Redefining a relationship with an agency
Thread poster: Leah Morano

Leah Morano  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:22
German to English
+ ...
May 17

I have been working with a particular agency for a few months now, and lately, they have sent me more and more work. They are a small company and I have has some exchange with most members of their team. I have had a very nice working relationship with everyone that I am in contact with there and, in general, have been quite happy to be working more together. They pay relatively quickly.

There are, however, a few issues that I find difficult and I am unsure if they warrant discussion. They are:

1) When they send me a request, I am never able to see the text in advance, nor can they give me a word count. They use the German "Normzeile" (standard line) "Normseite" (standard page) system where 1 standard page = 1650 characters including spaces (so roughly 180-210 words/page, as they calculate it). I receive a request for a certain number of standard pages.

The difficulty is that sometimes I open a document that should be one standard page, for example, but its 500 words. Other times its 58 words. And I don't know until I've committed to the project. This makes time management difficult. I have mentioned this to them and they claim that they use this method consistently and that there is no other way of doing it (they cannot send me the documents to review in advance for reasons of confidentiality).

2) They request that I invoice them for each individual project and send the invoice when I complete the project. I cannot issue one invoice per month with all projects completed that month. As they often send me several small projects per day/week, this means I'm issuing a lot of invoices and it takes quite a bit of time keeping track of just their project numbers & payments. It strikes me as ridiculously inefficient both for me and for them.

3) Lastly, and importantly, they hire me as a translator and then send my work directly to the client without an editor in between. Every other agency that I work with always hires both a translator and an editor for every project. I only recently learned that this agency does not do this (they did not tell me this up front). Of course, I deliver quality work either way, but other agencies pay me the same rate and then hire an editor to double check, and I did not know this was this agency's practice when we established my rates. My questions here are: what is normal when working with agencies - separate editors or not? Am I wrong to be frustrated? My feeling is that I would like to raise my rates if they are relying on me for both processes. Is this incorrect?

Again, I do enjoy working with the individual people and have a nice relationship with them. But these three issues and the company's general inflexibility (and, honestly, condescension) towards me when trying to work towards a better system that works has left me feeling frustrated and unsure.

I'd appreciate any experience and advise you're able to share!


Elif Baykara Narbay  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:22
Member (2015)
German to Turkish
+ ...
It is a great feeling when you find a nice agency :) May 17

1) I didn't really understand this discrepancy. These scales are rather standard and although depending on the text (e.g. list of chemicals where Normzeile would be high but not necessarily reflected in the word count), there may be some variation but I don't expect it to be that large. Did you double check?

2) Invoicing can be streamlined and with a small initial effort, you can easily produce accurate invoices. You can still spare some of the effort by just copying&pasting project numbers and other figures. Not ideal but can be done. You should decide for yourself how annoying is to work in such fashion. Does working with them justify the headache in case they would not compromise? (I think they won't)

3) I wouldn't negotiate on recently set rates just for this reason. My rates cover the quality (in terms of "flawlessness" of the work I deliver as a translator. It is my problem whether I can provide this quality or not. But I am not supposed to edit/review my own work beyond the rational. Not just because they don't. I would stick to the current rates and increase them in the future in a more casual way.



Kay-Viktor Stegemann
Local time: 23:22
Member (2016)
English to German
Every agency works along its own rules May 17

I think there are no general rules what agencies do and don't. Creating an invoice for every single project sounds really tedious. Maybe you should fix a minimum rate for a job, and then offer to waive the minimum rate if several jobs can be combined on one invoiceicon_smile.gif

It is true that most agencies work with separate translators and editors. However, some agencies offer several kinds of projects, some with editing and some without, the so-called "one step translation". If the end client is aware of this and of the quality difference, there is nothing wrong with that. I am doing tourism translations for an agency, and the end client sometimes orders "OST" (for descriptions of places and activities) and sometimes "full" translation including editing (for prices and conditions and such). But offering only OST and no editing does not sound perfectly professional.

The relationship with an agency is always subject to negotiation. If the agency depends on your work to a certain degree, you have a good position for negotiations. On the other hand, if you depend on the agency, you might have to swallow what you are offered. So it might be a good idea to diversify further, look out for other agencies where conditions are more to your satisfaction, and be in a position where you can (and must) decline certain projects.


Leah Morano  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:22
German to English
+ ...
Thank you! May 17

I appreciate your responses. I have other agency clients that all seem to work in a similar way, and so I've been wondering what the "norm" is, if there is one. As a relatively new translator, it is sometimes difficult for me to know what is acceptable within the industry and what isn't.

I have to say I was surprised to learn that they don't use editors in place as well and was really wondering if this was the norm - it hasn't so in my experience.

Thanks to both of you!


Georgie Scott  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:22
Member (2009)
French to English
+ ...
German to English May 18

Hi Leah,

I don't work in your language pair so it could be linked to that but this is not standard practice for French/Spanish into English.

Not using editors: I know a few agencies I work with skip the proofreading part for a lot of my work. My feeling is that it's up to them how much due diligence they carry out. But it is risky not to have a fresh set of eyes, as our brains - even those of translators - are designed not to pick up typos (this was the first article that came up, but I've seen others that explain the issue better

Multiple invoices: I've only ever had this with direct clients and I would find it quite annoying. On its own, I might just deal with it but combined with the other things I'd probably be thinking of phasing that agency out. I know a few people that use invoicing software (free or paid-for) but it doesn't appeal to me. I have a spreadsheet with all my projects and use pivot tables to create tables with the relevant data that I copy and paste into invoices. It still takes a bit of time but it's quicker than manually creating invoices like I did before, maybe worth looking at.

Not knowing how many words are in the project: this would be a deal-breaker for me. I would not be very receptive to condescension on this point. Could you not sign a blanket confidentiality agreement to cover this in advance? Otherwise, they need to give you leeway on deadlines. As you say, a bit tricky to plan your other work around it. I've also never heard of using pages instead of word counts, but it sounds like a German thing. I work with one company that sends me PDFs in advance but never knows the word count as they are scans and need to be converted first. The PMs at the agency are really nice, give me plenty of time to get my work done and after a few months working with them I can accurately estimate how long they're going to take, so it's not an issue.

TLDR: These are not standard practices in my language pairs but they might be in yours - although I do get a fair bit of condescension when I question things or stand my ground. They sound quite annoying. In your place, I would probably look at how much I value the company, how much my actual hourly rate is once factoring in the admin time and headaches they come with and, if it's not at least equal to my other clients or any new clients I can find, phase them out.


Local time: 23:22
Spanish to English
You're right to be concerned May 20

First of all, you absolutely do need an idea of how much work you're taking on and for what price before replying to an offer. If they don't give that, keep bothering them in a very nice way until you get an accurate response. If you have an agreed rate, you also need to see all of the details on discounts for repetitions and so on up front.

On the question of revision/reviewing, if they work to one of the main quality standards, they need to have your work checked by someone else. Most agencies try to find a way around the standards to cut costs, but I always make it clear that I'm providing my work to the agency (my 'client') and once they OK it, it's theirs to do with as they wish (in other words, I take no responsibility if they send it on unchecked and get into trouble).

On the one-bill-per-job rule, that's very strange.

Really, if you don't rely overly on them, I think you should defend your rights quite robustly.


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