How do agencies keep prices down?
Thread poster: webguru

webguru
Local time: 04:45
Slovak to English
+ ...
Sep 15

After decades of working with agencies I am going to make a serious attempt to find my own clients directly again (this was not viable for me until now due to lack of time available). But I wanted to make a few observations and see if others feel same way. AS freelancers how can we make a reasonable good living without being constantly screwed by agencies? How can we work with them and make sure that everyone is happy? In the end there is only one client paying one fee and if we all want a piece of that fee there might not be as much to go around...
One of the ways agencies seem to keep prices down is by creating a pool of translators that vigorously keep competing against each other - and more often than not it is on price. What does the agency do? Keeps charging clients same prices but increase their own margin by pushing down the translators' fees... With a particular agency sending me medical text to both translate and proofread I started sending jobs back and saying - your offer is too low, I can't justify working for so little. At times they increased the fee, other times they said OK, we'll find someone else. So perhaps a 50:50 rate of success of getting paid better. But now I see them advertising for translators and proofreaders again (in many pairs) - so they increase their pool and most likely get someone to commit to the job quickly when advertised at a low rate. They get a poor job (sometimes) - then it is sent to someone to proofread who needs to "fix it" so client doesn't get a bad result. I had translation jobs to proofread where I had to re-translate parts of the text..! And yet I only get paid for proofreading
How should we as translators tackle this problem? We are competing against each other but we want a healthy competition that is challenging rather than frustrating, and we don't want our rates deteriorate in the process...


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Mario Chavez  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:45
English to Spanish
+ ...
First step Sep 16

The first step, to me, is to stop calling ourselves “freelancers.” Ever met a freelance electrician or plumber or architect? Yes, you have, but they don't call themselves that now, do they?

The second step would be to stop lumping everyone in the same group in a reductive taxonomy. There are many translation agencies, big and small, and they charge fees in a continuum of prices, from very low to very high. I guess the next step is self explanatory: look for the ones that pay higher fees to translators.

It seems to me that you are breaking out to find direct clients more out of disillusionment with the agencies you've so far worked. Economics can't be your only motivator.


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:45
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Down/up Sep 16

The corollary to your question "How do agencies keep prices down?" is "How do translators keep prices up?"

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jyuan_us  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:45
Member (2005)
English to Chinese
+ ...
Removed by poster Sep 16

Removed by poster

[Edited at 2017-09-16 19:27 GMT]

[Edited at 2017-09-16 19:31 GMT]


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webguru
Local time: 04:45
Slovak to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
How do translators keep prices up? Sep 16

Tom in London wrote:

The corollary to your question "How do agencies keep prices down?" is "How do translators keep prices up?"


Well - what I was pointing out is one of their tactics which is constantly advertising for translators in the same language pair even though they're not getting too much work to run out of freelancers that they already work with... That way there is constant pressure on each of us to not increase the price as then the cheaper colleague will get the job. That brings me to the point in the first response - trades like electricians and plumbers do not call themselves freelancers. Perhaps because they don't like the word "free' being part of it However, the difference is that they need to be physically present on client's premises to do their job... Local tradespeople can get together in a pub or a cafe and say "prices are falling too low, can we do something?" - then they decide not to quote under certain level. As freelancers we cannot do that as agencies are constantly either offering a job at predetermined rate or asking for the lowest price with shortest delivery. Have you ever tried to call a plumber saying "My shower is leaking and I have $20 to fix it, can you come today?" You would not get a very nice response I guess


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Josephine Cassar  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:45
Member (2012)
Italian to English
+ ...
Rate/conditions Sep 17

Don't accept any rate just to get the translation; translators that accept a low rate are the profession and themselves a lot of harm and this is the result. Don't let them walk all over you-imposing conditions, paying whenever they like and expecting you to take it or leave it. Translators state their terms, not agencies as they are the service providers. Check them out before, not after, then walk away if you see they are a risk not worth taking; don't go for that job at all costs, don't let them press you into accepting any subject/language pair, etc. These are just some of the tips. I'm sure there are others too.

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Mirko Mainardi  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 19:45
Member
English to Italian
+ ...
All good advice, but... Sep 17

Josephine Cassar wrote:

Don't accept any rate just to get the translation; translators that accept a low rate are the profession and themselves a lot of harm and this is the result. Don't let them walk all over you-imposing conditions, paying whenever they like and expecting you to take it or leave it. Translators state their terms, not agencies as they are the service providers. Check them out before, not after, then walk away if you see they are a risk not worth taking; don't go for that job at all costs, don't let them press you into accepting any subject/language pair, etc. These are just some of the tips. I'm sure there are others too.


That is what you, as an individual translator, can and should do, however, the greater picture here (going back to the main topic) is that this is a(n unregulated) buyer's market and therefore buyers will always find someone cheaper, if that's what they want (and they often do want).

Likewise, many agencies, and big ones in particular, have their own terms and conditions, and are unwilling to change them, especially for someone they never worked with before. It's either take it or leave it. And I'm saying this because "I left it" time and again.


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Zeki Guler  Identity Verified
Ireland
Local time: 18:45
Member (2012)
English to Turkish
Differentiation Sep 17

Hi,

One way to avoid competing with bottom feeders is differentiating ourselves by specializing in a field and acquiring the top certificates/qualifications/professional memberships etc.

And doing the things they don't, going the places they don't, thinking the way they don't


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 19:45
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Several real ways to keep expenses down while competing on quality, not prices Sep 17

They can work from offices away from big city centres, where premises are cheaper. Agencies work over the Internet anyway, so they do not need a big plush office to impress clients like a lawyer, or a waiting room like a dentist. Or a big car park for them... They can have excellent facilities for their own employees in cheaper areas of the town.

They can specialise in delivering quality and service - then they match loyal, satisfied clients with translators who stay with them. This saves a bit on marketing and recruitment, because they do not have to keep looking for new clients and translators.

They can treat their PMs well - and then the best, efficient PMs stay on and keep clients happy... This saves on recruitment and the whole combination saves on complaints and hassle...

... Because the best translators get it right first time, the proofreaders are happy to touch up basically good work, and the clients want more of the same...

They tend to be small agencies, where the owner-director is good at marketing or makes an active contribution as an administrator, and is paid a fair salary, but not a big 'fat cat' salary many times that of the other employees.

It is not always as ideal as that, but I know several agencies that aim at that kind of setup and succeed a fair bit of the way. They are not the cheapest, but by competing on quality they can actually make enough money to pay decent rates to translators.

They may also provide other services like DTP and SEO, and coordinating multi-language projects, all adding to the efficiency of the package for the client.

Small is beautiful!


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Maxi Schwarz
Local time: 12:45
German to English
+ ...
What a client does price-wise doesn't concern me Sep 19

I have my set fee. An identical document translated for an end client or for an agency is exactly the same amount of work. Why should I charge a different fee to one of them? In fact, since most end clients pay upon receipt or in advance, they even present advantages. Often it is easier to work with an end client, because you can work directly with them, and they tend to fit themselves to your procedure, rather than having to juggle with some agencies' procedures. An agency is a client. Since I have my fee, as long as that fee is paid, I don't really care how they keep their prices down. Actually, the agencies I work for tend to try to keep their quality up - that creates a synergy.

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Inga Petkelyte  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 18:45
Lithuanian to Portuguese
+ ...
Depends on the market Sep 19

Zeki Guler wrote:

Hi,

One way to avoid competing with bottom feeders is differentiating ourselves by specializing in a field and acquiring the top certificates/qualifications/professional memberships etc.


In low-priced countries, none of the above matters - unfortunately!
In over 20 years, I haven't been asked once for any certificates.
The EU-bidders were the only ones to ask for a University Diploma - but that's because the tender rules demanded so.
If the asker is located in Slovakia, her situation might be the same.


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