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Agency rates are becoming too low
Thread poster: Cendrine Marrouat

Cendrine Marrouat
Canada
Local time: 07:12
English to French
Nov 1, 2008

Dear collegues,

I was reviewing the Job board, and I was amazed and angered by the last job opening for English to German / French. 0.04 euro per word, because the agency lives in an economical country!!! And there were about 29 quotes!

I was told that my rates are WAY too high (16 cents US a word). Someone claims that they can do it much better than the rest of us for lower rates than the competition. Finally, I found this translator who works for 0.03 US dollar a word!

There are some clients who blame the current world recession. They cannot pay you because of that. Others blame people who live in countries were the cost of life is lower. But, the problem is clients. Most of them do not understand what a Translator really stands for. I am very disappointed that I cannot even expect to get a decent rate and regular customers because my rates are WAY too high. Why don't we all volunteer our translation skills and work as waiters and plumbers instead?

I have nothing against waiters/waitresses and plumbers. They are very useful members of our societies. However, aren't we useful as well? When will we be taken seriously? What kind of rates should we accept in order to have a continuous flow of work? 1 cent a word?

My dear colleagues, it is time we reacted and did something. As they say: "United we stand".

I would really like to have your input on that issue, as I feel most of us are cheated. Proz is supposed to be a place where everybody as equal chances to get jobs. I have received no benefit so far. How am I supposed to pay my bills?

Cendrine


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 13:12
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
Old discussion Nov 1, 2008

This comes up at least once a week.

However, I'll have to disagree with your statement that agency rates are becoming too low. I have seen a steady increase in rates in my language pair over the last few years, and they continue to go up despite the current economic climate. However, there do seem to be some challenges in certain language pairs such as ESEN which require creativity to survive.

Part of our task as independent translators is to make the value we offer clear and attract a suitable clientele. If we cannot do this, it's time to go take a staff job or maybe look for a plumbing apprenticeship.


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Juliana Starkman  Identity Verified
Israel
Local time: 08:12
Spanish to English
+ ...
Hi Cendrine, Nov 1, 2008

I know what you mean. At least once a week this is discussed here and people get upset because colleagues undervalue and undersell themselves, not to mention undercutting the rest of us. Hang in there- as many people have said, and I agree, reputable agencies may take the 3 cent people once or twice, but they establish long-term relationships with translators who know the value of their work, behave accordingly, and charge appropriately.

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Cendrine Marrouat
Canada
Local time: 07:12
English to French
TOPIC STARTER
To Kevin Nov 1, 2008

Kevin Lossner wrote:

This comes up at least once a week.

However, I'll have to disagree with your statement that agency rates are becoming too low. I have seen a steady increase in rates in my language pair over the last few years, and they continue to go up despite the current economic climate. However, there do seem to be some challenges in certain language pairs such as ESEN which require creativity to survive.

Part of our task as independent translators is to make the value we offer clear and attract a suitable clientele. If we cannot do this, it's time to go take a staff job or maybe look for a plumbing apprenticeship.


In my pair, rates are too low. And to reply to what you just said, if the topic comes up every week, it means nothing is done to improve the situation. If the problem was at least partly solved, we would not have to talk about it.

Also, I totally disagree with what you say about staff job and plumbing apprenticeship. I know you did not mean it in a bad way, but still. You have to realize that, maybe in your situation, things are fine, and you have a steady flow of work. But a lot of Translators don't have that, and no matter how good they are, their rates will be undermined, because there are too many accepting much lower rates.

I think it is important to discuss these things.


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Cendrine Marrouat
Canada
Local time: 07:12
English to French
TOPIC STARTER
I agree Nov 1, 2008

Juliana Starkman wrote:

I know what you mean. At least once a week this is discussed here and people get upset because colleagues undervalue and undersell themselves, not to mention undercutting the rest of us. Hang in there- as many people have said, and I agree, reputable agencies may take the 3 cent people once or twice, but they establish long-term relationships with translators who know the value of their work, behave accordingly, and charge appropriately.


Hello,

I think we need to definitely educate clients and Translators who begin in the industry. We are far too isolated, and I believe it takes its toll.

This issue needs to be discussed a lot. As I said to Kevin, if the situation changed a little bit, there would be no need for such a discussion. On the contrary, things are getting worse. So, it is important that the topic be kept alive, in order to find solutions and options that are acceptable to everyone (if possible).


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 13:12
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
Weekly gripe sessions won't solve anything Nov 1, 2008

Nor will calls to "unite" (go herd cats in a dozen countries or more) or even sillier calls for regulation, exclusion of the "unqualified", etc. It's a competitive world out there, and you'll have to find a way to compete.

Rather than whining about low rates, which accomplishes nothing more than reinforce negative perceptions, it might be more useful to look at the problem from a different angle, like what approaches to better rates may be effective for your situation.

If you take that staff job - in an agency perhaps - you might learn more about marketing and become more effective if you go freelance again. And doing that plumbing apprenticeship will give you better qualifications to specialize in sanitary translations if you like, and if you earn too little as a translator to get your toilet fixed by the local plumber, you can do it yourself with confidence!


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Cendrine Marrouat
Canada
Local time: 07:12
English to French
TOPIC STARTER
Have a great day Nov 1, 2008

Ok, I get the point. Sorry for bringing up the discussion.

Have a great day!


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Juliana Starkman  Identity Verified
Israel
Local time: 08:12
Spanish to English
+ ...
Precisely Nov 1, 2008

Kevin Lossner wrote:


Rather than whining about low rates, which accomplishes nothing more than reinforce negative perceptions, it might be more useful to look at the problem from a different angle, like what approaches to better rates may be effective for your situation.



At the risk of repeating what we´ve all said, the best way to raise rates is to ask for more when you know you deserve it, and deliver a quality product. Maybe ¨rates in general¨ are going down, but mine haven´t.


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 11:12
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Teach'em Nov 1, 2008

Juliana Starkman wrote:
...reputable agencies may take the 3 cent people once or twice, but they establish long-term relationships with translators who know the value of their work, behave accordingly, and charge appropriately.


Whenever a reputable-looking agency, on our first contact, tells me that they have always paid translators in my pair, say, 30-50% below my rates, I give them a chance. If we get involved to a point where I can visit their end-client's translated web site, I usually notice that the quality of that translation is actually that much below my quality standards.

So I give them a chance, and do a first - always small - job at their rates but with my quality standards. If the end-client notices the difference, I'll have a new client at my rates. If they don't notice, or simply don't care, there will be no mutual interest to keep us working together. In a few cases, I've even suggested they use free automatic translation, and save those precious pennies.


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 13:12
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
Don't apologize - do your research instead Nov 1, 2008

Cendrine Marrouat wrote:
Ok, I get the point. Sorry for bringing up the discussion.


Do you really?

Because this issue has been discussed so often, effective approaches have also been discussed - even by people working in your language pair. However, most of the issues and approaches are more or less universally applicable.

A lot of it boils down to the basic need to learn business principles and practice them. Linguistic skill alone and a bit of luck will probably only get you by in good times, and as you have implied, things seem to be headed in another direction.

If I sound bitchy and unsympathetic, it's because I am. My sympathy won't pay your electric bill. Maybe one or two of the articles I've written or procedures and tools I've posted might help. If not, there is lots of better advice out there from people who making me look like a raving amateur. A lot of it is sitting in the archives waiting for you to enter the keywords in the search form and read a bit. There are some serious treasures there, and you won't have to dig long to find them.


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Cendrine Marrouat
Canada
Local time: 07:12
English to French
TOPIC STARTER
Yes I get it Nov 2, 2008

Kevin Lossner wrote:

Cendrine Marrouat wrote:
Ok, I get the point. Sorry for bringing up the discussion.


Do you really?

Because this issue has been discussed so often, effective approaches have also been discussed - even by people working in your language pair. However, most of the issues and approaches are more or less universally applicable.

A lot of it boils down to the basic need to learn business principles and practice them. Linguistic skill alone and a bit of luck will probably only get you by in good times, and as you have implied, things seem to be headed in another direction.

If I sound bitchy and unsympathetic, it's because I am. My sympathy won't pay your electric bill. Maybe one or two of the articles I've written or procedures and tools I've posted might help. If not, there is lots of better advice out there from people who making me look like a raving amateur. A lot of it is sitting in the archives waiting for you to enter the keywords in the search form and read a bit. There are some serious treasures there, and you won't have to dig long to find them.


Yes, I get the point. I am not stupid. And I have been doing my research for a long time now. It was not what I was talking about. But, that's fine. Let's leave it at that.

However, I will follow your advice about the articles and tools provided on proz. I will definitely learn something.

Thanks!

[Edited at 2008-11-02 01:09]


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Madeleine MacRae Klintebo  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:12
Swedish to English
+ ...
Don't forget who and what you are Nov 2, 2008

This is what I posted recently in another thread:

As the vendor, i.e. the person offering to sell a service, I declare the rate for which I'm willing to sell my time/service. The clients (agency or direct) can then come back with a counter proposal. Maybe we eventually agree, maybe not.

This is exactly the same market system which applied when I bought a digital camera last weekend. The vendor had put a price tag on the camera, I wanted it for less. Knowing the current financial climate I figured I could get this price down (vendors of physical objects sit on expensive stock which they need to convert to cashflow). End result I got a very good price for the camera I wanted.

The difference between me and this poor vendor of physical objects is that I mainly sell my time. You can try to beat me down on price, but don't forget that I'm not sitting on any expensive stock that needs shifting. My "stock" is my time and, as a generally resourceful person I'm sure that I can come up with a number of more lucrative ways of using this time than working for $0.03 less taxes and social security fees.

OK - I work in smaller language pairs than you Cendrine. That means less competition, but it also means that there is less work in total.

Unless you are very financially secure, you need to have some kind of back up plan whilst you're getting established as a professional translator. This could range from window cleaning to a part time career in banking (on second thought, not a good career move at the moment).


[Edited at 2008-11-02 00:54]

Fixed a few late night grammatical errors

[Edited at 2008-11-02 00:55]


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Stuart Dowell  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 14:12
Member (2007)
Polish to English
+ ...
Agree with Kevin Nov 2, 2008

... but sympathise with Cendrine.

The fact is that you can find a translator at any price you want - and there is nothing wrong with that.

Buyers absolutely have the right to buy at the cheap end if they are happy with the results and it is their right to be naive or uninformed.

Likewise, we have the choice of presenting our services in the way that is optimum for us or to do it in the way that most others do and then complain when it doesn't work out.

We all get what prepare for.

On the other hand, this forum is a good place to come and vent fustration - I just think it's a waste of time when you could be reading some good advice from Kevin or many others in the archives.

Stuart


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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 14:12
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
Some flexibility can be useful to optimise your income Nov 2, 2008

For example, you could be used to translating highly academic, complex documents, with elaborate sentence structures, for a high rate. You know that by doing this you earn XXX per hour, which is the very least per hour that you want to earn. Then hard times come, or the supplies of interesting academic work dry up a bit, and you can - if you are flexible in your approach - accept work that is at the opposite end of the scale, i.e. very mundane and easy, for half the rate, and thereby discover that, from this boring work, you can actually earn more per hour than with the interesting academic work. The end result is the same: you can pay your taxes and your bills.

Astrid


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xxxLatin_Hellas
United States
Local time: 14:12
Italian to English
+ ...
Practical market-oriented approach Nov 2, 2008

I like Astrid's approach.

Of course in principle, I try to maintain a basic rate, but in practice often the pricing of each job is determined on a case-by-case basis, and the rates I accept can vary by more than 100%.

It all depends on supply and demand at the moment and the type of customer - just like airlines seats - , and taking a low-priced, relatively easy, but maybe even interesting, jobs beats sitting idle and helps pay the bills.

Each purchaser and each vendor has their own optimum solution for the equation of price, speed, quality, efficiency and desired level of income.

For example, it is quite possible for a competitively priced, efficient translator to generate a high level of income, implying that the combination of speed and quality provided satisfies a sufficiently broad range of customers.

[Edited at 2008-11-02 10:24]


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