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Help with negotiating a better deal with an agency
Thread poster: James Greenfield

James Greenfield  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:00
French to English
+ ...
Mar 5, 2014

In the last few weeks I have had regular work from a translation agency, in good volumes, however I am concerned about the discounts they are making for fuzzy matches. Also I receive nothing for repeat matches. Here is the breakdown of deductions:

100% TM match- 0%
95-99%- 30%
85-94%- 40%
75-84%- 60%
MT 75- 75%

I think this is unfair. The MT reduction is absurd, I recently did a complicated financial translation for them, 2,000 words of which was paid at 75% of my rate as they were 75% MT matches. As for the fuzzy match percentages I think they are also really unfair. The agency in question have their own translation software with its own translation memory which is added to with each project. I don't know whether this makes the deductions more acceptable or not, as I am potentially benefiting from the work of others. I know that I am at fault for accepting these deductions and ultimately it's up to me to run my business but I'd like the opinion of others as to my next step. The problem is I'm not getting a lot of work from other sources and the volumes this agency are sending me are good. Therefore I don't want to lose them as a client but would like to negotiate better terms with them. I'm thinking of raising my rate by one penny. This was something I was thinking of doing anyway as my rate is on the low side and I have had the same rate for the last 3 years. Alternatively I could try to negotiate a better deal in terms of deductions. I could of course do both of these things, raise my rate and try to alter the deductions. What do you suggest? Thanks


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Claire Cox
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:00
French to English
+ ...
Shutting the stable door.... Mar 5, 2014

Hi James,

This is going to be like trying to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted, I'm afraid. Once you've accepted and worked for those discounts, it's very hard to backtrack and try and change them. You certainly could try and increase your standard rate, especially if it's been the same for 3 years. You just have to be firm - easier said than done, I know, but if you think how much your overheads have gone up over the past three years, it really isn't unreasonable. I personally would go for more than a penny, which doesn't sound like much at all - can you equate it to the actual increase in cost of living/RPI/CPI and justify it that way? In an ideal world, you'd want to lose clients such as these at some point, but if they are sending you a lot of work, it's difficult. I'd focus your efforts on looking for better-paying clients while trying to keep these ones sweet, and gradually wean yourself away from them. Just make sure you dictate the discounts next time, irrespective of whether they've supplied the TM! In my experience, external TMs are the ones that cause the problems, as you still end up checking for consistency and if they turn out to be dreadful, you're faced with a dilemma. If you're not being paid anything, you can't be expected to even look at them, in my opinion, but that's hard to reconcile with producing a quality translation....

I personally don't accept discounts for fuzzy matches at all and if that rules me out of the lower-paying agencies, so be it.

Good luck!

Claire


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Stefano Lodola  Identity Verified
South Korea
Local time: 14:30
Member (2013)
Korean to Italian
+ ...
Next time set your own conditions Mar 5, 2014

I wouldn't grant such discounts if any at all.
But if you've already agreed on those terms, that client expects them on next jobs.
If you can still set rates on next jobs from them, you might want to set them higher to make up for those discounts. There are many plausible reasons for adjusting rates.

[Edited at 2014-03-05 01:55 GMT]


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 14:00
Chinese to English
Before we can help, you've got to be negotiating... Mar 5, 2014

Hi, James.

If you want to be a successful small business owner (freelancer), you've got to negotiate. You don't have to like it (many of us don't), but you do have to do it.

When you start, you'll probably be bad at it. Experience will help.

Sorry if I sound like a bit of a git. I'm not trying to be condescending, but I am trying to make you see that the answer you're hoping for doesn't exist. We can't tell you "propose X to the agency and it will all work out beautifully", because there is no such X. Every relationship requires a grind of proposal and counter-proposal. Sometimes you have to go through painful rounds of punishing each other before you and an agency reach an equilibrium.

(Example: one agency I work for really really doesn't want to pay my rates. They ask, I demand my rates, they go to someone else. They come back for editing, I point out how much editing will cost because they used a low-price, low-quality translator, and in the end they ask me to retranslate at my rates. By that time, I was already booked and couldn't do it. Ouch. That's hurt me and hurt them, but we had to go through it because it's the only way they learn.)

None of us knows what your agency values most, so we can't tell you what kind of proposal they will respond well to. You just have to decide what's important to you and make your offer.

On the positive side, it sounds like you're not actually that bothered about what you get. It sounds like you could live with either a better fuzzy schedule, or a better base rate, just so long as it improves your bottom line. That puts you in quite a good negotiating position. Make a few queries: if the agency is wedded to its fuzzy discounts, you say fine, I'll accept them with a higher base rate. If they are very keen on low base rates, you say fine, but I'm no longer offering fuzzy discounts. They counter-offer, you arrive at an agreement.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 08:00
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
@James Mar 5, 2014

James Greenfield wrote:
Therefore I don't want to lose them as a client but would like to negotiate better terms with them. I'm thinking of raising my rate by one penny.


Yes, that is a good idea. Write a generic letter and post it to all your clients from the past year or two, telling them that your new rate is such and such. If any client wants to pay the old rate, they will ask for it (and you can grant their request if you want, without telling any of the other clients).

If you think the agency has a semi-automated database with all your information in it, write to the person whom you think is in charge of updating that database and ask them if they could please update your information. This includes your current rate. Treat it like an administrative matter, not as a rate-increase.


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Thayenga  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 08:00
Member (2009)
English to German
+ ...
Discounts Mar 5, 2014

Hi James,

perhaps you might add something like: CAT discounts can be provided, however, at my sole discretion. This signals that you might consider a discount... when truly applicable. Not all 100% (or less) matches don't require any work, since they can be off-context.

Facing the possible loss of a long-standing client needs to be considered carefully. Announcing a raise of your rates is indeed a good idea. It also shows how much your clients appreciate the quality of your work.

As has been stated before, agreeing to such a table of (demanded) discounts binds you and makes you vulnerable to future lowering of the agency's rates. You know what your work is worth, so does your client.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 08:00
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
@Thayenga Mar 5, 2014

Thayenga wrote:
Perhaps you might add something like: CAT discounts can be provided, however, at my sole discretion.


That's just another way of saying "I will charge higher fees randomly".



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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 04:00
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Time management Mar 5, 2014

Phil Hand wrote:

We can't tell you "propose X to the agency and it will all work out beautifully", because there is no such X. Every relationship requires a grind of proposal and counter-proposal. Sometimes you have to go through painful rounds of punishing each other before you and an agency reach an equilibrium.

(Example: one agency I work for really really doesn't want to pay my rates. They ask, I demand my rates, they go to someone else. They come back for editing, I point out how much editing will cost because they used a low-price, low-quality translator, and in the end they ask me to retranslate at my rates. By that time, I was already booked and couldn't do it. Ouch. That's hurt me and hurt them, but we had to go through it because it's the only way they learn.)

None of us knows what your agency values most, so we can't tell you what kind of proposal they will respond well to. You just have to decide what's important to you and make your offer.


Our goal - as freelance translators - is to sell as much of our working hours for as much money as we can get.

While some prospects think we'll always be available at their beck and call, hopefully this will only happen if our rates are abusively high. On the other hand, if our rates are too low, unless our language pair is rather unusual, we'll be assigned more work than we can handle. So rates command a VERY delicate workload balance.

The solution I found was to set my own rates and payment terms at a both competitive and mutually worthwhile level, to keep, in average, some 75% of my time "sold". As most of the requests we get have a deadline, one important point is to always ensure timely delivery, no matter what.

Any reasonable offer with lower rates and/or longer payment terms will be considered, however without any timewise commitment. The client is made aware that their job will be set aside for a while every time a standard pay/terms job steps in. Is this farfetched? No! Most of the books I've translated were done in this scheme.

Commercial TV stations use the very same system. They set the advertising rates for "prime time". Anyone willing to pay anything for their commercials being aired for a few sleepless spectators at 3 AM will get it. However if the station has a 30-sec gap in the evening newscast, they'll gladly move there that ad from the ungodly hours before daybreak, as it's better than a blank screen.

We - translators - can do the same.


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James Greenfield  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:00
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
meet in the middle? Mar 5, 2014

Thanks very much everyone. Well I decided to say that my rate had increased by one penny and got in contact with the relevant department. They asked whether we could agree to meet in the middle at a half penny increase as if I were to increase my rate by a full penny this could affect the amount of work they send me. I'm now inclined to accept that I might get less work from them and ask for a full penny. What do you think?

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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 07:00
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
My own personal opinion Mar 5, 2014

James Greenfield wrote:
I'm now inclined to accept that I might get less work from them and ask for a full penny. What do you think?

Go for the extra penny.

Use the extra free time for marketing: not just sending off a few CVs, but really reviewing your whole marketing strategy.

Think about which camp you want to be in: the high-volume tweakers of enormous multi-source TMs and MT output; or the skilled technicians who are fussy about TMs and discounts, very rarely have anything to do with MT, and who, above all, set their own rates so that they get an hourly rate that gives them a decent standard of living. At the moment, you're trying to straddle the gap between the two, and I doubt it'll ever be a very comfortable perch. I would advise you to increase your rate by maybe £0.04 (to new clients, of course - you won't get the existing ones to buy it). After a while, you should be able to kiss goodbye to this client.


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 04:00
English to Portuguese
+ ...
On stepping up Mar 5, 2014

Sheila Wilson wrote:

Go for the extra penny.

Use the extra free time for marketing: not just sending off a few CVs, but really reviewing your whole marketing strategy.

Think about which camp you want to be in: the high-volume tweakers of enormous multi-source TMs and MT output; or the skilled technicians who are fussy about TMs and discounts, very rarely have anything to do with MT, and who, above all, set their own rates so that they get an hourly rate that gives them a decent standard of living. At the moment, you're trying to straddle the gap between the two, and I doubt it'll ever be a very comfortable perch. I would advise you to increase your rate by maybe £0.04 (to new clients, of course - you won't get the existing ones to buy it). After a while, you should be able to kiss goodbye to this client.


Failproof Sheila!

Years ago, on account of a sudden exchange rates switch (the USD dropped some 25%, and had stayed there for one year), I braced myself, got prepared for a strong downturn in demand, and raised my international rates by 20%.

Of course, I immediately lost all clients "not worth keeping": they were always trying to trick me into doing more work for less money, nagging about my rates, and usually paid late. Those "worth keeping" understood it immediately, possibly readjusted their rates to end-clients, and we are still working together as always.

The big surprise was that I suddenly had an impressive inrush of new clients who demanded the very level of service I've been providing since forever, and who never believed they could get it for my earlier price.

For the record, my domestic rates in local currency have remained unchanged since 1994. Developments in IT have been increasing my productivity to cover inflation etc. Most of my local colleagues whose work I consider equivalent to mine - though often in different specialties - charge about the same rates as mine.

A couple of years later, the USD recouped. Should I have lowered my international rates? No! They always included the financial costs incurred (e.g. PayPal fees, abusively high interest rates in my country). So I began giving clients the chance to save on these. If they don't use PayPal, I give them the fees that would otherwise be deducted from my pay. If they pay faster, they can save on hefty Brazilian interest rates.

So my stated rate is the higher one, and my services are worth it (otherwise they wouldn't be using them anymore). However my clients are eligible for discounts... at the expense of PayPal or greedy Brazilian banks, not mine.


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:00
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Not quite the whole story Mar 5, 2014

José Henrique Lamensdorf wrote:

Our goal - as freelance translators - is to sell as much of our working hours for as much money as we can get.


.....on condition that we consistently deliver translations of the highest quality, always on time. That's how to get the best deal.

[Edited at 2014-03-05 13:46 GMT]


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James Greenfield  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:00
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
negotiations Mar 5, 2014

I decided to not accept the compromise and go for my new rate of a penny more. I'm now wondering whether that was the right option, and may even agree to the half penny increase. I don't know whether they were bluffing or whether my workload will really be significantly reduced.

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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 04:00
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Correct, not the whole story! Mar 5, 2014

Tom in London wrote:

José Henrique Lamensdorf wrote:

Our goal - as freelance translators - is to sell as much of our working hours for as much money as we can get.


.....on condition that we consistently deliver translations of the highest quality, always on time. That's how to get the best deal.

[Edited at 2014-03-05 13:46 GMT]


It should read:
Our goal - as freelance translators - is to sell as much of our working hours for as much money as we can get for the quality and reliable timeliness that we actually deliver.

The first version was merely workable, the second is sustainable.


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LegalTransform  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:00
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Reposted from another thread Mar 5, 2014

I have started transitioning towards a flat rate for each project. This eliminates the need to calculate repetitions, matches, fuzzy matches, near matches, possible matches, kitchen matches, etc. and makes the process simpler and more enjoyable rather than hacking a document into pieces.

Surely no one would ever do repetitions for less than 50% of the base rate or matches for less than 80% (or at least they shouldn't be) and of course, if you grant CAT discounts, it's obvious that you have to raise your base rate to make up the difference (after all, you did purchase the CAT tool and you are managing it, so why should the agency get all the advantages). So, many times all you have to do is show them that it's cheaper (and easier) for them not to use CAT discounts:

Example:

20,000 words at the flat rate of $2800 (or .14 a word)

compared to:
NO MATCH 10,000 x .18 = $1800.00
REPETITIONS 5,000 x .09 (50%) = $450.00
FUZZY MATCHES 5,000 x .12 = $600.00

TOTAL = $2,850.00 (savings of $50 and savings of lots of wasted time calculating ways to rip-off the translator)


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