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What matters to you as a freelancer?
Thread poster: William Wallace
William Wallace
Spain
Local time: 23:54
Oct 3, 2013

Hello, everyone,

This is my first post on the board, having just joined.

I am setting up a translation agency in Western Europe. We are about to launch on the market, but before doing so, I wanted to ask you about what you think makes an agency good or bad.

Obviously, economic issues are likely to be a top concern, such as rates and reliability in payment. But assuming we are honest and fairly priced, what else might make you prefer working with one agency over another?

And some specific questions:
- Have you ever provided support to the end-user of a translation in order to use it in a public speaking environment, or been asked to do so?
- Do you think it important to specialize in a subject matter, or do you feel a translator should be able to 'do it all,' within reason?
- What is your opinion on formatting? Should fairly simple Word and similar documents be returned fully formatted in the target language? Should extra be charged? How much in your area would be right?

I greatly appreciate any feedback on the above, or on related ideas I failed to mention. My goal is to design our relation with all freelancers in a way that builds trust and loyalty, and adds value anytime I can find a way to do so.

Thanks,
William
Barcelona


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Antonio Arizcun  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 23:54
Member (2013)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Oportunities for beginners Oct 3, 2013

Hi William and welcome to the proz.com community,

I am a beginning translator who is finding it very hard to get an opportunity to prove outsourcers I am a good translator. Everybody seems to want experience, which is understandable but in my opinion beginner does not necessarily equate poor quality. In my case, I have a Masters in translation and have been living in the UK for ten years, working in a number of managerial roles and I believe this experience is relevant to my translation skills. One thing which is great in the UK market is the fact that there are opportunities for young / inexperienced people which is something generally not happening in Spain. I think giving an opportunity to talented, relatively inexperienced translators would be a fantastic way to build a fruitful and "loyal" relationship with freelancers. That would also probably make you stand out since you would have a USP which other outsources wouldn't. I am not trying to sell my services here but rather talking about a big number of people who are in the same situation as I am.

What do other colleagues think?

Regards,

Antonio


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:54
Russian to English
+ ...
What makes a translation seem good to a translator are the Oct 3, 2013

following qualities:
- reasonable demands
- individual approach
- high quality of texts for translation -- not total nonsense texts, three times retranslated form other languages
- reasonable rates
- reasonable deadlines
- no specific CAT tools required (although a translator may use a tool of his or her choice, if they find it helpful )
- no discounts for repetitions (unless the whole blocks of texts are being repeated in an identical form)
- friendly, knowledgeable management, who knows something about languages, and the process of translation
-payments within 30 days
This is it for now. I don't think the expectations are too high, wouldn't you agree?

As to your question two -- yes a translator should specialize, but an agency does not have to since they can hire many different translators for specific jobs.

Whether the document should be fully formated when handed in to a translation company -- no, definitely not. It should be in a nice form, spell-checked, but not necessarily in the form the translation company would like to see in the end. A person responsible for the esthetic side of translations, should give it the final brush.


[Edited at 2013-10-03 18:43 GMT]


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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 23:54
Spanish to English
+ ...
Where to begin? Oct 3, 2013

"But assuming we are honest and fairly priced, what else might make you prefer working with one agency over another?"

- The knowledge that they appreciate that I do have other clients and can't just drop everything to take whatever "urgent" job they happen to have going. It would be nice if from time to time they would try to get the message across to their own clients that translation shouldn't be an afterthought. What I want is realistic deadlines. And I hate when they all insist on Trados too.

Specific questions:
- Have you ever provided support to the end-user of a translation in order to use it in a public speaking environment, or been asked to do so?
- Yes, I had to coach a politician once; it was quite funny because hs grasp of English was rudimentary at best and his delivery was really bad. I prepared a script for him with pauses, stresses and intonation marked, which helped quite a bit. It is more than likely that no one was listening to his speech anyway, as I think they handed out a synopsis.
- Do you think it important to specialize in a subject matter? - Perhaps, but not everyone is the same and I for one am certainly happier working in several fields, although I now concentrate on 3 or 4 main areas.
- ... or do you feel a translator should be able to 'do it all,' within reason? - Not "do it all", but at least to have a reasonable level of general knowledge pertaining to their source and target language cultures and specific knowledge of their working areas.
- What is your opinion on formatting? - Personally, I don't consider formatting as falling withing my remit, especially when the clients want the texts back in a hurry, which is 90% of the time. I always try to get my clients to accept this and they usually fall into line.
Should fairly simple Word and similar documents be returned fully formatted in the target language? - It depends on how much time will need to be spent on it.
Should extra be charged? - Ditto.
How much in your area would be right? - If it takes me an hour to format the document, I'd charge them at my hourly rate, which is more or less the same as I pay my mechanic or other tradesmen for their services.


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Simon Chiassai  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 23:54
English to French
+ ...
a good relationship Oct 3, 2013

Hi William, welcome on Proz

I have worked as a PM in an agency before and I am now a freelancer. There are many factors that come into play, but if you want the most important points, here is my top 5:

5. Give young translators a chance
I am a young translator, and I am extremely loyal to the clients who gave me a shot while they could have easily gone with somebody else. I appreciate the confidence and try be as helpful as possible. As Antonio said, young doesn't mean bad. In my time as a PM I saw as many old bad translators than good young ones.

4. Treat your PMs well
If your PMs are happy working for you, they will be more driven and will generate more revenue. Don't make them work 12 hours per day, don't force them to come in on weekends every weekend, and pay them fairly. You will quickly build a strong team, instead of having a constant turnover of unexperienced language graduates.

3. Fair rates/payment terms for translators
That one is obvious, so I'll be brief: you pay more and faster, you get higher quality, the client is happier. Remember that you are selling added value to the client's product: it's always going to be cheaper somewhere else, but you need to convince the client that they want to pay more, because of the value this surcharge will bring.

2. Know when to say no
I know of too many agencies who just obey any of their client's requests, without stopping to think about the feasibility or the correctness of it. As the professional, I believe agencies (and translators) have a duty to educate the clients in order to improve the whole industry's condition.
On the other hand, you also have to educate translators regarding what it is exactly that is expected of them, in terms of service, reactivity etc. That way the translator knows exactly what he or she is getting into and you are saving everybody a lot of hassle.

And last but not least...
1. Build a relationship
Don't treat your translators as "vendors" or "suppliers", as it is the case in countless agencies. They (we) are your partners in meeting the client's expectations. If you don't treat them fairly, it is unlikely that the relation will be enjoyable for your PMs and the translators, and that will result in a drop in quality. Without translators, you can't work, and without you, we cannot work. We're all in the same boat.

Of course, the reality of the market dictates different things but one can dream...
As for your questions:

- Have you ever provided support to the end-user of a translation in order to use it in a public speaking environment, or been asked to do so?

I have, but very marginally. For instance, warning that this type of address in such a translation was not considered polite, and that I had therefore changed it to a more polite address.


- Do you think it important to specialize in a subject matter, or do you feel a translator should be able to 'do it all,' within reason?

I think you specialize whether you want it or not. I specialized in certain fields because I was given lots of projects in that field.


- What is your opinion on formatting? Should fairly simple Word and similar documents be returned fully formatted in the target language? Should extra be charged? How much in your area would be right?

I believe any service deserves payment. Then it is up to you and the supplier to state whether the rates you agree on include formatting or not.


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Shai Navé  Identity Verified
Israel
Local time: 00:54
Member
English to Hebrew
+ ...
Don't start an agency, start a professional practice Oct 3, 2013

This is in a nutshell all the difference and all that it takes.
An agency is just a broker/resellers of services with no real added professional value that (falsely) claims to be able to provide services in all languages and all topics. These generalists therefore compete on price alone because they all have the same face-value as its other broker-type competitors. This is pretty much joining the race to the bottom from the get-go.

As a professional practice you:
1) Respect and know and understand (I cannot stress this enough) the in-and-outs of the translation work. Don't think that it is easy money earned just for "converting" words by just anybody. Know how to consult your clients, and when to say No ridiculous demands and/or abusive practices (and when to drop a client or an opportunity).
2) Offer value based on this merit. This is way it is important not only for a translator to be specialized, it is also important for the professional practice. Start with the subject areas that are close to the hearts of yourself and your core team.
3) Seek to work with professionals. Professional is not just someone who happens to manage somehow to make money out of "translating", professional is a person that shares your professional and commercial values. Experience is important but it is often better to work with a relatively inexperienced translator how respect the work and approach it correctly rather with a seasoned Jack-or-Jill-of-all-trades who spent his or her 15+ years of career as a modern serf.
4)Think of the clients and translators/interpreters you work with as business partners, and not your superiors (clients) or subordinates (translators/interpreters).
5)Know where you want to be, what services you offer (again, being a generalist might sound like a good idea, but it is really not) and what value you offer. Why should a client work with you instead of any other "agency" or directly with the translator?
6)Have a financial cushion. You should be able to pay the translators as agreed even if the client didn't pay you. Otherwise, with time, no real professional translators will be interested in working with you.

There are a lot more to say, but I think that these points sum up the key topics.

Again, the most important thing is not to start just another (one in a million) agency, but to start a professional practice - think law, accounting, webdesign, etc. firm and not a used cares dealership).


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William Wallace
Spain
Local time: 23:54
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks! Please continue! Oct 3, 2013

Thanks everyone so far. Please continue commenting.

As for me, I was trained as a UN interpreter, but way long ago during my college days when I did some degrees in linguistics. Over several decades, I have done quite a bit of translating here and there, mostly as a side to my day job, so to speak.

My own background is in business, although I started my career in language teaching. Fast forward to today, and I am a physics and engineering buff, computing nerd, and happy translator of myriad tech documents.

Like for many, over the last few years, translating has become, through necessity, much more of a permanent occupation for me, and I enjoy it. The coordinator for the people I was doing work for was recently let go, so one thing has led to another, and we are starting our own business.

I do wish to add value to my team. I fully believe in knowledge sharing, frequent communication, and seeking new opportunities together. To that end, having worked in business and knowing full well the challenges many face with respect to language, I hope to establish viable side practices that many of the translators might be able to deliver on, and that customers might value:

- walking through presentations with clients over Skype, using as reference a short vid on presentation skills
- authoring services for complex documents
- post-production print services (this one, of course, not for translators)
- personal branding services, encouraging a mix of services from marketing and HR professionals in my network and translators, covering CVs, online professional profiles, and social networking.

Now, we do have a core of people to get started with; contacts from our previous work. But, and this is a big but, if things go as planned, I hope to need some good translators soon. I want to find people who are dedicated, but not slaves. What I most desire are those who might share ideas with others in our network, always seeking to find better ways to accomplish what we do, and new ways to serve the market.

In my back pocket are some things I can roll out that would provide for all my network to act as extensions on an internet PBX (phone system), enjoy excellent better-than-Skype online video, and so on. (And no, no one need spend big bucks, and can always use their preferred tools.)

That's long enough for now. More feedback, please!!


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 22:54
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Welcome to ProZ.com!!! Oct 3, 2013

Hello William,

Are you new to the world of translation, I wonder? Perhaps you could fill us in a little on how your agency sees itself. I'm not asking you to advertise (you're not allowed to do that), just to inform. For a start, maybe you could elucidate on this statement in your profile: "We use 3rd party and proprietary cloud workflow tools to manage distributed collaboration seamlessly." I don't know if I know what those tools are (if you follow me).

I've worked with a couple of agencies who've had an online interface and I've had some pleasant experiences with some very streamlined interfaces, though I've never worked on a client's online CAT tool and I doubt I ever would. Some other agencies I never actually got to work with as everything was so complicated. If one client just needs me to translate and send files, I'll choose that one every time over another that wants me to spend ages feeding their eternal internal mechanisms.

Assuming they are honest (e.g. pay on time) and fairly priced (otherwise, we don't have an agreement), I like to work with an agency where:
a) the PMs are happy in their jobs - believe me, it often shows if they aren't
b) the agency considers me as an essential partner in the process, providing an intellectual service rather than a mechanical one
c) in the absence of evidence to the contrary, they give me the benefit of the doubt in any dispute (at least once our relationship has become established) - of course the agency wants to keep its client, but still...
d) formality is kept to a minimum; I'm happiest when the ground rules are set out clearly (T&C agreed: yours, mine or a mixture), then we move to more informal contact providing the job details such as word-count and deadline in an exchange of emails
e) I receive the text in a format tha I can edit (MS-Office, for example). I'm a wordsmith, not a graphic designer or whatever: if you send me a scanned PDF full of tables and expect me to recreate it, then you're paying the wrong person. What a DTP specialist will spend 15 minutes on, I'll charge an hour plus for, and I'll never really do a good job. (That's your 3rd specific question answered).

Your first specific question I can't answer. As for the 2nd, specialisation, how can anyone be expected to master the terminology of every subject area, even in one language, let alone two or more? Just take a big but standard dictionary in your native language and see if you really know exactly how every one of those words is used, actively not just passively. And that's just standard vocabulary. Legal, medicine, patents, engineering, science... and then art, architecture, cuisine, literature, poetry, politics, diplomacy... Come on! If you work in a rare pair then you may need to tackle all subject areas as best you can, and work with proofreaders for terminology polishing. If you work in a common pair it makes sense to leave others to do what you cannot excel at.

P.S. I had to break off this post to have dinner. I see it's a little out of date now as others have come up with some great contributions, but here it is anyway.


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 23:54
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Who defines these things? Oct 3, 2013

William Wallace wrote:
But assuming we are honest and fairly priced, what else might make you prefer working with one agency over another?

I think this is the first matter to discuss. Honesty is always something good to have, but who defines honesty? Personally I think honesty is not a quality of companies, but a quality of people. The fact is, the more you claim to be honest, the more people think you are not. Honesty is something you have to prove as you go along with your agency.

As for fair rates... to me Barcelona agencies have been a synonym of low rates for almost two decades. Again in this case, it is up to you to prove that you are different.

Good luck in any case!

[Edited at 2013-10-03 20:29 GMT]


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Elizabeth Tamblin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:54
Member (2012)
French to English
What matters to me Oct 3, 2013

Getting a chance to work for an agency would be nice.

However, I've got to the point where I would be delighted just to get any kind of reply.

I sent my CV to one agency that was advertising for translators, with a covering email. I heard nothing back. Decided to try writing to them, pretending to be a potential client (a bit sneaky...), and got a reply within minutes!

So, one way to make yourself stand out as better than other agencies would be to reply to enquiries, even those from translators.


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William Wallace
Spain
Local time: 23:54
TOPIC STARTER
Questions and answers Oct 3, 2013

What's a PM? Is that the standard name for the agency/business coordinator between customer a translator?

I confess I have yet to read much of the rules here yet, and do not wish to run afoul, so when people have mentioned it is against board rules to advertise, am I allowed to give out my email address, or web site address? (If not, fine, I will not.)

As for the concern of protecting translators against bad customer debt: that is our intention. Admittedly, when starting out, cash is tight, so in the first 6 months, a nasty customer could cause a delay. That said, one of us is a lawyer and his task is to think about how best to manage that issue vis-a-vis customers.

Hiring young or old: I prefer smart, skilled and motivated as defining characteristics. Age is not a good indicator of either.

Formality: we prefer to joke around once we know each other (while still serious about our commitments.) If life isn't fun, what's the point?

Rates: That is determined by the markets we move in. As mentioned, local rates are low in Spain. What most here would be involved in, were that the case, would involve clients from other Western European countries, the US, or the Far East. Spanish customers are also accustomed to paying late, and the standard time delay here for local translators is 60 days.

Software: Internal operations are where we do hope to score some advantages, and for the most part, translators would be interacted with via email, so nothing apparently fancy. CAT tools are the translator's choice. But I hope you will recognize than for all non-translation IT, I need to keep things close to the chest.

General: We will not discriminate against a "no" based on economic conditions. To the contrary, we hope to grow our business enough so that we are not just a cheap, low-value-add word mill. Hopefully, at some point we may be able to afford some of you finer folks.

Legitimacy: We have already started with our first customers, one of which may involve a book series on programming. The web site is up but not public, as I am still finishing it. From my earlier career, I have contacts in about 90 countries, so I do hope to bring in some work once we go live.


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Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:54
English to German
+ ...
You meant to say "applicants", right? Oct 3, 2013

Elizabeth T wrote:
...stand out as better than other agencies would be to reply to enquiries, even those from translators.





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Elizabeth Tamblin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:54
Member (2012)
French to English
. Oct 3, 2013

Nicole Schnell wrote:

Elizabeth T wrote:
...stand out as better than other agencies would be to reply to enquiries, even those from translators.







Yes, or enquiries from translators.


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William Wallace
Spain
Local time: 23:54
TOPIC STARTER
Replies to job requests Oct 3, 2013

What I have set up so far on our site is a way for interested parties to send us a link to their online profile, and we would then contact those from whom we wish to request a CV.

Assuming we are not absolutely bombarded, you should always get an acknowledgement.

Currently, my web site provider apparently sticks his logo on all email generated automatically by the site (not a web programmer, so using a good site for dummies, with drawbacks.) To avoid this, we will have to use an alert system and manually generate a response for now, so at times there could be a delay of a few days in acknowledging your interest.

But, yes, I have been "in the desert" and know what it's like. Most emphatically, we do not plan to mistreat, disrespect, or hammer anyone. Our reputation with everyone is important to us.

In fact, and I can't tell all, I hope to make our network -- for that is how I think of it, not as a company in the standard sense -- an enviable and fun place, where we learn and laugh as often as possible.

That, or commiserate on a recent lack of new orders...

[Edited at 2013-10-03 21:57 GMT]


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Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:54
English to German
+ ...
@ Elizabeth Oct 3, 2013

Elizabeth T wrote:

Nicole Schnell wrote:

Elizabeth T wrote:
...stand out as better than other agencies would be to reply to enquiries, even those from translators.







Yes, or enquiries from translators.



When a translator sends an inquiry to the agency regarding the clarification of a technical term or a cryptic bit of text in the middle of a project and the agency doesn't reply, this very agency is dead.


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