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Please tell me why you work for .04 a word...
Thread poster: LegalTransform

LegalTransform  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:59
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Jun 29, 2005

There is a translation agency located in my home state of Florida that has been posting very large translation jobs here on Proz.com for several months. They typically offer rates of .03 to .04 per word. They also tend to have larger jobs (8000 – 100,000 words). There is currently no feedback for them in the BlueBoard system.

I understand that we live in a free enterprise system where this company is allowed to outbid and undercut other translation agencies in order to obtain jobs. This is unfortunate, but my real concern was that they were taking advantage of translators who do not know any better.

Then, in a recent call for translators, they requested translators with 10 or more years experience, a degree in translation or linguistics, and Trados or another CAT tool. A ruse?

I would like to hear from translators living in the U.S. who have been able to live comfortably on .04 a word. Florida is a state with a moderate standard of living. I doubt that a translator living in New York, for example, could survive even on my rates.

Or maybe these are part-time translators? Even so, why would you want to spend all weekend doing an 8000 word translation for $240, when you should be getting around $700 - $800 or more. Translating such a large and very technical document for $240 just does not seem worth it to me at all. Clearly, there are those who feel differently and I would like to hear why.

Is there anything that the Florida Chapter of the ATA or the Florida Chamber of Commerce and/or Better Business Bureau can or should do about this and other companies?

If nothing else, why can't Proz place a warning when a translator bids through the system - or a message on the ad itself when outsourcers elect to receive bids via private e-mail, warning translators that the rate offered by this outsourcer is currently below the average rate for other Proz translators in this language pair? There would be nothing illegal about this because it is the truth. Then it can truly be said that both the translator as well as the agency are fully aware of what they are doing.

If you live in the U.S. and find these rates acceptable, please let me know how you are able to survive and why you are willing to work for so little. If you say you are accepting these rates because you are a beginning translator, then you are letting them take advantage of you!







[Edited at 2005-07-07 19:14]


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Edward Potter  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 23:59
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
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Let's do the math Jun 29, 2005

3000 words per day X 5 days = 15,000 words per week.

15,000 words per week X $.03 = $450.00 per week

$450.00 per week X 52 weeks = $23,400 per year.

This puts you well over the official poverty level, which last time I looked was about $16,000 for a family of 4.

So the answer is yes. If you have that volume coming in then you can indeed make a living at that rate in the United States.

Okay, everyone, start telling me about the other factors involved.


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LegalTransform  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:59
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
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TOPIC STARTER
Living expenses Jun 30, 2005

Ok, with $23,400:

You have to pay income tax and self-employment tax of around 10% = $2300

You have to have a place to live. A decent apartment (at least here) will cost you at least $700/month x 12 = $8400/year. However, if you own a home like I do, you have a mortgage, plus property taxes, insurance, etc. which is a whole lot more.

You also have to pay for electricity, water, phone, internet service and cable which will be a least $200 a month x 12 = $2400/year

My car payment is $360 a month, but you could probably get a better deal and an older car for $250/month plus $100 a month for insurance = $350 x 12 = $4200/year

Gas will cost you at least $20 a week = $1040/year (more if you actually go anywhere)

It will cost you at least $80 a week for food x 52 = $4160/year

You have to purchase paper, printer cartridges and other supplies (let’s say $40/month) = $480/year

Therefore, total expenses for an average person =
taxes ($2300) + housing ($8400) + utilities ($2400) + car expenses ($4200) + gas ($1040) + food ($4160) + office supplies ($480)= $22,980

This leaves you $45 a month for entertainment (assuming you want to do something else other than sit in front of your computer and translate), unexpected car repairs and other expenses, gifts, and don’t forget you have no health insurance, so medical bills must be included in this $45.

Since I also have a mortgage and credit card debt, I need to make at least $36,000/year just to pay bills and at .03/word, I would need to translate at least 4600 words everyday for five days straight or 23000 a week (which is insane) at .03 a word and I would not have any money (or time) to go on any trips, take a vacation, buy Christmas or birthday gifts, buy any books or anything else for myself, or have any savings or life outside my computer.

Unless of course you believe that translators should live in poverty in which case they can hardly afford to buy a $900 computer program or membership to a professional website.

Do you even know the definition of poverty? And this family of 4 making $16000 a year would pay no taxes, receive a huge tax credit for their four kids (around $6000), receive food stamps for food, government housing, etc. permitting them to use most of their earnings on non-essentials, while your poor translator works day and night to translate 3000 words a day and has nothing left over. Perhaps life is better in sunny Spain.


[Edited at 2005-06-30 00:56]

[Edited at 2005-06-30 00:57]


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Konstantin Kisin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:59
Member (2004)
Russian to English
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Edward has a point... Jun 30, 2005

His point is not that $0.03 per word is a good or desirable rate.

The point is that, for someone other than you, it may, for one reason or another, be a tolerable rate. I don't work for such rates, you don't work for such rates and I doubt Edward works for such rates, however there are other people in the world except for me, you and Edward

I have come across people who would find your list of "absolute necessities" a dream come true.

There really is no point getting upset about it. About 6 months ago a very large job was posted on Proz.com. I was considered for this job (the translation was into English) but in the end it was given to someone for whom English was not a native language, doubtless because he offered lower rates. For approximately 6 months that person has been posting on average about 30-40 questions on kudoz every week from that project alone.

Do I feel jealous or upset? No. He's working twice as hard to make half the money I make and providing a translation which is by definition what in Russian we call "khaltura", a poor piece of work with which only a "khalturshik" (someone who makes khaltura) will be happy.

I feel nothing but concern for people who charge these rates, especially in countries like the US where the cost of living is high. It's hard to judge whether it is a good business decision for them to charge these rates, until you've been in their shoes it's not easy to say...


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LegalTransform  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:59
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
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TOPIC STARTER
The point is that rates should be going up not down Jun 30, 2005

Konstantin Kisin wrote:

His point is not that $0.03 per word is a good or desirable rate.

The point is that, for someone other than you, it may, for one reason or another, be a tolerable rate...

I feel nothing but concern for people who charge these rates, especially in countries like the US where the cost of living is high. It's hard to judge whether it is a good business decision for them to charge these rates, until you've been in their shoes it's not easy to say...


That is why I asked to know what their secret is. Maybe there are some extenuating circumstances (they still live with their parents, they use the computer at the local library, etc.). There has to be some reason why they are able to do this.

The point is that I cannot understand how someone can live at those rates or why they would even want to. I am talking about U.S. translators only. I understand that situations in other countries are different.

Back in 1994, I was charging .12 a word! At that time, agencies flat out refused to pay you anything less than .10 a word. The price of everything continues to go up every year (housing, cars, food, gas, etc.) while our rates continue to move in the other direction.

What will happen in ten years when these people who find .03 to be "tolerable" and build a standard of living based on this income find people accepting work at half a cent per word?

How much should the average rate increase every year be? Even at a .005 increase a year, we should not be blinking an eye at .20 a word right now instead of even considering working for .03 - .04 cents. Or should we follow Mr. Potter's model and continue to drop our rates until we all qualify for welfare and food stamps?

Assuming you could translate 3000 words everyday in eight hours, at $23,400 you would only be making $11.25 an hour without any benefits. Is this how much we believe a professional is worth? Aren't we supposed to be trying to elevate our profession rather than lowering our rates to the point where we are earning less than a fast food employee?




[Edited at 2005-07-02 08:44]


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Arthur Allmendinger  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 23:59
English to German
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it depends on the purpose of translation Jun 30, 2005

Konstantin Kisin wrote:

Do I feel jealous or upset? No. He's working twice as hard to make half the money I make and providing a translation which is by definition what in Russian we call "khaltura", a poor piece of work with which only a "khalturshik" (someone who makes khaltura) will be happy.

...It's hard to judge whether it is a good business decision for them to charge these rates, until you've been in their shoes it's not easy to say...


Hi Konstantin,

I think it depends on the purpose of translation.

The purpose of translation is often just to enable a reader to get an understanding of the key points of the original document.

If the translator doesn’t distort the meaning of the original text, then it is OK, even if the translator is not perfect in grammar or style.

So it is sometimes a good business for a translation agency to save money and it is also a good business for some translators in low-income countries, where the cost of living is not as high as in UK or Germany. We cannot afford to spend time on such a job if we live in Germany or UK, but you can do with such an income in Russia or India.

This is a global trend nowadays: poor quality for little money.

There is not much need for high quality work, which is very expensive. You can also do business with “khaltura”, if you can sell it. And you can sell it, if you are selling in the global market.


[Edited at 2005-06-30 05:46]


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Arthur Allmendinger  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 23:59
English to German
+ ...
it depends on time investment Jun 30, 2005

Jeff Whittaker wrote:

...The point is that I cannot understand how someone can live at those rates or why they would even want to. I am talking about U.S.




I think that these US-translators just delegate their large translation jobs to translators in poor countries, who do the translation for 0.01 per word.

After proof-reading they send the text to the client and earn some money without large time investment.

[Edited at 2005-06-30 05:51]


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Konstantin Kisin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:59
Member (2004)
Russian to English
+ ...
the purpose of *translation* is to create a document identical to the original, only in another lang Jun 30, 2005

Arthur Allmendinger wrote:
I think it depends on the purpose of translation.

The purpose of translation is often just to enable a reader to get an understanding of the key points of the original document.


In the case I describe this was by no means so. I was talking about translating a book for publication.

And I am sorry, but this is typical former-Soviet logic, which is precisely the reason why most translations into English in Russia are done by secretaries and people who are not native speakers of English - people have a historically-defined belief that poor quality is somehow acceptable. Certaintly, none of my clients subscribe to this view.

Sorry for the off-topic.


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Rosa Maria Duenas Rios  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:59
What we can do Jun 30, 2005

Jeff Whittaker wrote:
That is why I asked to know what their secret is. Maybe there are some extenuating circumstances (they still live with their parents, they use the computer at the local library, etc.). There has to be some reason why they are able to do this.

The point is that I cannot understand how someone can live at those rates or why they would even want to. I am talking about U.S. translators only. I understand that situations in other countries are different.

Assuming you could translate 3000 words everyday in eight hours, at $23,400 you would only be making $11.25 an hour without any benefits. Is this how much we believe a professional is worth? Aren't we supposed to be trying to elevate our profession rather than lowering our rates to the point where we are earning less than a fast food employee?


I wholeheartedly agree with you Jeff. My educated guess (from what I have heard and seen so far) is that:
1)People who charge low rates are generally dependents of another family member, and thus they really do not need a minimum to make a living.
2) People who charge low rates do not take the profession of translator as such; sometimes it is a hobby to keep them from boredom; sometimes it is a means to get some additional money to buy some expensive item they want. They are not interested in translation as a career, and do not care what impact their parctices can have on the sector as a whole.

What we can do is stick to our rates, educate clients and novice translators who are in this field for a career, and hope for these other people to find a better source of income fast!

I am afraid organizations like the ATA will be unable to help, as they discourage any group talk about rates among their members, for fear of violating the Antitrust Act (anyone who wants to learn more about this can take a look at the ATA Chronicle issue of April 2005).

My two cents.

[Edited at 2005-06-30 13:20]


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xxxMarc P  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:59
German to English
+ ...
Please tell me why you work for .04 a word... Jun 30, 2005

Rosa Maria Duenas Rios wrote:

My educated guess (from what I have heard and seen so far) is that:
1)People who charge low rates are generally dependents of another family member, and thus they really do not need a minimum to make a living.
2) People who charge low rates do not take the profession of translator as such


I think your guess is correct, Rosa. The results of a recent survey by Germany's ADÜ-Nord are interesting:

http://www.adue-nord.de/umfrage/auswertung.html

According to these figures, almost half of translators earnt less than 20,000 Euro (after costs) in 2003 - and Germany is generally considered a country with relatively high prices for translation. This does not necessarily mean that the translators concerned are poorly paid; many of them may only work part-time. It does show, though, how small a proportion have realistic full incomes, for whatever reason.

Marc


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cendrine marrouat
English to French
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Please tell me why you work for .04 a word... Jun 30, 2005

Rosa Maria Duenas Rios wrote:
I wholeheartedly agree with you Jeff. My educated guess (from what I have heard and seen so far) is that:
1)People who charge low rates are generally dependents of another family member, and thus they really do not need a minimum to make a living.
2) People who charge low rates do not take the profession of translator as such; sometimes it is a hobby to keep them from boredom; sometimes it is a means to get some additional money to buy some expensive item they want. They are not interested in translation as a career, and do not care what impact their parctices can have on the sector as a whole.

What we can do is stick to our rates, educate clients and novice translators who are in this field for a career, and hope for these other people to find a better source of income fast!

I am afraid organizations like the ATA will be unable to help, as they discourage any group talk about rates among their members, for fear of violating the Antitrust Act (anyone who wants to learn more about this can take a look at the ATA Chronicle issue of April 2005).

My two cents.

[Edited at 2005-06-30 13:20]


Rosa Maria I have to disagree with what you say as a second point in your message. I have no idea where you leave but the thing I can say is that when you spend months and months emailing companies, trying to get a job and nothing comes your way, if you have no other possibility to work, you will eventually accept lower rates. I am not saying that it is fair or good, or anything like that. I am just implying that saying to someone who charges less (either because he lives in a country where the cost of life is less than European countries or North America or because they would be starving other wise) that they don't take the profession seriously is quite a grave accusation. I myself had to accept lower rate jobs at the beginning, because I had no other choice at the time (Thank goodness I don't do that anymore!). I can only accept my own rates now because I have another job on the side that allows me to live decently.
But I consider myself as a good translator and it's not because someone accepts lower rates that they are bad or don't care about the industry. Some people have no choice over there. I agree that it's a shame! But we have to stick together and try our best to educate others as you said.
Best regards.


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Edward Potter  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 23:59
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
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More comments Jun 30, 2005

This is such a hot topic on the Proz forums.

Jeff,

I know my numbers are very emotional, but let me go on - just to be the devil's advocate and add to the discussion.

My numbers are for the U.S. Actually the poverty threshold in the U.S. for a family of four is almost $19,000. For an individual it is a little above $9,000. Source: http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/04poverty.shtml

As someone else on this thread mentioned (hi there, Konstantin!) I'm not talking about living in luxury, or even having some conveniences. We are talking about having enough to keep ourselves breathing every day and have at least a certain level of well being. Many people in the world have a lifestyle of not travelling too far from their home, not owning a car, not going to the movies, not eating out, etc. and are "living okay". They stay at home or visit closeby friends in the evenings, perhaps talking to one another or engaging in other free activities. Dinner is an important event of the day and eating out could could be a break in the routine, if that ever happens.

The key here is that in the U.S. people are used to doing activities and acquiring things in which they have to spend money. Whether this adds to their quality of life or not is often debated. But, these things are not necessities for survival.

So, bare bones numbers here:

Cheapo rent per month: $500
Food per month (we're talking veggies, grains and fruit - not chocolate cake and ice cream): $200
Utilities/Internet: $200
Clothing, incidentals: $50
Taxes: $00.00

So, $750 per month X 12 = $9000 per year. Your transpo will be a close-to-free bicycle and you will not wear high fashion. I have not factored in health insurance. You'd have to search for a cheap comprehensive policy. I won't speculate on how much that would be right now.

Life may not be really easy at this economic level, but there are people out there who have learned to be happy if they have their basic needs met. Conversely, there are many unhappy people who "have it all". It is a question of attitude and lifestyle.

Having said all that, I think $.03 per word in the U.S. is rather low. I'd rather flip burgers to get the same money.


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Rosa Maria Duenas Rios  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:59
To be more precise... Jun 30, 2005

cendrine marrouat wrote:
Rosa Maria I have to disagree with what you say as a second point in your message. I have no idea where you leave but the thing I can say is that when you spend months and months emailing companies, trying to get a job and nothing comes your way, if you have no other possibility to work, you will eventually accept lower rates.

Hi Cendrine,
I live in the US, and I believe Jeff wanted to restrict the scope of this topic to translators in the US. There is also a heated debate about the same topic in the Spanish forum, since quite a few outsourcers tend to think that translators living in Argentina should work for less, just because they happen to live in Argentina. I agree that conditions are different in different countries, but I was referring to the US.

I also agree that in order to attract new clients, or when one is a novice translator, one's rates need to be more competitive, but there is a huge gap between a 7/8 cents US per word rate, from a market-agressive or novice translator, and a 3/4 or less cents US per word rate from someone who has no idea of what he/she is charging. As Jeff pointed out, such a rate equals to a salary of less than 11 dollars an hour, and there is a variety of other jobs that do not require the specialization of a translator, which can be done at that rate (Ed mentioned flipping hamburgers). Thus, I believe that the argument of lowering the rates because one has not been able to find a job can only be valid up to a certain extent.


cendrine marrouat wrote:
I am not saying that it is fair or good, or anything like that. I am just implying that saying to someone who charges less (either because he lives in a country where the cost of life is less than European countries or North America or because they would be starving other wise) that they don't take the profession seriously is quite a grave accusation.

I reiterate that I was referring to the US only, and that a somewhat low rate can be a good temporary strategy to advance a translation career, but it is harmful both individually and collectively, if continued in the long term. To me, in other words, this is not taking a profession seriously; and it does not matter if we are talking about a translator or an accountant; I believe the principle is the same.

cendrine marrouat wrote:
I myself had to accept lower rate jobs at the beginning, because I had no other choice at the time (Thank goodness I don't do that anymore!). I can only accept my own rates now because I have another job on the side that allows me to live decently.

I did exactly the same thing! I charged less until I was able to receive a certification, and before being a freelancer I had a full-time job and did translations on the side to complement my income. But I never went under a certain "floor" because it is not ethical, and not worth it. I preferred spending a weekend outdoors than giving my work away!

Again, I know that not everybody has the same opportunities, and in such cases a lower rate can help a translator advance his/her career, but such a practice is harmful in the long run, and translators who stay in the business for a long time tend to increase their rates as they increase their knowledge and experience.

cendrine marrouat wrote:
But I consider myself as a good translator and it's not because someone accepts lower rates that they are bad or don't care about the industry.

I believe quality is a separate issue; there are excellent translators underselling themselves, and there are translations that are not even worth the 3 cents paid per word. I never addressed the quality of the translation, but I still believe that people who work at rates below the industry averages do not really care about the industry.

In any case, I also agree to diasgree with you

[Edited at 2005-06-30 18:19]


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Arthur Allmendinger  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 23:59
English to German
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price-quality ratio matters ! Jun 30, 2005

Konstantin Kisin wrote:

And I am sorry, but this is typical former-Soviet logic



I think it is rather the logic of a free market economy. Some people sell, other people buy. If there is a buyer of poor quality, there will be a seller.



Germans are crazy about their German high quality, but they cannot compete with the cheap production of Indochina, though this production lacks quality.

What really matters is not just quality, but price-quality ratio.


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Aleksandr Okunev
Local time: 00:59
English to Russian
My 2 copecks. (per post) Jun 30, 2005

I live in a poor country but I do not think that 4 cents per word is an acceptable level of rates. Please, allow me to point out a couple of issues.

Dear Edward, we say in Russian "Figures are stubborn stuff" and your sums look quite convincing, but to a newcomer only and maybe to that or same agency which wants to get a document translated at such a rate. However, I would advise to divide the results by something ranging from 1.5 to 2. Why? Simply because translation is not banging on the keyboard and looking up words in a dictionary, but a whole lifestyle which makes it possible for a translator to be in shape and deliver excellent results. Is reading this thread a professional activity? I guess it is. Who should pay for it? The client I guess, the same way the clients pay for our hardware and software, etc. There was a time during the early post-perestroika period with galloping inflation in the USSR, and most old-time companies were struggling to keep their employees, because private ones offered more benefits. The apparel company I worked for used to pay a so-called 'nutrition allowance', it was a separate item in the pay slip, the payment was intended to cover meals in the factory canteen, the amount, however, covered a third or, at best, a half of it. When I told the director about this, his response was, "Alex, don't get too impudent, do you expect me to cover all the meals in the factory canteen so that the workers could get it for free?" I felt ashamed at first and then I thought a bit and my common sense and vague recollections of Karl Marx's works told me that, hell, yes, the employer must pay to the worker everything the worker needs for him/herself and his/her family, including a lot of things seemingly absolutely irrelevant to stitching a sleeve into an armhole, if the employer expects the worker to works full time and deliver satisfactory results.

Which takes me to another issue: there is no 'good' or 'bad' translation, most Russian know the famous phrase from one of Bulgakov's novels (my poor translation), "There is no nearly fresh sturgeon" (meaning that it is either sturgeon or waste). What I want to say is that translation is a thing very well defined by Konstantin, a 'bad but acceptable' translation is not a commodity, it's a semi-finished product, a workpiece, and an attempt to peddle it as a finished product is bad business practices if not a crime. In most cases this is caused by an aggressive agency's policy and the fact that the end client - a) does not know anything about translation; b) does not have anyone or does not want to hire anyone to check the quality of the finished product. My personal most recent example is a very well known US company whose machine tools are among the best in the world and whose last year's manuals were machine-translated(!). Well the end client has an excuse for failing to proofread the manuals in a foreign language, but not the agency, in this particular case - a 5-star Proz outsourcer.

Which takes me to my last copeck. Have you all noticed that per 7 translators concerned with the situation there is only ONE representative of an agency (hi, Edward!) and this person, as far as I know him (no flattery, honestly) makes a lot of effort to contribute to well-being of Proz community and translation business as a whole. What I am driving at is that regrettably, other outsourcers fail to see the fact that this is really an issue to be addressed by the outsourcers' community, not the translators', because most of professional translators can always find a couple of direct clients and/or do something else related to linguistics and/or get into business mediation (I get a couple of these damn offers every once in a while). Translation agencies, on the other hand, can do only one, very useful thing, mediate between clients and translators doing their share of work and getting their share of benefit. Now the actions of this Florida agency jeopardizes other agencies, I see it very clearly, but everyone thinks that all bad things happen miles away. Let me illustrate it with a fable. My wife is a fashion designer. Before she started working for one company there used to be a single designer (a woman) there, whose main activity was to get herself a recent Puma or Adidas catalogue and copy their designs. And she was quite successful in it. Then the times changed and copyright laws started to be enforced here, and the clients from Europe suddenly started asking for local designs because Belarussian school of fashion design has some touch, if you like. Suddenly, the garments designed by my wife which had been hanging in dusty cabinets started to be taken out, inspected and ordered! Two more younger girls were hired and all of a sudden the former star designer found herself in a situation where her stardom was going to end soon. She did a very stupid thing, and this is being done, though action or omission, by most good agencies: she assumed that everyone gives a damn about the difference between different designers, and she started to defame all the other girls behind their backs and promote herself. The result, quite logically, was that the entire factory started thinking that ALL the designers (including the former star) were stupid and were to blame for all the mishaps of the factory. When she left the factory, it took a couple of years, several orders by well-known companies and a few very successful collections to arouse a doubt in the wise heads of the management that, well, probably, maybe, by chance, our designers are not stupid after all, because these German guys keep coming with new orders. What I mean is - nobody really wants to spend a lot of time researching what a good and a bad agency means, the end clients tend to judge by what they understand: cost and effort. And most of them think that all agencies are about the same. In such a situation an agency offering 4 cents a word and returning a machine translated manual 2 months later, without a single question asked, unfortunately, has an advantage over a good, quality-concerned one, offering a higher price and bombarding the client with questions throughout the entire project. Once again, all *I* need to do is to get a few more direct clients, offer agency rates and be prepared to handle a few more tasks, this I have tested and it works just nicely. Of course, I would like to take tiny part in chasing a 'Florida-style' agency off the market (I'm doing it now, having spent about an hour already), but I am convinced there are folks who should be more interested in that and these are agencies.

You've read that far???
My Lord, I've got a reader!!

Best of luck everyone
Alex
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~-+<


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