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Purpose of an Agency
Thread poster: Ritu Bhanot

Ritu Bhanot  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 21:40
Member (2006)
French to Hindi
+ ...
Aug 17, 2007

I was just browsing through another thread ( www.proz.com/topic/81380 ) and well... just started wondering:

1. What is the service that an Agency provides?

2. If Agencies are just middlemen, then how relevant is their service in today's age when an organisation can contact translators directly (Internet, Yellow pages etc.)?

3. What is the USP of an agency?

4. If an agency does not provide anything extra then why would an organisation contact an agency instead of an organised group of translators (sort of co-op)?

5. Why the "agency mark-up" if they don't provide any extra service?

I know some people maybe sensitive to these questions and I apologise in advance if there are any hurt feelings. This, however, is not my intention.

Look forward to a healthy discussion and no controversies.

Regards,

Ritu

[Edited at 2007-08-17 05:59]


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Sonja Tomaskovic  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 21:40
English to German
+ ...
What sort of agency? Aug 17, 2007

I think on today's market you can find all sorts of agencies. Those that indeed offer added values to their customers, and those that don't, who are purely middlemen.

My personal opinion is that if you are indeed a translation agency, than such things as marketing and advertising your services to clients, all contacts with clients, preparation of files for translator, choosing the right translators for a particular job, organizing proofreading/checking and finally, any added services that your clients require, should be handled by you.

What your USP is in the end will very much depend on what you want to offer. There are agencies that offer language services in only few language pairs or are specialized in a specific area. There are those that offer just about any language combination and speciality that one can imagine. There are those that offer additional services, such as DTP or adaptation for a certain target group, etc., and even have in-house personnel who handle these jobs. I believe that there is no single USP for a translation agency, but many different ones, depending on how you want to position yourself on the market.

Whether or not it makes more sense to hire a group of freelancers, is something that depends on the end-client. I think that end-clients prefer this one-stop-shop where they can get everything, receive one invoice and don't have to bother about anything. If a freelancer, or a group of freelancers, are able to offer the same services to end-clients as agencies do, then there is probably no reason for somebody to exclusively hire translation agencies. But then they really need to know about these services in order to know about their choice.

I know that several translation agencies for large companies have long-term contracts, and they are basically treated as if they were an in-house department in that particular company.

Regarding the 'middlemen' that don't add any value: I have seen many job postings from such people, and IMHO, you can't call them agency. What they usually get is a job that has been outsourced by company A to agency B, and agency B outsourced it to agency C who then outsourced it to agency D, and somewhere at the end of the food chain is our middlemen, acting as if he was an agency, finally outsourcing the job to translators.
Why they take more money for only passing jobs through is something we can start speculating about. In my opinion, their mark-up is just a commission for giving you a job, nothing more, nothing less. In this respect, it is little more than paying Proz.com or any other site for viewing and bidding on job postings. Whether or not that is justified is another question.


Sonja

[Bearbeitet am 2007-08-17 08:15]


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Vadim Poguliaev  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 23:40
English to Russian
Just to start the ball rolling. Aug 17, 2007

IMHO main added value of an agency is project management. No group of translators, no matter how organized it is, can provide million-words translation into 16 languages in 4 weeks.
Also there are technologies and processes for quality assurance, language assets maintetenance etc. Projects are handled in a way, that allows to provide consistent average quality even for most extreme assignments. Et cetera.
In other words they offer scale, technology and peace of mind to end customer. + Large corporations find, that outsourcing all their localization needs to large loc vendors is a huge costdown and reduce their localization staff to minimum of one or two managers, facing the loc vendor.

[Edited at 2007-08-17 07:38]


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Saiwai Translation Services  Identity Verified
India
Member (2005)
Japanese to English
+ ...
Professional agencies Aug 17, 2007

Hi Ritu,

I know several translators may have the same questions in their mind.

Here I am talking about the Professional agencies....

Agency's mail role is to choose a perfect translator for a particular job.

Sometimes translators have selected with a small test by an agency. Agency have already worked with many translators in various language pairs. They have very good team of freelance translators on their panel. So they know about translator's accuracy and professionalism. They have good relations with translators.

Some agencies proofread the translated docuement by another translator. (Or inhouse translators). then only they submit the translation to the end client.
For that they have to pay both the translators.

Organisation (End client) needs quality and relible service, but in time. Sometimes they have very urgent requirements. They do not want to waste their time for searching a translator. They prefer to contact an agency rather translator or a group of translators.
Moreover if today they need translation to be done in German, tomorrow they may need in Japanese. One translator cannot translate into all languages. But agency
can provide translation services in all language pairs. So they prefer to work with an agency.

Usually Organisations contact an agency in the same country for their business to save the time. They also want to pay in currency where they live. Usually they prefer their own country checks rather international payement modes like paypal or wire transfer.


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Martin Wenzel
Germany
Local time: 21:40
English to German
+ ...
Just add 100 % on the price... Aug 17, 2007

Does that jusitfy adding 100% if the translator has done most of the work I ask you?

I know agencies that do exactly that add 100 %!!!

It shouldn't take us by suprise that we are getting less for more work (and if I say more work I mean administration and preparation and follow-up work)...all the time.

Now we are daily spammed with emails by agencies asking for best prices and if we use Trados or other CAT tools...

I am sick and tired of this Trados game and most agencies' moneky business.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 21:40
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
The purpose of an agency Aug 17, 2007

Ritu Bhanot wrote:
1. What is the service that an Agency provides?


In my opinion, the agency is a translation service provider. It provides translations to clients. The agency may not have any translators in its employ (or not in the right fields or language combinations) and consequently subcontracts the translation work to freelance translators.

This definition has implications. It implies that freelance translators are not answerable to the end-clients, and that the responsibility of the final product lies with the agency.

This can be problematic if the agency doesn't speak or understand the language in which a translation is made. To counteract this deficiency, an agency may have various quality control procedures in place.

2. If Agencies are just middlemen, then how relevant is their service in today's age when an organisation can contact translators directly (Internet, Yellow pages etc.)?


1. The agency has more time to find jobs, and spends less time doing the jobs. This is useful for translators, who have less time to find jobs, spending most of their time doing the jobs.

2. Organisations that contact agencies, spend less time finding service providers because the agency is only one service provider. Organisations that contact freelance translators have to contact many, many service providers before finding one who can do the job for them.

3. Agencies have already vetted freelance translators to whom they subcontract. Organisations that contact freelance translators directly, have to guess about the quality of work they'll be getting (unless they're using someone they know).

4. An agency has the same administrative procedures regardless of which freelance translator they use. If an organisation contacts freelance translators individually, each translator will have different procedures, and some might fail to fully comply with the organisation's administrative and procedural requirements.

3. What is the USP of an agency?


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unique_selling_proposition

The term USP was coined by Ted Bates in the 1940s and I believe it is as useless an exercise now as it was seventy years ago to seek a company's "unique selling proposition".

Besides, USPs (or PODs) relate to a company's advantage over its competitors in the same industry. So you might find Agency A's USP or Agency B's USP, but it makes no sense to ask "what are all agencies' USPs"?

4. If an agency does not provide anything extra then why would an organisation contact an agency instead of an organised group of translators (sort of co-op)?


If an agency does not provide anything extra, then it might be good to contact a co-op, yes. There will be cost-savings for the organisation. However, I suspect that the co-op will become quite busy after a while, and then they'll have to employ an administrative assistant. They'll also have to appoint someone to do marketing, advertising and finding clients for them, unless they are always busy.

5. Why the "agency mark-up" if they don't provide any extra service?


If the agency provides no extra service, then they are still entitled to markup, because... well, because that's what businesses do. They buy low and sell high.

Another thing you might want to consider, is this:

Last night I was reading the Writers and Artist's Year Book, and I saw an intereresting article about the role of a literary agent. The literary agent represents the author... no, it is more than that. The agent *works for* the author. I wonder how this concept relates to translation agencies.


[Edited at 2007-08-17 08:13]


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Sergei Tumanov  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:40
English to Russian
+ ...
nearly the same question Aug 17, 2007

could be made - Why does anyone need commodity exchanges?
Producers could sell directly, as well as consumers could buy ...


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Wendy Cummings  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:40
Member (2006)
Spanish to English
+ ...
what the agency does for the translator Aug 17, 2007

Samuel Murray wrote:

Last night I was reading the Writers and Artist's Year Book, and I saw an intereresting article about the role of a literary agent. The literary agent represents the author... no, it is more than that. The agent *works for* the author. I wonder how this concept relates to translation agencies.


[Edited at 2007-08-17 08:13]



Whilst i would love to get more private clients as I have more control over the T&Cs/price etc, i value my agency clients a lot as they take so much of the hassle from me.

They are all good payers (I am lucky on that point), and i just get the work sent straight to my inbox, often with a TM/glossary included, and the deadline already decided, for our pre-agreed fee.

I don't have to negotiate any terms, go to meetings, market myself to endless end clients, sort out and update my glossaries - they do all that for me. So yes, in a certain way they are working for me.

They allow me to get on with my work.


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Judy Almodovar
Italy
Local time: 21:40
English to Tagalog
+ ...
proofread the translated job Aug 17, 2007

Some agencies proofread the translated docuement by another translator. (Or inhouse translators). then only they submit the translation to the end client.
For that they have to pay both the translators. ( Sawai Translation Service)


yap, but I knew a couple of agency's proofreaders that are not a native speaker, but a dictionary dependent.

[Edited at 2007-08-17 11:26]

[Edited at 2007-08-17 11:30]


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Ritu Bhanot  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 21:40
Member (2006)
French to Hindi
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
My point of view Aug 17, 2007

1. What is the service that an Agency provides?


A real agency, in an ideal world, would provide comprehensive services and add value to what a translator provides i.e. project management, quality control, proofreading etc. to the client and provide support, timely payments, facilitation etc. to the translator.

It's the agency that would be the risk-taker and so justify the mark-up that it has. No passing on the buck.

However, very few agencies do that. And this reduces these agencies (who don't add value to translators' work) to mere middlemen.

2. If Agencies are just middlemen, then how relevant is their service in today's age when an organisation can contact translators directly (Internet, Yellow pages etc.)?


I've seen that today's system is such that in long run middlemen, who look only at short term profits and forget the long-term returns, are often rejected by the system.

3. What is the USP of an agency?


The value that these agencies add to our work. And many agencies do that.

4. If an agency does not provide anything extra then why would an organisation contact an agency instead of an organised group of translators (sort of co-op)?


No reason. Just that they market themselves a lot and we as freelancers are a divided lot.

5. Why the "agency mark-up" if they don't provide any extra service?


Simply, because they have to live and exist.

****************************************

Having said that I know that there are lots of good agencies (I work with some of them)... but then there are also many who are not so good. Just like translators.

It's a mixed world.

But maybe one of the reasons behind the existence of such middle-men is that we give up... it's easy to let an agency contact you through your profile etc. Maintaining long-term direct clients is a difficult task.

So it is our fault if these middle-men exist. And both translators and real agencies suffer because of these middlemen.

And if we were so happy with the situation then why is it that every couple of days we have forum posts about low-paying "agencies", "agencies" that don't own up their responsibility among other things? All of us have seen many posts regarding this, in recent past. Agencies are the risk-takers in this business and they, too, have certain responsibilities. Their job is not just that of an intermediary. They do provide certain services that add value to our services. And I see these as real agencies.

Of course, I've worked with both types but I try not to work with middle-men (if I discover them) and I work with some excellent agencies.

Still, keeping a mixed-basket of direct clients and agencies is a good idea.

Again, just my views. No offences to anyone.


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Tim Drayton  Identity Verified
Cyprus
Local time: 22:40
Turkish to English
+ ...
convenience and quality Aug 17, 2007

Put yourself in the shoes of the person in a large company who is responsible for commissioning translation work. This may not even be your main function and you probably have dozens of things on your mind at one time. Somebody plonks down a large document in what appears to be Arabic on your desk and tells you to get it translated. So, you consult the yellow pages to find a translator. "Let's see ... there's an 'Ali' somebody - he sounds Arabic. Why not phone him?" Oh dear, it seems he's Turkish and doesn't know any Arabic. "Never mind, this translator has a display ad and yes - she does Arabic to English." Why not phone her? "How many words? Well, I don't know. It's a hard copy, it's about fifty pages of A4. We need it for the day after tomorrow." - "Too much for one translator in that time. Sorry, I don't know much about translation. Could you take some of it? The subject matter? Sorry I have no idea, it's just squiggles on paper to me. All right, I'll fax you the first page". While waiting you start ringing up other translators to see if any more Arabic specialists are available. Out of the blue, the first translator contacts you and informs you that the text is in Farsi. So you start out all over again.
It is not going to happen this way. Large companies enter into long-term working relationships with agencies so that they can pass all this hassle to the latter. As other people have pointed out, finding the right translator for the job, dividing and managing projects and conducting proof reading (or even simply identifying which language a text is written in) require special skills and knowledge, and this is why agencies exist. The company just wants to send the stuff off and say "translate this by Monday morning."


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Ritu Bhanot  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 21:40
Member (2006)
French to Hindi
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Regarding Big companies Aug 17, 2007

Tim Drayton wrote:

Put yourself in the shoes of the person in a large company who is responsible for commissioning translation work. This may not even be your main function and you probably have dozens of things on your mind at one time. Somebody plonks down a large document in what appears to be Arabic on your desk and tells you to get it translated. So, you consult the yellow pages to find a ...


I don't know about all of them but some of the big companies (multinationals) do have a very good translation division. They have their own project managers who, too, are good translators. They know what translation is all about.

And yes, I do understand what you mean.

Recently, I had a meeting with a direct client. It was the first time that this company was getting something translated. I saw that he didn't understand what it was all about and passed them over to an agency (free of cost, no percentages etc.).

It saved my time. And I don't regret it.

It is a good agency that gives quality services.

Anyways, an agency does give convenience and quality. But both are at stake when the agency in question is not a real agency but just a middle-man.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 21:40
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
What is your solution? Aug 17, 2007

Ritu Bhanot wrote:
But maybe one of the reasons behind the existence of such middle-men is that we give up... it's easy to let an agency contact you through your profile etc. Maintaining long-term direct clients is a difficult task.


Maintaining is easy. Getting the clients in the first place is the difficult part. Or, perhaps not that difficult if you're willing to stick your neck out, but it is time-consuming.

I see some translators in this tread think of the hard work they do compared to the little work done by agents. But I think one should think in terms of hours, not effort.

But would the opposite be of "giving up", as you mention in your post?

And if we were so happy with the situation then why is it that every couple of days we have forum posts about low-paying "agencies", "agencies" that don't own up their responsibility among other things?


In my opinion, some people are just natural complainers.


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Nicole Martin
Local time: 15:40
German to English
Agencies provide convenience and experience Aug 17, 2007

I think a professional agency can provide a kind of "one-stop-shopping" so to speak for clients. Let's say a company wants to have a sales brochure translated into another language. This is something that will be seen by a lot of people and could have a negative effect on the company's image if it's not done right. The brochure needs to be translated, but it should also be proofread/edited and then someone needs to do the DTP to get the translation into the brochure. That's three different steps that need to be done by three different people (unless the translator/proofreader can also handle the DTP). The company would have to go through the process of finding the three people needed, making sure they are qualified, overseeing their work, answering questions, etc.
On the other hand, they can send it off to an agency and have all of that handled for them, except for maybe a few questions along the way. Yes, they will probably pay more for that - but it could be worth it to have less work and hassle.
As someone else has mentioned, agencies also offer project management. I don't know a person not familiar with translation (or managing translation projects) could handle getting something translated into multiple languages.

Basically, an agency has people who know how to manage a translation project, they know how to select freelancers who are qualified, they know how to use tools that will facilitate the project (e.g. CAT tools), and they can handle a lot of the questions coming from translators, proofreaders and such. And that is a real convenience (even necessity) for the average clients who know nothing about the translation process.
And if something goes wrong, it might be easier legally to get compensation from an agency than an individual freelancer.

I would think agencies could be beneficial to freelancers too, to a degree. They might be able to get work from clients who don't deal with freelancers directly. A really large client might rather use a company as a supplier than a number of individuals. In that regard, a freelancer could end up with projects through an agency that they otherwise would not have gotten. And if there is a problem with the translation, the responsibility would probably fall on the angency, protecting the translator from legal action.

Bottom line: the business world revolves around money. If agencies' benefits didn't outweigh their costs, they probably wouldn't be around for long.


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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:40
French to English
Ain't that the truth! Aug 18, 2007

Samuel Murray wrote:

In my opinion, some people are just natural complainers.


And some threads have the wrong title....


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