Experienced translator: new to agencies, looking for advice.
Thread poster: Jorge Barriuso Aguirre

Jorge Barriuso Aguirre  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:20
Member (Sep 2018)
Spanish to English
Sep 14

Hello all.

I have a bit of a particular situation. I have been translating for direct clients for many years (since 2001), mostly academic and scientific researchers at well-known Spanish universities and research institutes, but also for local and regional government institutions, national parks, large and small tourism companies, etc. I've translated many scientific articles, large projects for important institutions and even translated books. The thing is, 100% of my work has come from word of mouth, clients recommending me to other clients (generally colleagues looking for translation services). I have many references from these direct clients.

Due to changes in my personal circumstances (I recently became a single parent), I find that I need to increase my income substantially. While the jobs I receive are decently paid and generally interesting, there just isn't sufficient work flow and I'm not very knowledgeable about how to market myself and grow my translation business. This is why I joined the proz network and have to say that I am impressed at the camaraderie and generosity of the professionals here.

To start, I've been reading the forums and trying to improve my online presence here and at linkedin. I'm not sure if I'm a candidate for the mentoring program, probably not, but it's obvious that I have much to learn about the business side of things, particularly working for agencies.

From my reading it seems I've made the classic error of not specializing. I've always taken all the technical translations that came my way, as I really enjoy delving into new fields and collaborating with the authors to learn the technical terms and concepts. As a consequence I have experience in many fields and it's hard for me to decide which ones would be the most productive (in terms of increasing workflow) to focus on. Any thoughts on this would be welcome.

I tried to work for a well-rated agency on the blue board in the recent past, but found that they would only send work if I was willing to work for extremely low rates (0.025 euro/word) for short but technical translations, which is too low to make a living in a country like Spain. My standard rates for direct clients are 0.09 - 0.10, so it's hard for me to conceive of working for such a low rate. I'm willing to lower my rate to work for agencies, obviously, but it has to be reasonable. Again, any advice there would be appreciated.

So I was wondering if anyone would be willing to share their experience with me and critically assess my profile (here and at linkedin, if you want to be quite generous) and my CV and give me any advice on how to properly submit quotes to the job postings that have begun to appear in my inbox. I have never used these things (not even the CV) to find translation work in the past, so I am sure that I need help optimizing them!

Thank you!


Mouka Mezonlin
Susan Murphy Lamprecht
 

Mouka Mezonlin
Benin
Local time: 23:20
English to French
+ ...
I'm following Sep 14

Hi,
I am mostly like you, a new freelancer with some translation experience so, I will stay tuned.


Susan Murphy Lamprecht
 

Fiona Grace Peterson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 00:20
Member
Italian to English
No secret recipe Sep 14

Hi and welcome! There isn't really any secret recipe when dealing with agencies, just good, stern business sense.

I had a look at your CV. While it looks pretty good overall, there are some things I would change. Put your personal contact details at the end, leaving just your contact email at the top of the first page. Then add a strong, pithy paragraphy summarising your strengths and unique selling point(s) as a translator. I would also create separate CVs for teaching and translating. While there are no set rules as to CV length, shorter is probably better, as long as you are able to highlight all your strengths and convince people why they should hire you.

I would not focus on getting jobs through Proz - if it happens then great, but often they are not well paid. I would focus instead on creating a strong CV and online presence, and let clients come to you.

Kudoz is another good tool - while the system definitely has its flaws, good, well-researched answers on your part will show your colleagues how you work and think, and also helps your directory ranking which in turn increases your visibility.

Keep applying to agencies - lots of them. Turn away those who pay poor rates - those who pay well are out there, it just takes patience and work to find them.


Mirko Mainardi
Teresa Borges
Susan Murphy Lamprecht
 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 23:20
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
It will take time Sep 14

Jorge Barriuso Aguirre wrote:
From my reading it seems I've made the classic error of not specializing. I've always taken all the technical translations that came my way, as I really enjoy delving into new fields and collaborating with the authors to learn the technical terms and concepts. As a consequence I have experience in many fields and it's hard for me to decide which ones would be the most productive (in terms of increasing workflow) to focus on. Any thoughts on this would be welcome.

It's not so much what you can and can't do - it's about your marketing message. In your pair, you'll have more chance of coming to the eye of agencies if you specialise. Let's take an example on this site. If they want, say, Swahili to Japanese, they'll simply search for a translator who works in that pair, and still be lucky to find any (Ah, I see there is just one here!). But if they search for an ES>EN translator, they're going to get tens of thousands listed (55K)! Even if they search for a target native speaker who has ES>EN as their top/only pair and specialises in, say, genetics, they'll still get quite some choice (188). If you don't appear on pages 1-3 of that list - and preferably on page 1 - your name will never be seen. You can't possibly be visible for everything, so it follows that you need to market yourself as a specialist. It doesn't stop you going outside that area of specialisation if you find a client who wants it and you feel capable of it.

I've concentrated above on your ability to find clients on sites like ProZ.com, but of course it also pays to specialise in your pair because for every job you'll be competing against others. If you're just another "I translate everything" guy, then you have little to compete on except price - although your length and breadth of experience etc. do count for something. If you can show that you've become the goto person for some niche market - with samples, client feedback, About Me text, and CV all pointing to that specialisation - then you have far more chance of getting the job even if you charge considerably more than the cheapest generalist.

mostly academic and scientific researchers at well-known Spanish universities and research institutes, but also for local and regional government institutions, national parks, large and small tourism companies, etc.

Well, you do have two totally different types of translation there. It might well pay you to promote one over the other.

I tried to work for a well-rated agency on the blue board in the recent past, but found that they would only send work if I was willing to work for extremely low rates (0.025 euro/word) for short but technical translations, which is too low to make a living in a country like Spain. My standard rates for direct clients are 0.09 - 0.10, so it's hard for me to conceive of working for such a low rate. I'm willing to lower my rate to work for agencies, obviously, but it has to be reasonable. Again, any advice there would be appreciated.

Was it one of those well-known ones who have massive volumes? If so, their business model is all about profit, volume, profit, speed, profit... Translators give them rave reviews because they depend on them. At that rate they don't have the time to do any marketing or take on other, better paying jobs; they're too busy bashing out the next thousand words in the next hour so they can eat at the end of the month. Your rate isn't too high at all for discerning, quality-based agencies, although it is far too high for some others.

So I was wondering if anyone would be willing to share their experience with me and critically assess my profile (here and at linkedin, if you want to be quite generous) and my CV and give me any advice on how to properly submit quotes to the job postings that have begun to appear in my inbox. I have never used these things (not even the CV) to find translation work in the past, so I am sure that I need help optimizing them!

You do, that's clear icon_smile.gif . But there are a couple of features of the site that can help. The Site Guidance Centre isn't just for newbie translators; it's also for new-to-ProZ.com ones. One must feature is the free webinar on how to meet clients here. It will help enormously with your profile, etc. And I wrote a Wiki article (Education tab) on writing a CV - specifically for freelancers rather than employees. So have a look at that. If you have doubts after that I'll be happy to help.


Teresa Borges
Joe Ly Sien
Susan Murphy Lamprecht
 

Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:20
French to English
academic and research Sep 14

Can you translate nuclear physics, genetics, geopolitics, law, commerce and insurance? If you can, great. If not, then you could draw on the specific type of academic and research texts you have experience of working on. There are a number of transferable elements there to exploit for your own commercial benefit. Private research organizations exist and academic institutions also collaborate with private structure too. Bear that in mind and consider which companies and private structures you could transfer your existing skills and knowledge to. As Sheila has pointed out, it will take time. Continue contacting agencies too, but whatever you do, don't lower your rates to a ridiculous level. The odd occasion you will do so, is likely to be just the time a good and normal opportunity comes your way.

When in need, something is better than nothing is not always the best solution. You can end up falling into a situation where you are working full-time but earning less than ever. To be avoided. Without letting clients know, perhaps you could offer other services or take on other types of language work while building up your client base. Think out the box and try to extract stuff that you have knowledge of but that is just not being used.

Also, consider regrouping and redefining your existing translation skills into logical themes. Here's an exercise. Three columns, unnamed. Force yourself to put each of your areas of knowledge into one of those columns. You might discover that your experience is not that general as you believe today. If logical groupings appear, then you can present your skillset differently. if they don't appear, then alter the definitions making them more general or more detailed in order to match others.

Think transferability!

[Edited at 2018-09-14 12:09 GMT]


Teresa Borges
Kevin Fulton
Susan Murphy Lamprecht
 

DZiW
Ukraine
English to Russian
+ ...
anew Sep 14

First, why agencies (miser middlemen), not direct clients (both individual and legal entities)?
Say, having a couple of local direct clients pays me as a dozen of 'most generous' agencies, let alone flexible time, tips, advance payments, and negotiations.

Second, why translate, not interpret?
A decent biz meeting is worth at least some $350/h and a conference is $750+, not to mention local transportation, lodging, dining--and useful contacts.

Third, can you do something else besides translation?
I met about a hundred of translators who successfully re-prioritized or sacrificed translation to other activities (mentoring, coaching/consulting, baking, welding, building, designing, programming, and so on) and seem never to regret it. Why, becoming an agency or a team also counts)

Anyway, just do diversify not only the income sources, but also income activities.

Cheers


Susan Murphy Lamprecht
 

Kevin Fulton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:20
German to English
Consider raising your rate to direct customers Sep 14

You wrote
"My standard rates for direct clients are 0.09 - 0.10".
Many translators charge this rate to agencies, and quote rates that are much higher to direct customers. There are many agencies willing to pay a fair rate for a quality translation. This might possibly reduce your dependence on low-paying agencies.

I agree with other suggestions that you specialize and analyze the applicability of your skills. The exercise suggested by Ms. Scott-Despaigne could be very useful.


Susan Murphy Lamprecht
 

Jorge Barriuso Aguirre  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:20
Member (Sep 2018)
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
Wonderful comments! Sep 14

Thank you all for your comments!

Fiona, I think you're right about making a CV just for translations and another for education. I'll do that this afternoon, although I must have a good think about how I want to phrase my pithy marketing paragraph. And I'll try to cast a broader net for agencies. I recently applied at two, but I'll look for more and see if anything comes down the pipeline. Thank you!

Sheila, you make some very insightful comments about page ranking and standing out from the crowd. Obviously, spa > eng is not an exotic pairing and I can see why "translate everything" will not help me grab anyone's attention. I've come to the realization that my strongest area are the social sciences, specifically migration studies and demographics, I'm just not sure if that is a field where I can count on a steady flow of work, although I find it fascinating and important work. This is where my greatest doubt lies. Perhaps my focus should be on "humanities" as that would include things like education, history, philosophy and other areas where i have experience as well? I hate giving up on the hard sciences, as I think there is probably more money (and therefore work) there.

I have signed up for 2 upcoming webinars: Meeting clients on Proz and Small Group Profile review. I will definitely check out the wiki you wrote!

Nikki, I quite like the three-column exercise you propose. This weekend I'm going to sit down and see if I can make a go of it. I will be sure to let you know how it goes.

Again, thank you so much for your sharing your thoughts!!


Susan Murphy Lamprecht
 

Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:20
French to English
Other suggestions Sep 15

Jorge Barriuso Aguirre wrote:

Thank you all for your comments!

Fiona, I think you're right about making a CV just for translations and another for education. I'll do that this afternoon, although I must have a good think about how I want to phrase my pithy marketing paragraph. And I'll try to cast a broader net for agencies. I recently applied at two, but I'll look for more and see if anything comes down the pipeline. Thank you!



I tweak my CV for each agency, sometimes just a few words, adding something that might be particularly relevant and removing something that is not.



Sheila, you make some very insightful comments about page ranking and standing out from the crowd. Obviously, spa > eng is not an exotic pairing and I can see why "translate everything" will not help me grab anyone's attention. I've come to the realization that my strongest area are (is) the social sciences, specifically migration studies and demographics, I'm just not sure if that is a field where I can count on a steady flow of work, although I find it fascinating and important work. This is where my greatest doubt lies. Perhaps my focus should be on "humanities" as that would include things like education, history, philosophy and other areas where i (I)have experience as well? I hate giving up on the hard sciences, as I think there is probably more money (and therefore work) there.



It looks as though you already have specializations. Education, history, etc. are wide fields, but if you can keyword a couple of specific areas (migration, demographics) then you can immediately set yourself apart for a client searching with those keywords. Also, demographics and migration could be a fit for politics or statistics.

You have experience of "hard sciences", but which ones? And which subject areas within those fields?

A combination of those key areas could be what brings in work.

Migration, demographics: you could add geography, history, politics
Education, history (as above), philosophy
Hard sciences (which ones?)

By way of example, I have degrees in law, French (language and politics), biology/neuroscience, psychology. I have additional qualifications in terrorism/counterterrorism, but also in autism. None of that actually shows one of the areas which actually kept me busy for most of my working day for a 10-year period: nautism. I actually have extensive translation/interpreting knowledge and experience in everything from the conception of a boat through to its competitive sailing programme. That includes areas such as intellectual property, naval architecture (stability, design calculations), construction (composite materials), navigation (weather, aerodynamics, hydrodynamics, sailing rules and regulations), press releases/packs, race organisation, press conferences, technical meetings. It's a very specific skill set that can be acquired without formal training, but that was added to a background in law with some experience in maritime law and cargo/personal injury experience and a love for technical detail and precision... and the fact that I was in the ocean-racing circuit socially, hanging out in boatyards, eating, sleeping and breathing yacht racing, more specifically multihulls and more specifically again transatlantic and round-the-world record attempts.

Another example, the keyword "autism" can be combined with "neuroscience", "psychology" or "biology", even "law", depending on the context. So if you have "insider knowledge" of a particular area that is absolutely not represented in any formal shape or form, bring that out too. Use keywords that will bring up your profile when particular combinations might be required too.

As for the hard sciences being better paid, I'd say not necessarily. Academic translation is (unfortunately) not one of the best-paid fields. State-funded universities do not always have good budgets for good rates. Private structures are better clients in terms of rates and in terms of speedy payment too. So consider how you might approach those structures and organisations. Cover your options.

Good luck.

P.S. I've underlined a couple of typos. Feel free to underline mine, in fact, please do!

[Edited at 2018-09-15 22:47 GMT]


Kevin Fulton
 

IrinaN
United States
Local time: 17:20
English to Russian
+ ...
From the agency advocate Sep 16

Hi Jorge,

I know that many colleagues, especially on the high-end, are not so fond of any agencies or, as a minimum, always keep looking for more direct clients. Well, I'm on the other side. I work exclusively via agencies and trust me, I can very well guess how much they charge their clients if they can pay me $.10 (my drop-dead minimum for non-tech) to $.15, or $500 - $750 for interpreting. In fact, I know that they don't really make that much of a profit on the interpretation side. I started using MemSource but no CAT discounts.

Let's talk middleman.

In my view, it just happens so that we pay a margin or an interest on anything good in our lives, whether we like it or not:-). "Forms of currency" may be different but free cheese comes only in a mousetrap. I've read in the previous forums that it is considered normal to spend 30-40% of freelancer's time on non-paid admin/marketing/negotiations etc etc. Honestly, I would have changed the trade:-) Not to mention lost nerve cells and essentially turning into an agency obligated to be available nearly all the time, resolve day-to-day and hour-to-hour changes, logistics etc etc. It's a lot of time, the unpaid time.

I pay agency margins for having my life belonging to me when I don't make money. I understand that time is of essence to you. My agencies take care of any contacts from the end customer, many of which do not even concern me as a translator. I know my editors. Agencies take care of complicated DTP, I am never worried about what happens if I get too sick to proceed as long as I notify them on time. I am in full control of my hours because nothing matters except for the deadline. From the moment you accept the job from a direct client, you are chained to him. I don't like it. I don't have to be available immediately for any unexpected client's calls or observe any business hours. When in the middle of the allocated time, I can tell my PM at 2 pm on Wednesday that I'm having my nails done and can get to the file in 2 hours only. Once I asked to take the rest of the assigned file from me because I had an urgent and super exciting interpretation offer - missing Japan over construction site development would have hurt too much:-) Of course, privileges like that should not be abused and are only possible after years of proven relationship when both sides have a history of coming through in the emergencies.

In a nutshell, I spend a few minutes on discussing the initial request since the task at hand is very clear and the agency has already done all the dirty job for me - hunting, negotiating and clarifying everything. Another 10-30 on job overview, and next time I contact my PM is when I submit the job, save any unavoidable questions. I submit invoices with every single job, it takes another 5-10 min. I close my file or my mouth and my obligations for the day are fulfilled. I am free to live my life until tomorrow or next assignment. I like it that way and do not lose any sleep over the margin that the agency makes.

Of course, it takes time and effort to find such agencies and tap into their cookie jars, but once there, it will be worth it. Word-of-mouth is a vital source of work but very often I get offers from colleagues who'd also gotten it from the agencies I didn't know.

Shoot me now...

Edited for typos

[Edited at 2018-09-16 02:46 GMT]


Kevin Fulton
Kay-Viktor Stegemann
Michele Fauble
Vera Schoen
 

Andrea Schwam
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:20
Member (2012)
French to English
+ ...
don't forget outsourcers Sep 16

I don't totally agree with the idea that you shouldn't focus on getting jobs through ProZ. Sure, you need to be extremely careful when working with someone new on here, as there are many scams about. On the other hand, I've "met" some great people who I like working with a lot. They are mostly outsourcers though - sometimes working for agencies is a bit of a thankless job.
But that depends on the agency of course.
When applying for jobs, I agree that you need to have targeted CVs and cover letters. It is annoying and takes ages, but it makes a huge difference. It's so important because, like you, I "specialize" in quite a lot of things. When writing a customized cover letter, I always list some recent projects that might be interesting to the client, with details such as language pairs, document type, volume, etc.
It sounds like you've got years of great experience, so you'll have no problems selling that - it's just going to be a bit of tedious work putting it all down on paper...


 

Jorge Barriuso Aguirre  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:20
Member (Sep 2018)
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
Outsourcers Sep 16

Andrea Schwam wrote:

I don't totally agree with the idea that you shouldn't focus on getting jobs through ProZ. Sure, you need to be extremely careful when working with someone new on here, as there are many scams about. On the other hand, I've "met" some great people who I like working with a lot. They are mostly outsourcers though - sometimes working for agencies is a bit of a thankless job.
But that depends on the agency of course.



Thank you for your comment Andrea. Can you explain to me what an outsourcer is? How is this different than an agency and how do you meet them?


 

Jorge Barriuso Aguirre  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:20
Member (Sep 2018)
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
Diversification Sep 16

DZiW wrote:

First, why agencies (miser middlemen), not direct clients (both individual and legal entities)?
Say, having a couple of local direct clients pays me as a dozen of 'most generous' agencies, let alone flexible time, tips, advance payments, and negotiations.

Second, why translate, not interpret?
A decent biz meeting is worth at least some $350/h and a conference is $750+, not to mention local transportation, lodging, dining--and useful contacts.

Third, can you do something else besides translation?
I met about a hundred of translators who successfully re-prioritized or sacrificed translation to other activities (mentoring, coaching/consulting, baking, welding, building, designing, programming, and so on) and seem never to regret it. Why, becoming an agency or a team also counts)

Anyway, just do diversify not only the income sources, but also income activities.


DZiw, my situation is that I have only direct clients, just not enough workflow from them, which is why I am looking at "diversifying" to work with agencies.

I also recently got my CELTA certificate to teach English, so I am already thinking outside of translations. But I am a bit of an introvert, so I really feel suited to the translator's life!


 

DZiW
Ukraine
English to Russian
+ ...
profitability Sep 16

Jorge, if you're ok with the fields and in good terms with your clients, why don't you let them know you can do and need more projects? Perhaps, they could recommend you too? Are your friends and neighbors also aware of the fact you're looking for jobs? Make them know!

The two big issues with modern agencies are
(1) they tend to pay low while charging their clients extra--from 15% to some 75%--for namely nothing (very often no CATs/TMs/glossaries, no financial/legal/technical support);
(2) they unilaterally impose strict terms--including various style-guides, CAT tools, infamous 'discounts', 'ever free tests', and 'some-three-month delayed payment'.
Are you really into this--and at what costs?

Irina mentioned she doesn't allow popular 'CAT discounts', which automatically discards about 2/3rd of all agencies with the Why-paying-more-when-there're-so-many-for-much-less? attitude.
Of course, one could agree with such an agency terms to start from the entry-position, but it will be really difficult to rise his rates, amending the more favorable conditions.

I would start locally, extending the scope--or consider teaming up with a few colleagues.

[Edited at 2018-09-16 16:38 GMT]


 


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