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"Excellent translation agency" asking me to cut my rates... and more
Thread poster: Dorian Cave

Dorian Cave  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:57
Chinese to French
+ ...
Oct 12, 2016

Hi all,
I was contacted sometime ago by a translation agency based in the UK.
They have glowing reviews on the Blue Board here (5 LWA for 30 entries, since 2007), and they seem to mainly outsource for the UN, so I am quite tempted to work with them.

However, two factors are starting to seriously curb my enthusiasm:

1. Firstly, I received a message from them saying: "We would like to start utilising your services, but as I’m sure you’re aware, the translation industry has become ever more competitive and even for clients with whom we have contracts, such as the United Nations, we are frequently having to undercut our agreed rate in order to win projects. To be completely transparent with you, our other linguists in the region charge us around the €70 per thousand word mark and I was wondering if something closer to this rate was something you could accommodate?"

We had first agreed on a €100 per 1000 source words rate, which — for what it's worth — roughly corresponds to a medium average rate reported here on Proz for my language pair.

This is certainly a difficult question, but should I agree to cut my rates to get jobs from them, so as to remain "competitive"? Their good reviews on Proz predisposes me in their favour, and I can understand that the post-Brexit context might be a factor on their side — but shouldn't we translators remain steadfast in refusing to cut our rates?

2. Upon first contacting me, the manager agreed to sign a cooperation agreement with me. As they allegedly "don't normally do that" with their translators (?!), and thus don't have a template, I sent said manager a simple agreement I drafted on my side. He agreed to sign it and send it back to me, but despite my reminders, more than a month later I still haven't received anything.

Is this normal? Do most translation agencies never sign any deal with translators? Does all this sound shady or what??
(I've mostly been working with people on the basis of trust and recommendations up to now)

All comments welcome!

D-


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philgoddard
United States
German to English
+ ...
EUR 70 is very low in my opinion Oct 12, 2016

Whereas EUR100 is reasonable for a UK agency. But only you can decide whether to accept their offer. You can always haggle and split the difference - you'll often find people are willing to negotiate.

Personally, I wouldn't force the issue of a cooperation agreement. I always sign them if asked to do so, but I never ask customers to complete one. You can just agree rates and other terms in a short, simple exchange of emails, which constitutes a valid contract.



PS: I hope this is your European languages they're talking about, and not Chinese.

[Edited at 2016-10-12 17:12 GMT]


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Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:57
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
Why? Oct 12, 2016

Dorian Cave wrote:
We had first agreed on a €100 per 1000 source words rate, which — for what it's worth — roughly corresponds to a medium average rate reported here on Proz for my language pair.

1) Why would you agree to a 30% cut in your rate for this client? You will never get that rate back. Decline politely and move on. It's a numbers game. Talk to 10 or 20 potential customers, get one decent client.

2) I do not think the Blue Board is reliable unless you can cross-check against some other source such as Zahlungspraxis or paymentpractices.net.

3) Only the translators who are perceived to be the best get the best rates. My belief is that focus is important in reality and also as a matter of avoiding the "jack of all trades" tag. You have four languages in your profile. Might be worth highlighting only your top two.


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:57
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Seconded Oct 12, 2016

Dan Lucas wrote:
Dorian Cave wrote:
We had first agreed on a €100 per 1000 source words rate, which — for what it's worth — roughly corresponds to a medium average rate reported here on Proz for my language pair.

1) Why would you agree to a 30% cut in your rate for this client? You will never get that rate back. Decline politely and move on. It's a numbers game. Talk to 10 or 20 potential customers, get one decent client.

I entirely agree. I find it kind of cheeky that they initially accepted €100 to lure you into the relationship, then try to cut it down immediately, apparently even before they hire you for any job. They should have expressed their rate wishes much earlier in the discussion, so that you could invest your time elsewhere.


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philgoddard
United States
German to English
+ ...
Disagree. Oct 12, 2016

Dan Lucas wrote:

Only the translators who are perceived to be the best get the best rates. My belief is that focus is important in reality and also as a matter of avoiding the "jack of all trades" tag. You have four languages in your profile. Might be worth highlighting only your top two.


Plenty of people translate from multiple languages. Why should Dorian hide his light under a bushel?


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Anton Konashenok  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 08:57
English to Russian
+ ...
Baloney! Oct 12, 2016

as I’m sure you’re aware, the translation industry has become ever more competitive

This assertion is simply untrue. The only segment of the market that has become more competitive and cheaper is the very bottom, where human "translators" (I mean those who don't deserve this appellation without the quotation marks) are supplanted by MT. High-quality professional translation has not become any cheaper.


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Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.)  Identity Verified
Thailand
Local time: 14:57
Member (2004)
English to Thai
+ ...
Latest movement? Oct 12, 2016

Dorian Cave wrote:

1. Firstly, I received a message from them saying: "We would like to start utilising your services, but as I’m sure you’re aware, the translation industry has become ever more competitive and even for clients with whom we have contracts, such as the United Nations, we are frequently having to undercut our agreed rate in order to win projects. To be completely transparent with you, our other linguists in the region charge us around the €70 per thousand word mark and I was wondering if something closer to this rate was something you could accommodate?"

We had first agreed on a €100 per 1000 source words rate, which — for what it's worth — roughly corresponds to a medium average rate reported here on Proz for my language pair.

D-


I also met with similar movements in these latest months. For instance, a UK agency I work with for a number of year to reduce rate by 55% although the job is proprietary documents and few can do EN>TH pair.
Other agencies move similarly.
I wrote many time that unorganized freelancers are taken to poor positions on pricing. Why not we initiate something like a global trade union?
Or we are prepared to die hard?

Soonthon L.


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Angela Rimmer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:57
Member (2014)
German to English
+ ...
Negotiate because agency is probably not being transparent Oct 13, 2016

philgoddard wrote:

...EUR100 is reasonable for a UK agency. But only you can decide whether to accept their offer. You can always haggle and split the difference - you'll often find people are willing to negotiate.



Given that 1 EUR is pretty much equal to 1 GBP these days, I would say EUR 100 is not reasonable for a UK-based agency anymore. And all indications are pointing to the British economy actually getting worse. So I can understand why a UK-based agency would have a problem with EUR 100.

That said, the exchange rate is NOT the translator's problem and he still has to make a living. And I absolutely agree that you should negotiate to win back as much ground as possible. If Dorian is willing to drop his rate below EUR 100, then he should negotiate hard to retain as much as possible. I don't even think he needs to "meet them in the middle". If they initially agreed to EUR 100, then they can definitely afford more than EUR 70. I'm willing to bet they are paying some of their translators at least EUR 90.

Dorian, first of all, the second they start saying "To be honest"/"To tell you the truth"/"To be completely transparent" you can just write off whatever comes next because they are probably NOT being totally transparent. Many French translators are charging more than EUR 100, and some are charging less, so you can bet that their other translators are not all charging EUR 70.

Dorian, in terms of your agreement, I don't know many agencies that are comfortable with signing agreements, but that said, most translators do not request agencies to sign their own agreements, so it could just be that the agency is not familiar with the practice and is understandably a bit reluctant to sign a paper that they don't have a process for. However, if your agreement is reasonable and more or less lines up with their practices, they should be OK with signing it. So what I would do is if you absolutely must have them sign this agreement, use it as a bargaining chip when you negotiate rates. (e.g. "I can agree to a rate of EUR XX but only if the agreement is signed so that we have a basis for our future cooperation.") You will need a few bargaining chips like that because you should never be offering discounts without a reason. In this case, you're basically saying that the peace of mind of having the signed agreement is worth the discount you're offering.


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:57
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Suspicion Oct 13, 2016

Dorian Cave wrote:

....
They have glowing reviews on the Blue Board...


I am always suspicious when I see that.

Also note: if you are busy working on a job for a lower rate than your normal rate, this will mean you have to turn down a job at your normal rate, should it arrive at the same time.

I only accept to work at less than my normal rate if the client agrees, in writing, that there is no deadline for delivery and other jobs take precedence.

[Edited at 2016-10-13 07:29 GMT]


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:57
Member (2008)
Italian to English
I agree Oct 13, 2016

Angela Rimmer wrote:

....the second they start saying "To be honest"/"To tell you the truth"/"To be completely transparent" you can just write off whatever comes next because they are probably NOT being totally transparent.


I agree. They should never need to say that they are being honest/transparent/telling the truth because it implies that normally, they are not.


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Philippe Etienne  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:57
Member
English to French
blah blah blah Oct 13, 2016

Dorian Cave wrote:
...Firstly, I received a message from them saying: "We would like to start utilising your services, but as I’m sure you’re aware, the translation industry has become ever more competitive and even for clients with whom we have contracts, such as the United Nations, we are frequently having to undercut our agreed rate in order to win projects. To be completely transparent with you, our other linguists in the region charge us around the €70 per thousand word mark and I was wondering if something closer to this rate was something you could accommodate?"
...

How unusual. "in the region": apparently, it's not the market for a specific language pair that rules rates, but the region.

And maybe other surprises await you, like an appalling discount grid (more there: http://www.proz.com/forum/money_matters/268387-rates_for_weighted_words.html#2291899) and homogeneity/internal fuzzy matching on, that cut your anticipated earnings by a further 30%, together with payment credit of 3 months. Oh and from the UK, you may have to pay a significant part (4% upwards) of your earnings to Paypal. Or a hefty bank fee on every transfer.

If such "details" are not clarified, it is a good idea to raise these matters. Beware. A word rate is of little relevance when you don't know how it's applied. How much you earn per working hour/day is what ultimately matters. Together with a constant stream of work.

With prospects, if I anticipate the relationship will get frustrating at some point, I'd better not start it. And since I don't translate for glory, one reason for frustration is feeling underpaid.

My latest sample (this month):
"I've forwarded your details to our management and they're asking if you could by any chance accept the rate of 0.09 EUR for translation projects and the rate of 0.035 EUR for proofreading/editing so that we could immediately proceed with the recruitment.
We understand that these rates might be slightly lower than the original rates that you proposed, but we are expecting a significant increase in the amount of work and we believe that with these rates we could grant you a greater number of interesting projects.
"

And of course, they were very keen on working with me, my profile is impressive and perfectly matches their requirements, etc., etc.

I replied:
"Unfortunately, the rate I stated is what I charge my current long-standing agency customers, so in all fairness I cannot offer a “slight” rebate of 18% to prospective clients.
I believe the added value I bring on each assignment (quality, accuracy, low footprint, meeting deadlines…) but also over the longer term (low maintenance, trails and tabs on everything for further reference/justification, “partnership” attitude…), is well worth the slight 22% markup compared to 0.09.
As you will understand, I cannot just lower part of my service standard to make it worth 0.09 instead of 0.11.
"

It may sound very pedantic, but when I am not prepared to work at the rate counter-offered, I say why. It's also more graphic to state percentages instead of word rates, since a discrepancy of 20% feels much heavier than one of 1 or 3 cents. People have to understand that while you don't "spend" anything while translating proper, you provide a qualified service that is worth money and actually costs you from dawn till dusk and beyond.

About red tape, what I require from customers is only written evidence of an order, receipt ackowledgement of the translation (for the first order) and payment within the agreed timeframe. I can go on like this for years, even decades.

If you're OK with 0.07, go for it. If not, then look elsewhere.
At any rate, don't give in for the sake of being nice: give in on something, and ask compensation in another area (payment term, discount grid, weekend markup,...). This is negociation.

Philippe


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Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 08:57
German to English
the rest is irrelevant Oct 13, 2016

Is work at €0.07 useful to you in terms of helping you to increase your monthly earnings without losing time that you would otherwise spend on successfully securing better clients?
If it isn't, then your answer is easy.
If it is, then take their offer as it stands or negotiate or call their bluff (if that's your impression of what they are doing). No one here has better knowledge of your situation and the clues provided by the agency. It is perfectly possible that they will really go to someone else and have success with them at €0.07/word and it is perfectly possible that they are just trying to see if you will blink. Both are typical behaviors and you have to make the best educated guess that you can and honestly and rationally assess your situation.
Increasing competition is blah-blah-blah. Prices are not universally going down and only the best clients count.
The pound is irrelevant. It may be down 15-20% for the year, but it was very strong in the period before the lead-up to Brexit and it is only down 6% over the last 3 years and 3.5% over last 5 years. Those are normal fluctuations. The shift is also much less than the drop around 2007/2008.

Edited to add: Sorry to have added nothing to Philippe's post. I got distracted in the middle of writing and his post wasn't there yet when I started.

[Edited at 2016-10-13 08:22 GMT]


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Elizabeth Tamblin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:57
Member (2012)
French to English
It's a personal decision Oct 13, 2016

I found myself in a similar situation vis-à-vis an agency that claims to be in the top 3% of UK translation agencies. When I asked them why they weren't sending me any work, they replied:

"Your standard translation rate is above £50/1000words – we will always approach linguists with a standard rate that is closer to our budget first and only approach those with a higher rate if we are unable to find someone else. Would you be willing to lower your rates to be closer to this range."

For a while, I would not even contemplate lowering my rate, but then I had a few weeks where work was hard to come by and decided to relent. I still haven't had anything from them yet, but luckily, I've been busy with projects from better-paying agencies.

(Link to thread I started on subject: http://www.proz.com/forum/business_issues/303440-rates_unrealistic_expectations.html)


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Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:57
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
More usually beats less Oct 13, 2016

philgoddard wrote:
Plenty of people translate from multiple languages. Why should Dorian hide his light under a bushel?

Because one brightly burning cresset is a better beacon than four flickering candles.

I think it's clear enough in almost every profession there are rewards for specialization. I don't know whether Malcolm Gladwell's thesis that it takes 10,000 hours to become expert in an activity is correct. However, I do believe - and I think most people believe - that somebody who has spent 10,000 hours on an activity is likely to be more competent than somebody who has spent 2,500 hours on an activity.

Following on from that, if you want the very best Chinese to French translator, do you pick somebody who spends 25% of her time translating Chinese to French or somebody who spends 100% of her time translating Chinese to French? Or, to put it another way, why would a purchaser looking to commission a high-value project to choose the 25% translator over the 100% translator?

Dorian may be such a remarkable individual that he operates with equal competency in both directions in each of the four language pairs in which he operates, but how likely is it that a potential client makes that assumption? Not very, in my estimation.

Of course there may be projects in which Dorian's eclectic mix of language skills would be a significant positive. I have no experience in that sort of thing but I'm sure they must exist.

Dan


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Dorian Cave  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:57
Chinese to French
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks! Oct 14, 2016

First of all: many thanks everyone for your fantastic replies. It looks like I should really spend more time on the Proz forums!
I’ll just quickly reply to a few salient points here, but I’ll be giving serious thought to all this great advice.


philgoddard wrote:
Personally, I wouldn't force the issue of a cooperation agreement. I always sign them if asked to do so, but I never ask customers to complete one. You can just agree rates and other terms in a short, simple exchange of emails, which constitutes a valid contract.


I hadn’t considered the possibility that emails might be enough to constitute a valid contract… Good to know.


Dan Lucas wrote:
2) I do not think the Blue Board is reliable unless you can cross-check against some other source such as Zahlungspraxis or paymentpractices.net.


Thanks for pointing this out. I wasn’t aware of these other sources you mention, so I went and checked: the agency is listed on Paymentpractices.net. Few reviews (7 since 2010), and only 2 new ones since 2013, but fairly positive. So I suppose it’s legit…

(whilst doing this belated due diligence, I stumbled upon this nice little PDF on translation scams, which might interest some of you and lists other places where to verify identities and payment practices: https://www.atanet.org/chronicle/4310_10_berger.pdf.pdf )


Dan Lucas wrote:
3) Only the translators who are perceived to be the best get the best rates. My belief is that focus is important in reality and also as a matter of avoiding the "jack of all trades" tag. You have four languages in your profile. Might be worth highlighting only your top two.


This makes a lot of sense. I almost haven’t been using Proz at all to find jobs up to now, so I might have to take some time and try to make my profile look a little more "specialized" (although I am comfortable with and do work daily with the language pairs I currently list here).


Philippe Etienne wrote:
And maybe other surprises await you, like an appalling discount grid and homogeneity/internal fuzzy matching on, that cut your anticipated earnings by a further 30%, together with payment credit of 3 months. Oh and from the UK, you may have to pay a significant part (4% upwards) of your earnings to Paypal. Or a hefty bank fee on every transfer.


Many thanks for raising these issues, Philippe. I will make sure to clarify these matters with them.


Philippe Etienne wrote:
It may sound very pedantic, but when I am not prepared to work at the rate counter-offered, I say why. It's also more graphic to state percentages instead of word rates, since a discrepancy of 20% feels much heavier than one of 1 or 3 cents. … At any rate, don't give in for the sake of being nice: give in on something, and ask compensation in another area (payment term, discount grid, weekend markup,...).


Sounds like excellent advice to me. I’ve never yet had to negociate like this with clients, so I need to burnish my skills a little.

Although I still find it hard to swallow that they would go back on our agreed rate, I might be ready to give it a try and work for slightly less — as long as I do get some form of compensation — especially if the jobs are sourced from NGOs and the UN (my idealistic streak!). But I definitely won't slave away for nothing.
I’ll let you all know the outcome of my bargaining...

[Edited at 2016-10-14 05:55 GMT]


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