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How do Translation Agencies work?
Thread poster: Diego Achío

Diego Achío  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:14
Member (2010)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Jun 17, 2011

I've been wondering this for a while, how do the translation agencies work? Are they like big established Companies or are they a group of translators outsourcing more translators? Do they hire full-time translators? I would appreciate it if someone could take a little while and explain to me how do they exactly work, and if for example they outsource a translator how do they manage their earnings? is it by commission or what?

Thanks in advance.


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Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 14:14
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
There are probably Jun 17, 2011

as many types of agencies as there are translators...

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Fabio Descalzi  Identity Verified
Uruguay
Local time: 11:14
Member (2004)
German to Spanish
+ ...
Indeed, a whole world in itself Jun 18, 2011

Hi Diego,

As Teresa puts it, there are as many types of agencies as there are translators. For instance:
- one-man shows,
- small groups of translators,
- huge companies, etc.
There are in-house staff and freelancers (permanent and occasional).
And regarding "how they manage their earnings", this is maybe one of the most thorny topics, of which you can see kilometers of threads all around.

One small piece of advice: whatever the agency, always be sure to earn a fair price for your translations!


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 15:14
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
My two cents Jun 18, 2011

I can only say this: the worst agencies are those founded by former translators who don't translate anymore. In very many cases, they grew tired of translation and are not the best business partners for people who love to translate.

Indeed, there are all sorts of organisations out there.

Can you tell us why you are asking this in the first place? I'm interested!


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Diego Achío  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:14
Member (2010)
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for all your answers! Jun 18, 2011

Yes Tomás, it's actually because of several reasons, one is that I happen to be a fellow translator but I am also an Entrepreneur, and I was curious about there seem to be so many translation agencies around which seem to be successful. I manage my own translation team and I have some friends into some other areas like publicity and international business, so as any good entrepreneur the idea came to my head of using everyone's skills to promote my team's translation services, and then I was thinking "what if I get too much work?" "wouldn't it be better then to think outside the box? like making like a translation small business, getting more people, but then what... everyone has to win.." so the question came to my head, if translation agencies are like organized business they've got to have a whole earning system, is not like just getting a tiny commission. There has to be enough earnings for my translators + the ones who work at getting clients for us. But as I said.. its more out of curiosity than an actual plan.... when I find myself making a cash flow, then it's going to be a plan haha.

The other reason was because I am completely sick of my current job at a Call Center (my ex-main job) and I actually decided to quit and focus on my passion which is translating, and I was wondering if translation agencies actually hire people to work fulltime for them. I have 3 years in the translation business and I've done pretty well, but only internationally (Translation is really bad paid in Costa Rica, people here doesn't know how to appreciate the art of translation, they think its the same as using googletrans), and I compete against translators who have way more experience than myself, like years ahead, plus dozens of certificates and whatsoever... the result is I earn the trust of the few clients who take the chance of working with me and get an excellent result, but most of my possible clients rather take the safe path and hire a more experienced translator, so I don't get constant jobs.

So I was thinking about looking for a steady translation job for a translation company and get some experience and gain more curriculum information with them... but I've only seen companies outsourcing translators so far... not hiring them as in "You have to commit to us, we will pay you a salary, you will work at home but you will have an schedule" or something like that... I even wonder if that even exist hehe...


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 15:14
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Not anymore Jun 18, 2011

Diego Achío wrote:
So I was thinking about looking for a steady translation job for a translation company and get some experience and gain more curriculum information with them... but I've only seen companies outsourcing translators so far... not hiring them as in "You have to commit to us, we will pay you a salary, you will work at home but you will have an schedule" or something like that... I even wonder if that even exist hehe...

These situations of in-house or permanently hired external translators are very rare indeed. I think you will find them hard to find.

Now, about a translation agency, just think that what you will have a business. It will no longer be you translating and some people helping you. You will need a business plan, a marketing plan, a quality assessment plan, and you will need to know about how to best manage taxes, contracts, banks, collections, etc. etc. If you don't have that knowledge, I reckon the best you can do is to try to get trained in a business centre about company management and similar issues.

Being a good translators does not guarantee that you will be a good business person or a good business partner for the translators working for you...


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 22:14
Chinese to English
Not many agency in-house translators Jun 18, 2011

because we're all freelancers!
Agencies (as I know them) don't do a lot of translating in-house. Our whole industry is set up on the model of agencies being the go-betweens between clients on the one hand, and all the freelance translators on the other. If you want to work in an agency, you go in as a PM. You could look out for PM jobs - they're not well paid, but you'll learn about the "other" side of translating: managing margins and deadlines rather than worrying about quality.


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Mary Stefan  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:14
Member (2006)
Romanian to English
+ ...
My tuppence worth Jun 18, 2011

Hello Diego,

Diego Achío wrote:

Yes Tomás, it's actually because of several reasons, one is that I happen to be a fellow translator but I am also an Entrepreneur, and I was curious about there seem to be so many translation agencies around which seem to be successful.


The translation agencies that do well in this business invest a lot of time and/or (usually both) money in marketing, developing sustainable relationships, and always meeting new potential clients: think conferences, cold calling, and Internet research. Unless you're already a little octopus with well-trained tentacles, you need lots of patience and business smarts.

I manage my own translation team and I have some friends into some other areas like publicity and international business, so as any good entrepreneur the idea came to my head of using everyone's skills to promote my team's translation services, and then I was thinking "what if I get too much work?" "wouldn't it be better then to think outside the box? like making like a translation small business, getting more people, but then what... everyone has to win.." so the question came to my head, if translation agencies are like organized business they've got to have a whole earning system, is not like just getting a tiny commission. There has to be enough earnings for my translators + the ones who work at getting clients for us. But as I said.. its more out of curiosity than an actual plan.... when I find myself making a cash flow, then it's going to be a plan haha.


A translation agency is an organized business; organized or bankrupt I may say.
The "earning system" resembles any other successful business: profit = revenue - costs (I'm not referring only to the amount you're invoiced by the translators who execute the projects, but, also, expenses incurred for purchase of consumables, monthly bills - Internet, phone, etc.).
I fail to fully comprehend what you mean by "the ones who work at getting clients for us", but I reckon you're thinking to outsource the marketing side of the business. Once you incorporate and the bills start coming in, you'll be the first one on the Internet doing research and trying to acquire new clients.

The other reason was because I am completely sick of my current job at a Call Center (my ex-main job) and I actually decided to quit and focus on my passion which is translating, and I was wondering if translation agencies actually hire people to work fulltime for them. I have 3 years in the translation business and I've done pretty well, but only internationally (Translation is really bad paid in Costa Rica, people here doesn't know how to appreciate the art of translation, they think its the same as using googletrans), and I compete against translators who have way more experience than myself, like years ahead, plus dozens of certificates and whatsoever... the result is I earn the trust of the few clients who take the chance of working with me and get an excellent result, but most of my possible clients rather take the safe path and hire a more experienced translator, so I don't get constant jobs.
So I was thinking about looking for a steady translation job for a translation company and get some experience and gain more curriculum information with them... but I've only seen companies outsourcing translators so far... not hiring them as in "You have to commit to us, we will pay you a salary, you will work at home but you will have an schedule" or something like that... I even wonder if that even exist hehe...


Yes, translation agencies do hire full-time personnel, usually in the following departments: accounting, sales, marketing, IT, project management.
I have yet to meet many companies who hire full-time in-house translators; why set-up an additional cubicle in a maybe already cramped office when you can outsource the project? Plus, think if you were hired in-house as a translator and you'd have two or three PMs around you who talk on the phone the whole day and drop a curse here and there for having to push their deadlines because a cat died or a fish drowned. (you get my point!)

Maybe you should give it a shot and try working as a PM for a while; it would allow you to see both sides of the business and your ability to empathize with both translators and PMs would definitely be a plus should you decide to open your own agency one day.

Cheers!

Mary


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Rolf Kern  Identity Verified
Switzerland
Local time: 15:14
English to German
+ ...
Yes Jun 18, 2011

With Mary

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George Hopkins
Local time: 15:14
Swedish to English
How do translation agencies work? Jun 20, 2011

Some do and some don't. But you do...

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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 15:14
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Among other things agencies coordinate multi-lingual projects Jun 20, 2011

Hello Diego
There are many kinds of agencies, as has been mentioned above, but some are a real help to both translators and clients. Your call centre experience may be useful, even if you are sick of it!

Especially in the EU, but in principal anywhere, there are clients who need product documentation, marketing and other texts in many different languages.

No single translator can manage this, but agencies can find teams of translators and put the results together for the client.
This may involve DTP, or other kinds of work that are not directly connected with translation.

I often see POs from agencies that cover several languages, and copies are sent to other translators in a team.
I am regularly asked how fast I can produce an English version, because half the translators cannot read Danish or Swedish, so my translation will be their source!

If you are good at handling clients at the call centre, you may have a talent for this coordination work.
If you are tired of handling clients, then keep looking for good agencies. As a freelancer it is best to work with several, to spread your risks.

Experience is fine, but take some training too, if you can.
You might be able to work with a Mentor:
http://www.proz.com/forum/getting_established/198227-want_to_expand_your_translation_experience_meet_certified_pro_mentors.html

Best of luck!


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Diego Achío  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:14
Member (2010)
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I can now see things more clear Jun 20, 2011

Thank you all for your help on these doubts I had, after reading everyone's posts I can now understand a little better how does the translation world spins regarding Translation Agencies and the career itself.

Christine, the reason why I hated my job at the call centre is because you do nothing but repeat yourself over and over for 7+ hours. I actually enjoy whether helping people or guiding them or advising them.

I really appreciate your mentors link, I know it's going to be really useful! more when you're just stepping into the business and you feel pretty lost because it's a huge gap to go from working locally to working internationally. And it's actually funny that one of the mentors, Mr. Fabio found me before I could find him haha.

Actually, after speaking to him and reading your post I've decided to take things slowly, there's still so much to learn about how the translation business really works, and even thou I've been on it for 3 years most of my experience has been working locally, so I could say I'm still a newbie when it's about working worldwide. The best thing to do is to stick to a mentor so I can absorb his expertise and tips and well, to already established Translation Agencies since they are the ones who provide us translators with most jobs.

If anyone has any other advice I would highly appreciate it.


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Darya Ko
English to Russian
+ ...
A question about translation agencies Apr 21, 2012

Hello!
I am very curious about the work of translation agencies, particularly about how much they earn. And how much money goes on taxes? For example what is the percentage-payment to translator/tax/payment to the agency?

My second question is about working with freelancers legally and illegally. If I am a translation agency when should I pay taxes while working with freelancers and how much?

What about the payment method to the translators who don't work with the agency officially (freelancers). How do they get paid? By Paypal? If they get paid by bank transfer their accounts are systematically checked if there is some regular activity or some transfers for some jobs. How does this work?

Thanks in advance


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Alexandra Lindqvist
Local time: 16:14
English to Swedish
+ ...
in-house translators exist! Apr 22, 2012

In my experience in-house translator do exist. About half of my clients have in-house translators as well as freelancers.

I believe that have in-house translators is more cost efficient. I have worked both as a freelancer and as an in-house translator. Where I used to work we were expected to reach 3000 words per day. After becoming a freelancer I calculated that this salary could be reached as a freelancer for the same company by translating 1000 words per day if they kept you full time busy. However it is rather rare that a single agency will keep you full time busy only working for them. And this in-house salary was not so high since the company was in Latvia.

So why have freelancers if you can make more profit if you have in-house translators? Perhaps some agencies have very varied work flows and they are not sure that there will always be work in-house. Also if the agency is smallish perhaps it's easier they don't have to deal with the tax payment, pension etc.


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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 15:14
English to Polish
+ ...
Agencies in Poland Apr 19, 2013

Fabio Descalzi wrote:

Hi Diego,

As Teresa puts it, there are as many types of agencies as there are translators. For instance:
- one-man shows,
- small groups of translators,
- huge companies, etc.
There are in-house staff and freelancers (permanent and occasional).
And regarding "how they manage their earnings", this is maybe one of the most thorny topics, of which you can see kilometers of threads all around.

One small piece of advice: whatever the agency, always be sure to earn a fair price for your translations!


I agree with this post. Also, there is a difference between traditional agencies (who are remote cousins of publishing houses) and modern outsourcers (who are B2B's/manned search engines).

In Poland, the typical agency will have an owner, usually a translator-turned-businessman himself, some in-house translators, some in-house proofreaders and similar staff, a core set of secretaries (old version) or phone-answering Project Managers/Client Advisors/Whatever-Sounds-Cool-in-English (new version), and a base of external translators.

A smaller agency may in fact be a translator who outsources some work or even not (e.g. he works four pairs and that's it).

There is also a nascent trend for more business-driven agencies, handled by non-translator business types. This gets closer to the "outsourcer" category.

A crucial difference may lie in how proofreading, editing and complaints are handled. An agency sees it as its own responsibility. A business-style outsourcer may be inclined to see it in an assets & liabilities or investment categories more, with a lack of awareness of good practice standards or linguistic issues involved when there's a problem. On the other hand, a business-style agency may understand the business side and contract law more and make up in good business practice for whatever's lacking on the linguistic side. (Linguists who fail to understand business can be horrible business partners, so the coin does have two sides.)

[Edited at 2013-04-19 21:58 GMT]


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