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Is transparency a requirement for agency rate policies?
Thread poster: Catherine Pawlick

Catherine Pawlick  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:46
Member (2010)
Russian to English
+ ...
Feb 24

I am curious other people's opinions on this. For the past 10 years I have had one large agency client whom I worked for and it was very smooth and positive. Then suddenly last year, something changed drastically.

I received an email from a project manager whom I was not really familiar with, asking me to lower my rates by 25% permanently as she felt it would be a "win win" situation. I thought it odd to hear this from her since, when I onboarded, there was someone in another depart
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I am curious other people's opinions on this. For the past 10 years I have had one large agency client whom I worked for and it was very smooth and positive. Then suddenly last year, something changed drastically.

I received an email from a project manager whom I was not really familiar with, asking me to lower my rates by 25% permanently as she felt it would be a "win win" situation. I thought it odd to hear this from her since, when I onboarded, there was someone in another department (Human Resources I think) who handled rates. The usual setup: you pass the test, then they put you and your rate into their database. There is no shifting around or negotiating about your rate every day (based on projects) after that. So at the time, I told the PM I'm fine with my rates as they are.

Two months later my work flow from them stalled to nearly nothing. This would not have been a big deal except that the previous volumes were high enough that it makes a huge impact and was noticeable. Long story short, another employee who I know offline informed me that a group of translators who had been high performers had been blacklisted for having "too high rates" and that the company decided to stop working with them but would not inform them of this. In addition, whereas before any jobs could have been sent to that group of translators, now any internal project manager required special approval from upper management to use the translators on that list. Needless to say, no project manager would take the time (nor do they have the time) to request special approvals. So essentially all of these translators are out of work from this particular agency only they don't know it yet.

Understanding they wanted cuts, I wrote to their project managers attempting to lower my rates, recalling the earlier message. I wrote 5 different PMs. No one replied. I waited four months. No one replied. I wrote a letter to the company directors, no one replied. Finally at the 5-month mark, someone I'd never heard of before (who has only been with the company for 6 mos) wrote me saying they could not *raise* my rates. I thought that funny as I never wanted to raise them and I explained to her I understood the company was in a crisis and I wanted to help them out and lower mine. She told me that I could only receive work if I cut my rates in half.

I then received a reply to the letter to the directors from a different manager who had me contact someone in a third location (not her country, and not the country of the manager noted above) saying she was the best person to talk to me about rates of any sort. When that person finally reached out to me, she reiterated I had to cut my rates in half. (meanwhile the company had long ago stopped sending me work).

I can see the writing on the wall, but what interests me now is the principle of it. Is this discriminatory practice? Isn't some transparency required? I mean as an agency, the bread and butter of your income ARE THE TRANSLАTORS. Without them you have no business. We all know that. So, you decide to stop using someone's services, but fail to inform them? I realize they're not obligated to inform us all the time, but after constant work for years, you would think the professional thing to do is let us know. Or am I wrong? In other words: why not just be honest? I am not referring to "we won't have work in your language pair this month" but a full-on dead stop in terms of any collaboration.

Further, every layer of middle management now fails to respond in a timely fashion to basic email requests. This was not the case until last year. It has literally been a 180-degree shift in my experience with this agency, which is quite well known, from positive to very negative. I wanted to post this story on the blue board BUT I am concerned they are going to further "punish" me if I do. So first I wanted opinions from the audience. Thanks folks)
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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:46
Member (2008)
Italian to English
My experience Feb 24

I have a couple of Italian agencies who used to send me a lot of work but who have recently reduced this to a trickle, and sometimes nothing in any given month.

I am still charging both of them the same rate as 7 or 8 years ago, although one of them has recently been complaining that I am "expensive" - which probably means that they've been *reducing* the rates they pay to others.

There's no problem with the quality of my work; both of these agencies have always told me
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I have a couple of Italian agencies who used to send me a lot of work but who have recently reduced this to a trickle, and sometimes nothing in any given month.

I am still charging both of them the same rate as 7 or 8 years ago, although one of them has recently been complaining that I am "expensive" - which probably means that they've been *reducing* the rates they pay to others.

There's no problem with the quality of my work; both of these agencies have always told me I'm one of the best.

Meanwhile I know (from my own investigations) that they are continuing to give other translators a lot of the work they used to give me. I presume that's because the other translators are just as good as me, but cheaper, so they get more work.

It's a dog-eat-dog world -but I have no plans to reduce my rate. Meanwhile I'm continuing with my other clients (mainly private) who are very happy with my rate.

The agencies do all seem to be involved in a race to the bottom. I don't want to be a part of that.
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Kevin Fulton
Laura Kingdon
Yolanda Broad
mughwI
Andrii Vovchenko
Agneta Pallinder
Philippe Etienne
 

Michael Newton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:46
Member (2003)
Japanese to English
+ ...
Transparency Feb 24

Unfortunately you have found out that "clients are not friends" and that clients are fickle. In fact, clients oftentimes suck. Please don't spend anymore of your valuable time on these reprobates. Look for new clients and don't put all your eggs in one basket. Good luck!

Thomas T. Frost
Tom in London
Philippe Etienne
Tina Vonhof
Philip Lees
Catherine Pawlick
Dan Lucas
 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:46
Member (2008)
Italian to English
GIve them a bad rating Feb 24

Michael Newton wrote:

Unfortunately you have found out that "clients are not friends" and that clients are fickle. In fact, clients oftentimes suck. Please don't spend anymore of your valuable time on these reprobates. Look for new clients and don't put all your eggs in one basket. Good luck!


I would go further. Since you've done so much work for them in the past you're in a good position to give them a very bad rating on the Blue Board. You'd be doing us all a favour.


Thomas T. Frost
Philip Lees
Catherine Pawlick
Sheila Wilson
Christine Andersen
Elena Aclasto
Daryo
 

Thomas T. Frost  Identity Verified
Member (2014)
Danish to English
+ ...
'Good enough', or so they think Feb 24

Tom in London wrote:

I presume that's because the other translators are just as good as me, but cheaper


I wouldn't be so sure. The other translators may provide lower quality but be considered 'good enough' by the agency. Until the end client gets fed up with the bad quality and starts looking for another agency, that is.


Hedwig Spitzer
Catherine Pawlick
 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:46
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Good enough Feb 24

Thomas T. Frost wrote:

Tom in London wrote:

I presume that's because the other translators are just as good as me, but cheaper


I wouldn't be so sure. The other translators may provide lower quality but be considered 'good enough' by the agency. Until the end client gets fed up with the bad quality and starts looking for another agency, that is.


No Thomas, the other translators are quite good. I know this because some of the things we translate are press releases for websites. By visiting those websites I can (a) see how much work they are getting that isn't coming to me (b) check the quality of their work.

The irony is, with these two agencies, that when they get something really, really challenging to translate, they come to me. It kind of makes me sick but I have to accept those jobs.

[Edited at 2020-02-24 18:28 GMT]


Thomas T. Frost
Sheila Wilson
Kuochoe Nikoi-Kotei
Oleksandr Ivanov
 

Philippe Etienne  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 12:46
Member
English to French
Not an uncommon scenario Feb 24

Freelancers charge what they see fit, and agencies offer what they think is sustainable for them.
Agencies have every right to ask you to lower your rate, and you have every right to accept the decrease or turn it down. They are also entitled to stop sending you work without notice. Mergers, changes in management, economic climate, shareholder demands, MT competition, every reason can justify such a move.
You can just as well increase your rate periodically and lose customers in the
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Freelancers charge what they see fit, and agencies offer what they think is sustainable for them.
Agencies have every right to ask you to lower your rate, and you have every right to accept the decrease or turn it down. They are also entitled to stop sending you work without notice. Mergers, changes in management, economic climate, shareholder demands, MT competition, every reason can justify such a move.
You can just as well increase your rate periodically and lose customers in the process.

I've also faced requests to decrease my rates and/or extend payment terms with long-standing agency clients. The credit-crunch period a decade ago was the most prolific. From my experience, not complying with such requests often exposes you to a gradual (or sudden) decrease in assignments. Even when you were the number one choice for years in a number of accounts, the competition is right behind you.

Even if you may view it as a lack of recognition for your outstanding, flawless work and dedication, it's nothing personal, your skills are not questioned and you can reassign this free time to promote your services to other prospects.
Or reflect about what segment(s) you want to serve and set rates accordingly: from the 4000-word-per-day assignments in areas that require extreme focus, but little or no overhead with research, stylistic reflexion or time-consuming rereads, to the 1500-word-per-day high-visibility content or highly specialised texts that call for serious polishing and writing skills. Or ad translation, MT post-editing and anything in between.

Granted, agencies need translators, but it seems that translators are rather soft business people…

Philippe
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Tom in London
Dan Lucas
Sarah Maidstone
Sheila Wilson
Fiona Grace Peterson
 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:46
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Unite or perish Feb 24

Philippe Etienne wrote:

Granted, agencies need translators, but it seems that translators are rather soft business people…

Philippe


We need to unionise, internationally. There are so many of us, each one struggling alone. Just think what we could achieve if we all came together, organised to uphold the value of translation and the value of our work.


Jocelin Meunier
Catherine Pawlick
Sarah Maidstone
Katalin Szilárd
Ksenia Akulova
Elena Aclasto
Oleksandr Ivanov
 

The Misha
Local time: 06:46
Russian to English
+ ...
No more so than the airlines... Feb 24

... that charge passengers different prices for the same seats without telling them. Agencies are indeed businesses out to make a buck. They are not your friends. They don't owe you any explanations or warnings.

They also tend to slip into the "good enough" mentality that someone has already mentioned above. That's all right. Me, I am making a nice living cleaning up after these "good enough" operators who are, quite often, not really all that good.

Oh, and there's no s
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... that charge passengers different prices for the same seats without telling them. Agencies are indeed businesses out to make a buck. They are not your friends. They don't owe you any explanations or warnings.

They also tend to slip into the "good enough" mentality that someone has already mentioned above. That's all right. Me, I am making a nice living cleaning up after these "good enough" operators who are, quite often, not really all that good.

Oh, and there's no such thing as "the professional thing". There's the "money thing" though:)))

Cheer up and move on. Good luck to you and the rest of us.
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Tom in London
P.L.F.Persio
 

The Misha
Local time: 06:46
Russian to English
+ ...
... and don't forget that part about losing our chains:))) Feb 24

Tom in London wrote:

Philippe Etienne wrote:

Granted, agencies need translators, but it seems that translators are rather soft business people…

Philippe


We need to unionise, internationally. There are so many of us, each one struggling alone. Just think what we could achieve if we all came together, organised to uphold the value of translation and the value of our work.


Rolling my eyes. I mean, really, I am.

Besides, in the US, this would be (rightfully) construed as price collusion, which is against the law. I guess you'll have to do without us then.


 

Thomas T. Frost  Identity Verified
Member (2014)
Danish to English
+ ...
Unite and perish Feb 24

Tom in London wrote:

We need to unionise, internationally. There are so many of us, each one struggling alone. Just think what we could achieve if we all came together, organised to uphold the value of translation and the value of our work.


I've often had the thought, but it simply won't work when the work doesn't have to be carried out at a specific location – and even then we've seen that manufacturing is simply moved to other parts of the world, leaving rust belts in its wake.

If agencies find unionised translators too expensive, they'll simply use non-unionised translators.

If some jurisdictions legislate to make it mandatory to use unionised translators, agencies will simply do as they did when California's AB 5 law entered into force and stop using translators from 'difficult' jurisdictions. Instead of unionised translators, you get unemployed translators.

You need legislation covering the entire industrialised world to achieve this. The aim is noble, but how do you achieve any leverage in the real world?


Hedwig Spitzer
Dan Lucas
Sheila Wilson
P.L.F.Persio
Laura Kingdon
 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:46
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Global Feb 24

Thomas T. Frost wrote:

The aim is noble, but how do you achieve any leverage in the real world?



By organising globally. Right here on Proz you have people from all over the world, discussing problems, exchanging views, helping one another. We live in a global world now, and organising globally should not be difficult.

And in fact the first problem that come to mind is: different markets and different costs. That would be one of the items on the agenda.


Jocelin Meunier
 

Michael Newton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:46
Member (2003)
Japanese to English
+ ...
Transparency Feb 24

I'm afraid unionization is a pipe dream.

 

Jocelin Meunier  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 12:46
English to French
Common behaviour Feb 24

Unfortunately, this is kind of how agencies operate. They lower the rates constantly to win clients, which is then directly impacted one those who do the actual work: translators. Only problem is, if they were telling every translator they have to cut their rates in half, the translators would leave en masse and the agency wouldn't be able to boast about their team of 2000+ translators. So they don't say anything and hire new translators who'll accept cheaper rates.

I have seen this
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Unfortunately, this is kind of how agencies operate. They lower the rates constantly to win clients, which is then directly impacted one those who do the actual work: translators. Only problem is, if they were telling every translator they have to cut their rates in half, the translators would leave en masse and the agency wouldn't be able to boast about their team of 2000+ translators. So they don't say anything and hire new translators who'll accept cheaper rates.

I have seen this a lot with subtitling agencies: you do a good job for years, then all of a sudden it stop for months because they "don't receive anything" and not too long after I find an offer from them on ProZ.

Transparency would indeed prevent such distasteful practices, but that would require a global unionization of freelance translators, but nothing is done on this side, which is a shame.
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Catherine Pawlick
 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:46
Member (2008)
Italian to English
All Feb 24

Michael Newton wrote:

I'm afraid unionization is a pipe dream.


That's what people always say. HOWEVER let's return to the topic and the OP

[Edited at 2020-02-24 22:24 GMT]


 
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