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Organization issues - should I say something to the agency?
Thread poster: Miranda Drew

Miranda Drew  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 16:48
Italian to English
Apr 27, 2012

I have a little organizational issue with one of the agencies I work with. I have a very good relationship with the agency and I consider them to be very professional. One difference I've noticed with them compared to other agencies I work for is that when they need to give a customer an estimate of a deadline for a translation, they actually call the translator (me) first (before the translation is confirmed by the client) to find out the timeframe the translator can do the work in. From the agency's point of view, and the end customer's point of view, I think this is very good, because the agency ensures that they actually have a translator to do the work before agreeing on a deadline with a customer.

My problem is that I've noticed that this practice is causing me a lot of wasted time, which I am not paid for obviously. Because in a lot of cases, they will call me, proposing a job, and I take the time to look at the files and my calendar and figure out what deadline I can give them. And then, often their customer won't confirm the job (or confirms it weeks or months later). Of course, this is pretty normal on the end customer's end, but today, I'm killing myself to finish a translation, and one of the Project Managers from the agency called me, and I spend time on the phone with her while she explains the new (unconfirmed) translation to me (when I've asked them repeatedly to write me with proposals instead of calling me, because it distracts me too much), then I spent time looking at the files, my calendar and estimating when I could do the job by. I told the PM also that I was full with other work until wednesday of next week. What bugged me was half an hour later another PM from the same agency calls me, proposing a long translation for friday of next week, and I had to wait on hold while he talked to the first PM and found out that the first job wasn't confirmed, and I had to repeat to him what I told her about my availability.

Usually if jobs are not confirmed, they'll come right back with another job that is, so it's not a problem of me being without work. But sometimes they'll propose 3 unconfirmed jobs to me in the same day (calling me, which for me takes a lot more time and is a lot more distracting than if they write me).
I know that it's absolutely normal for jobs not to be confirmed, but I wonder if anyone has any suggestions, in addition to asking them again to please email me with translation jobs instead of calling me all the time.


 

neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:48
Spanish to English
+ ...
My take Apr 27, 2012

You could always try not answering the phone to them (get caller ID).

In my case, I always prefer to be contacted by email and once clients learn that 9 times out of 10 it is actually quicker to reach me this way, they tend to fall into line. Moreover, if 2 or 3 PMs ended up phoning me on the same day as you describe, I'm afraid that even on a good day the last caller would get a rather resounding flea in their ear.

[Edited at 2012-04-27 16:38 GMT]


 

Miranda Drew  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 16:48
Italian to English
TOPIC STARTER
thanks Apr 27, 2012

at least I know it's not just me. Just one of those days!

 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:48
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
THEY have the organisational problem Apr 27, 2012

I think you are perfectly alright and have been very kind to them taking the calls and staying on hold on the line, etc. etc.

Now, I think that what this takes from you is a firmer stance about how to ask for your availability. An email with the attached files is definitely the way to go, and they need to understand that. Given some experiences we had in the past (with Italian people) I think they will not understand if you explain it, and if you eventually get cross about it they will probably think that you are all at the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Next time any of the PMs call, explain that you are on hold on the other line about some official matter you have been pursuing for a long time and could they please just send you a quick email with sample files and briefly describing the job? Promise that you will answer the email while you wait on the phone. If they do not send an email and try to call again 10 minutes later, repeat the procedure: you are still on hold on your important call. Keep "on hold" until they send the email, and then reply to the email immediately.

Repeat as appropriate. Be creative if you wish. There are all kinds of people who could be calling you on the other line. It might take a couple of weeks, but in due time, I think they will find that they get quicker information from you over email than over the phone, and they might switch to email mode.


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 15:48
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Isn't the relationship just a little too close? Apr 27, 2012

I thought a freelancer worked for many clients and was therefore not always available

I thought an agency had many translators on its database and would choose the best qualified translator who also happened to be available

I understand that this agency is a good client, and you are clearly a valued supplier, but don't you depend on each other just a little too much? What if you say "5pm Friday" and then another agency rings with a confirmed job that clashes? Are you expected to refuse it on the basis of a "may never happen" job?

It sounds to me as though they are unloading some of their hard decisions and business risk onto you.

Sheila


 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:48
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Not really Apr 27, 2012

Sheila Wilson wrote:
I thought an agency had many translators on its database and would choose the best qualified translator who also happened to be available

Not always the case. The ideal situation is when your agency customers can be fairly sure that they will not be forced to go out to the market and find other resources. However, every agency must understand that despite the fact that we do our best, there could be moments in which we have to say no to jobs from less critical customers.


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 15:48
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Aren't we saying the same thing, Tomás? Apr 27, 2012

Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:

Sheila Wilson wrote:
I thought an agency had many translators on its database and would choose the best qualified translator who also happened to be available

Not always the case. The ideal situation is when your agency customers can be fairly sure that they will not be forced to go out to the market and find other resources. However, every agency must understand that despite the fact that we do our best, there could be moments in which we have to say no to jobs from less critical customers.


I agree that posting a job on ProZ.com etc is something they prefer to avoidicon_wink.gif but they should have a number of IT>EN translators on their books. Of course we have to say no sometimes - we're freelancers, not employees.

Sheila


 

Sergei Tumanov  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:48
English to Russian
+ ...
try reducing time on phone Apr 27, 2012

You can try reducing phone conversation time with project managers.

There is nothing awful in saying @I am sorry, I am in the middle of a translation project now. Send me an email. I'll reply asap@ and finishing the conversation.

I know many people who can spend 10 minutes instead of 30 seconds to say @I am busy@


[Edited at 2012-04-27 19:04 GMT]


 

XXXphxxx (X)  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:48
Portuguese to English
+ ...
You need to see the document Apr 27, 2012

I don't take on ANY jobs without first seeing the source file. This even goes for clients I've had for 10+ years. For this simple reason alone all my clients have learnt that there is no point calling me. I reply to all emails instantly, if I'm not at my desk they get an autoreply which tells them when to expect to hear back from me. I need to see the job, look at my schedule and then present them with a deadline, it takes no more than 5 minutes to do so but I can't do it with something hanging on the end of a phone line. Furthermore, I prefer to have everything in writing for future reference and often so much more is agreed than is actually reflected in any PO. Provided you can guarantee them instant responses then I don't see why they wouldn't agree to it.

 

Philippe Etienne  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:48
Member
English to French
Time optimisation Apr 27, 2012

Translation is about selling your time. The more time you spend being productive, the more you earn.

To keep your sanity in the situation you describe, a few measures are essential, as others have mentioned:

1) NO PHONE CALLS AND NO SKYPE CHAT - email only. It is less invasive and as Lisa points out, everything is in writing to stay, so no BS allowed later on. Take all measures necessary to have them apply YOUR rules. If need be, record your answerphone message to say I can be reached on my usual email address.
You can set how often you wish to receive emails: every minute to show how responsive you are, every 30 minutes when you don't want to be disturbed: deadline looming, yoga session, penultimate level of Tetris VIc.5 build 12 or enough earnings in the month.

2) Working files -> Wordcounts -> Leadtime. No haggling.
The deadline contemplated doesn't suit you because you had planned some paragliding that day? Offer one later by one or a few days. It works more often than I'd thought, and it is valuable to keep some form of tidiness in your schedule. Make sure whenever possible you have enough slack with each deadline, it is easier later to organise your workload.

3) No free booking in your schedule: you're free now, but the situation may have changed in 10 minutes or 2 weeks, in which case you commit to let them know.
Or you charge for booking time brackets, even if the job doesn't appear. WE ARE NOT EMPLOYEES and we have a business to run. Full time.

4) Get help. Some management software packages like TO3000 assist you in getting organised and finding the right info quickly.

I managed 196 deadlines in FY2011 with 14 agencies, and turned down many others from those same vetted agencies because I have a life too. I don't even mention new leads and offers from unknown prospects. And I receive, what, 5 job-related phone calls a year. Which doesn't prevent me to develop and maintain pleasant, no-non-sensical and sometimes friendly relations with PMs I work with.

If I were working the way you do, I'd end up in mental healthcare within a month. You're very strong.

Philippe


 

Jennifer Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:48
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Phone calls Apr 28, 2012

I don't object to clients telephoning me about an urgent request as long as the call is short and conclusive, but if they keep you chatting and you're busy, a good method is to say "Oh, there's somebody at the door, I'll have to go. Please email me and I'll come right back to you". Sometimes, indeed, there really is somebody at the door - the meter-reader of something exciting like that.
Jenny


 

Miranda Drew  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 16:48
Italian to English
TOPIC STARTER
I agree Apr 28, 2012

Sheila Wilson wrote:

I understand that this agency is a good client, and you are clearly a valued supplier, but don't you depend on each other just a little too much? What if you say "5pm Friday" and then another agency rings with a confirmed job that clashes? Are you expected to refuse it on the basis of a "may never happen" job?

It sounds to me as though they are unloading some of their hard decisions and business risk onto you.

Sheila


Thank you for all your good advice. I do kind of feel they are trying to treat me like an employee. I think I'm going to tell them to either only offer me jobs which are confirmed, or I'll have to charge them for booking jobs that aren't confirmed.


 

Anne Bohy  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 16:48
English to French
Organizational problem between the agency and its clients Apr 28, 2012

The agency make its clients believe that they can get a quote AND A FIRM DELAY before they actually commit on a date where the translation will start. This is not right.
If these customers follow a kind of RFP proces, it is the agency's work to make quotes, without bothering the translators. The agency should give a quote and a temptative delay which (from their own experience) will be acceptable to their translators, and contact the translators only when the proposal had been accepted by the customer. Regarding the delay, if customers spends a lot of time in an RFP process, they certainly won't mind one or two additional days (despite what they say).
Personnally, I only give quotes to direct customers. If I work with a translation agency, the PM knows his translators' rates, and prepares the quote.
I never commit for a translation before I actually get the source file, ready for translation (a draft and a temptative delivery date is not OK, unless I get a retainer). It's the PM's job to find an available translator when the job is ready.
You should not commit for hypothetic translations ahead of time... or you run the risk to be overbooked or out of work.
Apply a "first come, first served" rule that you clearly indicate to your customers (and hence, give no final delay before the green light), and don't do the quoting work for your agency... unless they pay for it!


 

Marijke Singer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:48
Member
Dutch to English
+ ...
Hear hear Apr 28, 2012

neilmac wrote:

You could always try not answering the phone to them (get caller ID).

In my case, I always prefer to be contacted by email and once clients learn that 9 times out of 10 it is actually quicker to reach me this way, they tend to fall into line. Moreover, if 2 or 3 PMs ended up phoning me on the same day as you describe, I'm afraid that even on a good day the last caller would get a rather resounding flea in their ear.

[Edited at 2012-04-27 16:38 GMT]


My take on it too. Don't answer the phone. Let them leave a message and call them back if it suits you.

I work from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. My faithful customers (agencies) know this and are not offended if the phone goes unanswered after 1 p.m. After 5, they will get an email reply. Very often their message just says that, if I can do the job, just to go ahead and do it. Suits me fine.

Telephone calls are too distracting.


 

Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:48
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Endorsement of Philippe's guidelines May 1, 2012

They make eminent sense to me.

 
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