan to not pay. Be prudent!!

Customers should get our trust a little bit per time, and start with small jobs, to progress into the relationship with larger and more important assignments.

* * * *

I'm sorry, but putting together the few details that you have listed:
- the lack of complete contact details in the BB or their website
- the vague terms, and lack of a complete PO stating the job conditions
- the large amount of work assigned at first sight
and, adding some degree of inexperience from your side, it seems that you have exposed yourself to some risk.


I wish you that it will end well, of course, but all the above is not something I would have accepted, and I do refuse many such proposals, whatever the rate proposed.

Good luck
Gianfranco



[Edited at 2008-12-29 20:29 GMT]


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 18:12
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Specific answers Dec 29, 2008

andrealuthe wrote:
1. Before my first job for this agency I asked for a PO which was never forthcoming and 2. i'm assured payment terms are 35-40 days despite not having yet been asked for any nformation about myself or my bank details etc.


1. The PO is not necessarily issued by the accounts department. At one of my agency clients, the PO is issued by the project manager but the bills are paid by the accountant. The efficiency of the project manager has nothing to do with the speed of payment, therefore... although an efficient project manager can presumably be counted on to investigate non-payment quicker.

And some agencies don't issue formal POs. Some of my most regular agency clients issue POs only on request and sometimes only several weeks after the job is done and already invoiced for. But I believe that this is or should not be the norm -- if no PO was issued, ask for one, and if none is issued still, send a friendly reminder.

2. Perhaps those terms are not "40 days after the job is done" but "40 days after receipt of invoice". Have you sent an invoice yet? Some of my agency clients will remind me if I haven't sent an invoice for a particular job, but some of the other agency clients will keep quiet for weeks if I forget to send the invoice... and these latter clients are not necessarily bad payers -- they're just not good followers-up.


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andrealuthe
Austria
Local time: 18:12
German to English
TOPIC STARTER
my gut feeling... Dec 29, 2008

Hi Gianfranco,

Yes your points sum up my gut feeling !

I would love to be wrong about them, their website is excellent and inspires confidence (which it's obviously designed to !) I guess I just wanted to know if, when a job is urgent, it's normal to just get on and do it and sort the paperwork out somewhere down the line.

As for details, I have the name of the project co-ordinator I deal with, their postal address, email and tel & fax numbers.

I turned down the 1000page book he offered me today, not at all my specialism, but it's important to me to get this right before he offers me something big in one of my areas of expertees.

So, next question is then, how DO you go about dealing with an agency ? What do I need from them, what do they need from me ?

Now I know why I've always worked for private companies

Thanks for your help,

Andrea


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 13:12
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Some revealing signs Dec 29, 2008

Not in any particular order, but here are some signs to look for..

1. You don't have to ask a good agency's address, phones, fax, whatever. You'll find all this information on their web site, on their Proz profile, or, most likely, both. Some will even include a map on how to get there. Though a bad agency may have an impressive web site, with many offices scattered around the world, you'll never know in which of these your assigned PM is working from.

2. A good agency will ask you what your rates are. If they are reasonable, they'll hire you; otherwise they won't. A bad agency will tell you that they can get considerably cheaper translators in your pair, but amazingly they will insist in hiring you at their rate, because of something that has nothing to do with translation, like you being blonde, or they enjoyed the sights of Salzburg on "Inspector Rex", whatever.

3. A good agency will ask you how you want to get paid, and, if that's impossible for them for any reason, they'll work with you on alternatives. Bad agencies will offer to mail you a check no earlier than 30 days after delivery; usually 45-60 days after your invoice, which should be sent to them not before the first day of the next month after delivery.

4. A good agency will work with you in defining a deadline. A bad agency will give you Mission Impossible in translation.

5. A good agency will give you the job they have at hand, and stop right there. A bad agency will try to convince you that what you are doing is the tip of an iceberg. If you can keep these low rates (see # 2) and the end client likes your work, you'll be given preference for a huge job later. As a matter of fact, that agency hasn't yet been assigned that huge job. The truth is that they are counting on your higher quality and their low rates (#2) to grab it.

6. A good agency will give you clear instructions and a PO. They'll tell you to ask any questions you may have on the way, and reply promptly and accurately. A bad agency will tell you just to do it! Later they'll try to further reduce your rates, saying that all their translators use Trados, and you used WordFast, while CAT tools were never mentioned in the whole process.

7. A good agency will immediately acknowledge anything you send them, e.g. questions, comments, suggestions, files etc. All a bad agency wants from you is the translated file. They'll be mostly non-responsive. If you send your invoice later, they'll rejoice. They'll say that they couldn't pay it, because it failed to arrive together with the job, as expected (but never stated).

8. A good agency will send you a sample of the first job, if you request, before assigning it to you. A bad agency will tell you it's a simple text, to make you commit to low rates before realizing that it's highly technical.

9. A good agency will send you, clearly identified, all the files you'll need for the job. A bad agency will make you rummage their heavily "littered" FTP site to find them.

10. A good agency will try to develop a lasting professional relationship with you. A bad agency will try to get that translation from you as quickly as possible, pay as late as possible, and then go look for the next "sucker" who will go on translating their stuff.


There are some variations, but these points should give you a general picture.


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Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.)  Identity Verified
Thailand
Local time: 23:12
Partial member (2004)
English to Thai
+ ...
Red flags Dec 30, 2008

You may need to imagine that you were a detective who investigates into some dishonest agencies [I met with some of them]:
1. Too good to pay you
2. Too sincere agency
3. Too be very honest without reasons
4. Too be fluent to be true
For instance, I met one agency who offered me a job without seriously asking about my ability etc. This agency disappeared after telling many translators to do its "easy" jobs.
I understand that serious mutual checking (by you as well as by the agency) is mandatory before doing an Internet based job.

Soonthon L.


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andrealuthe
Austria
Local time: 18:12
German to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks everyone ! Dec 30, 2008

Thank you all for your very helpful comments, I'll set them a test or two and see how they respond.

If I'm wrong about them, great, if I'm right then I got out in time before doing a big job with no guarantees....

Does anyone use the info agency www.paymentpractices.net (banner ad on this page)? Seems $19.99 a year might be great value if it works.

Andrea


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xxxNMR
France
Local time: 18:12
French to Dutch
+ ...
Red flags, or signals Dec 30, 2008

I agree with José (as with most of the things he writes) but his points are only signals. My best agencies don't bother writing purchase orders but explain clearly what they want in their e-mail. And I met an agency where everything was fine - the contact, the purchase orders, the project management, the job, the price, the deadlines - but which didn't pay. And another one which cancelled the purchase orders after completion of the work ("client wasn't happy").

The BlueBoard is a fantastic thing, and I thank Ralf (and others) for the work they are doing. And don't forget that in some countries, France for instance, companies have to be duly registered, and you can check this on the web. This gives an idea of the number of employees, big or small agency, how long they exist, etc.


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Marie-Hélène Hayles  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:12
Italian to English
+ ...
alarm bells Dec 30, 2008

gianfranco wrote:

And finally, if you are dealing with a new customer, and have been suddenly flooded with work, I'm afraid but that is another small alarm bell going off.


Couldn't agree more - the only 100% negative experience I've had with an agency was one which dumped several "super-super-urgent" jobs in various different fields on me in the space of a couple of months.
If the jobs are all in your specialism or for the same end client, then you can probably relax - it's more likely that you've become their new "best translator" for that field (as has recently happened with me with another agency). But I'd definitely be very wary if they're offering you a large number of completely unrelated jobs out of your areas of expertise.

[Edited at 2008-12-30 10:11 GMT]


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John Rawlins  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:12
Spanish to English
+ ...
My 'best offer' is to automatically delete your email Dec 30, 2008

The words 'best offer' in any email should set off the warning bells. I have added a filter to my email account which simply eliminates all incoming emails containing these words.

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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 18:12
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Disagree with José on a few points Dec 30, 2008

I think we need to define what we mean by "a good agency". Is a good agency one that pays on time? One that pays good money? One that tries to make life easy for its translators? Sure, it may be nice to have all of the above, but you must decide what is important to you. I'd rather have an agency that takes care to write clear, brief instructions but takes a little longer to pay than an agency that pays quickly but expects me to plow through screens and screens of poorly written instructions, for example.

José Henrique Lamensdorf wrote:
2. A good agency will ask you what your rates are.


I do not regard it as a sign of a bad agency if the agency says "we want X done and we can pay Y, are you interested?". In fact, I prefer that agencies give an indication of their preferred rates -- it tells me in what league they are.

3. A good agency will ask you how you want to get paid, and, if that's impossible for them for any reason, they'll work with you on alternatives.


Again, if an agency prefers to pay all of its translators in the same way, it is not necessarily a sign of a bad agency. In fact, it can be said that an agency whose payment procedures are customised for each translator may be more likely to slip up in the accounts department. I'd rather work with an agency whose accounting system runs smoothly, even if I have to make special arrangements, than an agency that offers to accept my payment procedures and then experience hiccups with it.

6. A good agency will give you clear instructions and a PO.


I'd say that clear instructions and a professional-looking PO are certainly the marks of the ideal agency, but translators also have a responsibility to ensure clarity.

7. A good agency will immediately acknowledge anything you send them, e.g. questions, comments, suggestions, files etc.


Ditto a good translator, by the way.


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andrealuthe
Austria
Local time: 18:12
German to English
TOPIC STARTER
Cultural differences... Dec 30, 2008

All the above comments accepted, how do you think cultural differences influence the way people work ?

The private companies I've worked for in the last 3 years have all been in Europe (Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, UK) and the agency I refer to is in Asia. Having spoken last night to a friend who moved to India from the UK a year ago, I'm assured I shouldn't be too concerned if operating systems are somewhat different to what I'm used to.

Just a thought.

Anyone care to comment ?

Andrea


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