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New theory about some of those "rates"
Thread poster: Kaiya J. Diannen

Kaiya J. Diannen  Identity Verified
Australia
Member (2008)
German to English
Apr 12, 2010

I don't often post here, and I am quite aware that the subject of "low rates" is so hackneyed as to be downright boring. I don't even read half of them myself.

But just today a new theory popped into my head. I have no proof for it, but I thought I might throw it out there and see if anyone else thinks it's plausible.

I very occasionally work for an agency client - a certain large multinational corporation headquartered in New York - which typically sends out mass mailings about projects to an undisclosed and presumably long list of translators all at once. Occasionally there are personally addressed eMails, and I know the names of most of the PMs in my fields.

Recently, however, I have been receiving very flattering, personally addressed eMails from *new* PMs ("My colleagues have highly recommended you", "You have a reputation for high quality"), but these offers have been the lowest I have ever seen from this company. (Today's joy: a 4800 word .pdf file, not pre-formatted, due in approx 36 hours for the overwhelming sum of USD $210).

Usually (for mails addressed only to me), I fire off a very brief reply with an example of my actual price, tell them no thank you and good luck.

What is strange is that these new PM's actually write back with more flattery ("I would really like to work with you, Janet") and offer to increase the price they are willing to pay - but only by some absolutely negligible amount (Today: The big raise from $210 to $240, even after I explained that the original amount was less than half of what I would charge).

This is when I came up with my new theory: I hypothesize that the NEW PMs are not being told AT ALL by their own company about what a translation should reasonably entail and cost (time and money-wise), and that they are ONLY being told they get to pocket the margin.

It sounds kind of obvious when I type it out that way, but the seasoned PMs don't really try this flattery-for-peanuts trick, they seem to know better.

What do you think?


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Giuseppina Gatta, MA (Hons)
Member (2005)
English to Italian
+ ...
I have another idea Apr 12, 2010

Some PM get a percentage on translators, so this might be the case, i.e. trying to make as much money as they can from you. I cannot believe they don't have a clue about rates. It would not be a very good business practice.

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Christine Tomei  Identity Verified
United States
Italian to English
+ ...
I found this thought Apr 12, 2010

I checked a link at www.glassdoor.com with comments from project managers on a certain large translation company based in NYC. I found this comment:

Workload/Compensation - bonuses are reflection of money saved/not spent rather than quality work or overtime spent on work (rather than an incentive to put in occasional overtime hours to produce good work resulting in bonuses, the incentive is to merely to spend less money on projects usually resulting in cheap, less-than-desirable outsourced linguist teams instead of more reliable, better qualified linguist teams). Quarterly production "parties" are not adequate compensation for the extensive hours put in by production teams.
- Quality Assurance - as thorough as mentioned above, is most likely a result of trying to save money and refusal to pay more expensive linguists who are usually the best linguists in the industry
- Profit Driven Company - understandable in any industry, but all decisions and new initiatives on the production side (ideas to cut costs, drive down rates, etc) are put in place to reduce external spending on jobs while sales translation rates for clients don't reflect said savings.


My sense is that all aspects of the business currently devolve to the bottom line.


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Kaiya J. Diannen  Identity Verified
Australia
Member (2008)
German to English
TOPIC STARTER
Good business or profit? Apr 12, 2010

Giuseppina Gatta, MA (Hons) wrote:
I cannot believe they don't have a clue about rates. It would not be a very good business practice.


But why let good business practice interfere with profit? This is what I'm thinking:

If I'm a new PM and my company indicates to me that with the right approach, I might be able to "buy" a translation for $100 (which the company will then turn around and "sell" to its client for $200 - and I will get a %), then I will be trying to "buy" a translation starting at $100.

But if the company told me the truth - that I'm more likely to be able to "buy" a translation for $150 or more, that this will make my job faster and easier and I will have less to correct later, it seems logical I'm more likely to start trying to "buy" at $150 instead.

But If I do... that means the company makes a lower profit. So it could potentially be a "better business practice" for the company NOT to give that information to me (the new, ignorant PM) and let me try to "buy" the translation at $100.

Dastardly, no?


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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 01:27
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
They cannot sell at $200 what they buy at $150 Apr 12, 2010

They would go out of business overnight with that narrow margin.

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Benno Groeneveld  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:27
English to Dutch
+ ...
If they have their back against the wall Apr 13, 2010

they sometimes will negotiate.
I assume we're all talking about the same company. On Saturday I received a call from a PM, offering the customary low rate. When I said I don't work for less than double what they were offering, the PM got back to me and agreed with my rate. Their fancy invoicing system even accepted the invoice with the new rate.
They must have been desparate.
But why are they among the few agencies that insist on these insanely short turnaround time? Companies that pay even more than this company, usually allow a translator a decent amount of time. And apparently also make enough money to stay in business.
Interesting, the website mentioned earlier shows that a technical translator and a PM Korean make the lowest salaries!
They may be among the biggest, but one wonders how long they can continue to make money.
And, if we're all talking about the same big international company: I worked with the CEO back in the days when the CEO was a poor student and translator living in cheap student housing. Apparently the CEO forgot the past!

[Edited at 2010-04-13 00:28 GMT]


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Kaiya J. Diannen  Identity Verified
Australia
Member (2008)
German to English
TOPIC STARTER
Backs and walls and fresh blood Apr 13, 2010

Benno Groeneveld wrote:
they sometimes will negotiate.


Not sure if we're talking about the same company*, but yes, I agree, the "old" PMs will often negotiate when they have their backs against the wall, but that's not my point.

What I've noticed is that only the new PMs seem to be trying this vanity-over-reason appeal, and just recently, it is only the new PMs writing this particular kind of personally addressed eMail - as if the old PMs know something (what can be expected and what can not) that the new PMs just don't.


- - - -
*given your mention of the short turnaround times it seems we are, although the PO and invoicing system for the company I'm thinking of seems to be readily adjustable as long as you haven't billed them yet

[Edited at 2010-04-13 04:14 GMT]


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Laurent KRAULAND  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 01:27
French to German
+ ...
Overall rating of this company Apr 13, 2010

Christine Tomei wrote:

I checked a link at www.glassdoor.com with comments from project managers on a certain large translation company based in NYC. (...)


Thanks for the link to GlassDoor, Christine.

The overall rating of this company by its own employees (5 entries so far) is 2.4/5. Would any of us even bother reading their emails if this rating were the BB's one?

EFT

[Edited at 2010-04-13 07:30 GMT]


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Jessica Noyes  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:27
Spanish to English
+ ...
A trend Apr 13, 2010

I have noticed this very recent trend with the new PMs also. I would be interested to know more about how these people are compensated. (Although I don't want to hijack your thread.) It seems like it could be a very stressful situation to work in.

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Arianne Farah  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 19:27
Member (2008)
English to French
All the time Apr 13, 2010

@Janet

We might be getting the same e-mails - I've seen job offers from an agency I work for at 40% of the rate I charge them with the same MO - new names, ultra low rates! I always answer that I would be glad to help out at my standard rate and never budge (not even by 0.005 cents anymore - by cutting down the negotiating to zero I've saved SO much time!!! it's frustrating spending 30 minutes back and forth-ing over what amounts to pennies or dollars in the short run but thousands in the long run once precedent is set). I've found that these projects tend to not be picked up (glad to know my invisible colleague/competitors think the same way I do) and with the deadline fast approaching, my rate, which is sometimes more than double that suggested is more often than not accepted

You can't blame 'em for trying Also I've facebook searched a few of the PMs I work with and they're all fresh grads so it's probably a pretty low paying jobs, at least out in the trenches. That also explains the high turnover. And if they do get savings-based bonuses it explains why newbies try to maximize them by offering lower rates - more experienced PMs know that they'll simply get stuck trying to place the file and have to stay late at the office or use a translator from the B or C list and risk a complaint Also the experienced PMs know me & my rates and simply send projects that they know I'll take - it's just a matter of deadlines and my work load.

But even when offered ridiculous rates I always answer positively and cheerfully and offer help (per my terms) if ever assistance is still required I've found a good attitude will win you many converts... on a side note I've seen astonishingly rude e-mails on which I was cced from freelancers to PMs midst-project so I do take pity on them a bit - they're stuck between a rock and a hard place.


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Arianne Farah  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 19:27
Member (2008)
English to French
And thanks for the website :-) Apr 13, 2010

And thank you for the glassdoor website! It's great!

Just checked the site: Yup, definitely the same agency I have a great working relationship with them though and my rates fall between the ones on your profile so we're probably in the same situation - I've experienced no loss of work volume based on rates - if the budget won't allow them then I simply turn it down - I have other clients with longer deadlines to fill in the lulls + I've found the PMs cannibalize each other and whoever is most desperate to go home will find the necessary pennies (slightly evil of my part to write it so bluntly especially since they might follow Proz forums... Hi! )

But this only works because all the other translators in my language pair are also sticking to their guns... it's the prisoner's dilemma - if we both support each other we both win but if one of us falters we both lose, whether it's by a little or by a lot. It's as simple as that. If translators in my language pair start accepting work at vastly inferior rates to obtain volume, my volume will dry up and I'll be forced to cut my rates to regain my volume at which point we'll be exactly where we all started but at lower pay - it's a lose/lose long-term situation, no matter how much you gain in the short term by lowering your rates a little.

Edited after consulting the website.


[Edited at 2010-04-13 06:18 GMT]


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Kaiya J. Diannen  Identity Verified
Australia
Member (2008)
German to English
TOPIC STARTER
The trend Apr 13, 2010

@ Jessica: I don't see any hijacking I am of course curious we well...

@ Arianne: I really appreciate your posts. I have found it quite amusing to see the "URGENT HELP NEEDED!" eMails rolling in lately, and yes, it does give me a sort of Schadenfreude-style satisfaction Just so you know, I stick to my guns too - I'm not about to lend support to the downward slide in rates.

@Christine, Laurent & everyone RE Glassdoor: I see now, very awesome... but have pity on me, I only just figured out how to get to the juicy information there


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Sherey Gould  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:27
German to English
same all the way around, but with a twist at the end! Apr 13, 2010

Same agency and same language pair as you, Janet - I'm guessing it was the same job today, too, based on the same word count, pdf format and same initial offer of $210!
I do have a standard response which is very polite but firmly states that I initially negotiated a special *reduced* rate with this agency back in 2003 and have not raised it in all these years, so unfortunately this rate now currently offered, which is almost a third less of what was initially negotiated, would not be economically viable for me, given the amount of work I receive at my normal rates (and luckily I have about 85% direct clients).
Sometimes I really would like to be more curt and abrasive, but that's just not my style. If I'm having a really bad day, rather than roll my eyes or get all worked up about it, I simply just don't respond/delete.
Today's experience was like yours where they came back with a "better" offer... unlike yours, it was upped to $270.... however it was addressed to someone completely different (actually the first name of one of my favorite authors, and not even my gender!)
Kinda makes me wonder whether the PMs have varying levels of "standard responses" themselves!
Although I don't write much in these forums or even peruse them very often, I just wanted to say that I stand firmly behind standing up for our worth. It's hard, I guess, at times (like when the economy is down), but then again... I think quality does shine through in the end. And last year, the height of the economic troubles, I gained two new (direct) clients by word-of-mouth from existing ones. True, the agencies will always be looking to increase their cut, but I also think with the ease of the internet, companies that would never dream of going international take those first steps and there will be more direct clients to enjoy a *mutually*-beneficial relationship with.
It's like the hotline I paid for when I had computer/router problems last week. Talking to someone across the globe, although relatively cheap, returned a less-than-satisfactory outcome. So I called in a local professional - more expensive, but problem solved.
I *have* to think professionals will come back to professionals in the end.
But now I'm just starting to rehash almost every single post related to rates here.
And I'm tired.
So good nite, and may be Inbox be filled with more appropriate offers tomorrow!


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Sonia Hill
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:27
Italian to English
Same experience Apr 13, 2010

I've been receiving a lot of these personalised "flattering" emails recently too. I always try to reply politely, stating my actual rate (usually around double what they are offering). They generally get back to me saying the job has already been placed or their budget is too low, but on the odd occasion they have sent me another job at my proper rate and with a reasonable deadline. They are well aware of what a decent translation should cost in my opinion, but there is a lot of pressure to pay as little as possible and I'm sure there must be some bonuses involved.

I think they are having real problems placing proofreading jobs at the moment, as there seem to be a lot of them and I receive multiple emails about the same job. I don't do them anymore as the quality is generally quite poor and it isn't worth my while. Other translators must be refusing too for the same reason.

What does annoy me is when they send me translations completely outside my areas of expertise. I have told them time and again that I don't translate legal and financial texts.

The glassdoor website makes for some very interesting reading. I hadn't heard of it before.


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Arianne Farah  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 19:27
Member (2008)
English to French
just bumpin' Apr 14, 2010

I would like to keep this thread on the top 2 pages for the next few days I'm interested in who else has seen these e-mails and this trend float by

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