Multiple Agencies? (Beginner)
Thread poster: kelly_o

kelly_o
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:22
German to English
Jun 8, 2013

Hi everyone,

I've just finished university and I'm starting out as a freelance translator. Do you think it's worth signing up with multiple agencies? I have no idea how regularly I would receive work from just one agency.


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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 10:22
English to Polish
+ ...
Whew Jun 8, 2013

kelly_o wrote:

Hi everyone,

I've just finished university and I'm starting out as a freelance translator. Do you think it's worth signing up with multiple agencies? I have no idea how regularly I would receive work from just one agency.


No, Kelly, you won't get enough work from one agency unless you go in-house. You will need to write to many, many agencies, hoping that a 5% of them respond and give you work. The level of response depends on cultural factors (e.g. how polite people are, how outgoing etc.), but I wouldn't expect much work just because you've contacted some 50 outsourcers.

Also, I would consider actually going inhouse for the first stage of your career, so that you can gain more experience, get a steady flow of jobs to learn rather than to make the optimal quid per hour, have proofreaders and reviewers watch your back and so on and so forth.

There is a great number of beginner's guides written by translators around the Internet, including quite a bunch here at Proz. Google them up and read them! As a translator, you will spend a lot of your time googling and forcing yourself to read things.

Not to sound my own trumpet, but I suggest you take a look at my post about clauses some agencies put in their contracts to avoid being abused. All the better if you have a former classmate who's a solicitor now or anybody else like that who can look at contracts for you without charging the usual per-hour.

Also, this may sound a bit counter-intuitive to you, but I would actually make it pretty clear with agencies and direct clients that you are a new to the business. People understand that professions need new blood, that professionals with 30 years of experience all started from somewhere ages ago (which was not, say, 10 years of experience out of the blue before they even got their first job). They can understand that you're learning, that you might need supervision, a more thorough double-check by someone more experienced, that the editor should ask a couple more questions than normal, and so on and so forth. That's all OK. On the other hand, misunderstandings as to your level of experience have the potential to go awry.

In short, capitalise on your being new, fresh, enthusiastic, capable of learning and actually willing to learn, rather than ever sweeping it under the rug! And absorb knowledge as if you were a sponge. It will benefit you later. You should be working jobs that develop your talent, bring out your potential, give you direction and formation. Don't waste your youth on dead-end assignments that don't contribute in any way to your future!

[Edited at 2013-06-08 14:56 GMT]


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:22
Russian to English
+ ...
Yes, I think it is essential Jun 8, 2013

You should try to sign-up with as many agencies as possible -- good agencies, paying honest, reasonable rates.

Then you could also look for direct clients slowly and build up your own reservoir of direct clients.


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kelly_o
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:22
German to English
TOPIC STARTER
Great Responses Jun 8, 2013

Thank you very much for your responses. It's great to know that there are more experienced translators out there willing to give advice!

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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 06:22
English to Portuguese
+ ...
And after you have made it... Jun 8, 2013

Of course, as our colleagues have pointed out, it's best to work for as many agencies (actually as many clients) as you can. If one has a downturn of any kind, their impact on your income will be minimal.

On the other hand, most translation agencies will usually assume that you are always available whenever they contact you. They are simply built that way. There are so many amateur wannabe "translators" around the world, desperate people who would do anything for a translation gig anytime, that agencies get used to be bombarded with their pleading applications every single day. This leads some of them to think that most translators are people who can drop anything immediately to fulfill their requests.

Apparently you have earned your degree, which should set you apart from merely "bilingual people" who think they can make a quick buck now and then from translation. According to my book (the unwritten, hence unpublished one), a bilingual person is someone capable of expressing their own ideas in two languages, while a translator is a trained professional skilled in expressing, faithfully and accurately, someone else's ideas in a language different from the one in which they were originally issued.

Murphy's law is irrevocable and merciless. You may spend weeks without anybody requesting your services, and then you land a job, hopefully a big one. Immediately afterwards, you'll get another request, and another one, and so on... just because you are busy.

While it is tempting to take'em all, thinking that you may stretch your working hours, work faster, etc., it is very risky - and potentially devastating to your career in translation - to bite more than you could possibly chew. If they are in a rush, it's much better to decline jobs politely, as often as you need, than to miss a deadline once!

Though I haven't so far made my first late job delivery in the 40 years I've been translating professionally, I often get reminded by clients who say "We want you to do it because you never deliver late!". Bottom line is that you'll never know the reason for a client's deadline.

So time management skills are essential. Keep track of your productivity level all the time, so you'll know fairly well when you can deliver a job done simply by examining it. And then pad it with safety! I prefer (and prepare myself) to deliver two days early than two hours late. FYI the closest shave so far, it happened last year, was 9 minutes before the deadline.

Last but not least, good luck!


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Russell Jones  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:22
Italian to English
Suggestions Jun 8, 2013

Hi Kelly

If you can find an in-house job, as Łukasz suggests, this would certainly be good experience and would keep the wolf from your door in the meantime.
Unfortunately, such jobs are extremely rare in the UK and usually poorly paid.

As a freelancer, however, it does take time to build up a client base, so unless you have some financial backing, you may have to think about ways to earn a crust while you do so (and hope such commitments don't interfere with your accessibility and client deadlines).

Active participation in this site is one of the best ways to get a foot in the door; a surprising amount of work comes from networking. Clients searching the site directory is another major source, so read and follow the site sections on improving your profile and how to boost your directory position.

Get some work to put on your CV (and profile), even unpaid work for charities etc.
And update your CV a.s.a.p. e.g. have you now graduated, be less specific about the short period with Kern etc. don't make it quite so obvious you're a Newbie.

Sending out CVs to agencies can be a time-consuming job, with very little reward, but remember that this is a global business in the internet age. Your potential client base is worldwide.

Good luck


[Edited at 2013-06-08 20:27 GMT]


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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 10:22
English to Polish
+ ...
Some more Jun 8, 2013

José Henrique Lamensdorf wrote:

While it is tempting to take'em all, thinking that you may stretch your working hours, work faster, etc., it is very risky - and potentially devastating to your career in translation - to bite more than you could possibly chew. If they are in a rush, it's much better to decline jobs politely, as often as you need, than to miss a deadline once!


Yup! I've 'proofread' the results of such situations and they've been terrible. I distinctly remember comparing them to Google Translate output and finding out that the latter was better.

Don't overestimate your capacity. Remember that you're new, and thus your vocabulary range isn't as broad and deep as an experienced translator's. This doesn't mean you can't produce comparable work, it means you will need more time to do so. To give you an idea: I have spent a good deal of my early career doing energy translation. It was awful in the beginning, like little more than 1 page (1800 characters) per hour, and only because I was a fast typist and proficient Googler and a bit of a seasoned rogue. Soon, I was pumping out 2.5 per hour (and there was a lot of 'pumping' in the source, for that matter), and eventually three... four... at some point I could do six if I upped the gear, and there was that memorable evening when I hit a 10. Yeah, that's about 2,500 words in one hour. The function of grammar and syntax in those texts was mostly to avoid interfering with the content, so the job was basically a brain-assisted vocabulary conversion, which explains why it's possible for human translators to be worse than Google.

What's the moral for you? The moral is that you might likely develop twice to thrice your current speed within a reasonable time-frame, but right now you need to count yourself on the slower side. Agencies will ask you to load up and up, teasing and pleading and saying that fa shizzy my nizzy, you surely can meet that deadline. But wait what happens when you don't.

But, I originally wanted to José's post to say that you can avoid outright refusing work (and looking bad for doing so). Propose longer deadlines, ask them to guarantee that a senior translator or editor will edit the work if it needs to be done in a rush, propose a colleague instead. People who get referrals from you may one day return the favour. The client or agency will also be pleased. You will look more professional. Heck, you might as well team up with some other newbies just for the purpose.

Russell Jones wrote:

If you can find an in-house job, as Łukasz suggests, this would certainly be good experience and would keep the wolf from your door in the meantime.
Unfortunately, such jobs are extremely rare in the UK and usually poorly paid.


That last part is by no means UK-specific... But as a freelancer you will note that the rates you collect aren't the end of the story. You have taxes, insurance, all sorts of fees and bills, and you need to spend time on this or that form of marketing a lot. In the end, a salaried job that offers a worse quid per hour rate than the freelancing hours you actually spend working, may still prove to be a better solution financially. And for your health.

As a freelancer, however, it does take time to build up a client base, so unless you have some financial backing, you may have to think about ways to earn a crust while you do so (and hope such commitments don't interfere with your accessibility and client deadlines).


Plus, you need to avoid the temptation of starting out with low rates to get yourself booked full. The outcome is likely going to be your getting fully booked on cheap jobs without leverage to get better paying ones. In fact, without strength to look for better jobs and look after your marketing once you're finished zombiing for the day.

Speaking of which:

Get some work to put on your CV (and profile), even unpaid work for charities etc.


If you do some 10,000 words for an agency at €0.06 per and then 10,000 words for 0 for a charity, you will still have done 20,000 words at €0.03 per. Thus, there's no need to take work from agencies at €0,03 per.

Also, I wholeheartedly agree with my senior colleague that you should consider your CV carefully, as it is your primary job acquisition tool. A lot of information goes back and forth, but CV is often the one single thing that gets you the job (or not). The same goes for your profile. Give it some loving. Make it unique and engaging. Consider especially uploading sample translations in the Portfolio section, and no, those don't need to be actual translations someone paid you for.

EDIT: Also, try to get yourself certified for C2 German (preferably a German certification), and – as a long-term project – pass DipTrans to become eligible for membership in IoL. Consider a Master's degree if you plan to seek jobs in the German market (and you should).

[Edited at 2013-06-08 21:34 GMT]


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Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:22
English to German
+ ...
One more hint Jun 9, 2013

It is a bit risky to claim "Advertising" as your main specialty after two months of some internship. Please familiarize yourself with the German education system and the demanding academic requirements for advertising, which is chiefly based on psychology, sociology and economics. The usual degree is achieved after a minimum of 10 semesters. Please do not claim this or any other highly academic profession as your main field without proper educational background. For your own good - and before your first translation in this field and/or payment might be rejected by the client.

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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 10:22
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
NEVER rely on a single client if you are a freelancer Jun 9, 2013

In some countries you may be 'mistaken' for an employee - and in that case your 'employer' should cover taxes, holiday pay, pension contributions and insurance etc. while as a self-employed person you have to pay them yourself.

You also risk getting into serious trouble if your biggest client gets into trouble. This actually happened to me, but I was so lucky that when the crash came I was working on a big project for another client, and did not lose a lot of money. By that stage I was better able to afford it.

A formerly very solid agency - where I had even worked in house - had its problems when I started freelancing, but recovered and celebrated its 25-year jubilee in style. Then the crisis hit in 2008, and it went bankrupt in 2010, just as we were preparing to congratulate everyone on 30 successful years...

Clients come and go - or they may drop you and then come back again, leaving you to guess why. Your loyalty to each other technically only lasts as long as your current contract (apart from the NDA, or confidentiality agreement of course). In practice you can build up a good relationship and both benefit. Many agencies like to send contracts that in theory are longer-term agreements, but if they do not send you work, then you have no obligation to them whatsoever.

Do read Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz's advice at the link he gives.

Keep trying, and I hope you find some good long-term clients.

Don't forget, if you do have to find a 'pot boiler' job, to take it as an opportunity to expand your everyday language skills... Keep your eyes and ears open and learn every little bit of jargon and colloqialism - in both or all your languages, and study the different registers used by different people in varying situations. That includes spoken language, written instructions and blurbs and product declarations on food or household cleaning products, instructions for use of various devices... and any multilingual text, however trivial. Read them critically and keep your languages ticking over.

I was unconsciously doing that before I came to translating - as an unemployed ex-pat one can't always be picky - and I sometimes wish I had been more systematic.
Sooner or later anything and everything can turn up in a translation!

I worked as an auxiliary in the home-health services among other things. Don't be fooled by the 'unskilled' label... A job like that can be a goldmine for a linguist. Then you can call it experience too It's hard won, so turn it to good advantage!

I digress...
But good luck, and keep trying lots of different clients!

[Edited at 2013-06-09 11:11 GMT]

[Edited at 2013-06-09 21:14 GMT]


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