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Dilemma: agency or direct client?
Thread poster: infact

infact
Local time: 01:59
French to English
Apr 8, 2010

Hello to you all,

I really don't know how to sum up my problem in less than five words (for the title)...

Here is my situation: I've been translating for a company for over 6 years, as their primary Technical English translator. I am their sub-contractor for French to English translations. The translation volume they have monthly is so enormous that they also use a translation agency when I can't take any more translations. The proportion is about 1 (for me) to 4 (for the agency). (yes, there is a lot of volume...). My client loves working with me because I haven't faltered (yet...) whereas the agency has provided some lower-quality (and even down-right dangerous) translations.

Here is the problem: My client is aiming to change their translation policy and wishes to have only one translation supplier. This means that 1/ either I "beg" the agency to take me on as a sub-contracting translator (thus lowering my prices, to let them make money off my back...needless to say, I don't like that prospect) 2/ I take the risk, and fight to keep working with my client on the basis that my translations are of better quality.

My contact within the company agrees with me and is ready to fight to keep me. But she has informed me that what might happen is that I might end up getting less translation requests. They will probably end up asking the agency FIRST then, when the agencies translators are all overloaded, they'll ask me... We all know translation agencies don't like refusing work... right?

The agency is offering tariffs that are slightly above mine, with reductions according to the volume ordered... This is essentially the backbone of why my client wants to reduce its suppliers... the more volume given, the more they can negotiate the price....

So, what I'd like from my proz colleagues is your advice, do I fight or do I try and play it safe by going through the agency?

This client makes up about 80% of my work... so it's a big, big, big decision!!!

Cynthia


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Egils Turks  Identity Verified
Latvia
Local time: 02:59
English to Latvian
+ ...
Your own team Apr 8, 2010

Cynthia,

Maybe I am shooting wide of the mark but - have you pondered on idea of making your own team of translators to take all the job from your client?
Or, you could start even your own agency!

This might work, unless this is not your cup of tee 'cause this job would be more of an editor's, not translator's.

[Edited at 2010-04-08 10:47 GMT]


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Goran Tasic  Identity Verified
Serbia
Local time: 01:59
English to Serbian
+ ...
Your own team Apr 8, 2010

Make up your own team who can fully cover the volume of translation. According to you, you will need 4-6 people to fully cover the client. This would be a win-win situation, for you and for your client.

Regards


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ibz  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:59
Member (2007)
English to German
+ ...
Build you own team ... Apr 8, 2010

... that's what I thought as well!

Just one thing to consider, though: In my opinion it's very dangerous to depend on one single client for 80% of your work. So I would try to diversify your clientele anyway. Otherwise your client might try to force you to lower your rates, demand impossible deadlines and so on. This situation puts you in a very bad negotiation position.

Good luck!
Irene


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Livia D'Ettorre  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 01:59
Member (2005)
English to Italian
+ ...
Exactly my thought! Apr 8, 2010

Egils Turks wrote:

Cynthia,

Maybe I am shooting wide of the mark but - have you pondered on idea of making your own team of translators to take all the job from your client?
Or, you could start even your own agency!

This might work, unless this is not your cup of tee 'cause this job would be more of an editor's, not translator's.

[Edited at 2010-04-08 10:47 GMT]


Hi Cynthia,

This was the first thing that crossed my mind when I read your e-mail. If the client only wants to deal with one translation provider and they are satisfied with your services, why not give it a try?

Livia


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:59
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Another vote for a team Apr 8, 2010

Heading up a team of equally-good translators with experience in this area could be the way to keep everyone happy.

ibz wrote:
In my opinion it's very dangerous to depend on one single client for 80% of your work. So I would try to diversify your clientele anyway. Otherwise your client might try to force you to lower your rates, demand impossible deadlines and so on.


It doesn't sound as though there's likely to be a problem with relations, but in this economic climate you really have to accept the possibility that your client may go under. If that happens, you'll be left in the position of having very little work coming in for a while. You will in all likelihood lose a lot of money into the bargain.


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Pablo Bouvier  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:59
German to Spanish
+ ...
Dilemma: agency or direct client? Apr 8, 2010

Cynthia Rosenacker wrote:

Hello to you all,

I really don't know how to sum up my problem in less than five words (for the title)...

Here is my situation: I've been translating for a company for over 6 years, as their primary Technical English translator. I am their sub-contractor for French to English translations. The translation volume they have monthly is so enormous that they also use a translation agency when I can't take any more translations. The proportion is about 1 (for me) to 4 (for the agency). (yes, there is a lot of volume...). My client loves working with me because I haven't faltered (yet...) whereas the agency has provided some lower-quality (and even down-right dangerous) translations.

Here is the problem: My client is aiming to change their translation policy and wishes to have only one translation supplier. This means that 1/ either I "beg" the agency to take me on as a sub-contracting translator (thus lowering my prices, to let them make money off my back...needless to say, I don't like that prospect) 2/ I take the risk, and fight to keep working with my client on the basis that my translations are of better quality.

My contact within the company agrees with me and is ready to fight to keep me. But she has informed me that what might happen is that I might end up getting less translation requests. They will probably end up asking the agency FIRST then, when the agencies translators are all overloaded, they'll ask me... We all know translation agencies don't like refusing work... right?

The agency is offering tariffs that are slightly above mine, with reductions according to the volume ordered... This is essentially the backbone of why my client wants to reduce its suppliers... the more volume given, the more they can negotiate the price....

So, what I'd like from my proz colleagues is your advice, do I fight or do I try and play it safe by going through the agency?

This client makes up about 80% of my work... so it's a big, big, big decision!!!

Cynthia



@Cynthia: Create your own translators team and establish strategic alliances as fast as possible. 70% of translation agencies do not deserve to be called so, as they are merely translation brokers who all they do is to eat half or more of your income. Of course, margin is not benefit, but at least you will see some results of your efforts. Doing so, if you stay at your current company you will be able to have all the translation work he has under your control. And, if not, you will be at least prepared to run your own business offering a wider number of services.

You will need the trategic alliances I mentioned before as editors, printers, proofreaders, DTP specialists and so far to be able to provide the same services as a serious translation company. Bear in mind: Good clients want key in hand projects done. They do not lose his time looking for a translator, an editor, a dtp specialist, etc. Good luck!

Addenda: And I agree completely to what IBZ has said before. If you let the situation go more involved as it is now, you will land in a very weak position to negotiate or to negotiate at all.

[Editado a las 2010-04-08 11:21 GMT]


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infact
Local time: 01:59
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
My own team Apr 8, 2010

Thanks everyone!!

I've thought about that, but I'm not willing to manage all their language combinations. I'd be ready to manage the French to English and English to French combinations but I can't read German, Italian, Spanish, or any other language they translate to and I don't want to guarantee the quality of a translation that I can't reread myself... I guess I don't have the "agency" attitude...

I understand that I'll be more of an editor than a translator, and honestly, I love translating but I do have higher aspirations... just not right now!!!!) But I guess if I'm forced to, I will!!!

About the 80% work with one client, I know it's not financially the best way to go, but honestly, my client has the best deadlines, I have the best relationship with them, and they always understand when I get behind... They are really a golden ticket client... and I really don't want to loose them... But I'm afraid the "who cares about the human and lets save money" is going to beat me...


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Rifraf
Local time: 01:59
sure; why not start your own agency? Apr 8, 2010

Goran Tasic wrote:
Make up your own team who can fully cover the volume of translation. According to you, you will need 4-6 people to fully cover the client. This would be a win-win situation, for you and for your client.
Regards


I think the answers here are quite naive. The ease with which people are advicing you to start your own agency or setup your own team is imho of the category; sure, everyone can become a translator!

As soon as you have started your own agency, you will have to compete with the other agency (or even numerous others, as you don't know if your client is sending out a tender for their work to several agencies).

However, let's pressume you have your own agency or team of translators; then your rates would also have to be higher, because you don't work on your own any longer and have to check all the translations of your fellow translators as YOU will be responsible for the overall quality etc. You are responsible for everything; outsourcing the work to your fellow translators, finding backup for translators who can't do the job, providing revision, adminstrative procedures/work etc etc

The real problem that you are faced with now is that you depend on your client for 80% of your work. That's way to much, so you'd better start looking for more clients.

Just "simply" starting your own agency won't do the trick I'm afraid.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 01:59
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Unlike... Apr 8, 2010

Cynthia Rosenacker wrote:
So, what I'd like from my proz colleagues is your advice, do I fight or do I try and play it safe by going through the agency?


Unlike the other answerers here, I think you should chance your luck via the agency, but do your best to ensure that the agency is aware that you are the client's preferred translator. Don't be surprised if your pay drops by half.


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Klementina Shahini
United States
Local time: 19:59
Member (2009)
English to Albanian
+ ...
Agree ... Build your own team Apr 8, 2010

Years ago I encountered exactly the same problem, the same situation you are in today. I did not want to create a translation agency because my primary job was teaching English (that I think I cannot live without it) and creating an agency meant more time and dedication to the agency, not enough time for teaching. So I decided to create a team which is still working perfectly. I have been doing this for several years and I know that this coming fall I will need to welcome more people on the team because of two big project we are ready to start.If the company is really happy with the quality of your translations, I am pretty sure it will work with you.

Best wishes,

Klemi


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Pablo Bouvier  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:59
German to Spanish
+ ...
Dilemma: agency or direct client? Apr 8, 2010

Rifraf wrote:

Goran Tasic wrote:
Make up your own team who can fully cover the volume of translation. According to you, you will need 4-6 people to fully cover the client. This would be a win-win situation, for you and for your iclient.
Regards


I think the answers here are quite naive. The ease with which people are advicing you to start your own agency or setup your own team is imho of the category; sure, everyone can become a translator!

As soon as you have started your own agency, you will have to compete with the other agency (or even numerous others, as you don't know if your client is sending out a tender for their work to several agencies).

However, let's pressume you have your own agency or team of translators; then your rates would also have to be higher, because you don't work on your own any longer and have to check all the translations of your fellow translators as YOU will be responsible for the overall quality etc. You are responsible for everything; outsourcing the work to your fellow translators, finding backup for translators who can't do the job, providing revision, adminstrative procedures/work etc etc

The real problem that you are faced with now is that you depend on your client for 80% of your work. That's way to much, so you'd better start looking for more clients.

Just "simply" starting your own agency won't do the trick I'm afraid.


Better to compete as to go to the unemployment office. And it is not so difficult to manage a translators team if you have a minimum of sagacity, responsability and economic sense. To give you an example, STAR (the current distributor of Transit) began in Spain in a business incubator with one single person. He did alone all the work you describe at your post and more during many years. Ask him how many in-house and freelancers he manage today.

I feel that those who bet here to create a translators team, are not precisely the same one who fear the competition. Of course translation business has business risk, but no more nor less as any other business.


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Susan van den Ende  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 01:59
English to Dutch
+ ...
Two different jobs Apr 8, 2010

Creating a team - or rather, many teams since the client also needs other languages - sounds simple, but isn't. It's a big decision and you'll end up spending more time on management than on translation. Which is great if you're into that, but like some of the other posters already said: don't put all your eggs in one basket. Not as a translator, and certainly not as an agency.

I think that in your shoes, I would either go with Samuel's advice (play it through the agency) or perhaps suggest another, more trusted, agency to your client and try and work with them. Considering the fact that the agency has been delivering sub-standard quality at times, your client might be open to that approach.

Good luck!


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xxxNMR
France
Local time: 01:59
French to Dutch
+ ...
Another opinion Apr 8, 2010

It is well-known that a translator who builds a team doesn't translate anymore but becomes a manager. It's up to you, but this is a choice: do you like translating or managing people?
Financially speaking, will this be subcontracting or an informal structure of individuals who each do things on their own? In the first case, does your legal status allow you to subcontract? And if so, do you have enough colleagues who will be willing to work at a price lower than yours? (you will have to take risks). In the second case, can there be any problems of incompatibilité d'humeur?

I advise you (I have had this problem, but only for a small part of my activities) to communicate openly with both parties and to look for, and to take on, other projects for other clients immediately. 80% of your income is too risky; your best client should not exceed 30% of your turnover. And besides this situation could be considered as a disguised employment relationship.

[Modifié le 2010-04-08 13:49 GMT]


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:59
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Approach another agency - good idea Apr 8, 2010

Susan van den Ende wrote:
Creating a team - or rather, many teams since the client also needs other languages - sounds simple, but isn't.


I imagined we were just talking of the French to English pair here. Certainly, multiple language, including ones that you are not familiar with, is a full-blown agency.

perhaps suggest another, more trusted, agency to your client and try and work with them.


Now that sounds to me to be a viable alternative I hadn't considered. If you do your preferred agency the favour of introducing a client, you can undoubtedly arrange better terms.

Mind you, don't expect any more work for the agency they use now.

NMR wrote:
Financially speaking, will this be subcontracting or an informal structure of individuals who each do things on their own? In the first case, does your legal status allow you to subcontract? And if so, do you have enough colleagues who will be willing to work at a price lower than yours? (you will have to take risks).


I imagine you are "profession libérale", Cynthia - in which case, you don't have the right to make a profit from sub-contracting, but you can find translators to do the work for a little less and then add an additional small sum for proofreading when you invoice your client. There's another recent thread on this, probably in the French forum.


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