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Approaching a former agency client
Thread poster: Anna Valjakka

Anna Valjakka  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 16:45
Member (2016)
French to Finnish
+ ...
Sep 13, 2016

Dear fellow translators,

I've recently decided to fling myself into search of my own end clients. I thought the easiest way to start would be approaching former clients I've previously worked with through an agency. I'm a bit hesitant though, as I don't know if it would cause problems or whether it's completely out of the question to do so in the first place (I thought that there might be NDA clauses prohibiting this, but I don't know if they're legally valid). I would appreciate hearing your opinions and experiences. Thank you beforehand.


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philgoddard
United States
Member (2009)
German to English
+ ...
No. Sep 13, 2016

It's unethical, and I'm surprised you're even asking this question. There are plenty of potential clients out there without trying to poach them from agencies you've worked with.

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TonyTK
German to English
+ ...
Like Phil says, Sep 13, 2016

philgoddard wrote:

It's unethical, and I'm surprised you're even asking this question. There are plenty of potential clients out there without trying to poach them from agencies you've worked with.


... definitely a no-no. Good luck with your other approaches.


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Jenny Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:45
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
NDA? Sep 13, 2016

Did you sign a non-disclosure agreement with the agency? If you did, you almost certainly undertook not to contact the agency's clients directly, at least for a stated length of time.
If you didn't sign an NDA then it might be permissible to contact the agency's clients but I don't think it's wise, to avoid possible objections by the agency and for the sake of your own ethical reputation.


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Kelly Neudorfer  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 15:45
German to English
Do you need to hear another opinion? Sep 13, 2016

No. It's unethical and possibly illegal, depending on the terms of your NDA.

I would only see a bit of a gray area if it has been 5+ years since you worked with the agency (assuming your NDA's non-competition clause has a time limit - in Germany they have to have a time limit of around 2-3 years to be legally valid), but even then I would be hesitant to do it. And from what you said, I don't think it has been that long.


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Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 15:45
German to English
NDA and non-competition clause Sep 13, 2016

There are legal limits on the scope and duration of a non-competition clause preventing your contacting or working for an agency's clients. So, theoretically, you can work for them if it has been one or two or more years (take a look at the contract and the applicable legal decisions or laws) since you have worked for the agency or, perhaps, for that client of the agency.

As far as I know, NDA clauses protecting confidential information do not have any kind of legal time limit. So you can't ever tell those clients: "Hey, look at this great work I've already done for you." Practically speaking, that means there is probably no good reason to consider engaging in a more or less dubious practice that is almost certain to come to agencies' attention if you make a habit of it.


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Mirko Mainardi  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 15:45
Member
English to Italian
+ ...
Ethics aside... Sep 13, 2016

If a client is using an agency for their translation needs, then I doubt they'd be interested in dealing with (and coordinating) a multitude of freelance translators (at least a translator+proofreader for each pair), thing which would also require additional internal resources (PMs, VMs, QA testers, CAT specialists, etc.).

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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 10:45
English to Portuguese
+ ...
What would be the point? Sep 13, 2016

If you served these clients via a translation agency, it is fair to surmise that these clients should have reasons to use translation agencies instead of hiring freelance translators directly.

I've covered some possible such reasons on this page.

Even before considering all the legal and ethical aspects, this exercise should be a waste of time.


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Anna Valjakka  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 16:45
Member (2016)
French to Finnish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I know it may be Robin Hood logic Sep 13, 2016

Thank you for all the comments.

I acknowledged that it's not a completely "clean" practice (and as it seems, it might be illegal), but I must admit that I don't completely agree with it being unethical from all points of view.

As in the current situation, the translation agency is dictating you the conditions and prices if you ever (or within the time frame defined in the NDA clauses) wish to work again with a specific client. They are sort of "blocking" the client for you, legally and/or morally, and nevertheless the actual work in your language pair might end up to another translator of theirs (for whatever reason) for the rest of the given time frame or your working life, while you yourself are sitting at your desk waiting for another project to pop into your mail box. The client might as well change their agency or even switch to another direct translator of your language pair, which will never come to your knowing either, so the translation work relevant to you might as well end up to anyone else (with a higher or lower pricing and with whatever conditions), but it won't be you, who have delivered quality translations for them in the past, if you won't comply with the low prices and poor conditions required by the translation agency you started with (as said, the client might have a new outsourcer anyway), and who would actually charge less of the work than what the agency they're working with currently does. So it might be a dubious practice, even though possibly beneficial to both the translator and the end client. This is just my stream of consciousness though and there might something I'm not taking into account.

However with all the negative feedback I received for the initial post this is definitely not going to be my starting point in building my client basis. I'm just wondering aloud if the status quo is bit ridiculous, as it continuously blocks the translators from getting a better pay from an increasing number of end clients, some of which would also pay less did they work with freelancers.

José Henrique Lamensdorf wrote:

If you served these clients via a translation agency, it is fair to surmise that these clients should have reasons to use translation agencies instead of hiring freelance translators directly.

I'm relatively new to the market, but I was wondering if there were also clients who haven't given a great thought about it and who would actually have the internal resources to use freelance translators, but have ended up using agencies out of their own ignorance. However, the point from a translator's point of view would be that you have already worked "with them", are familiar with their terminology and can instantly prove your quality.

EDIT:
Well, if all clients using agencies are doing so for a reason then of course posing the question in the first place is pointless.

[Edited at 2016-09-13 13:51 GMT]

[Edited at 2016-09-13 13:51 GMT]


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Juan Jacob  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 08:45
French to Spanish
+ ...
No. Sep 13, 2016

Once, I gave a colleague some translation... he contacted the client, who told me so.
That's not only unfair and unethical... that's treason.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 14:45
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
There are maybe some exceptions to Phil's understandable reaction Sep 13, 2016

Anna Valjakka wrote:
I thought the easiest way to start would be approaching former clients I've previously worked with through an agency. I'm a bit hesitant though, as I don't know if it would cause problems or whether it's completely out of the question to do so in the first place

I think if you haven't had any contact of any sort with an agency for several years, then it may be acceptable to contact the owners of translations you did way back. I'm not sure I would, but it's probably OK.
(I thought that there might be NDA clauses prohibiting this, but I don't know if they're legally valid).

To some extent I don't think that matters much. I know it doesn't to me. I sign very few NDA agreements and very little is ever said about non-compete regulations. Nevertheless, I always consider myself bound ethically to the principles of not competing with my clients. The whole relationship would be founded on nothing more than ice if I didn't think that way. If any one thing defines "professionalism", that must be a strong contender.

Goodness, there have been loads of responses. I'll add this one before reading the rest - sorry if it repeats things.


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SusieSmith
United Kingdom
It can be frustrating Sep 13, 2016

There have been times when I have done a LOT of work for one small company via a translation agency. In many ways it would seem to make sense for me to work for them directly - they like my work, they are probably paying the agency far more money than is ever passed on to the actual translator, I can discuss issues with the client rather than through a middleman.

On the other hand, the agency got to them first and may be providing many other services or benefits I know nothing about. So we just have to accept it's their client.


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Robert Rietvelt  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:45
Member (2006)
Spanish to Dutch
+ ...
Does the end client knows who you are? Sep 13, 2016

Apart from the fact that it is unethical, I think the end client doesnt even know who you are. They contacted the agency, and they contacted you. Even if you did a great job, it is the agency which gets the applaus from the end client, not you.

The only way to make yourself known, is telling the end client "it was me who translated your project XXXX for agency YYYY".

I wouldn't go that way.


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 15:45
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
You signed (bound yourself to) the NDAs! Sep 13, 2016

Anna Valjakka wrote:
(I thought that there might be NDA clauses prohibiting this, but I don't know if they're legally valid).

Legally valid or not, if you signed NDAs with the agencies, such NDAs have not expired and/or have not been terminated by any of the parties, and such NDAs contain clauses that extend confidentiality and non-competition to a certain period of time, clearly you cannot contact the end customers, as you would be violating clauses you committed to when you signed the NDAs.

I really doubt that law in your/your agency customers' jurisdictions would restrict the term of such survivability of clauses, but you might want to check just in case.


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