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Negotiating a rate with a regular agency?
Thread poster: JoBee
JoBee  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 15:10
Japanese to English
Feb 25, 2014

I recently contacted an agency I've worked with for nearly my entire translation career (around 2 years), telling them I would like to negotiate my translation rate. (Barring any extra demands, they pay the same rate for every job, and it's been the same rate since I began.)

The coordinator told me I would receive a reply after the matter was discussed internally. After about a week, I was contacted with the message that my rate would be raised by a bit under 4%, effective in the near future. For reference, this company pays me just over the minimum posted on this site (http://search.proz.com/employers/rates). It's safe to say that the pre- and post-raise rates are both within that range.

I had expected that, as a professional providing a service to the company, they would at least afford me the opportunity to discuss it with them and reach a compromise. (I could still attempt this, but they seem to feel the ball is entirely in their court...?) Having the new rate unilaterally decided surprised me a bit, but I do value the opportunities I get from this agency--I don't want to stir the pot too much. Their coordination and responsiveness has always been top-notch, and I have worked with much worse companies.

When the coordinator announced my raise, I was also told that I've received positive evaluations and that the company is looking forward to continuing to work with me. However, I am well aware that I made some mistakes early on in jobs for them--namely, I hadn't yet developed solid proofreading/revising skills, so I let some unfortunate errors through. I am completely cognizant of the possibility that my mistakes may preclude me from having the power to negotiate a bit more aggressively.

I'd just like to hear what everyone thinks about this. Should I point out that I've learned from my early mistakes or just not touch on that at all? Is it safe to push for more, or should I leave things be and search for agencies that pay me a bit more reasonably?


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Mikhail Kropotov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 09:10
Member (2005)
English to Russian
+ ...
Take the raise and look for other clients in the meantime Feb 25, 2014

For now, accept the raise with thanks and count on this (generally good) client for regular jobs. In the meantime, continue to market yourself more aggressively to other potential clients. Later, when you have expanded your client base and gained more experience, you will be able to command your own terms -- to this client or any other.

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Domenico Trimboli  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:10
Member (2013)
English to Italian
+1 Feb 25, 2014

Mikhail Kropotov wrote:

For now, accept the raise with thanks and count on this (generally good) client for regular jobs. In the meantime, continue to market yourself more aggressively to other potential clients. Later, when you have expanded your client base and gained more experience, you will be able to command your own terms -- to this client or any other.


Totally agree.


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Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 08:10
German to English
Interpret it as their initial offer if you can Feb 25, 2014

I would interpret it as their offer to you and make a counter-offer if you are in a position to do so. If you are not in a position to do so, then worry about taking care of that first.

If you have sufficient clients at higher rates, then make a corresponding offer and they can choose to continue working with you or not.

I don't really see any need for "negotiating" beyond that: They place a more or less specific value on your quality, dependability and "soft skills" relative to the other translators available to them at a given moment or in their data base and you place a specific value on them relative to their "soft skills" and the short- or long-term development of your earnings relative to the other clients available to you. That's how freelancing works.

There are rare situations where a personal relationship dominates over the business relationship and that is different. It's also different if you feel genuine loyalty towards them for helping you out in the beginning and feel the need to act on the basis of this feeling. It's not all just business, but if you find considerations of this kind coming up with more than maybe 10% of your clients (as an absolute maximum), then I would say you're not thinking straight. Maybe that's the American in me, but for me, it's perfectly natural to be on very friendly terms with people without this implying a friendship in the proper sense.

That's my two cents, anyway.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 07:10
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Good advice given Feb 25, 2014

I think most of us can recognise this situation. I remember being very grateful to my first 'client'. I put the word in quotes as we really didn't have a correct business partnership, more of a cross between empoyee and boss, and friends. There came a point where that was no longer suitable.

I think you'll need to accept your new rate; but look for replacement clients who allow you to quote your rate, your terms, etc. You can be open to negotiation but you've recognised that it isn't right for them to dictate such things.


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Maxi Schwarz
Local time: 01:10
German to English
+ ...
You are not an employee Feb 25, 2014

You do not have to "negotiate" your rate, and an agency cannot decide to give or decline a "raise". They are your customers. You can inform them of your new rates. Of course you may lose them as a customer if you do that. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Make sure you have a broad customer base, and try to build on one that accepts your higher rates now that you are more skilled and more experienced. You're still in the situation, but a subtle shift in how you see your relationship may make a difference.

Some excellent advice preceding my post btw.


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JoBee  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 15:10
Japanese to English
TOPIC STARTER
I really appreciate all the advice Feb 25, 2014

Thank you very much, everyone, for your advice.

My initial reaction was to be a bit more assertive about my terms, but reflecting on what everyone has said, I agree that it's probably best to accept the raise graciously and seek out other opportunities in the meantime.

Right when I started translating I applied to several agencies, and somehow I've never needed to look beyond those agencies to keep a full schedule. It's been pretty much constant for a couple of years, which is both a blessing and a curse. I haven't had too much stress wondering where my next job would come from, but my income has a definite bottleneck--basically at a beginner's rate.

In that respect, I really relate with what Sheila said: as someone who's self-employed, I need to keep watching for--and actively seeking--greener pastures.


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Texte Style
Local time: 08:10
French to English
Bargaining power Feb 25, 2014

The point is to put rates up only when you can afford to, that way it doesn't matter too much if they refuse what you ask for.

When you say that you feel that the ball is in their court, I think you've mixed up your sporting metaphors, what you really mean is that they are calling the shots right?
(Because right now the ball is in your court, in that it's up to you to react to their offer.)

They are calling the shots - meaning that they can dictate what they want, and you don't have much choice but to accept: it's because you don't have the necessary bargaining power.

Now, what I have learned during my 18-year career as a translator is that bargaining power comes from making yourself indispensable to lots of clients, with a solid reputation for never missing deadlines and finding neat solutions to tricky turns of phrase, pointing out discrepancies in the source and showing genuine interest in the client, finding the right way to put their ideas across, applying maxims like "if you can't get it right make it better". A year or so of producing good work after a rather shaky beginning doesn't yet amount to a solid reputation, IMHO.

There's no need to mention your beginner's mistakes, it's just about tantamount to shooting yourself in the foot. The mistakes weren't bad enough to justify these people dropping you completely, and they do care about quality since they evaluate their translators. You have received positive evaluations since then and this is why they have agreed to a raise, albeit tiny. If you remind them of your mistakes they might suddenly take fright and withdraw their offer! At best, they'll laugh in your face.

So, if I were you, I would take that 4% since it's on the table, then increase my bargaining power by putting in a few years more solid, stellar work, then get back on their case once I can afford to lose them.


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Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 08:10
German to English
Raising rates with existing clients Feb 25, 2014

If you have enough work, then you can certainly also try to (significantly = at least 1 or 2 cents, not fractions of cents) raise your rates with one client at a time, beginning with the least important or least desirable or the one that you have feel you have the best chances of success with. If it seems to work, you can move on to the next client and, if it doesn't, then take a look at the new state of things and decide if and when you want to risk it with the next client.

In my experience (which, however, is based almost entirely on direct clients - although I was able to raise my rates with the one agency I've ever regularly worked with), it is purely a myth that it is not possible to raise rates with existing clients or that this is significantly more difficult than finding new clients at higher rates. These are rate increases of around 5-15% and, in some cases, repeated annually or near-annually for several years in a row.

My strategy is more or less to simply state that I had a good year last year, have too much work and am increasing my rates to keep control of the situation. I thank them for our collaboration up to that point and express my understanding if my services will either no longer be of interest to them or only be interesting in exceptional cases. That has worked well for me.

Again, I would certainly remain as cautious as is appropriate to your specific situation, but trying to avoid risk completely is a very risky strategy.


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JoBee  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 15:10
Japanese to English
TOPIC STARTER
This has given me plenty of food for thought Feb 25, 2014

Maxi Schwarz wrote:

You do not have to "negotiate" your rate, and an agency cannot decide to give or decline a "raise". They are your customers. You can inform them of your new rates. Of course you may lose them as a customer if you do that. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Make sure you have a broad customer base, and try to build on one that accepts your higher rates now that you are more skilled and more experienced. You're still in the situation, but a subtle shift in how you see your relationship may make a difference.

Some excellent advice preceding my post btw.


Thank you for your advice.

This is something I often hear, especially on this site, but it seems from the attitudes I encounter from my agencies (I work with about 6 currently) like some places, especially in Japan, may operate with a different set of expectations. In particular, my agencies all have set rates/deadlines, and expect that if I don't take the job, they'll offer the same payment/deadline to another person.

Of course I know that whatever their attitude, they're outsourcing work to a service provider, so terms can't be unilaterally decided.

I have resolved to branch out, though--it's looking like it's the only way to really move forward. And keeping the actual nature of the relationship in perspective is a great way to stay motivated. Thank you!

Texte Style wrote:

Now, what I have learned during my 18-year career as a translator is that bargaining power comes from making yourself indispensable to lots of clients, with a solid reputation for never missing deadlines and finding neat solutions to tricky turns of phrase, pointing out discrepancies in the source and showing genuine interest in the client, finding the right way to put their ideas across, applying maxims like "if you can't get it right make it better". A year or so of producing good work after a rather shaky beginning doesn't yet amount to a solid reputation, IMHO.

There's no need to mention your beginner's mistakes, it's just about tantamount to shooting yourself in the foot. The mistakes weren't bad enough to justify these people dropping you completely, and they do care about quality since they evaluate their translators. You have received positive evaluations since then and this is why they have agreed to a raise, albeit tiny. If you remind them of your mistakes they might suddenly take fright and withdraw their offer! At best, they'll laugh in your face.



You've given me a lot of food for thought. Thanks for your advice.

Yeah, the more I translate, the more I learn how to navigate the sometimes complex issue of pleasing agencies/clients.

Now personally, I would be impressed with a person owning up to his/her mistakes and outlining exactly what he/she has done to right them--I was thinking along those lines when I asked about addressing the point. But it is good to know what kinds of perspectives are out there, and there's certainly no harm in playing it safe.

(In terms of having made mistakes, short of hiring a third party proofreader I'm sure I'll never eliminate my mistakes entirely, but given what my agencies pay and the fact that they have established QC systems, I would hope they wouldn't expect me to. I will, however, do my best to constantly improve my accuracy and work habits.)

Michael Wetzel wrote:

If you have enough work, then you can certainly also try to (significantly = at least 1 or 2 cents, not fractions of cents) raise your rates with one client at a time, beginning with the least important or least desirable or the one that you have feel you have the best chances of success with. If it seems to work, you can move on to the next client and, if it doesn't, then take a look at the new state of things and decide if and when you want to risk it with the next client.



This is something I'm very interested in doing. It's becoming clear that the number of clients I have is the limiting factor here, so I know what my homework is.


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philgoddard
United States
Member (2009)
German to English
+ ...
I think you could have been a bit more assertive. Feb 25, 2014

A better approach is to say "I will be raising my rates to X with effect from... I hope this is acceptable to you." You put the ball in their court by not specifying a figure.

I increase my rates by inflation every year, because otherwise I'm effectively cutting them. If it's been a particularly good year, I might add a bit more on top.


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Texte Style
Local time: 08:10
French to English
improving! Feb 25, 2014

No you can never guarantee that you'll eliminate all mistakes entirely.

If I'm paid handsomely enough I will ask a colleague to give my work the once-over, and I make sure the client knows I have done this.

Otherwise the best way to make sure of the best possible quality is to leave plenty of time (like a refreshing night's sleep) in between doing a good draft and proofreading to iron out all the wrinkles. I tell the clients they should be happy I don't bill the time spent sleeping, since obviously something happens during that time to radically improve the translation: there are all sorts of little things that occur to me in the morning that I was oblivious of the day before

This is the way I took to command my current rates at any rate, so that "given what agencies pay" simply doesn't come into play.

I too would prefer to be upfront about mistakes but I've learned that it's not necessarily the case with clients. I remember translating training material for a top confectionary chain where it stated clearly that staff should never ever acknowledge that they were in the wrong, even while apologising profusely for the fact that the customer may have suffered. I figured these people were being advised by very expensive lawyers and I would do well to follow the advice too!


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JoBee  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 15:10
Japanese to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you for this. Feb 26, 2014

philgoddard wrote:

A better approach is to say "I will be raising my rates to X with effect from... I hope this is acceptable to you." You put the ball in their court by not specifying a figure.

I increase my rates by inflation every year, because otherwise I'm effectively cutting them. If it's been a particularly good year, I might add a bit more on top.


Actually, it's weird how that happened. I decided it'd be more considerate to first clarify that I'd like to discuss my rate and ask whom I should talk to--it's a pretty big company.

I was then told they'd get back to me, and informed of my new rate a week later. I was honestly a bit taken aback by the entire event, as I had just intended to break the ice and show consideration before putting a figure out there.

In hindsight, you're absolutely right. I gave the agency, a business first and foremost, the opportunity to tell me my new rate and make it difficult to move the discussion past that.


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 14:10
Chinese to English
"considerate" Feb 26, 2014

As freelancers, we are at a systematic disadvantage when negotiating. We are each one person, so to us the negotiation feels like a conversation between two people. In a conversation, of course it is good to be considerate and a little modest.
The agency is a corporate body, representing its own corporate interests. While any one employee/representative of the agency will be polite, the agency won't be considerate or modest, because companies don't have feelings.

It just means that when going into these negotiations we have to be prepared for the agency to act in ways that violate normal conversational courtesy.

...especially in Japan, may operate with a different set of expectations. In particular, my agencies all have set rates/deadlines, and expect that if I don't take the job, they'll offer the same payment/deadline to another person.

That's certainly how agencies *want* to operate. And as long as the rates and the deadlines are fair, that's fine. It makes things simpler for us, too. (Frankly, negotiation is a bore, and reducing it to a yes/no decision makes my life easier.) But when the rates are no longer fair, we have to push back a bit to drive rate changes, and there will be a bit of friction. Not everyone enjoys that friction, and we can certainly try to minimise it. But it's an inevitable part of working in a freeish market.


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Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 08:10
German to English
increasing according to inflation Feb 26, 2014

I have often seen translatos writing about raising their rates according to inflation.

Purely out of curiosity: How does that work? Does anyone do that while charging by the word? What does the invoice look like? Is there a base word rate with a separate position correcting the rate due to inflation, or is your rate .1046 cents/word?


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