Why agencies are (mostly) never prepared to negotiate?
Thread poster: Pompeo Lattanzi

Pompeo Lattanzi
Italy
Local time: 15:31
English to Italian
+ ...
Apr 22, 2014

It struck me today as I was reading an advert here in ProZ, where an agency proposed a ***potential*** job and among a whole list of details it required to know "what is your best rate".

Maybe I am presuming too much, but I would have thought the agency and the provider are two bona-fide **entreprises** negotiating for the attribution of a job. They want to know everything about me, yet they don't even bother to show me they are a company I might confidently trust with my efforts and committment. As if the simple mention of their name would be sufficient to get people in line to work for them. This is especially evident in connection with rates: why should I, a company, give you, another company, my BEST rate if I don't even know you? And not even for a "real" job... The agency has to PROVE itself to me just as much as I have to prove myself to them, in my opinion. There are different negotiating powers, obviously, but there is never only a "one-way relationship".

This attitude, similar to that of many employers, assumes the other negotiating party is desperate to work and will accept anything. Unfortunately in a free market such an approach leads to "catching" only those who are in effect "desperate", and it is rare this will include the best specimen of the breed.
Your comments would be welcome.


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:31
English to Spanish
+ ...
Power Play Apr 22, 2014

It's just a power play. They want to intimidate you, dominate you, own you. You can play the game too. If they pull out, don't think "I lost", think "I won", because you're in control and you have lost nothing but a bad experience.

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Lincoln Hui  Identity Verified
Hong Kong
Local time: 21:31
Member
Chinese to English
+ ...
Two things Apr 22, 2014

1. Did you try? You can't say that someone isn't prepared to negotiate if you didn't try to poke at that possibility.

2. In many bigger agencies recruiters simply push paper and have limited discretion with regards to terms that are different from that of their company. These agencies also have a large number of translators and either the recruiter or the company may decide that they don't want to spend the time and effort coming to an agreement with a single freelancer. It's the same case with freelancers who just walk away when they see agencies with long and ardous registration processes and other paperwork.


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jyuan_us  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:31
Member (2005)
English to Chinese
+ ...
Why do you want to negotiate in the first place? Apr 22, 2014

Just go get the jobs for which you needn't spend time negotiating.

If negotiation exists at all in our industry, it is the agency that is supposed to initiate a negotiation, not the freelancers. They negotiate with you for a lower price.

We are business owners, and we set our prices. They can negotiate with us for a lower price but I don't see any point in our negotiating with them for a higher price.

Just as in a supermarket. Can you ask your client to pay $2 per pound if he wants to buy eggplant when it is being sold for $1 a pound everywhere else?


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Roman Karabaev  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 17:31
Member (2010)
English to Russian
+ ...
* Apr 22, 2014

When a freelance translator feeds his ego by calling himself a business owner, he sometimes tends to forget that in the real life he is at the bottom of the foodchain - just like any hired worker.
Agencies are never prepared to negotiate because market situation gives them leverage. Want some proof? Go on, open any job offer here on proz. How many replies does an average job offer collect? Twenty? Thirty? More? I saw several hundreds a couple of times in my language pair.
And now the question. Can you imagine that an agency would take courage to ask for some "best rates" or "Trados discounts" if it had to compete with some other 30-40 peers for each and every translator?
Besides, an agency is a middleman, and as far as quality is concerned, an agency would always choose "average for USD 0.08" rather than "excellent for USD 0.20".

There are some good examples in other industries. Banks feed off their clients, but is a client able to impose even a slightest change in a credit agreement?


By the way, why do you want to negotiate with them in the first place?
Just indicate your rate (or the range) - and that's it. You make an offer, and the client either accepts or declines it. It's as simple as that.
All in all, "potential" jobs almost never turn into real ones.

Of course, not only agencies are uncompromising.
Being a freelance translator, I'm not prepared to negotiate some things, too.
For example, I'm a "straight" translator, so I'm not really into PEMT and similar perversions.
I never translate whatever they have to paste into "Applicants must translate the following text" field. All tests are done only after I get a personalized reply from the agency.
I never disclose contact details of my clients ("give references" as they call it).
To hell with extensive paperwork, online questionnaires and application forms! Never in my life have I received a real job after wasting my time on all this crap.
Want to impose Across or some creepy proprietary CAT? OK, but it's 0.02 per word on top.

Bottom line - just indicate your rates and move on.
Life's too short to waste it on low-paid work and bad mood.


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Maxi Schwarz
Local time: 08:31
German to English
+ ...
Ignorance, not just power Apr 22, 2014

I usually only get that from agencies contacting me who strike me overall as not understanding what professional translation is about. In a proper relationship, the agency presents a project, and asks the translator:
- can you do this?
- what is your turnaround?
- what is your fee?
These three questions show an understanding of what translation is about, because the expert is the one to know whether it is in his or her area of expertise, and will judge how much time it will take, and what is involved. The informed PM knows that translation is more than number of words, and that a practised eye should be assessing the work. The above is the dialogue that I have with all my regular clients that are agencies.

The opposite of this is the agency that contacts me, telling me how much they intend to pay and how long they imagine it will take - or they have already quoted a rate to the client, and committed to the project before having any translator to do it. Then we hear "This is above our budget." Well, how did that budget come about? It is due to the erroneous too low quote.


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Man Hin Wu
Canada
Local time: 09:31
English to Chinese
True Apr 22, 2014

Pompeo Lattanzi wrote:

It struck me today as I was reading an advert here in ProZ, where an agency proposed a ***potential*** job and among a whole list of details it required to know "what is your best rate".

Maybe I am presuming too much, but I would have thought the agency and the provider are two bona-fide **entreprises** negotiating for the attribution of a job. They want to know everything about me, yet they don't even bother to show me they are a company I might confidently trust with my efforts and committment. As if the simple mention of their name would be sufficient to get people in line to work for them. This is especially evident in connection with rates: why should I, a company, give you, another company, my BEST rate if I don't even know you? And not even for a "real" job... The agency has to PROVE itself to me just as much as I have to prove myself to them, in my opinion. There are different negotiating powers, obviously, but there is never only a "one-way relationship".

This attitude, similar to that of many employers, assumes the other negotiating party is desperate to work and will accept anything. Unfortunately in a free market such an approach leads to "catching" only those who are in effect "desperate", and it is rare this will include the best specimen of the breed.
Your comments would be welcome.


Lots of agencies just want to hire the cheapest labour out there. A translated language is often a niche market in where is it translated. Therefore agencies don't set high high expectations on quality. Because even if cheap labour produces mediocre results, its not a big deal.

Thats my experience as someone working in a multicultural marketing agency


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Pierret Adrien  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 21:31
Chinese to French
+ ...
Job section just isn't the place Apr 23, 2014

In my experience, the job section is only used for 3 types of projects:
- Projects where the main focus is to cut the cost.
- Urgent stuff, and the agency has no one around. Usually short projects.
- Bogus "potentials" where the agency is bidding for a pair it usually doesn't work with.

1 and 3 are the most common. 3 never goes anywhere because agencies never win those bids (or they'll just use you to do the test, and then turn into a type 1), and 1... well, you should get my point by now.


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Anna Spanoudaki-Thurm  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 15:31
Member (2009)
German to Greek
+ ...
It depends Apr 23, 2014

jyuan_us wrote:

Just as in a supermarket. Can you ask your client to pay $2 per pound if he wants to buy eggplant when it is being sold for $1 a pound everywhere else?


Yes, if you sell the best eggplants in town. If they are free of pesticides, do not get foul after one day, not only look but also taste better.

I do try to negotiate and I find it a good filter for agencies. The good ones are willing to negotiate, the cheap ones are not.


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Gudrun Wolfrath  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 15:31
English to German
+ ...
The question is: Apr 23, 2014

Are you willing to negotiate? You are the one who sets the price.

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FarkasAndras
Local time: 15:31
English to Hungarian
+ ...
No Apr 23, 2014

Roman Karabaev wrote:

When a freelance translator feeds his ego by calling himself a business owner, he sometimes tends to forget that in the real life he is at the bottom of the foodchain - just like any hired worker.
Agencies are never prepared to negotiate because market situation gives them leverage.


That's not true. I find that it is often possible to negotiate with agencies (i.e get a better rate than their initial offer). I've actually had a PM say "sorry, tight budget for this project, can't pay as much as you're asking"... and then call me back two hours later to accept my rate. If an agency has a job with a tight deadline and you are one of the few translators that they trust to do the job well, then you have leverage.
Obviously, if the agency doesn't care about quality or the job is one that many others can do as well or better than you can, then the equation changes.


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dianaft  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:31
Member (2013)
German to English
+ ...
Negotiate they do... Apr 23, 2014

... but that's not much use if there is a big gap between expectations.

For instance, at the start of the year (on another platform), I was invited to bid a a larger assignment that stated a budget range between $2k - 5k. My price worked out at $6k based on straight word count, it was 4 related websites, so there may have been some repetitions. I wouldn't have known that at this point though, yet I did make a mental note that there may be room for negotiation on that basis. So I placed my bid at $6k.
I got an immediate response stating that they would love to work with me, if I could "move towards their budget by at least 50%" AND work on a schedule of approx. 15k words a week.
I understood this to mean 50% towards the top of the stated range, giving a final price of $5.5k and asked then to confirm this assumption.
Apparently their budget must have been 0 (zero), as they meant $3k. I nearly spit out my coffee. I would much rather they simply moved on to another provider than to start that kind of "negotiation".

That was a big project, but I had similar communications many times. "We can offer price X." - "Sorry, but my price is 3X" - "Oh, OK. In this case we can stretch to 1.5X. Please bear in mind that we can offer regular assignments"
Well, that's a big move in budget for them. But it's not enough to bridge the gap. To be honest I tend to view that as an insult, rather than a genuine attempt to negotiate. Yet that's what it really is - after all, they adjusted their budget by 50%.
If you were starting off at budget X and own price 1.2X, then it may well be possible to come to an agreement at 1.1X. Expectations need to be within range to begin with.


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EvaVer  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:31
Member (2012)
Czech to English
+ ...
Yes, they do negotiate, Apr 23, 2014

I am sometimes surprised to see how much they are prepared to negotiate. Just try it.

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John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 09:31
Member (2008)
French to English
Best (highest) rate Apr 23, 2014

Pompeo Lattanzi wrote:

It struck me today as I was reading an advert here in ProZ, where an agency proposed a ***potential*** job and among a whole list of details it required to know "what is your best rate".


Good point. How many translators, when discussing a job with their client, ask "What is the highest rate you can pay"? Or who have a price sheet that says the price is "$0.XX per word or higher" (as do some professional in other fields such as lawyers, notaries, etc.)?

[Edited at 2014-04-23 12:20 GMT]


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