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What to do when an agency lowers its rates?
Thread poster: Rachel Gorney

Rachel Gorney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 16:16
French to English
Nov 26, 2007

Help!

I've been working with a particular translation agency for over 2.5 years now. The documents are technical and must be translated using the agency's custom-designed on-line CAT tool that closely resembles Trados.

I've completed dozens of projects for this client -- ALWAYS at the same flat rate that is not great, but acceptable.

All of a sudden, today they have offered me a project, but with new "scaled" rates based on the CAT tool analysis of the document, offering only 25% or 50% of the pay rate for full matches and partial matches. Never mind, of course, that often the matches in the system are wrong and need to be revised/replaced!!!

This basically amounts to a pay-cut for me. The documents and the time required to translate them haven't changed, but they want to pay me less.

Do I just have to accept these lousy conditions (and look for a new client agency that will pay me better!), or do I have a leg to stand on by protesting??? It doesn't seem very ethical....

-Rachel


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Ralf Lemster  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 16:16
English to German
+ ...
C'est qui, le boss? Nov 26, 2007

Hi Rachel,
This is what I read on the back of a lorry on the motorway when I drove to the recent ProZ.com conference in Aix-en-Provence. Driving ahead of this lorry was another one, with a note on the back: "C'est moi, le boss!".

Plain and simple: you decide.


This basically amounts to a pay-cut for me. The documents and the time required to translate them haven't changed, but they want to pay me less.

Do I just have to accept these lousy conditions (and look for a new client agency that will pay me better!), or do I have a leg to stand on by protesting??? It doesn't seem very ethical....

TBH I don't see what's "ethical" about a business proposition (or "unethical", for that matter): they propose a business arrangement - you're self-employed, so the decision whether or not to accept is yours alone.

Best regards,
Ralf


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Peter Linton  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:16
Member (2002)
Swedish to English
+ ...
Accentuate the positive Nov 26, 2007

Agencies are commercial bodies, not ethical entities. Of course you don't have to accept their terms -- you too are commercial. There is no such thing as an "ethical" rate for translation -- it is all commercial and negotiable.

I suspect you'll get plenty of replies urging you to refuse. Let me suggest reasons why you might accept.

If the agency is offering you lower rates, it is a good idea to get away from thinking in terms of price per word, and think instead about how much you can earn in a day.

Suppose you decide you want to earn so much per year, and therefore so much per day. Does the new scaled rate enable you to do so? is it better than the alternatives?

If not, decline politely. If so, accept. The latter is a win-win situation, and that is a good basis for long-term business.



[Edited at 2007-11-26 16:13]


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Ralf Lemster  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 16:16
English to German
+ ...
Good point, Peter! Nov 26, 2007

I should like to emphasise that I wasn't suggesting to refuse (or accept).


If the agency is offering you lower rates, it is a good idea to get away from thinkingin terms of price per word, and thinking instead about how much you can earn in a day.

Suppose you decide you want to earn so much per year, and therefore so much per day. Does the new scaled rate enable you to do so? is it better than the alternatives?

If not, decline politely. If so, accept. The latter is a win-win situation, and that is a good basis for long-term business.

Very much so - good point, Peter!

Best regards,
Ralf


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 10:16
English to French
+ ...
Good points Nov 26, 2007

The above posts contain good points. I have one of my own to add.

I don't see why, after paying you X rate for over two years, which translates into X hourly rate for you once you cash the cheque in, they want to now lower that same rate, which will now come down to Y hourly rate for you. While there are good arguments here on why you may want to accept this lower rate, I don't see why you should accept to lower it. Not only because if anything, rates should be increased, but also because any modification in rates should be initiated by the service provider.

A simple example some may laugh at: if you go to the groceries to buy tomatoes, you can't just go up to the manager and say "hey, how about I pay 20% less for those tomatoes I've been buying for the past two years?". He'll laugh at you! What happens is that the grocery manager will, of his own initiative, put the tomatoes on sale for a while or raise the price of tomatoes - you have no say in this because you are just a customer and he has every right to manage his business, so it's up to him to change the price of those tomatoes. It's the same with language services...

An "elegant" way to handle this for you, should you decide to reject the agency's request, is to say "Funny, I was just about to ask you for a raise!".


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Nizamettin Yigit  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 16:16
Dutch to Turkish
+ ...
Circumstances Nov 26, 2007

Hi,
I agree with Ralf and Peter.
I want to poin out something else.

Assume that the new rate is not acceptable.
Assume that you dont accept but there will be one who does due to his her circumstances.

But for sure, when the circumstances change for that person he/she may refuse as well.

Please also note that nobody exchnages 1 gram of god with 1 gram of iron. When they see the difference, they will change their attitude.

You should also consider when they have a text with no fuzzy matches. Than you have your own rate.

You see you have multiple things to evaluate and it is you to deside.

Every business has one simple goal which is "to make money".

Good luck!

Nizam


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Alan Johnson  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 16:16
German to English
Raise your own! Nov 26, 2007

If an agency client wrote to me stating they had lowered their rates, I would write them a polite letter (email) back telling them that I had just raised mine.


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Ana Cuesta  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:16
Member
English to Spanish
Lowering rates vs using a different paying scheme Nov 26, 2007

I think we are mixing two different things here.

For what I've gathered, you were asked to switch from a flat word rate scheme to a matches-based one. It is for you whether to accept that or not, personally I have no problem with such scheme since repetitions, etc. mean less work to do (yes, of course they have to be revised, that's why they still pay you a percentage of your base rate for them, and again which percentage is fine should be open to negotiation and depends on the quality of the TM, etc).

Now, if your base per word rate keeps unchanged, you are of course loosing money with regard to the previous situation, which I can understand you are not happy with. Even more so when you say the previous flat rate was just acceptable (so I imagine you were counting on repetitions and the like to make up for it, even in an uncertain way since you depended on the porcentage of repetions in each job to make more or less money).

BUT, there is another possibility. You can reply that you are happy (if you are) with changing to a matches-based scheme which would make payment more rational and earnings in terms of effort/time more predictable but that you would then need to raise the base rate for non-matches so you keep earning the same hourly rate as before on average.

If they refuse to that, then yes, they were indeed trying to trick you into lowering your rates and at least you know where you stand...


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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:16
French to English
The trouble with analogies... Nov 26, 2007

Viktoria Gimbe wrote:

A simple example some may laugh at: if you go to the groceries to buy tomatoes, you can't just go up to the manager and say "hey, how about I pay 20% less for those tomatoes I've been buying for the past two years?". He'll laugh at you! What happens is that the grocery manager will, of his own initiative, put the tomatoes on sale for a while or raise the price of tomatoes - you have no say in this because you are just a customer and he has every right to manage his business, so it's up to him to change the price of those tomatoes. It's the same with language services...


I beg to differ. We keep seeing this kind of example, and the difference is in the respective numbers of suppliers and customers. You analogy would work better in the highly unlikely scenario of just a couple of customers wandering down a street where every store was selling tomatoes. In which case, I would imagine that there could well be pressure from the customer to ask a particulat grocer to knock 20% off, else he'll go next door and buy some there.
The key, of course, is to make sure your tomatoes are the best in the street, and worth paying a bit extra for

Otherwise I agree with those saying that the overall pay for a day's work is always what counts, not obsessing about getting X or Y per word.


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Rachel Gorney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 16:16
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks, Ana! Nov 26, 2007

Ana, you hit the nail on the head! This is indeed a question of flat rate vs. matches-based pay schemes. Thanks for your very useful advice.

As a clarification, I am fully aware that it's my choice to continue working for this agency or not -- my initial question was more about how to negotiate in this situation, or whether it's even worth trying to negotiate in the first place.

I was also wondering if other translators have had similar experiences as agencies become more adept with using their CAT-tools to cut costs.

-R


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Refugio
Local time: 07:16
Spanish to English
+ ...
Maybe the time has come ... Nov 26, 2007

to start thinking of yourself as a free-lancer and start trying to locate direct clients. By cutting out the middleman, you will make better money. Is this the only agency you work for? At the very least, diversify so that you won't be at the mercy of the whims of one agency. You may take a project or two from them at the new rate while you hunt for better terms, then inform them that you have raised your base rates. The scaled system would be all right if the base rates were higher. Lob the ball back into their court. Be prepared for a refusal, though.

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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 10:16
English to French
+ ...
That's precisely why I think my analogy works Nov 26, 2007

Charlie Bavington wrote:
You analogy would work better in the highly unlikely scenario of just a couple of customers wandering down a street where every store was selling tomatoes. In which case, I would imagine that there could well be pressure from the customer to ask a particulat grocer to knock 20% off, else he'll go next door and buy some there.


I meant exactly that. That is why I am talking about tomatoes - many people sell tomatoes and they all sell tomatoes of varying qualities. It is the same with translation. I totally agree - if the client is not happy with the rate proposed, s/he is free to shop elsewhere. What's wrong with that? I don't mind...

To answer Rachel's question, yes, I think you should negotiate. From your first post, I understood that you were talking about a flat vs. match-based rate, and of course, that makes a difference in your hourly earnings. You can tell the client, for example, that the rate you've been charging so far was adjusted to a situation where different TM match types were already taken into consideration, and that if they really want to go into the hassle of TM accounting, it's up to them, but then you would have to raise your rate.

Agencies are indeed becoming adept at leveraging match types to make profit. I just want to remind all of you that you all paid for the CAT tool to begin with, that you all took the time (and in many cases, the money) to learn to use them - for the agencies' benefit, in part. Please, put this in perpective. I don't see any business or moral sense in being forced to buy, learn and use a tool in order to keep getting contracts - only to help agencies make more profit.

[Edited at 2007-11-26 21:40]


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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:16
French to English
It's all about the balance of power Nov 26, 2007

as well as supply and demand.

And this is why many of us get the same feelings of unease in our dealings with those who are supposed to be our customers and, in theory therefore, are supposed to agree to our terms

Viktoria Gimbe wrote:
That is why I am talking about tomatoes - many people sell tomatoes and they all sell tomatoes of varying qualities.

Indeedy
But a great many more people want to buy them. There are more customers than suppliers.

It is the same with translation.

And I still say it ain't quite the same, because there are more suppliers than customers.

There is no transaction in everyday life that I can think of where we, on the customer side, are outnumbered by suppliers. I have a great deal of choice in these de-nationalised times of suppliers of electricity, gas, phones, ISP, groceries, petrol... you name it, but there are still way more customers than suppliers. So the suppliers are still kind of in control (notwithstanding the customer supposedly being king).
You rightly say that if you went to shop and started offering 20% less for your veg, they'd probably tell you were to get off. Likewise your electricity supplier, phone company, etc.

But if you did indeed have 10 grocers to pick from in the same street, and so did I, and so did everyone else (and these are all different grocers - clearly this is a weird town!); in other words, if tomato-sellers were translators and there were just a few of us tomato-buyers (=agencies), then I venture to suggest the balance of power would be very different and so would the economic relationship, and a fair number of tomato-sellers would take you up on your 20%-less offer rather than see the stuff rot in the shop....

You can only really compare freelance translation with some other situation where the suppliers outnumber the customers. The only similar commercial relationship I can think of right now is that of farmers who supply supermarkets. The supermarkets are the customers, yet the farmers are getting shafted left, right and centre and yes, they are having price cuts imposed by their customers (the supermarkets). The majority of farmers are twitchy; many freelancers are equally twitchy. Hence questions like this thread.

And yes, the direct client (farmers' market?) route is clearly one way out.

And I'm sorry if this appears to some to be slightly off-topic but I think it is part of the background to threads like this.

And yes, of course, part of the "winning strategy" is therefore to wangle yourself to be in a position where you, as the supplier, are in the minority compared to your customers, because you are brilliant, have a particularly rare yet sought-after specialisation/combination, etc, etc. and then the balance of power shifts to you. Because you are not just supplying 'translation', you are supplying a scarcer commodity.


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MariusV  Identity Verified
Lithuania
Local time: 17:16
English to Lithuanian
+ ...
I'd ask for a reason Nov 26, 2007

Well, I'd ask for a real reason of lowering the rate. Not the "general reason" nor stories about "agency policies", but the reason the agency lowered the rate for me (was there something they disliked about my work done previously, was quality not sufficient, etc. etc.). Just like we, free-lancers, have to substantiate our rate increases - we, at least, write a polite email to the client with whom we work for years and we try to 'justyfy' the bigger rate. I hardly believe anyone simply goes in a straightforward way simply telling "from now on my rates for you will be by ... % bigger" or "now give me that rate".

As it was well noted, it is simply your decision if you take jobs for those rates or not. A simple realistic reason could be that this agency found someone cheaper and now wants to press you. But believe me - tested in practice - they will soon get fed up with the "cheaper solutions" in terms of quality and if you wait for 6-8 weeks without accepting their smaller rate, I am sure they will come back to you. If you really think your work was worth the earlier rate, keep it up and do not work for monkey nuts.


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casey
United States
Local time: 10:16
Member
Japanese to English
You could raise the "No Match" rate to compensate Nov 27, 2007

Another possible way to negotiate would be to raise the rate for the "No Match" portion.

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