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Agency contracts : how much should we compromise?
Thread poster: Anne Gaujard-Scott

Anne Gaujard-Scott  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 16:38
Member (2016)
English to French
Apr 8, 2016

Hi to all!

I am fairly new to this site, and to the profession, but have already found that Proz is very helpful. So thanks to all the translators who are always willing to help newbies like me through these forums!

Now here is my situation: I have a degree in translation and have now been actively looking for clients (mostly agencies) for the last 2 months in order to make translation my main source of income asap. But I have few references and little experience in terms of the deals offered by agencies, to decide what is acceptable and what is not.

I recently sat a test for an agency, got good feedback, and was selected to be part of their team of freelancers. Imagine my excitement! However, the agency requires me to invest in Trados (at least the Starter version) - an investment that I was planning to make anyway. Their base rate is already on the lower end of what I have set for myself, but still acceptable in my view. But here's the main problem: they want me to agree to a CAT grid system which seems to me outrageous compared to anything I have researched:

New words > 100% of the rate
75-84% matches > 50%
85-94% > 25%
95-99% > 25%
100% > 20%
répétitions > 10%

...And add to this lots and lots of small print, 60 day-payment terms, an "invitation" to offer discounts for "big" volumes, etc.

The 50% reduction on the 75% fuzzy matches, particularly, seems to me like an unacceptable compromise to make, although I don't have much experience yet in working with CAT. My first reaction was to stay positive and polite, and explain that basically, I was ready to accept all terms of the contract except the grid system, which was not adapted to the quality-driven approach that any translator should have to the job. I offered different rates based on their grid. Which is already a compromise as I am not sure I agree with this system in the first place. Their reaction: no negociation possible.

So here are my questions: my instinct tells me to run away from this situation and look for clients that will put quality first. However, I am an unexperienced (yet competent, I dare say!) translator and don't exactly have a crowd of potential clients knocking at my door right now. So am I crazy? Is it standard practice? Should I bite the bullet, use the opportunity to acquire experience, even at the cost of compromising on my principles, and working at an unacceptable rate for a while? If I translate non-technical documents with a fairly low amount of repetitions, is it still worth considering? I am confused.

Any advice or thoughts will be welcome!icon_smile.gif


 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:38
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Plenty of other fish in the sea Apr 8, 2016

My advice would be:

Forget those people. You wouldn't want to be working with them. Just stay calm and wait for nicer clients to come along. Nice agencies, run by human beings, do existicon_smile.gif


 

Gerard de Noord  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 16:38
Member (2003)
German to Dutch
+ ...
Play the game Apr 8, 2016

Accept the grid and keep in mind that you can always tell the agency that you're not available once they present you with a really disadvantageous Trados Translation Count Report for an actual job. Chances are that this won't happen too often. Defending your base rate is more important.

Cheers,
Gerard


 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:38
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Don't let them force you to buy Trados Apr 8, 2016

Don't let them force you to buy Trados. Whether or not you invest in a CAT tool, and if so in which one/s, is YOUR DECISION, not theirs.

 

Dr. Matthias Schauen  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 16:38
Member
English to German
Raise the base rate Apr 8, 2016

If the CAT grid is non-negotiable (and I can understand that large agencies have problems allowing for different CAT grids), and if you really want to work for them, tell them that you have to raise your base rate then to arrive at a similar overall rate. I tried this compromise last year, and even though I had a bad feeling accepting their irrational CAT grid, it worked out in the end, with lots of jobs and overall invoices slightly higher (0 to 5%) than with my usual grid and base rate.

 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 15:38
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Advice in this particular case Apr 8, 2016

My advice to myself would be to avoid them like the plague, as Tom says. I wouldn't have done a test until we'd agreed on rates, for a start, and a formal grid scheme and 60-day terms would both be stoppers. But you don't have a lot of negotiating strength at the moment. You would really benefit from a solid amount of experience. Not just from the experience itself but also from its appearance on your CV.

It's a little difficult to say without knowing what they are proposing as the full rate per word. But I've definitely seen worse grids. Paying 20% for 100% matches and repetitions is, I believe, quite unusual, with the worst agencies offering a big zero. The other unknown is what they are intending matching these units with. If they're going to be providing really poor TMs, maybe actually post-edited MT, you'll likely find most matches worse than useless. But if it's a subject-specific TM compiled by serious translators, it could be very useful.

So, if the base rate isn't too bad, maybe it would be worth seeing the first text or two. You may find that the overall rate is worth it just at the moment. Remember that as a freelance translator any contract you sign only relates to jobs you choose to accept. Individual jobs can be declined or accepted. And once you have a few successful jobs under your belt, you may find that 5,000-word job offered on Friday afternoon suddenly has a bigger budget available.

However, there's a big proviso in my book. They have to fulfil their side of the contract. If you have to struggle to get your hard-earned money after the 60-day wait then I'd advise you to drop them. Life is too short to spend it being treated badly.


 

Thomas T. Frost  Identity Verified
Member (2014)
Danish to English
+ ...
Trados or not Apr 8, 2016

You may be able to handle their files with a less expensive CAT tool, for example Déjà Vu or MemoQ. Each has its pros and cons. MemoQ handles sdlppx files seamlessly while Déjà Vu requires manual intervention, for example. MemoQ makes a dog's breakfast out of html and xml files while Déjà Vu should be designed to handle these formats properly.

It does make it easier to attract new clients if you have a CAT tool. Some translators do fine without one, but then they are settled translators and don't need to start from scratch.

It's a typical grid you've shown. I'm not fond of them, but instead of saying no, I have adapted my way of working so I can handle them without losing out: the first thing I do in a new file is to go through all the discounted segments and do them fast, being sure not to put more effort in them than what is paid for. I don't let any mistakes pass, but I don't shine up an old phrase already partially translated to make it sound better either. In other words, I just do the minimum necessary to avoid that there are mistakes.

The result is that I can earn the same amount per hour on the discounted segments as I can on the rest of the segments paid at full rate.

What the discounted segments are concerned, I would like to provide better translations, but I won't do it for free. They are the ones that decide they want to pay less, so I give them what they pay for, nothing more.

I see this as a pragmatic solution rather than an ideological one. It's more important to get revenue flowing in than to stand firm on fine principles that will shut you out of a large proportion of the market.

As for having bought MemoQ, I don’t regret it. Despite its various flaws, it does make some things easier and faster.

If you do decide to buy, try to find a group purchase to get your CAT cheaper. There is one right now here: http://www.proz.com/tgb/ . Sometimes, you can also get a group purchase through an agency, which is what I did. It made it even cheaper than the Proz group purchase.


 

Anne Gaujard-Scott  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 16:38
Member (2016)
English to French
TOPIC STARTER
Food for thought Apr 8, 2016

Thank you all very much for your prompt and detailed responses. I appreciate the time your spent reading my (very) long post and answering my question!

Yesterday I was determined to refuse the contract, but now I am reconsidering my decision. Experience-building has to be my number one priority right now, and I suppose I can always end my collaboration with this agency in a while if I am unhappy.

Thankfully I have already met a couple of nice and quality-driven clients (through this site!) who have offered me interestng and rewarding work. I can only hope that displaying more experience on my CV will help me work with more of those!


 

Philippe Etienne  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:38
Member
English to French
A recent thread Apr 8, 2016

with various opinions:
http://www.proz.com/forum/money_matters/297449-what_is_the_average_percentage_discount_on_trados_matches.html

Low-end agencies tend to offer the kind of "non-negotiable" discount grid you mention.
Discounts should be based on time-saving efficiencies, but it seems that some agencies demand discounts completely disconnected from any Earthy reality.

It often goes hand in hand with extensive paperwork, 60+ day EOM terms, free follow-up/changes/feedback/Machine QA, your doing their own admin on online portals and their not paying their own bank charges.
And of course, with ticking the well-known "discount booster" box named Homogeneity or Internal fuzzy matching.

You may have to accept such conditions depending on your current situation, but career development also implies that the sooner you can dump this type of customers for more rewarding work, the better it is for your self-esteem and serotonin/dopamin levels.

Thomas wrote:
... I have adapted my way of working so I can handle them without losing out: the first thing I do in a new file is to go through all the discounted segments and do them fast, being sure not to put more effort in them than what is paid for. I don't let any mistakes pass, but I don't shine up an old phrase already partially translated to make it sound better either. In other words, I just do the minimum necessary to avoid that there are mistakes.

The result is that I can earn the same amount per hour on the discounted segments as I can on the rest of the segments paid at full rate.

What the discounted segments are concerned, I would like to provide better translations, but I won't do it for free. They are the ones that decide they want to pay less, so I give them what they pay for, nothing more.

I see this as a pragmatic solution rather than an ideological one. It's more important to get revenue flowing in than to stand firm on fine principles that will shut you out of a large proportion of the market.

Agreeing fully with this policy.
If fuzzies are paid 50%, you must save at least 50% of your time on them compared to translating them from scratch.

Philippe


 

Camille Beaupin
Peru
Member (2010)
Spanish to French
+ ...
Trial version Apr 8, 2016

I wouldn't invest in Trados before getting the first project. Maybe you could just download the free trial version? If you decide to buy the software, check here in Proz if there are some group buyings. The purchase takes longer than a normal purchase but it will be cheaper.
If you are not familiar with CAT tools, you can also attend some free webinars in Proz in order to learn how to use Trados (and other CAT tools).


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 16:38
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
I agree with Gerard Apr 8, 2016

Gerard de Noord wrote:
Accept the grid and keep in mind that you can always tell the agency that you're not available once they present you with a really disadvantageous Trados Translation Count Report for an actual job. Chances are that this won't happen too often.


That's mostly what I wanted to say as well.


 

Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 16:38
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
A word of caution Apr 8, 2016

I lost a good client through not editing matches.

In principle, I agree with Thomas, and I have often done the same sort of thing myself. However, I slipped up on one occasion. I accepted matches in a TM from a client who did not normally send me TMs or jobs with repetitions.
On this occasion, however, it was a slightly rushed job, and he sent a translation memory and a comment that I should be very careful about being consistent with the terminology I found in the TM.

I accepted all the matches - and the result was a patchwork. The end client was not happy with it and neither was I, but I had dutifully tried - uncritically - to fit my translation round the matches and sections in the TM.
Maybe both sides were at fault, but in any case, that client has never sent me any work since.
_______________________

In your position, I would probably accept the client's terms, provided they allow reasonable deadlines, and use them to clock up experience. Do NOT let yourself get into bad habits of accepting fuzzy matches etc. with errors - always deliver the best work you possibly can.

My reasoning there is that even if it is badly paid, I find I cannot lower my quality - I spend time worrying about terms I have guessed and not looked up, and I make more typos and other silly mistakes.
These then have to be corrected and cleaned out of my translation memories... It really saves time to get things right the first time round!

Quite apart from that, clients will complain, and the cheapskate agencies are sometimes the ones who cause the most hassle. In any case, you do NOT get paid for apologising and sorting things out... So again, it is to your own advantage to deliver the best quality you can.

In the course of my career, I have occasionally raised my rates, but simply dropped clients along the way too, when I have found better ones.

With regard to CATs, the important thing is to find a CAT that you personally are comfortable with. I drop agencies who insist on their particular CATs, often online. Others allow me to use Trados Studio anyway, and as colleagues have pointed out, other CATs can often work with Studio packages etc. more or less directly.

Working with a CAT you like is efficient and a pleasure; working with one you dislike is distracting and time consuming, and the quality of your work will suffer.

Ultimately, you have to assert yourself as the expert you are, and give agencies feedback about their jobs, terms and conditions, what kind of work you are good at, and what subject areas you do not work in. You are the client's partner, not an employee.

The best clients will respect you for that.

Ideally, you should set your own basic rates at least, though you may have to accept some low rates at first. Try not to accept big jobs at low rates, so that you can always take on the better offers when they come!

When it comes to references: I never give any, but that is easier once you are established. Find some non-sensitive texts and enter them in your portfolio in your profile as samples of your work. I occasionally do small tests for clients, but others are very opposed to doing work like that for free. Check the client first, because if they have time to wait for a test, they do not always have real, paid jobs afterwards.

Joining an association like the CIoL or the ATA is a reference in itself - you have to be vetted, and clients are often happier about giving you a reference for a professional association like that than for a potential competitor to their own business.

I hope you find plenty of good clients and get off to a good start - best of luck!


 

Bernhard Sulzer  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:38
English to German
+ ...
It's a trick Apr 10, 2016

Gerard de Noord wrote:

Accept the grid and keep in mind that you can always tell the agency that you're not available once they present you with a really disadvantageous Trados Translation Count Report for an actual job. Chances are that this won't happen too often. Defending your base rate is more important.

Cheers,
Gerard


Chances are once you accept the grid, you're never going to get anywhere else with that agency; as a matter of fact, that's quite certain. And agencies that work with grids will always want to use them to lower your rate as much as possible. It's a trick, that's all.


 

Bernhard Sulzer  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:38
English to German
+ ...
Nothing good comes from it Apr 10, 2016

AnneGS wrote:

...

So here are my questions: my instinct tells me to run away from this situation and look for clients that will put quality first. However, I am an unexperienced (yet competent, I dare say!) translator and don't exactly have a crowd of potential clients knocking at my door right now. So am I crazy? Is it standard practice? Should I bite the bullet, use the opportunity to acquire experience, even at the cost of compromising on my principles, and working at an unacceptable rate for a while? If I translate non-technical documents with a fairly low amount of repetitions, is it still worth considering? I am confused.

Any advice or thoughts will be welcome!icon_smile.gif



Run!

You worked too hard to get where you are now. There's no need to be exploited by unprofessional agencies just because you don't have a certain amount of experience. You are capable of providing accurate translations. That's what is needed and that needs to be paid adequately. Do you really want to work with someone who pressures you into accepting completely unreasonable rates and make as much profit off you as they want and demand? Segment/word analyses by a CAT tool don't say much about what the actual work entails. Trust me. The text needs to be translated and reviewed, to the best of your ability (part of the best practices commitment that professionals follow) and I would never want to supply anything less than the best I can do. Do you want to become known for so-so translation work and remain with the cheap outsourcers who are active on the job boards of translation portals?
No, don't think that way. There are ways to get those better clients. Advertise through your own website, and wait for serious clients to contact you through portals etc.

You might at first have to work another job besides translating, maybe language tutoring, maybe teaching at a college, maybe something else altogether. But you should never give in to unreasonable remuneration, at no stage in your chosen career for which you spent years studying. It's not worth it. You'll hate yourself and will get discouraged.

There is always flexibility with rates, depending on various factors, but working for unreasonably low rates and discounts based solely on word analyses by machines (CAT tools) is IMO unacceptable.
If there are reasons to apply discounts at all, they should be based on your analysis of text and, as I said, the work the translation entails. That means much more than the word analysis of a machine and some arbitrary grids and arbitrarily assigned discounts for match percentages. What is considered a match is already an arbitrary decision. Nothing good comes from it.


 

Kuochoe Nikoi  Identity Verified
Ghana
Local time: 14:38
Member (2011)
Japanese to English
Even before that Apr 10, 2016

Gerard de Noord wrote:

Accept the grid and keep in mind that you can always tell the agency that you're not available once they present you with a really disadvantageous Trados Translation Count Report for an actual job. Chances are that this won't happen too often. Defending your base rate is more important.

Cheers,
Gerard

Just because you signed the agreement doesn't mean you have to take any work they offer, but chances are they won't have much work for you anyway. The more hoops you have to jump through to get into an agency's database, the less likely you are to get any work from them.


 
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