How can an agency offering rock-bottom rates get top Blue Board marks from so many translators?
Thread poster: Endre Both

Endre Both  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 22:46
Member (2002)
English to German
Aug 14, 2009

This is a question I've been asked recently (since I was among those who gave the agency in question top marks).

The answer is simple if we look at what the Blue Board (BB) is for. The Blue Board helps translators get information about the business conduct of outsourcers that would not be available otherwise before entering into a business relationship with the outsourcer: for instance, support during the project lifecycle, reliability of payments, reactions to enquiries etc. Obviously, rates do not belong to this category; in fact, rates are probably the most important thing to discuss with a prospective client before doing business with them. So complaining about low rates after completing a project (and even giving lower BB marks because of unsatisfactory rates) is a bit like complaining about stomach pain after eating mouldy bread.

Every time I see this happening, my fingers are itching to write a complaint to ProZ.com on the outsourcer's behalf, so now that I've been asked about it, I've taken the opportunity to make my grumblings public.

Endre


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 19:46
English to Portuguese
+ ...
The BB is about everything BUT rates Aug 14, 2009

Translation usually involves mutual trust. The client or outsourcer must trust the translator to do an acceptable job within the alotted time. The translator must trust that the client or outsourcer will pay them as agreed and when agreed.

So the WWA/LWA scores comprise an objective assessment of that trust, and a subjective assessment of the relationship between the parties.

Rates are subject to a mutual agreement. Any vendor can stipulate their rates, and any client may state their own. If the two figures match, even if it's by default, i.e. either party accepting the other's offer, there will be nothing left to discuss (possibly other than the payment term and manner). If they don't match, two oucomes are possible: a) negotiation to make them match; or b) no business deal being closed.

There is nothing to prevent the same client/agency from paying several times higher/lower rates for one job as compared to another. This happens everywhere. Try comparing prices of anything you can buy at a 24/7 convenience store with those found in a hard-to-find outlet.

The whole problem with translation is that it's the only market where in too many cases the buyer is the one setting the price. I often compare it to a department store where there are no price tags. Envision this: You walk in there, see a 42" LCD TV you like, and offer $ 20 for it to the manager. S/he may either turn their back to you and walk away, or consider that no sales have been made in the past X days, so those $ 20 will solve their most immediate problem, which is to buy a burger and a soda for lunch.

Every translator who says no! every time they are offered grovelling rates will be taking a small step towards earning a decent lifestyle. However those who really need that burger so badly - maybe just to have a life without the style - will be grateful to anyone who steps in to prvide it. The problem is that quite often they don't have a 42" LCD TV to offer; at best they can give an old 14" CRT B&W TV, which is a ripoff for $ 20.


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Susan Welsh  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:46
Member (2008)
Russian to English
+ ...
I think rates are part of it (or should be) Aug 14, 2009

The question asked of the translator is whether you would be "willing to work again" for this company. Many factors go into the answer, as you both have said. But some companies I am no longer willing to work for again, because they pay too little. I noted that in my WWA comment(s). I should think translators who are considering whether to bid for such a company's job would be interested in knowing that.

Susan


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LegalTransform  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:46
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
How can an agency offering rock-bottom rates get top Blue Board marks from so many translators? Aug 14, 2009

Because so many translators lack the self-esteem to realize the true value of the work they do and make excuses to justify their low rates (I'm not smart enough / I'm just a student / I live in a poor country and they expect me to charge less / I type slow / they tell me what I can charge / I don't deserve more / if I charge more, they won't pick me / someone else will do it cheaper / anyone can translate, so my work has no real value / I work at home and don't have a "real" job)

[Edited at 2009-08-14 13:23 GMT]


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John Rawlins  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 22:46
Spanish to English
+ ...
Self-esteem Aug 14, 2009

Jeff Whittaker wrote:

Because so many translators lack the self-esteem to realize the true value of the work they do and make excuses to justify their low rates


I suppose that the stay-at-home nature of translation means that the business attracts many people who lack self-confidence. These individuals tend to be pleasantly surprised when they discover that agencies will pay them for their 'modest' efforts. As a result, they avoid any action that may cause a sudden rejection - such as raising their rates to above the poverty line.

I sometimes wonder if project managers are simply translators with some self-esteem.


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Enrico C - ECLC  Identity Verified
Taiwan
Local time: 05:46
Member (2011)
English to Italian
+ ...
I agree but.... Aug 14, 2009

Jeff Whittaker wrote:

Because so many translators lack the self-esteem to realize the true value of the work they do and make excuses to justify their low rates (I'm not smart enough / I'm just a student / I live in a poor country and they expect me to charge less / I type slow / they tell me what I can charge / I don't deserve more / if I charge more, they won't pick me / someone else will do it cheaper / anyone can translate, so my work has no real value / I work at home and don't have a "real" job)

[Edited at 2009-08-14 13:23 GMT]



Provided all what you wrote is right, i also think it is incomplete. In my case for example rates were lowered UNILATERALLY by my main supplier, a global agency and there wasn't any chance to explain them that translating/localizing is not just typing anymore. After all i think they already knew. I was clearly told "either you take this or leave"

So, let me introduce another subtopic. BIG AGENCIES ARE BEGINNING TO SET THEIR RULES ON THE MARKET and the rule is MAKE TRANSLATORS WORK MORE AT A CHEAPER PRICE.
I used to translate say...600.000 words a year till a few year ago and it was enough to live. Now i translate maybe 1.000.000 words or over and money is never enough. THEY LOWERED RATES and most other big customers are the same.

Weak point is our category is not protected by proper EU laws in Europe and we do a lot of telecommuting...so these companies keep pushing it hard, to the edge of slavery. IT's obviously a market that needs rules to protect freelancers and to make the job worth it. As i said many other times in other forums "The lack of control makes these company widely arrogant towards freelancers". On top of that, as you said, too many work almost for free (I know a few who work for free just to train....students...the work won't be perfect but they still are one of those variables on the market.

They ask you to buy and use CAT software...you need advanced software...you work on weekends, Xmas, when others are on vacation to meet their deadline (in lack of which they will REALLOCATE job to someone else) and.....if customer complains they are also bound to cut down your price for "putting at stake company's reputation with the end customer" (It's the new trend of some companies).

Now.....in my humble opinion, if this market had RULES and some sort of BODY/ORGANIZATION protecting freelancers, we wouldn't be at that point. IT's a job that exists but it's basically not acknowledged in most places. Despite the fact that we all know that WE DO EXIST.


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Iza Szczypka  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 22:46
English to Polish
+ ...
I agree Aug 14, 2009

Susan Welsh wrote:
The question asked of the translator is whether you would be "willing to work again" for this company. Many factors go into the answer, as you both have said. But some companies I am no longer willing to work for again, because they pay too little. I noted that in my WWA comment(s). I should think translators who are considering whether to bid for such a company's job would be interested in knowing that.

We have the textbox to explain the reasons behind the score awarded. I can well imagine awarding a 4 with the explanation that the only fault of the agency is their rates, as well as awarding a 5 with the accompanying note stating that the agency excel so much in all other aspects that I can occasionally close my eyes to their low rates and work for them for the sheer pleasure of cooperating with them. There are some agencies like that, believe me!


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LegalTransform  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:46
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Just say NO! Aug 14, 2009


In my case for example rates were lowered UNILATERALLY by my main supplier, a global agency and there wasn't any chance to explain them that translating/localizing is not just typing anymore.


Some agencies I worked for also did the same thing. I told them NO. I am a business owner, not an employee.


I used to translate say...600.000 words a year till a few year ago and it was enough to live. Now i translate maybe 1.000.000 words or over and money is never enough.


I would rather have fewer jobs and translate 400,000 at .12 a word, then translate 1,000,000 words at .05 a word.


Weak point is our category is not protected by proper EU laws in Europe and we do a lot of telecommuting...so these companies keep pushing it hard, to the edge of slavery


I do not work for companies in Italy (or India, China, etc.). If I lived in Italy (or in any country that paid low rates), I would seek work outside the country.


On top of that, as you said, too many work almost for free (I know a few who work for free just to train....students...the work won't be perfect but they still are one of those variables on the market.


Students and beginners do not offer the same level of service. I know this and charge accordingly. You don't see Brad Pitt lowering his fee for acting in a movie under the threat that the producers will hire an unknown actor. His service has value and he knows that it has value and is not afraid to say NO.


They ask you to buy and use CAT software...you need advanced software


None of the companies I work for use CAT software and I have never been required to use it.


...you work on weekends, Xmas, when others are on vacation to meet their deadline (in lack of which they will REALLOCATE job to someone else)


I only work on weekends if I want to. If the job does not meet MY time requirements, I just say NO. If they give the job to someone else, so be it. I will save my time and energy for a more profitable job with better working conditions. I regularly turn down around 5 - 6 jobs everyday. Yesterday, for example, I declined four jobs (total of 125,000 words) because of the unfavorable rate/time conditions.

If all agencies succumb to these practices, freelance translators will eventually transition to working for clients directly (as is happening today) and set their own working terms and conditions. If there ever comes a time that I am unable to obtain a certain rate for my work, I will quit and do something else.

If I lived in a country where .02 a word was a fortune, I would still charge .12 a word to agencies outside the country and either be a rich man in my own country, work a whole lot less or save my money and move.



[Edited at 2009-08-14 19:47 GMT]


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 21:46
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
Try setting your own rules Aug 14, 2009

chicco wrote:
In my case for example rates were lowered UNILATERALLY by my main supplier...

BIG AGENCIES ARE BEGINNING TO SET THEIR RULES ON THE MARKET and the rule is MAKE TRANSLATORS WORK MORE AT A CHEAPER PRICE.


Main supplier? Sounds like inadequate distribution of risk. Never let any customer have more than 15 or 20% of your capacity, no matter how well they pay. Companies like WalMart & other big boys are infamous for swallowing up a vendor's capacity, then when they are completely dependent getting out the instruments of price torture.

Screw the big agencies. I ditched most of those jokers years ago except for one whom I occasionally find pleasant to deal with despite a backward web-based PM system. Small agencies are a lot more fun and usually pay better rates. Even when they don't, they make better partners.

For some time now I've been observing a trend among larger companies to "in-source" their translation project management and deal directly with freelancers. At the MemoQ Fest in Budapest this spring, Carsten Peters gave an excellent presentation on how and why his company did this, and I have experienced this trend directly so often in the last year that it has caused a major shift in my balance of agencies and direct clients, which I don't mind so much, because most of these companies are managing their projects rather well. And it's the big agencies that are losing out... the top ten players often simply can't deliver the quality that the end customers need to survive in this crappy economy. So go for the direct clients now while the fun lasts

And don't let anyone dictate to you. You're an adult and an independent business owner, and if you can offer first class services with the right attitude you can set your own terms. If you think that dreams of Big Brother taking you by the hand to protect your interests are realistic in this global economy, you'd better stay in bed and dream on.


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John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 16:46
Member (2008)
French to English
Be businesslike Aug 14, 2009

What seems to happen quite a bit is translators not applying sound business principles. Maybe some translators don't tend to think of themselves as "being in business", rather thinking of themselves as being an employee that doesn't go in to work. We can't "blame" the agencies, there are many of them with a huge range of business practices, just like any other field. Some ideas of business practices that any translator can implement:

1) As Kevin said, no one client should represent more than 20% of business in a given year. More than that is just unhealthy, you're "putting too many eggs in one basket". Keep the ratio down, and you're in the driver's seat; no "big agency" can dictate their rules to you, because you won't be tied to them.

That leads to:

2) Never stop marketing. Any businessman knows that no company can stagnate, the competition won't allow it. You're either moving forward or backward. Marketing can take many forms, but somehow you have to be continually getting the word out.

3) Ongoing professional development. For any business new product development is needed to avoid losing market share. Our "new product" is professional development, making our skills more attractive to more clients who will pay higher rates and thereby providing ourselves with "job security". I know a top surgeon, in his seventies, who is always right up to the minute with the latest developments in his field - he is still committed to ongoing professional development. That's what it takes to be on top of the field.

What this means is that the Blue Board rating is just one tool among many to keep our businesses healthy, but ultimately its up to us, not a protective legal umbrella that will never work in the global economy, nor worrying about "unfair" agencies that can't add enough value to their services to charge their client's a high enough price.


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 19:46
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Unilateral rush Jun 15, 2010

An agency with an impressive count of LWA=5s posted a job today.

A few items from it:

  • We have a large project that we need translated from XXX into YYY today.
  • Volume: 40,000 words
  • Payment 30 days after date of delivery.


Who is in a rush here?

If I were a translation agency I'd demand up-front payment (at least 50% - remainder COD) from the end-client in such case, just to make sure they won't change their mind during the day and decide that it's not necessary any more. In that case, COD payment to translators could be offered, unless the agency is playing the cash-flow game.


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Laurent KRAULAND  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 22:46
French to German
+ ...
A remark Jun 15, 2010

Such "agencies" sometimes are not even able to tell FR-FR from FR-CA. Let us leave it at that...

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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 19:46
English to Portuguese
+ ...
This one does Jun 15, 2010

Laurent KRAULAND wrote:
Such "agencies" sometimes are not even able to tell FR-FR from FR-CA. Let us leave it at that...


Laurent, this one seems to know exactly what they are doing translationwise, the language variants issue was duly covered.
The problem is in how they are doing it businesswise.


On a side note: I can't tell the difference between FR-FR and FR-CA. So you won't find anywhere that I translate FR. I do speak it, and will do (and have done) my best to use it in communication with clients who speak neither EN nor PT. Nevertheless I see EN-PT translations by people whose command of either (or both) languages is worse than my FR. When *I* say Pardon my French, I mean something else.

This is to say that if I did translate into French, my translations wouldn't be better than MT. While I'd understand the original text (say, in EN or PT) better than a computer program parsing it with a database, my expression of that idea in FR at its best would be just as good as MT.

Bottom line is that while MT fails at the input processing stage, unskilled humans fail at the output. The difference is in the cost, as MT is free.

I reckon that a translation of mine into French would probably be worth US 1-4¢/word. Meanwhile the time it would take me to do it would cost me - in terms of an equivalent volume of EN-PT work - some 20¢/word. Bottom rates possibly come from translators that don't have a higher-yield language pair, and have to sell their work for what it's worth.

Maybe we are getting somewhere...


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Terry Richards
France
Local time: 22:46
French to English
+ ...
How can an agency offering rock-bottom rates get top Blue Board marks from so many translators? Jun 15, 2010

It's obvious really, you can only post on the BB if you have already worked for the company. If you have already worked for the company then, by definition, you find their rates acceptable or you wouldn't have accepted the job in the first place.

Terry.


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 19:46
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Not necessarily Jun 15, 2010

Terry Richards wrote:
It's obvious really, you can only post on the BB if you have already worked for the company. If you have already worked for the company then, by definition, you find their rates acceptable or you wouldn't have accepted the job in the first place.


Yesterday I actually did a job for a new (to me) agency at half my rate. It was a small to mid-size job, and I made them aware that it was a one-time promo. Maybe that high-potential end client never saw decent translation work, so I gave them a taste of it. It is possible that they had their usual cheap translation work evaluated, and concluded that it was not worth paying more for that.

If sparingly done now and then, I consider it a good marketing investment, as it is focused on qualified clients, better than any pay-per-click contrivance, where you don't know who is clicking. The agency adds a markup to the translator's cost, so they might have a higher profit on premium services.

Btw I never post a LWA on the Blue Board after the first job I've done for anyone. There is a translation agency in my country which is known to hire new translators all the time. They pay handsomely and lightning-fast for the first - always small - job. The second job assigned to any translator is always very large, and at very low rates due to alleged "project-specific budget constraints". That second job will only be paid in several monthly installments after a judge has banged the gavel on a settlement.


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