Experiences with big agencies
Thread poster: Eduard Urgell

Eduard Urgell  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 22:15
Member (May 2019)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Sep 27

Hi everyone!

I wanted to open this thread because lately I've been working with several big translation agencies (I don't even know whether I'm allowed to name them, but if anyone wants to know just ask me because I will strongly encourage you to avoid them) and I wanted to see how many of you can actually make a living from working for them.

My experience is a rather unpleasant one. Two of the big agencies I work for operate as follows: whenever there is a text that ma
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Hi everyone!

I wanted to open this thread because lately I've been working with several big translation agencies (I don't even know whether I'm allowed to name them, but if anyone wants to know just ask me because I will strongly encourage you to avoid them) and I wanted to see how many of you can actually make a living from working for them.

My experience is a rather unpleasant one. Two of the big agencies I work for operate as follows: whenever there is a text that matches my profile (language pairs, specializations...), I receive an email notification offering it. As many of you may know, not only one person receives this notification, so if I don't hurry up the project is not assigned to me. Just for you to have an idea, the last offer I received this morning, which is very similar to the ones I've recieved since I entered their pool of translators, was a 120-word-text at 0.03$/word.

First question, then: wouldn't it be more sensible and respectful towards the translator to have a project assigned right away with an option to reject it within several minutes/hours? Otherwise it is impossible to focus on whatever else one is doing, it is just crazy to depend the whole day on the darn email notification...

Second question: how dare they pay rates as low as 0.03$/word? Seriously, is it feasible to simply survive as a translator with such ridiculous rates?

Thanks for reading and I hope we can exchange some thoughts on the issue.
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Hashimi Ahmad
 

Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 21:15
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
@Eduard Sep 27

My experience has been that smallish boutique agencies pay better rates and tend to consider you a true business partner. I have a wide client base and no big agency.

Christine Andersen
IanDhu
 

William Tierney  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:15
Member (2002)
Arabic to English
On naming names Sep 27

Can I get a response from the moderators on whether Eduard can name names of agencies? If there is a prohibition, why are bad actors allowed to avoid scrutiny? If someone states something that is untrue, the agency can join the forum and refute the allegation.

IanDhu
 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 22:15
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Can't name names in the forums Sep 27

William Tierney wrote:
Can I get a response ... on whether Eduard can name names of agencies? Why are bad actors allowed to avoid scrutiny?


You're not allowed to name clients, other translators or outsourcers in the forums (except if they join the discussion).

You are allowed to name scammers, though only in the subforum dedicated to scams.


Ivana UK
 

Maxi Schwarz  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:15
German to English
+ ...
my experience Sep 27

All agencies I work for are on the small side. I don't know if I'd call them "boutique" - their aim is the same as mine: quality. My clients do not tell me the fee they expect to pay: they ask me what my fee is, and base their quote to their clients on that. They also expect publishable quality translations:none of the agencies I work for presently do revisions.

From time to time I get contacted by large agencies. With rare exception, they seem to want to decide my fee, my tur
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All agencies I work for are on the small side. I don't know if I'd call them "boutique" - their aim is the same as mine: quality. My clients do not tell me the fee they expect to pay: they ask me what my fee is, and base their quote to their clients on that. They also expect publishable quality translations:none of the agencies I work for presently do revisions.

From time to time I get contacted by large agencies. With rare exception, they seem to want to decide my fee, my turnaround time and similar. The scenario you describe would not work for me at all. If you have to scramble as you describe, that affects your ability to work in a concentrated manner, to organize your time, and can't be healthy for lifestyle and health either.
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Christine Andersen
IanDhu
 

Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 21:15
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
No way to sugarcoat this Sep 28

Eduard Urgell wrote:
Second question: how dare they pay rates as low as 0.03$/word? Seriously, is it feasible to simply survive as a translator with such ridiculous rates?

They dare pay such rates because people like yourself are prepared to accept them. You're part of the problem. You, and freelancers like you, enable them.

Why bother? If you translate 2,000 words a day at $0.03 per word, you'll make $60. You could probably make more money working on the till at your local supermarket, and at least you'd be interacting with other people in a job like that.

Regards,
Dan


Philippe Etienne
 

Eduard Urgell  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 22:15
Member (May 2019)
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
It's difficult to be picky when you start Sep 28

Dan: While I can fully understand what you mean here, how are beginner translators supposed to dive in the business? By waiting till a good offer comes along? By asking for prices that agencies are never going to pay unless you have a good feedback record and sound experience in the field? Just for the record, I have actually deleted my account in the 120-word texts agency before actually having worked for them because these conditions are truly offensive.

Teresa and Maxi: I guess t
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Dan: While I can fully understand what you mean here, how are beginner translators supposed to dive in the business? By waiting till a good offer comes along? By asking for prices that agencies are never going to pay unless you have a good feedback record and sound experience in the field? Just for the record, I have actually deleted my account in the 120-word texts agency before actually having worked for them because these conditions are truly offensive.

Teresa and Maxi: I guess that is the most sensible thing to aim at; small agencies or private clients who care about the quality of your work and are willing to pay decent rates. The question is (and I don't expect you to answer them) how does one transition from greedy agencies to reliable clients?
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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 22:15
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
@Eduard Sep 28

Eduard Urgell wrote:
Lately I've been working with several big translation agencies and I wanted to see how many of you can actually make a living from working for them.


Some of us continue to work for big translation agencies long after we've become established translators, while others work for big translation agencies only at the start of their career, to cut their teeth on. Bigger agencies tend to offer lower rates and have worse conditions (for project managers also, so be kind to them!). However, if you're just starting out, or if you work in a market or language combination or subject field where work is difficult to get, then you can't be picky and you're going to have to do some work for such agencies.

Whenever there is a text that matches my profile (language pairs, specializations...), I receive an email notification offering it. Not only one person receives this notification, so if I don't hurry up the project is not assigned to me.


Yes, some agencies do that. If you want to get more work from such an agency, you're going to have to make sure you are able to respond to the notification before anyone else. This means keeping your cellphone or laptop with you all the time, making sure you get notifications on the cellphone and/or are able to look at the offered materials on your laptop, etc. It also means taking some risks with regard to the type of work, e.g. instead of taking 20 minutes to evaluate whether you want to do a translation, learn to judge the job by the notification alone, so that you can "accept" jobs even if you haven't looked at the files. Remember, you can (no, you must) always cancel a job (the sooner the better, though) if you realise that you are not qualified for it.

This doesn't mean that you are just a faceless number for the agency. Odds are the project managers will eventually get to know you, and may in future choose to contact you personally (instead of posting the job system-wide) if they feel that giving you the job will save them time and effort. Or, if a project manager is promoted from one department to another, they may take with them the list of translators that they have learnt to trust, and from that point onwards you are in a smaller pool.

Wouldn't it be more sensible ... towards the translator to have a project assigned right away with an option to reject it within several minutes/hours?


It's not always practical to do that, depending on how much of a hurry they're in. Don't forget: the fact that an agency offers you a job doesn't mean that the agency has the job. It may well be that the agency is also competing against others, and whichever agency responds first may get the job. In such a scenario it wouldn't make sense to waste time contacting one translator at a time.

I do agree that it can be frustrating to see jobs getting grabbed by other translators who clearly haven't even taken the time to examine the source documents. It's frustrating because it means that you are wasting time on job that you're not going to get, simply because it took you 1 minute longer to familiarise yourself with the job specification.

The last offer I received this morning, which is very similar to the ones I've received since I entered their pool of translators, was a 120-word-text at 0.03$/word.


There are many translators who do not consider $0.03 per word to be an unreasonable rate. I know, I know -- the "community rates" at ProZ.com show the average rate to be around $0.09 to $0.12 per word, but the fact is that many established translators do accept lower rates from certain agencies, to spread their risk.

Is it feasible to simply survive as a translator with ... rates as low as 0.03$/word?


Well, don't forget, you're not supposed to work for these big agencies alone. The big agencies should be just one of the many agencies in your basket of leads. They are there to fill gaps that appear when other, higher paying agencies temporarily don't send you work.

Second question: how dare they...


This may be a cultural thing that you must learn, but these agencies do not consider it "daring" to offer these rates.


[Edited at 2019-09-28 09:53 GMT]


Kevin Fulton
Edward Potter
 

Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 21:15
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
By having something that differentiates them from others Sep 29

Eduard Urgell wrote:
Dan: While I can fully understand what you mean here, how are beginner translators supposed to dive in the business? By waiting till a good offer comes along? By asking for prices that agencies are never going to pay unless you have a good feedback record and sound experience in the field?

When I started out, I accepted a couple of jobs that were about 20% below what I would accept now, so I never accepted ridiculously low rates.

Yes, you have to wait, but you also have to go out and find clients. Not sure if a track record is required. I don't participate in feedback because for reasons of confidentiality I don't want to (and in most cases am not permitted to) name my clients, and it has worked for me.

You also need to be able to differentiate yourself from other freelancers. Linguistic skills are only the beginning of it. What makes you different? What is your area of specialisation? Why would a client pick you rather than somebody else? If you don't have answers to these, you'll struggle to succeed, except by accident.

Regards,
Dan


 

Eduard Urgell  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 22:15
Member (May 2019)
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
@Samuel and @Dan Sep 29

First of all, thank you for answering in detail, Samuel, I really appreciate it.

Unless an agency paying 0.03$/word can offer high volumes of work (and actually not even in such a case, because translating 2000 words a day x 0.03$ and working every single day of the month leaves you with 1800$ gross), I would never say this rate is desirable or even reasonable. How are they to take us, translators, seriously if we sell our time, energy and knowledge so cheaply? According to these so
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First of all, thank you for answering in detail, Samuel, I really appreciate it.

Unless an agency paying 0.03$/word can offer high volumes of work (and actually not even in such a case, because translating 2000 words a day x 0.03$ and working every single day of the month leaves you with 1800$ gross), I would never say this rate is desirable or even reasonable. How are they to take us, translators, seriously if we sell our time, energy and knowledge so cheaply? According to these so-called community rates, the price we're talking about here is three times less than the suggested minimum!

After all I guess it's basically a matter of priorities and expectations, but as far as I'm concerned I'll try to make sure these big players who are too much in a hurry to assign projects individually and pay fair rates don't keep getting bigger by undermining our job. (I hope my comments don't sound too harsh. My intention was just to see how several colleagues deal with big agencies.)

-------

Thank you for this piece of advice, Dan, I'll definitely give it a thought. Specialization and niche are concepts I hear a lot but I think it's it a good idea to pause for a second and think what one's strategy to reach them is. Lately I've come across this wise recommendation: even if you think that specializing means closing doors that could lead you to valuable jobs, the fact is that by not specializing all you have is nothing but closed doors.
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Dan Lucas
 

Edward Potter  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 22:15
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Much agreement Sep 29

Samuel Murray wrote:

...if you work in a market or language combination or subject field where work is difficult to get, then you can't be picky and you're going to have to do some work for such agencies.

...Odds are the project managers will eventually get to know you, and may in future choose to contact you personally (instead of posting the job system-wide) if they feel that giving you the job will save them time and effort. Or, if a project manager is promoted from one department to another, they may take with them the list of translators that they have learnt to trust, and from that point onwards you are in a smaller pool.

...It's frustrating because it means that you are wasting time on job that you're not going to get, simply because it took you 1 minute longer to familiarise yourself with the job specification.

...There are many translators who do not consider $0.03 per word to be an unreasonable rate.

...you're not supposed to work for these big agencies alone. The big agencies should be just one of the many agencies in your basket of leads. They are there to fill gaps that appear when other, higher paying agencies temporarily don't send you work.

Second question: how dare they...


This may be a cultural thing that you must learn, but these agencies do not consider it "daring" to offer these rates.


Good comments, Samuel. As usual, you nailed it. Summing it all up, we must go about our business with a professional attitude.


Liliane Agbo
 

Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 22:15
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Big agencies start small Sep 30

Over the years I have worked for several big agencies and quite a lot of smaller ones that were bought up and merged with big agencies.

Unfortunately getting bigger does not seem to make them more attractive to translators, and, knowing what I do from my side, I would not go as a client to a big agency either. They lose the personal touch, and sooner or later, experienced translators tend to drop them. It may be possible to negotiate with some of them, IF you have worked for them fo
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Over the years I have worked for several big agencies and quite a lot of smaller ones that were bought up and merged with big agencies.

Unfortunately getting bigger does not seem to make them more attractive to translators, and, knowing what I do from my side, I would not go as a client to a big agency either. They lose the personal touch, and sooner or later, experienced translators tend to drop them. It may be possible to negotiate with some of them, IF you have worked for them for a time, but sooner or later your favourite PM moves on too, and then it is not so easy.

I have worked happily with agencies that started small, and were very cooperative at the start, but I dropped them when they became as you describe. One has since got itself a really bad name among interpreters in the UK, and another in Denmark. Both were started by Danes, but Danish is my source language, so Scandinavian languages were one of their niches when they started out. There was a big Belgian agency who dropped me, and a Swedish one that took over smaller clients I worked for. They were fine for a while, although their rates were not too good, but after yet another merger I dropped them too. It is sad, but that seems to happen when there is a generational change or new management in the smaller agencies.

If an agency you work for is taken over, and the smaller agency has paid well, you can refuse to take a reduction in your rates, but don´t bank on it!
I have tried writing to the agencies too. You have to go further up in the hierarchy than the average PM, or your mail will have no effect. I am not sure it helps, but I try to throw my weight about as a Chartered Linguist and a fairly experienced translator with a less common source language. You can´t do that as a beginner, but if you want to survive, you have to make yourself indispensable to someone, and don´t let them forget it!

Which brings me to specialisation.
You do not have to drop all general work because you specialise. If your subject has peak seasons and slow seasons, then apart from taking a much-needed holiday, then in the slow season you can do any work you like, as long as you deliver quality.

Are you passionate about a hobby? Sport, music... Lots of hobbies are also lucrative international business, or the equipment they need is - and translators are needed. See whether you can find any direct clients there, depending on what the hobby may be. Or look again at that job you had as a student, or any other practical experience where you learned about a special area.

We have to accept that machine translation is not going to go away, but it is not going to take over the really specialist areas either. Find an area you are interested in and become really expert in it.
I did not get into medical school many years ago, but worked for a while in the health services before I came to translating, and I specialised in medical translation and health care when I started freelancing.
Check out online courses in specialist areas and terminology, and let your clients know what you are doing. Anything to stand out from the crowd!

Even the big agencies have to respect specialist areas, but if you specialise, you can look for agencies that specialise in your particular field, and convince them you are worth a viable rate. The smaller agencies often try to pair up suitable translators with particular end clients, and they can compete on quality and personal service. Often the agencies save by not having big, expensive city offices, and they can keep recruiting and marketing expenses down if their clients and translators are loyal and stay with them.

That is my experience…
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Kay Denney
 

Eduard Urgell  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 22:15
Member (May 2019)
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
@Christine Oct 1

Thank you very much for your advice as a seasoned translator, Christine, this truly helps. As I suspected at the beginning, the key is dealing with small agencies and/or direct clients because it's the only way to be able to negotiate your conditions as equals. If only those were as easy to reach as big agencies though...

 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 22:15
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Size doesn't [really] matter Oct 1

Eduard Urgell wrote:
As I suspected at the beginning, the key is dealing with small agencies... because it's the only way to be able to negotiate your conditions as equals.


I work for many small agencies, and being small doesn't always mean being powerful enough to negotiate with end-clients. In fact, my experience is that small agencies often have less say in the matter of rates than larger agencies. In addition, smaller agencies tend to accept jobs with a wide range of requirements (i.e. they are so desperate for work that they'll accept the end-client's requirements even if this results in unfavourable conditions for the translators), whereas larger agencies have the power to set their own requirements (which may not be very favourable for translators either, but at least then the translator can predict with more certainty what the conditions are going to be like). This idea that smaller agencies care more or that smaller agencies will treat you better is a fallacy.

Unfortunately you can't tell in advance whether the conditions offered by the agency will be good or bad (e.g. by whether they are large or small) -- you can only find this out after you've done a couple of jobs for them.


Kevin Fulton
 


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