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What would you expect from a translation agency?
Thread poster: Trisha F

Trisha F  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:32
English to Spanish
+ ...
May 16, 2013

In an ideal world, what sort of translation company would you like to work for? How satisfied are translators and how do they feel about working with agencies?

I, for starters would like project managers to send projects to me a bit more often, instead of sending them to other ten people at the same time to see who answers first, for example. If I answer a half hour later the job is lost. I find that frankly ridiculous.

Any more thoughts?


[Edited at 2013-05-16 03:47 GMT]


 

Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:32
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
Objection not always justified May 16, 2013

I know agencies tend to describe everything as urgent regardless of whether it is or not, but if you are a dealing with Project Manager who has a translation which really is extremely urgent, you can't expect him to call you alone, maybe you take an hour or so to reply, turning it down, then the process has to be repeated with another translator, and it may take hours to find someone to take it on. It doesn't seem unreasonable to me to send to several translators at once and accept the first suitable one.

 

svenfrade  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 11:32
French to German
+ ...
Yes, but... May 16, 2013

Jack Doughty wrote:

I know agencies tend to describe everything as urgent regardless of whether it is or not, but if you are a dealing with Project Manager who has a translation which really is extremely urgent, you can't expect him to call you alone, maybe you take an hour or so to reply, turning it down, then the process has to be repeated with another translator, and it may take hours to find someone to take it on. It doesn't seem unreasonable to me to send to several translators at once and accept the first suitable one.


In that case it would be perfectly understandable, but often a job is not that urgent but PMs still send emails that seem to be personal but are in fact mass emails. In that case I wish they would make that clear, but I used to think that when I received an email addressing me personally by name that they actually wanted me to do the job. Now I know that this is not necessarily the case, unless the emails come from some of my preferred agencies.

My preferred agencies are those that treat their translators with respect and build a lasting business relationship with them and don't treat them like anonymous, replaceable "service providers".

So what I expect from an agency is basically reliablity, fairness and respect.


 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:32
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Absurd indeed May 16, 2013

Trisha F wrote:
I, for starters would like project managers to send projects to me a bit more often, instead of sending them to other ten people at the same time to see who answers first, for example. If I answer a half hour later the job is lost. I find that frankly ridiculous.

I entirely agree: a firm I used to work for started doing that, and the result after just a few months is that their translation memories were so plagued with inaccurate or plain incorrect translations that it was no longer profitable to work for them. Every time I got a job from them, I spent half of the time fixing mistakes in the memories. I had to drop them altogether.

Agencies should be more concerned with working with the conscious translator(s) who produce what their customers want, instead of being worried about assigning every job in five minutes. But it is their choice and their risk: if they decide to follow that path, what they will get is more and more good translators dropping them, so they are ultimately doomed in my opinion.

And on the other hand, we translators should be more ready to stretch a bit and accept all (or most) jobs from a group of regular customers, so that they do not have to worry that their preferred translators will not be available and run into these wild ideas of multi-offering jobs.


 

Jennifer Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:32
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
What I expect from an agency? May 16, 2013

I expect an agency to find clients - and suitable work - for me.
I expect an agency to agree reasonable terms and conditions, provide sufficient information about the job and pay me on time.
It should be so simple. Sometimes it isn't.


[Edited at 2013-05-16 09:00 GMT]


 

Marie-Helene Dubois  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:32
Member (2011)
Spanish to English
+ ...
I expect agencies to May 16, 2013

1) Find clients
2) Offer regular work at reasonable rates and with reasonable payment terms
3) Resolve any client conflicts or disputes without involving me if the conflict and/or dispute does not concern me or if the client is simply wrong or misguided
4) Come back to me on any terminology queries in a timely manner or at least attempt to obtain a response from the client
5) Understand that I am a translator and not necessarily a graphic designer predisposed to meet unreasonable formatting requirements for no additional payment
6) Keep commitments
7) Communicate in a professional manner
8) Have my work proofread


For all of this, I am prepared to accept a lower rate than that I would charge a direct client


 

Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 12:32
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Agencies compete too May 16, 2013

I don't like it either to be mass-mailed, but I understand that the end-clients often contact many agencies and assign the job to the one who agrees first. Even if I'm the only one the agency contacts and I respond right away it often takes hours or days before they know the job is really assigned to them.
I like agencies who have interesting jobs and are not too concerned about what tool I use.


 

LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:32
Russian to English
+ ...
Professionalism May 16, 2013

That at least some of the company management had linguistic education and spoke two languages well, or more, of course.

That all of the company workers understood the very details of the translator's profession -- including what type of education translators usually have, the complexity of translation skills, the capabilities -- how many words a translator can translate well within a day.

As to payments -- they should be realistic, and not make fun of themselves, with rates lower sometimes than the rates for data entry.

They should not use words like: we require this, we want you to do this, we are only paying this -- such language gives me the impression right away that the agency is rude and very unprofessional -- it has no respect for highly specialized individuals, or anybody else.


 

Andriy Yasharov  Identity Verified
Ukraine
Local time: 12:32
Member (2008)
English to Russian
+ ...
Deadlines matter too May 16, 2013

Marie-Helene Dubois wrote:

1) Find clients
2) Offer regular work at reasonable rates and with reasonable payment terms
3) Resolve any client conflicts or disputes without involving me if the conflict and/or dispute does not concern me or if the client is simply wrong or misguided
4) Come back to me on any terminology queries in a timely manner or at least attempt to obtain a response from the client
5) Understand that I am a translator and not necessarily a graphic designer predisposed to meet unreasonable formatting requirements for no additional payment
6) Keep commitments
7) Communicate in a professional manner
8) Have my work proofread


I would add that reasonable deadlines play an important part too. If the project is not too urgent I might offer a discount.

[Edited at 2013-05-16 10:04 GMT]


 

Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:32
English to German
+ ...
I expect an agency to train their new PMs properly May 16, 2013

It is crucial to make new hires learn a little bit about the company's most valuable asset: their Human Capital, i.e. their translator pool. Apparently newbies are allowed to shoot out jobs blindly and at their own discretion while ruining business relations due to disgruntling both, the go-to and proven translators as well as their end-clients.

If the newbie-PM keeps sending out medical texts to marketing translators, which of course will be routinely declined, the business relation will die off. If their marketing translator routinely receives requests for editing marketing texts translated by tech or medical translators, the translator will routinely refuse to play the cleaning woman for the delivered crap and the business relation will die off.
One single clueless and ignorant PM who is assigned with one of the agency's oldest clients because it is comfy routine and everything went so easy and smoothly throughout all those years is capable of ruining the entire shop.

I have encountered more than 15 generations of PMs at one single agency client. With each generation of new hires it gets worse. Does anyone still have a clue of proper management these days???


 

Philippe Etienne  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:32
Member
English to French
hot swappable resources May 16, 2013

Nicole Schnell wrote:
...I have encountered more than 15 generations of PMs at one single agency client....

Management nowadays is about streamlining, cost efficiencies, lean production and 6 sigma. PMs become swappable resources, just like translators. All this people can be replaced with monkeys or asses, provided that the job they do is sliced finely enough by smart theorists into elemental one-step tasks that they are able to perform: open email client - click distribution list - attach source doc.

And translations are guaranteed against any defect in material or workmanship, backed by a 5in-thick contract prepared by the legal dpt and approved by the finance dpt.

If only common sense became the norm instead!

Philippe


 

José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 06:32
English to Portuguese
+ ...
You should spell it out... May 16, 2013

Marie-Hélène, considering the way I've seen a number of translation agencies operate, your perfectly valid points behoove additional explanation.

By the way, in my spare time I began writing a book on translation agency sustainability, based on world-class vendor management. At first, I thought it would be just another of my articles, however I am on chapter 3 already, and I don't think I've scratched the surface yet. I saw some comments on too much material having been written for translators, and too little for translation agencies.

Marie-Helene Dubois wrote:
1) Find clients

Though it seems an obvious need to stay in business, too many agencies apparently think that merely bragging about their unbeatable low rates, 24/7 service, and fastest turnaround on their web site will cause prospects to swarm in with translation jobs.

Marie-Helene Dubois wrote:
2) Offer regular work at reasonable rates and with reasonable payment terms

Regular work stems from actively seeking sustainable clients and keeping them happy every time, all the time.

Regarding rates, an agency shouldn't "offer" rates; they should know what your rates are, and what kind and level of services you offer, to match end-client requests to the most suitable translator they know.

Payment terms go together. They should be concerned with interest rates (after all, payment terms are all about a private loan) in the country where the translator is, in order to offer their end-clients the best deal possible.

Otherwise the end-client doesn't need an agency.

Elaborating a bit on payment terms, as many people may be unaware, for instance, interest rates in Brazil, Egypt, etc. are several times those in the Euro zone, and even more those in the USA. It's silly to get a loan from a high-interest country.

Marie-Helene Dubois wrote:
3) Resolve any client conflicts or disputes without involving me if the conflict and/or dispute does not concern me or if the client is simply wrong or misguided

Definitely. The agency may tap on the selected translator's expertise to provide the client technical guidance, but they should solve all such issues beforehand.

On another front, it's up to the agency to carry out due diligence on the end-client's credit, and take full accountability to keep the translator immune from any delay or default. To make it clear, yes, I mean full payment on time as agreed.

Marie-Helene Dubois wrote:
4) Come back to me on any terminology queries in a timely manner or at least attempt to obtain a response from the client

That's one of the major reasons why the agency is there, in-between, especially if there is more than one translator, possibly working on different language pairs.

Marie-Helene Dubois wrote:
5) Understand that I am a translator and not necessarily a graphic designer predisposed to meet unreasonable formatting requirements for no additional payment

The agency's expertise converts the end-client's request into a detailed order. The end-client may not be aware that translation is all (and only) about TEXT. If they ask their full-color illustrations-rich brochure to be 'translated', this will probably involve DTP as well. If they want a video 'translated', it's likely that it will involve dubbing or subtitling.

Marie-Helene Dubois wrote:
6) Keep commitments

Definitely, however this applies to any business.

Marie-Helene Dubois wrote:
7) Communicate in a professional manner

Unfortunately, this is too vague. Some people have a warped vision of 'professionalism', others may consider their mission as being a professional pain for their suppliers. Let's leave the lengthy discussion aside here.

Marie-Helene Dubois wrote:
8) Have my work proofread

Machine translation has taken over the function of merely file-pushing translation agencies. These should either change or vanish in the near future.

Bottom line is that each agency should strive to become each end-client's first choice for translation services. Meanwhile, each translator should strive to become each agency's first choice for the services (i.e. language pairs and other stuff) they offer. To close the loop, each agency should strive to become each of their first-choice translator's first choice upon setting priorities. This is what I'm writing about in that book about sustainability.

The problem is that the more I think about it in detail, the more of it I put it into practice. As a result, I'm getting more and more translation requests, which leaves me less free time to write about it.

Marie-Helene Dubois wrote:
For all of this, I am prepared to accept a lower rate than that I would charge a direct client


An important point is to consider value instead of merely rates.

For instance, one of my latest jobs was translating and subtitling half a dozen videos, which were - to simplify here - not such a universal-format files. While my rates may be possibly higher than many other providers, yesterday I delivered six universally playable DVDs that look and sound great on a 40" screen. While they paid me a bit more, the client won't be spending their staff's time fumbling with computers at showtime, as they'll just have to insert the disk and hit 'play'.

Agencies seeking the 'best rates' and nothing else will become gradually less sustainable.


 

Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:32
English to German
+ ...
Streamlining, cost efficiency, lean production and 6 sigma are great tools - when applied properly May 16, 2013

Philippe Etienne wrote:
Management nowadays is about streamlining, cost efficiencies, lean production and 6 sigma. PMs become swappable resources, just like translators. All this people can be replaced with monkeys or asses, provided that the job they do is sliced finely enough by smart theorists into elemental one-step tasks that they are able to perform: open email client - click distribution list - attach source doc.


That is indeed the current state. Unfortunately.

Taking a closer look, all those good intentions that look great on paper are worth a rodent's behind, if those requirements and management tools are interpreted as:

- Streamlining = Getting things done in a rush
- Cost Efficiency = Getting things done as cheap as possible
- Lean Production = Put in as little effort as possible
- Six Sigma = Have all kinds of cool QA software thingies do the job

Which leads to:

translations are guaranteed against any defect in material or workmanship, backed by a 5in-thick contract prepared by the legal dpt and approved by the finance dpt.


Which is why I sign this one:

If only common sense became the norm instead!


 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 11:32
English to Polish
+ ...
A reasonable ideal May 16, 2013

Trisha F wrote:

In an ideal world, what sort of translation company would you like to work for? How satisfied are translators and how do they feel about working with agencies?

I, for starters would like project managers to send projects to me a bit more often, instead of sending them to other ten people at the same time to see who answers first, for example. If I answer a half hour later the job is lost. I find that frankly ridiculous.

Any more thoughts?


[Edited at 2013-05-16 03:47 GMT]


In a reasonably ideal world, an agency would:

– ensure professional proofreading with no false positives,
– take responsibility for the final product (a translator alone should not be responsible for millions in liability attaching to a final product),
– educate the end client on its own (e.g. in-house translators explain advanced subjunctives or conditionals to a curious and a little incredulous B1/B2 client),
– screen and stop all end-client proofs or reviews that are wrong,
– be courteous or friendly or both but never neither,
– pay decently and remember that translators must earn money too,
– obviously no entrapment clauses in contracts and no lying about fee division,
– show some interest in closely co-operating external translators' professional development, relying on the opportunities an agency has (esp. a larger one) that a translator doesn't really.

A trimmed down and more reasonable version:

– keep false positives to a minimum, while realising they hurt the translator's feelings (even legal translators have feelings) and also means unpaid time responding to something that shouldn't really be taking place,
– take responsibility for the final product in so far as possible or at least within a reasonable liability structure, e.g. insurance covering external translators (been there done that), certainly no requirement for the translator to defend & hold harmless the agency from any lawsuits as a condition of getting work (that's pathetic and unmanly),
– screen and stop amateur proofing or bad reviewing by clients (it's especially unprofessional of linguists to forward such things to other linguists),
– at least not be rude or disrespectful (everybody has a bad day but not every day),
– pay decently and remember than translators work for profit too,
– no unconscionable clauses or rude, one-sided language in standard contracts (too much of that lately), just go and get insurance (translators don't have that kind of money anyway) and sign up for martial arts training,
– don't be too soft on corporate clients (esp. hardball negotiators or penny pinchers or anybody out of touch with reality) with the end resulting being tough on the translator,
– cut down on the Friday evening due Monday thing (esp. if your reviewer won't touch it before Wednesday),
– no stuff like cutting up a translation into 100 pieces to make it cheaper or anything equally silly,
– no auctioning off of jobs to the lowest fee bidder, either,
– keep called-off unpaid booking of translator time to a minimum,
– be honest with your clients; your external translators can read your website, and they know how things work in your agency in reality,
– absolutely no use of non-compete clauses to put a freelance translator out of competition without actually giving him more than 1 short job that involves that particular end client whom you want to grab for yourself.

@Nicole: I've been tempted to reduce contracts to, "Everybody shall act like a reasonable person in all things."

[Edited at 2013-05-16 13:11 GMT]

[Edited at 2013-05-17 01:46 GMT]

[Edited at 2013-05-17 01:49 GMT]


 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:32
Member (2008)
Italian to English
What to expect May 16, 2013

Trisha F wrote:

In an ideal world, what sort of translation company would you like to work for?


My two favourite translation agencies:

(a) are very friendly and professional
(b) pay me my preferred rate
(c) give me regular work
(d) pay without needing to be reminded
(e) defend me when, occasionally, some controversy arises about the quality of my work.

This is my ideal world, and I have it with these two agencies. I wish they were all like that !

(P.S. it goes without saying that although I always do my best work for everyone, these agencies always get that little bit of extra effort. And for them I am more than willing to meet tight deadlines, work at weekends, occasionally do little freebies, etc. So my message to the agencies is: you get what you pay for)

[Edited at 2013-05-16 14:27 GMT]


 
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