Agencies...Is this normal?
Thread poster: Paula Oriani

Paula Oriani  Identity Verified

English to French
+ ...
Aug 18, 2011

Hello,
I am trying to figure out what is reasonable when one takes contracts through an Agency and what is not. Since in the past I have mostly worked as in-house translator for software companies, this whole business is new for me. Here is the case:

I was contacted by an Agency, which is well considered in the BB, for an “editing project”. This project consisted of editing content (software ) from European French to Canadian French, using SDLX. It was a “long project that could lead to other projects”. My rate was refused and I was offered 0.03 U$ cents/word, but finally they graciously announced a rate of 0.04 cents, and no fuzzy matches or whatever applied (they were “generous” on that).

The European French version was so bad written (the source language as well) that I ended up retranslating several entries. I also did a lot of research because there was specific information that was different in both countries. Previous to that, they asked me to edit the FR glossary, which was also paid 0.04 per word.

What was very upsetting at the time is that deadlines were impossible (comprised every single weekend). I did not accept this, and I am sure that the Agency Project Manager did not even realize it when she did the schedule, so she accepted this. But I still rushed like hell. The worst part is that sometimes the end customer did not send the new files to the Agency PM on time, making me wait for weeks.

Then came the linguistic QA stage; here I was paid per hour and had to fight to get a decent rate. But again, I lost weeks waiting for the client to provide access to the demo site. So I started the project , delayed, and then suddenly… no more access to the demo site.

I contact the Agency PM who answers some days later that the customer is launching a new version so the demo site is no longer available….”send us what you have”….so I send what I had done to date and the bill . I lost lots of $$$ because I only billed the time I did (60 % of the hours I was supposed to do according to their PO).

Now they contacted me to edit the new version of the software, but since it is an update it amounts to 3 days work.... at the same low rate of 0.04 cents.

Can anyone tell me if all this is normal practice? What about loosing weeks without notice because the end customer has to fix this and that? What do you thing about the editing rate? What about the PO that was cancelled when I had done 60% of the job?

Sorry about the ranting…;) but I would appreciate your input about this.

Thanks!!!


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Maureen Wilkins  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:59
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Nightmare job! Aug 18, 2011

Hi Paula
This sounds like a nightmare, and certainly not normal with agencies in my experience. It is the agency's job to negotiate with the client to get revised deadlines if the client is responsible for the delays. Agencies I have worked with usually do that, or reduce the scope or get another translator to take on some of the workload.

In my experience too, editing jobs are extremely variable - the quality of the original translation can be terrible and you have to retranslate a lot. In those cases, it is probably best to assess this at the start of a long project so that you can renegotiatewith the agency if it is going to take you longer because of the poor quality.

Kind regards, hope you get a better project next time (with another agency!!)
Maureen


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Kuochoe Nikoi  Identity Verified
Ghana
Local time: 07:59
Japanese to English
Not normal Aug 18, 2011

This is not normal agency behavior, it's normal BAD agency behavior. Make an (honest) entry about them on Blue Board to warn other translators and stop working for them.

[Edited at 2011-08-18 16:04 GMT]


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Maureen Wilkins  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:59
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Additional project Aug 18, 2011

Hi again Paula
You may be able to negotiate a better rate with them on this update project, on the basis of the hours you've already lost waiting around for the customer, etc. etc.

They will probably want you to do the update as you already know the project - so they should be able to give you a better rate. And you certainly don't want to be doing any more slave labour, unless you are desperate for this work. Your time will be better spent elsewhere - or taking a break.

Best wishes
Maureen


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Peter Shortall  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:59
Member
French to English
+ ...
It could become more normal if we let it Aug 18, 2011

I don't know how common this kind of situation is across the sector as a whole, but one thing I am noticing more frequently is that certain large agencies (which can sometimes have very good BB records) are becoming very pushy when it comes to deadlines and rates. Small and medium-sized agencies seem to be less prone to the "syndrome". This certainly sounds like an agency I would avoid. Companies like these can only prosper for as long as people are willing to work with them on their terms. The phrase "long project that could lead to other projects" isn't a concrete offer, so I wouldn't pay any attention to that.

As for editing jobs in general, on the rare occasions when I accept them, I insist on seeing the text first, otherwise there's no telling how long the work could take. I would never charge for editing jobs according to the number of words because that doesn't necessarily reflect the amount of time that will be needed; instead, I charge an hourly rate that equates to roughly what I could expect to earn from translation. That way, I know it will be worth my while. If an agency insists on terms that you feel are unfavourable to you, don't be afraid to walk away!


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 07:59
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
My 10 cents Aug 18, 2011

Paula Oriani wrote:
editing content (software ) from European French to Canadian French

The European French version was so bad written (the source language as well) that I ended up retranslating several entries.


I have never done this sosrt of work, but shouldn't you expect to be simply (maybe not the right word) localising perfectly good text? Generally speaking, what's bad French in France is bad French in Canada, surely?

the end customer did not send the new files to the Agency PM on time, making me wait for weeks.


Something for your terms and conditions, perhaps? (Mine too, for that matter!). We need to be flexible, but there are limits.


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Paula Oriani  Identity Verified

English to French
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
One last Q. Aug 18, 2011

Thanks so much for your comments. It is great to be part of this community and share our (bad sometimes..!) experiences.

There is still the question regarding the PO. Technically speaking, can an Agentcy decide not to honour a PO?

Paula


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Nicolas Coyer  Identity Verified
Colombia
Local time: 02:59
Spanish to French
+ ...
it's your own view Aug 18, 2011

I think it's about what you're willing to put up with. You should trust your gut feeling. If you're feeling uneasy about the way things are done, then it's probably for a reason... and the reasons you give are very legitimate and logical.
Some people might be ok with this situation, but at some point, it'll take a toll on their financial situation or their health, or most probably on both. If you start accepting it, then they'll take it for granted and push you a little bit more everytime.
You're the vendor and you set your conditions, take it or leave it. Some big agencies work like big "translation factories", you're a commodity and so they try and bully you into a situation where they set the rates and the terms, but, as Peter said, with most small and medium agencies, you will be facing human beings working under (relatively) normal conditions, who will set realistic deadlines or be open to your comments regarding their expectations.
Now, regarding the PO, it depends on their own goodwill. It is a relationship based on trust, so they can do everything they want. If things turn sour, then there's always ways to request payment.
As Peter wrote, it's better to see the text first. I was burnt once by accepting an editing job without seeing the text first. Now, I always ask to see the text, and there's another reason for that: if you're ready to take on such a job, even if it's bad, then you can let the client know how long it's going to take and how much they'll have to pay for it before hand, and let them decide if they're ready to accept your estimated timeframe and to pay for the extra work or not.

[Edited at 2011-08-18 23:45 GMT]


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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 09:59
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Its not their fault, its our's Aug 19, 2011

The reason why lots of agencies are pushing impossible deadlines and ridiculous rates is that so many of us go with it. And the reason why so many of us have no spine is that we sit alone. There is no collective spirit and no control. Many think themselves clever when they accept far lower rates than 10 years ago. "I just have to type faster". There is no other business where workers behave that way. But we are no workers, we are linguists! It's an honor to work for peanuts.

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Alexander Teplitsky  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:59
Member (2011)
English to Russian
+ ...
Agreement Aug 19, 2011

Paula Oriani wrote:

Hello,
I am trying to figure out what is reasonable when one takes contracts through an Agency and what is not. Since in the past I have mostly worked as in-house translator for software companies, this whole business is new for me. Here is the case:

I was contacted by an Agency, which is well considered in the BB, for an “editing project”. This project consisted of editing content (software ) from European French to Canadian French, using SDLX. It was a “long project that could lead to other projects”. My rate was refused and I was offered 0.03 U$ cents/word, but finally they graciously announced a rate of 0.04 cents, and no fuzzy matches or whatever applied (they were “generous” on that).

The European French version was so bad written (the source language as well) that I ended up retranslating several entries. I also did a lot of research because there was specific information that was different in both countries. Previous to that, they asked me to edit the FR glossary, which was also paid 0.04 per word.

What was very upsetting at the time is that deadlines were impossible (comprised every single weekend). I did not accept this, and I am sure that the Agency Project Manager did not even realize it when she did the schedule, so she accepted this. But I still rushed like hell. The worst part is that sometimes the end customer did not send the new files to the Agency PM on time, making me wait for weeks.

Then came the linguistic QA stage; here I was paid per hour and had to fight to get a decent rate. But again, I lost weeks waiting for the client to provide access to the demo site. So I started the project , delayed, and then suddenly… no more access to the demo site.

I contact the Agency PM who answers some days later that the customer is launching a new version so the demo site is no longer available….”send us what you have”….so I send what I had done to date and the bill . I lost lots of $$$ because I only billed the time I did (60 % of the hours I was supposed to do according to their PO).

Now they contacted me to edit the new version of the software, but since it is an update it amounts to 3 days work.... at the same low rate of 0.04 cents.

Can anyone tell me if all this is normal practice? What about loosing weeks without notice because the end customer has to fix this and that? What do you thing about the editing rate? What about the PO that was cancelled when I had done 60% of the job?

Sorry about the ranting…;) but I would appreciate your input about this.

Thanks!!!


Dear Paula,
we are in a free market system. Employer trying to find the best deal, and so do you. You already experienced price elasticity (they offered $0.03 and you negotiated $0.04 - that is 33% increase). The same elasticity has every term in agreement. Look through different agreements of your colleges, make your home work, employ an attorney - create an ideal agreement for yourself. Than decide on your limit of flexibility of every term. If an agency stretched you too much - refuse the job. And finally, I completely agree with Mr. Heinrich Pesch: don't try to outsmart linguistic community and accept rates lower than recommended on this site - you might get nightmare you once had.


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Laurent KRAULAND  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 08:59
French to German
+ ...
Only that... Aug 19, 2011

Alexander Teplitsky wrote:
Dear Paula,
we are in a free market system. Employer trying to find the best deal, and so do you. You already experienced price elasticity (they offered $0.03 and you negotiated $0.04 - that is 33% increase). (.../...)


With the reservation that is is NOT a employer-to-employee relationship! What should the FREE in FREElancer else mean than the fact that we are NOT "hired" by agencies.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 07:59
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
The 60%? Aug 19, 2011

Paula Oriani wrote:
There is still the question regarding the PO. Technically speaking, can an Agentcy decide not to honour a PO?


If you're referring to the fact that only 60% of the work has materialised, then I, personally, would put that down to the vagaries of business reality. It's your business risk.

Things happen, and if the agency have got you to sign a really detailed contract, then I'm sure that somewhere in there is a statement to the effect that the amount of work offered cannot be 100% guaranteed and there will be no compensation if it disappears. Remember, they're down 40% on their income from this client, too. If the client doesn't deliver the words, then the work isn't there and you don't get paid.

Get your marketing hat on PDQ (non-natives, that means "pretty damn quick") and find replacement, better-paid, hassle-free work.


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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:59
Spanish to English
+ ...
Slightly off topic Aug 19, 2011

But the rates mentioned in the query are about 20% of what my Canadian translator colleagues claim to routinely charge.

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Paula Oriani  Identity Verified

English to French
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
A misunderstanding... Aug 19, 2011

Neilmac , what you say is true. Rates in Canada, for EN-FR translation are much higher than anywhere else. I know this because I have lived in Canada for 22 years. But one thing is translation, another – tricky – thing is editing.

We must also keep in mind that working through agencies located worldwide lowers your rates substantially.

The point is, what is an average acceptable rate? I do not have accurate information about this because I have always worked for the end customer (mostly in soft companies, for localization). The rates I saw on the ProZ board look very low to me. Is that the reality? Are those rates what end customers are paying? Or agencies?

I think that we, as a community, do not have enough real information about final rates - rates paid, not rates offered - so it is difficult for us to know where the market is. That is why I accepted the 0.04 $ rate x editing which, I believe, is low . How much low? I do not know..

About the delays and my PO, I sent an email to the PM and she excused herself for the delays and said to send the bill for the full amount, and that they will ask me to provide the 40% of the hours left on the next QA stage. It was a misunderstanding.....


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Tina Vonhof  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 00:59
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Proofreading vs. editing Aug 19, 2011

I commiserate with you, this must be very frustrating. A rate of 0.04 might be acceptable for proofreading (although quite low) but there is still a huge misunderstanding out there about what editing entails. If, as you have experienced, either the source or target text are of poor quality, editing takes as much (or more!) time as translating and should be paid accordingly. So the first thing to do before you accept a job is to clarify exactly what the agency expects you to do. And stick to your guns with the regard to the rate you think is reasonable.

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