Searching for the GOOD translation agencies
Thread poster: José Henrique Lamensdorf

José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 04:14
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Oct 10

I can't believe that the only GOOD translation agencies in my language pair are the relatively few I've been serving so far. While sweat shop exploiters in our industry abound, there must still be more good ones.

IMHO the system is upside down. An agent/agency supposedly acts on behalf of someone selling their products or services.

Too many translation agencies merely resell the services of whoever they find doing them for the price they impose. They are not agents for the translators, merely commodity resellers, one more link in the linear supply chain between vendors (translators) and end-clients.

I'm looking for those translation agencies that place translators, reviewers, DTP operators, and others as reinforcements - no matter if thinner - to their own link in the supply chain, aka business partners.

So I published this page - http://www.lamensdorf.com.br/for-agencies.html - not keyword-ed nor SEO-ed yet.

Feedback from colleagues (and prospects - if any come here to read) is most welcome.


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Michael Newton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:14
Member (2003)
Japanese to English
+ ...
GOOD translation agencies Oct 11

You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you meet a princess.

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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 04:14
English to Portuguese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Trying to improve my score Oct 11

Michael Newton wrote:

You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you meet a princess.


I've kissed several hundred frogs, snakes, and lizards. So far, I have found less than half a dozen princesses, one duchess, and a countess.


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Daniel Frisano
Monaco
Local time: 07:14
Member (2008)
English to Italian
+ ...
Turn it around Oct 11

José Henrique Lamensdorf wrote:

An agent/agency supposedly acts on behalf of someone selling their products or services.



Most agents/agencies I've met, in translation or otherwise, acted on THEIR OWN behalf, trying to make a profit out of their activity, and I am perfectly fine with that.

After all, an agency is also selling ME a service, i.e., procuring end clients, and I will gladly pay those extra cents per word for all their work rather than doing it myself.

That's the right way of turning the tables around: offering a product/service that is so mind-blowingly good that an agency with actively scour the market to sell translation services in my language pair, effectively working for me as a sales office.

[Edited at 2017-10-11 21:23 GMT]


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Guofei_LIN
China
Local time: 14:14
Translation agencies Oct 12

I'm not looking for more translation agencies due to that:

1. I think it will be difficult to organize one's calendar or to manage the workload if you work with several translation agencies at the same time. Currently I only work with one agency and I have worked with them for over a decade. The work I received from them represented about 1,225 hours I worked in the previous year. Theoretically I have 1,728 hours available each year, so I won't be able to handle another agent;

2. I have a dim view of the translation market. Agencies are there to make profits and they are operating in a very competitive market where most of the casual clients have no clue what quality translation is, so most if not all of the agencies have difficulty selling translation at decent price, and even when they do, a lot of them would decide to make some profits by hiring cheap translators and pocket the difference. And if you spend a lot of time producing quality translation and increase the cost of your production along the way, you cannot expect to sell your service at a decent rate through an agency. Because of this, I prefer to sell my remaining hours to direct clients, relying on only one agency to fill most of my order book.


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 04:14
English to Portuguese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Yes, your mileage may vary Oct 12

Guofei_LIN wrote:

I'm not looking for more translation agencies due to that:

1. I think it will be difficult to organize one's calendar or to manage the workload if you work with several translation agencies at the same time. Currently I only work with one agency and I have worked with them for over a decade. The work I received from them represented about 1,225 hours I worked in the previous year. Theoretically I have 1,728 hours available each year, so I won't be able to handle another agent;


I served one direct local client for 20+ years, in which they accounted for about 3/4 of my income, which was quite high. After that, a paradigm shift caused their business to shrink to a small fraction of what it was in those golden years. Now I do 1-2 small jobs for them per year. It took me about 7 years to replace their demand with a number of other clients, many of them being one-off or seasonal.

It's all a matter of time management and good planning. In my consulting days (yes, I was a HRD consultant too), time management was the most frequently requested seminar theme among the options I offered.

So far I've managed to deliver all my translation jobs on time, since 1973. The only exception was this year, when a new client had me working online on their cloud-based CAT tool. I measured their server speed on the weekend, and it turned out that it was much, much slower during weekdays. So my second job for them was delivered two hours late. Now I work for them offline, and it's okay.

My persistent problem is with cash flow. That 20-yr client had a policy of paying every supplier within 48 hours from delivery. There are just too many undercapitalized translation agencies that impose extended payment terms. I'm gradually working that out.

Guofei_LIN wrote:

2. I have a dim view of the translation market. Agencies are there to make profits and they are operating in a very competitive market where most of the casual clients have no clue what quality translation is, so most if not all of the agencies have difficulty selling translation at decent price, and even when they do, a lot of them would decide to make some profits by hiring cheap translators and pocket the difference. And if you spend a lot of time producing quality translation and increase the cost of your production along the way, you cannot expect to sell your service at a decent rate through an agency. Because of this, I prefer to sell my remaining hours to direct clients, relying on only one agency to fill most of my order book.


A few years ago I put together a set of guidelines for clients in a quandary about hiring a translation agency or an independent translator.

There are countless translation agencies operating as unnecessary middlemen between end-client and translator. They earn a hefty markup merely for pushing (unopened) files in both directions. The end-client is "shy" to hire a freelancer on the other side of the planet, s/he prefers to hire a company located in a country where everything is cheap, regardless of the fact that the target language is not spoken there. (It's like importing bananas from a lesser Eastern European country, because everything is cheap there.)

However, just as on one side globalization/Internet opened the doors to the whole wide world for the freelance translator, it also caused global companies to better integrate their widespread operations.

I was an employee in four such manufacturing companies in Brazil long before the www came up. We received "content" from WHQ in hard copy by mail, and it was our task to localize it. Nowadays WHQ has a more cost-effective way of doing it, by generating content (and often publishing it online) translated into all languages they work with.

This is the typical task for a translation agency. Their job is to muster and manage a team of translators, reviewers, DTP/HTML operators, orchestrating it to get that content neatly delivered in all those languages. They definitely add a lot of value, by enabling that global company to have a local message in every place they do business, without making it any less global.

This is different from pushing files back and forth, trying to rip off translators and end-clients as much as they can. These globalizing agencies are getting paid to make the large language-wise globalization endeavor work much more efficiently and effectively than their end-client - whose core business does NOT include translation - could ever do in a cost-effective way. They don't have to rip off anyone; they are getting paid for the value they add.

Considering that the list is named Fortune 500 (and not Fortune Five), I'm after more translation agencies serving them well, to be their PT < > EN translation-providing cog in the wheel.


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Guofei_LIN
China
Local time: 14:14
Good translation agencies are next to a myth Oct 14

José Henrique Lamensdorf wrote:
A few years ago I put together a set of guidelines for clients in a quandary about hiring a translation agency or an independent translator.

I can see why you want to educate your clients. From my experience, almost all end clients cannot tell a good translation from a bad one. Sometimes they ask a bilingual employee to review the translation and it only makes matters worse as the employee often feels obligated to make some changes and these changes are often bad ones. And when clients sometimes ask another translator to review your work, a mediocre reviewer (as they usually are) often obfuscates the situation and leaves your client under the impression that he made a mistake hiring you.

Just recently I was asked to help update the Chinese translation of a promotional material by an international law firm claiming to be "one of Asia-Pacific's premier law firms". The translation was horrible and the original translator obviously did not understand many of the western legal concepts contained in the material and made a lot of mistakes. But this horrible translation obviously didn't cause any problems to them since they had been using it for a while. I told them the translation could not be used and there was no point updating it. I didn't hear from them again but I can imagine the translation agency they used for the original translation would tell them a different story.

Educating clients wouldn't work, because a typical client spends maybe only ten minutes when making a decision about choosing a translator, so he is unlikely to have time reading your advice, and when he does, he would find that every translator's website makes claims about providing best services etc..

Translation agencies, knowing that clients are gullible, are unlikely to spend more money to hire the best translators because good translators are expensive. So your good translation agencies are next to a myth, IMHO.


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 07:14
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
There are different situations on different markets Oct 16

Guofei_LIN wrote:

1. I think it will be difficult to organize one's calendar or to manage the workload if you work with several translation agencies at the same time. Currently I only work with one agency and I have worked with them for over a decade. The work I received from them represented about 1,225 hours I worked in the previous year. Theoretically I have 1,728 hours available each year, so I won't be able to handle another agent;



Her in Scandinavia it would probably be regarded (and taxed) as employment, not freelancing, if a translator only worked for one agency.

I did for a while - in-house as an employee, but when the company was in difficulties and had to dismiss a lot of translators, it was an important condition that we were allowed to work as freelancers for other agencies. That agency was still one of my best clients for several years, but I was lucky - when it finally did collapse, I did not lose a lot of money. Many colleagues did.

So I would not advise anyone to work exclusively for one agency.

The other side of the situation is that good agencies can work with a team of translators, and if one is not available, they will find another. Working for a single agency is no guarantee of a constant flow of work, in any case. None of the agencies I work for could keep me busy full time alone, or at least not with the work I do best. Between them, however, I usually have enough offers to choose the ones I will do well.

So how do I ind good agencies? I too have kissed plenty of frogs, but it is up to translators to offer quality - a specialist field, accurate translations, prompt delivery, and all the rest - so they can set their own terms and kiss the frogs goodbye if that is all they are.

I know it is easier said than done - again, there are not too many real professionals in my language pair, so I regard them more as colleagues than competitors. That makes it easier to work together for better terms and conditions.

The good agencies have to work for translators, but I can assure you, some do! At least some see no conflict in being good to translators AND clients. When both are loyal and know each other's requirements, the agencies can match translators and clients, and provide an even better service. These agencies make an effort to 'educate' clients - that good translation takes time, we need clear instructions and context ... and these agencies pass on useful information to the translators who work with them.

The key is to avoid the agencies that compete on price. There are clients who will actually pay a higher price, when they know they get a lot better value for their money, and the good agencies provide it for them.


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Josephine Cassar  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:14
Member (2012)
Italian to English
+ ...
In a way it our (translators') fault too Oct 16

Christine Andersen wrote:

So how do I ind good agencies? I too have kissed plenty of frogs, but it is up to translators to offer quality - a specialist field, accurate translations, prompt delivery, and all the rest - so they can set their own terms and kiss the frogs goodbye if that is all they are.

I know it is easier said than done - again, there are not too many real professionals in my language pair, so I regard them more as colleagues than competitors. That makes it easier to work together for better terms and conditions.

The good agencies have to work for translators, but I can assure you, some do! At least some see no conflict in being good to translators AND clients. When both are loyal and know each other's requirements, the agencies can match translators and clients, and provide an even better service. These agencies make an effort to 'educate' clients - that good translation takes time, we need clear instructions and context ... and these agencies pass on useful information to the translators who work with them.

The key is to avoid the agencies that compete on price. There are clients who will actually pay a higher price, when they know they get a lot better value for their money, and the good agencies provide it for them.


In a way, it is translators' fault too when they accept work from agencies that they know will pay late or by accepting low pay so long as they have work or by accepting unrealistic deadlines which leave no room for sleeping over and proofreading with a fresh mind or room for formatting or a particular term that might give trouble. We then ask ourselves why agencies treat us the way they do, while we are contributing to this very behaviour.

[Edited at 2017-10-16 12:18 GMT]


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Olieslagers
French Polynesia
Local time: 20:14
Member (2009)
Dutch to French
+ ...
I agree to pay for a service, but not for being ripped off Oct 16

During my first years in the translation industry, I had a constant flow of projects and business was running on wheels. I avoided the huge multinational agencies altogether and I was a happy translator. But two or three years ago, some of the translation agencies I worked for did not want to pay for repetitions any longer, in other words, I had to proofread for free.... Now I get fewer projects from agencies for whom I used to work on a regular basis. I do get their full attention back during the summer/Christmas and Easter holydays when they struggle to find a translator!

That is why I started to look for direct clients. It is a huge job, but it has become vital... As far as I am concerned, if I have to translate for the rates agencies offer now a days, I may as well find myself another job!


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Guofei_LIN
China
Local time: 14:14
Current businss model is doomed Oct 17

Christine Andersen wrote:
I would not advise anyone to work exclusively for one agency.
...
The key is to avoid the agencies that compete on price. There are clients who will actually pay a higher price, when they know they get a lot better value for their money, and the good agencies provide it for them.


In an ideal world where there are several good agencies to choose from, your suggestion would make sense. But in my language pair, the reality is, good agencies are almost non-existent. The one I currently work for is a very respectable and professional agency that has access to many good quality clients, saving me a lot of time as I do not need to worry about marketing/administration work and hassle. But even they are not immune from pressure from the market conditions and haven't adjusted their rates for over a decade.

I think the current business model will doom our profession in the not too distant future. Let's look at each of the players in the current business model:

1. Clients. Most of the clients:

a. Cannot tell a good translation from a lousy one;

b. They are usually junior staff who has been on that job for only six months and you will likely be speaking to a different new person when you contact them in another six months. And their boss keeps them very busy so they are not going to spend an hour listening to your sales pitch. They will probably spend only 10 minutes selecting a translator;

c. They do not give a sh*t about translation quality. They say they do, but poor quality translation seldom (if ever) comes back to bother them. Nobody would notice if the translation is of bad quality, and if they do notice, the boss would never blame the project manager for hiring the wrong translator, they can easily shift the blame. That's why you see poor translations everywhere, on street signs, in Hollywood blockbuster movies (as movie subtitles) shown in China, and in marketing materials by big law firms.

d. While they would not be blamed for hiring a bad translator, they would immediately attract attention if they hire an expensive translator, they would have to justify, to explain. You think these office temps are motivated to do this?

2. Translation agencies. Yes, translation agencies need to provide good quality to survive, but they have to survive first before they have an opportunity to provide good quality. That means they have to consider price first, quality second.

3. Translators:

a. Good translation is the result of a lot of investment in time. It takes years and years to improve one's language and translation skills. I have spent a long time learning English and I'm still not confident to translate into English, so most of the jobs I accept are for translation into my native Chinese. And for most of the translation jobs, I have to spend some more time doing research and background reading, adding to the cost of the translation.

b. Not all translators make the same investment. In fact, a lot of translators do not plan to stay in this professional and do not spend time on self-improvement, and they do not spend time doing research for a particular translation assignment, either. The problem is, a lot of them would not hesitate to badmouth the quality of their colleague's work, and it's very difficult for clients to judge.

When people talk about machine translation (or AI) replacing humans in the translation profession, they tend to treat it as a contest of quality and thus come to the conclusion that machine translation will never be able to offer comparable quality. They fail to see that the current business model is already favouring low cost and poor quality translators, driving high cost, good quality translators out of the market. So all machine translation needs to achieve is mediocre quality and then the last human translators, whose cost becomes even higher due to less work available to them, will eventually disappear from the market.


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