Agency treating freelancers like internal staff
Thread poster: kgeaney
kgeaney
Local time: 06:13
French to English
+ ...
Apr 20, 2012

Hi all,

Last week I got an e-mail from a translation agency (who will remain nameless) saying that they were rolling out a big new proofreading system and wanted freelancers to commit 2-4 days a week to proofreading translations for them, at a rate of €X a day. To me this sounded as if they were trying to hire part-time staff without paying any of the social security contributions required to do so. Besides, I worked out that I could make more money accepting translations from the rest of my clients than by waiting for their proofreadings to arrive, especially since they said "a volume of between 2 half-days and 4 full days", so I wouldn't even have known how much work to expect a week. Great for planning your budget.

Anyway.

This morning I got another e-mail from the same client saying "In light of the May bank holidays, we need to know how many words per week each translator can provide for [name of agency], so please fill in the attached chart." There was a little chart detailing Week 1, Week 2, etc. I read this and thought: they want me to commit my entire month of May to working for them (when I have no idea how much work they're going to give me and neither do they); they're certainly not the client that pays the most per word; and giving them a ballpark figure would almost certainly mean I would be obliged to accept whatever they offered me, no matter how small/badly-written/obscure. I wrote them a reply saying that I hoped this was not the agency's new official policy and that in the absence of any specific, confirmed orders they were expecting in May, I was going to continue to operate on the freelance principle of first come, first served.

Has anything similar ever happened to you and how did you handle it?


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 13:13
Chinese to English
Why should it mean that? Apr 20, 2012

>and giving them a ballpark figure would almost certainly mean I would be obliged to accept whatever they offered me, no matter how small/badly-written/obscure.

No it wouldn't.

Look, agencies try it on all the time. It's in the nature of the business, they try to get more from us for less, and we try to hold the line. In both of these cases a simple explicit reply will suffice:

1) Thanks for your offer. I'd be happy to consider doing some proofreading for you. My normal conditions will apply. Obviously as you cannot guarantee the volume of work, I cannot guarantee to set aside time for you, and the deadline for each project will have to be negotiated individually.

2) At the moment I have about XX days free over this period; I could accept about X thousand words of new work. This situation is subject to change. Please confirm projects as early as possible so that I can set aside the time necessary.

It doesn't have to be any more than that. They ask, may we exploit you? We reply, no you may not. End of.


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David Hayes  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 06:13
Member (2009)
French to English
Same here Apr 20, 2012

Since I received the same request this morning, I have an idea that we could be talking about the same company! I don't think you'd be committed to honouring any projected availability since surely a binding contract is only established by the agency's PO? Since the agency is not actually promising work (only establishing that you are potentially available to accept a possible offer), your attitude towards them can be similarly flexible. In other words, yes, I am potentially available but, no, I am not your employee and so may not accept your offer.

I can see the agency's point in many ways: they need to plan their ability to meet large orders and, before looking for new collaborators, are simply testing the potential capability of their existing translator database. Also, May is a difficult month to plan (at least in France) because there are quite a few 'ponts' and 'jours fériés'.


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cecilea7
United States
Local time: 00:13
Member (2010)
Portuguese to French
+ ...
I systematically refuse those kinds of offers Apr 20, 2012

which are, as you said, ways to get all the benefits of having staff at a very low rate. They want to tie us down with little or no implication on their part. One can expect more and more of such ways from Companies willing to cut down on quality for the sake of making a few bucks. I don't waist time with them nor with the ones imposing their working tools/methods upon translators, defying the reasons why we are free lancers in the first place...

[Edited at 2012-04-20 13:43 GMT]


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kgeaney
Local time: 06:13
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I just think it's an exercise in futility. Apr 20, 2012

All I can tell them is "right now, I have xx free days in May, so will be able to take on yy words' work in that time, but as soon as I get any confirmed orders, that situation will change, so you shouldn't plan on me being available for a given amount of work at a given time." It makes me wonder why they're asking the question. I'm not going to set aside my availability for them in May just because they're busy. Everyone else is busy in May as well.

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Jacqueline Sieben  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 06:13
Dutch to English
+ ...
Same here Apr 20, 2012

cecilea7 wrote:

which are, as you said, ways to get all the benefits of having staff at a very low rate. They want to tie us down with little or no implication on their part. One can expect more and more of such ways from Companies willing to cut down on quality for the sake of making a few bucks. I don't waist time with them nor with the ones imposing their working tools/methods upon translators, defying the reasons why we are free lancers in the first place...

[Edited at 2012-04-20 13:43 GMT]


Unless the rates offered are way above standard and the agency is serious about allocating work to me. I have a client who wanted to know one month in advance my capacity for an entire month. If I was able to translate 60,000 words in that particular month, the jobs would be mine. I agreed and the agency kept its promise and allocated all jobs to me, and at a very good rate too.

[Edited at 2012-04-20 14:22 GMT]

[Edited at 2012-04-20 14:23 GMT]


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Philippe Etienne  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 06:13
Member
English to French
Freelancers willing to be treated like internal staff Apr 20, 2012

I find it normal, if not desirable, that agencies enquire about translators' availability to plan ahead for potential large projects.

I am very often asked for availability ahead of time and the non-commital approach described above by my esteemed colleagues is well understood by the agencies I work with.

Just like agencies will not commit to any compensation in case said projects don't materialise, I do not commit to any availability, stating instead that my current capacity is so and so, until further notice. Also, I never state my max capacity to any one potential request. I can always squeeze other jobs in between and cater for any unexpected glitch in my schedule in case the project does turn up.

When another customer steps in with tangible work to be done during the brackets booked, I have the courtesy to ask for an update on the potential job from the previous agency, and within minutes, I know what to do and answer the customer accordingly.

If agencies expect some other answer, you may offer that you will be 100% available for a reservation fee starting from EUR2000/week, 2500 words/working day delivered, to be paid in advance. No hard feelings.

Philippe


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Texte Style
Local time: 06:13
French to English
as a former project manager... Apr 20, 2012

I often used to send out mails asking about future availability.

I didn't expect translators to refuse everything else and wait for me to send them work. I just wanted to check they wouldn't be on holiday, maternity leave, tied up with some other big project and of course I would then check each time a project suitable for them arrived on my desk.

I sometimes did it when I knew my first choice was going to be unavailable, other times when I knew I was likely to get a fair amount of work in a particular field.

I remember getting brushed off by some translators and now, reading this thread, I understand why.

Phil's suggestions are fine and really, kgeaney, there's no need to get het up about this sort of mail. Take it as a compliment that they value your work!


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 06:13
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Then... Apr 20, 2012

kgeaney wrote:
Besides, I worked out that I could make more money accepting translations from the rest of my clients than by waiting for their proofreadings to arrive, especially since they said "a volume of between 2 half-days and 4 full days", so I wouldn't even have known how much work to expect a week.

The matter is quite clear then: I reckon your best choice is to simply refuse the proposal.


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 06:13
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Exactly Apr 20, 2012

Philippe Etienne wrote:
If agencies expect some other answer, you may offer that you will be 100% available for a reservation fee starting from EUR2000/week, 2500 words/working day delivered, to be paid in advance. No hard feelings.

And with an additional clause to say that you will be paid for any work over a certain amount of words proofread/translated.


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xxxchristela
Don't understand Apr 21, 2012

Agency is just organising itself. No need to be upset. And no need either to take this as a reservation for a part of your time.

If this is one of your preferred clients, on the contrary, tell them that you will do your utmost and that they can count on you.


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Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:13
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Another endorsement of Philippe's approach ("The fault, dear Brutus...") Apr 21, 2012

I completely agree with this. There is a good deal of this kind of "checking re future availability" in the translation industry. In the absence of a pre-payment to reserve availability of the kind Philippe mentions (something that most agencies are unlikely to offer), my stance is to make no commitment at all until a concrete proposal is made. The best that I can say is that, "as of now, I will be available [tomorrow, next week, etc.] but this is subject to change."

I don't fault agencies for doing such checking. They often need to be sure they have someone to do the work that might be offered by a potential end client--work which may or may not materialize. So no bad faith is involved on the part of the agency. On the other hand, freelancers are responsible for setting their own limits and not inviting treatment worthy of lackeys who are on call 24/7 and ever-ready to unquestioningly adjust to the needs of the moment, no matter the inconvenience involved, without imposing conditions of their own.


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kgeaney
Local time: 06:13
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
OK, I admit I can see things from the agency's perspective. Apr 22, 2012

It just doesn't inspire me with confidence to see seasoned project managers behaving in a way that for me, with my 10+ years' experience in the translation industry, is naïve. Maybe the person in question is new to the business and hasn't had adequate training in how to portray the firm's "ethos", or whatever, and maybe took it upon themselves to send out the e-mail to everyone in the firm's database...

Anyway, the person has since written back to me to clear things up and did understand my point of view, so I think all is well. I may be acquiring a reputation as prickly, however .


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Jenny Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:13
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
I received the same email - I think Apr 23, 2012

I recently received the same email - I think - and, as it was from an agency I work for frequently and know to be honest and reliable, I didn't take offence and took it to mean that they wanted to know if I was planning to be away during the various public holidays in May. I replied in the same sort of way as Phil Hand and others that, as my work load stood at that moment, I would be available for XXX words on YYY dates, but that the situation could change according to other orders I might receive in the meantime.
Jenny


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