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Is crisis fear pushing agencies to damage themselves?
Thread poster: Tony Keily

Tony Keily  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:52
Italian to English
+ ...
Mar 11, 2009

I work in Italy and have noticed that some of my regular agencies are taking longer to pay, although they haven't renegotiated their terms with me. I presume this has to do less with actual liquidity problems at the agencies than with the fear that they might run into liquidity problems in the course of the year.

Evidently these agencies are now less competitive when it comes to bidding for translator services, and I imagine they are having greater problems placing work. Unless there are pressing financial reasons for their behaviour, this is just bad business.

Italian agencies are almost always slowish payers as it is, and rates are often low. But there is a lot of interesting work out there and personal relations with the agencies are often excellent. Simpatia and compelling subject matter go a long way, but with steady offers still coming from elsewhere in the EU, at better rates and with much shorter payment terms, why would anyone continue to bother?

My reading is that fear seems to be driving some agencies to attempt to exert pressures which current market conditions don't justify. Which from a business point of view is just plain silly.


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Marie-Hélène Hayles  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:52
Italian to English
+ ...
Not happening to me... yet Mar 11, 2009

I work predominantly with Italian agencies (most paying at 60 days, one at 90 and a very few at 30) and so far I haven't noticed any sliding of these deadlines. Fingers crossed!

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Margreet Logmans  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 13:52
English to Dutch
+ ...
Give it a try Mar 11, 2009

Tony Keily wrote:

Italian agencies are almost always slowish payers as it is, and rates are often low. But there is a lot of interesting work out there and personal relations with the agencies are often excellent. Simpatia and compelling subject matter go a long way, but with steady offers still coming from elsewhere in the EU, at better rates and with much shorter payment terms, why would anyone continue to bother?


Why don't you give a few of these offers a try? Just in case any of your Italian clients do turn out to be in trouble. Spreading your risks is never a bad idea.


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Tomás Cano Binder, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:52
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
I would not.... Mar 11, 2009

...keep all eggs in the same basket. Do try other agencies just in case.

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Tony Keily  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:52
Italian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I do spread my bets, but... Mar 11, 2009

Margreet Logmans wrote:


Why don't you give a few of these offers a try? Just in case any of your Italian clients do turn out to be in trouble. Spreading your risks is never a bad idea.


Hi Margaret. Thanks for the advice and your concern! I do work for agencies in other countries. It's just that I like to work for these Italian agencies too, and I'd hate to give them up. But I can't help but think that if these delays are policy (I'm in the process of verifying whether this is the case - maybe it's just a mixture of odd coincidence and my own crisis-driven paranoia), that policy will just do needless damage to the agencies themselves. Just as if fear of crisis stampeded all translators into asking for payment within excessively short terms: Who would that damage?


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Igor Indruch  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 13:52
English to Czech
It depends... Mar 11, 2009

I have no problems with my regular clients from Europe so far (but I am lucky enough to work for some best Blue Board agencies). On the other hand I stopped to work for Americans almost completely, because most of them started to demand unacceptable rates. I must admit that I lost my temper in the last occasion, because after one agency required test sample and other things, they offered me 0.05 USD per source word (and I sent them my rates in my first email and clearly stated that do not negotiate my rates). So my reply was little bit harsh)

[Edited at 2009-03-11 11:59 GMT]


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Margreet Logmans  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 13:52
English to Dutch
+ ...
Crisis-driven paranoia Mar 11, 2009

I like that phrase, thank you!

I know what you mean. And I am in doubt myself, whether there really is a disastrous crisis that affects any and all parts of business, or whether things are bad, but not as bad as some people make it to be...

Yes, I think the actions you describe do hurt business. On the other hand, everbody is talking about crisis so much, you really cannot expect everything will stay the same.
Me, I just try not to let invoices with one and the same company run too high. I also check creditworthiness as much as I can, especially with new clients and those I have not worked with in a while. Unpaid invoices do not raise favourable impressions, do they? So delaying payment for whatever reason is damaging, IMHO.

I do not demand shorter payment terms, but I do watch payments like a hawk and send reminders a bit sooner than I used to...

This year, I also decided to try and work mostly for agencies in the EU. At least, I understand jurisdiction here. Do you think that is a sign of paranoia?

Thanks for raising the topic, it's quite interesting.


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Giovanni Guarnieri MITI, MIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:52
English to Italian
yes... Mar 11, 2009

Tony Keily wrote:

why would anyone continue to bother?



that's your answer...


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Tony Keily  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:52
Italian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
The agencies were my emphasis Mar 11, 2009

Hi Giovanni. I think that part of the question was more rhetorical than anything else, but hey a smile's always nice to see!

The question interests me mainly from the agencies' point of view (how selfless!). Like other businesses, if they become over-cautious about liquidity they can damage themselves. Essentially, extending payment terms means keeping money in the bank for longer, which is apparently where everybody wants to keep it right now. But if the market in general continues to offer better terms to translators, this impacts on the ability of certain agencies to close jobs because they begin to lose a grip on one of their chief assets: us.

Again, on the question of crisis-driven paranoia, I have received requests lately that seem to harp on more than they used to about Trados and repetition and some kind effective of cut in rates on that basis. I've never taken any of these jobs. It's almost as if the word has gone out to some PM's that 2009 is going to be hard, and if they all want to keep their jobs they need to think of new ways to claw back a few cents. Which, as I suggest, may be a very false saving in the long run.

And just to clarify: I have NO reason whatsoever to believe that any of the agencies in question will default on payments. They're all good people (often almost pals by now) and I will almost certainly continue to work for them all. Just... less!


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Angie Garbarino  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:52
Member (2003)
French to Italian
+ ...
Italian and Spanish agencies... Mar 11, 2009

... Have (in general) payment policies at 60-90 days, against the 30 (always in general) of agencies in other countries.

In my experience, this is not due to crisis this is normal, (In general).


Having also worked in other sectors I can say that this is normal business Italian practice.

See also Marie Helene posting:

I work predominantly with Italian agencies (most paying at 60 days, one at 90 and a very few at 30)


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Tony Keily  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:52
Italian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Longer is the point Mar 11, 2009

Hi Angioletta,

The point regards given agencies taking longER to pay (say 60 becoming 90 more than once) not national conventions on payment, which I agree do differ.


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Angie Garbarino  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:52
Member (2003)
French to Italian
+ ...
different experience Mar 11, 2009

Igor Indruch wrote:
I stopped to work for Americans almost completely, because most of them started to demand unacceptable rates.


Instead most of my best clients are Americans and in general I like the way they do business. Punctual payments, and fair rates, may be it depends on the pair?...


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Angie Garbarino  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:52
Member (2003)
French to Italian
+ ...
Ok :) Got it Mar 11, 2009

Tony Keily wrote:

Hi Angioletta,

The point regards given agencies taking longER to pay (say 60 becoming 90 more than once) not national conventions on payment, which I agree do differ


In my experience not yet, fingers crossed

PS Edited for typo, sorry

[Edited at 2009-03-11 13:49 GMT]


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 07:52
English to French
+ ...
Crisis-driven paranoia Mar 11, 2009

Hmmmm... This is something I have hinted at over the past few months. Unfortunately, some construed it as not taking others' problems seriously and making fun of poor translators whose workload has been suffering. This was not at all my intention - I was just warning against the side effects of feeling terrorized.

Not that I want to flatter myself, but it seems I was right. This paranoia is gaining territory by the minute. It is true that a portion of the overall industry is exerting pressure on translators. Which is totally illogical, but that's how people behave when they are scared to death: illogically.

Are we selling our services to people who need them? If they do need our services, then they should be willing to pay a fair price for it and they should be willing to accept fair payment terms. If anybody should be making any pressure on anyone, it should be us translators. For many of us, these problems existed long before the paranoia, so they have just worsened, to a point where it has become unsustainable to some of us.

I think the key is marketing our services. And by that, I don't mean sending a thousand e-mails to a thousand agencies, asking for work. I mean being visible to those who need our services and who are willing to accept our rates and payment terms. This is also the right time to take a hard look at what we do. Is there anything we are not doing right? Can we do something about the quality of our work? Are we doing something wrong (delivering late, not listening to the client's preoccupations, etc.)? Whatever you find is lacking in the service you deliver is an argument for your client to pay you less or to pay you late. Just don't give them arguments. If you are already offering a top-notch service and the client still pressures you, then it may be time to move on.

Let's also not forget about the possibility of picking up direct clients. If so many agencies are now exerting pressure on translators, it is most likely because they fear that their profit margin is going to melt away. Then, the best thing you can do is do away with the profit margin - by picking up direct clients. Sure, it's a lot of work and it complicates your work as a translator a bit. But the money is better and so are the payment terms (not to mention the fun of it: you are actually on the client's team, working with her, instead of being a nameless translator who has to rely on the agency if anything is not quite right about the source text - you can also educate and offer advice to the client). I am afraid we have come to a point where agencies are pretty much useless - many of them are now only useful to drive rates downward and miseducate end clients. As always, props to my agency clients who are brilliant and whom I wouldn't change for a direct client - I wish there were more agencies like you.

And yes, some agencies do seem to have a hard time recognizing that their most important asset is their translators. However, I think the translators are not always useful in helping them to realize this. From what I have observed, here and elsewhere, most translators just go with the flow, as if they thought they need the client and not vice versa. I am sure if most translators were firmer with their agency clients, the agencies would recognize that they are nothing without their translators. Maybe that would help them change their negotiating habits with their clients. Maybe it would even help them manage their businesses more sensibly. Unfortunately, I don't see that happening any time soon...

[Edited at 2009-03-11 14:29 GMT]


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Luciana E. Lovatto  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:52
English to Spanish
Crisis-driven paranoia Mar 11, 2009

Viktoria Gimbe wrote:

And yes, some agencies do seem to have a hard time recognizing that their most important asset is their translators. However, I think the translators are not always useful in helping them to realize this. From what I have observed, here and elsewhere, most translators just go with the flow, as if they thought they need the client and not vice versa. I am sure if most translators were firmer with their agency clients, the agencies would recognize that they are nothing without their translators. Maybe that would help them change their negotiating habits with their clients. Maybe it would even help them manage their businesses more sensibly. Unfortunately, I don't see that happening any time soon...

[Edited at 2009-03-11 14:29 GMT]


I couldn’t agree more with your words, Viktoria. Imagine if only the 50% of the translator community thought like that, the situation would be totally different. I think we happen to be blind and we see agencies as if they were the only chance to work, while in fact they survive because of us.


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