Proz-like sites for translation agencies?
Thread poster: Richard Bartholomew

Richard Bartholomew  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 11:34
Member (2007)
German to English
Nov 30, 2007

Do the folks who work for translation agencies visit web sites similar to proz.com where they discuss their side of the business among themselves? I can imagine a parallel site with a Blue Board rating translators instead of agencies, for example.

If such sites exist, it seems to me that translators could visit them to collect useful insights into what is on the minds of translation agency employees.


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:34
English to Spanish
+ ...
I don't know Nov 30, 2007

Not long ago a made a posting about how one-sided the discussion here seems to be regarding "agencies", which appears to be all complaints from translators and no comments from agencies despite the fact that there are agencies registered here at Proz, and I am sure some must be very good ones. However, agencies did not seem to be interested in joining the discussion.

I don't know, but I would guess that for the most part they would rather play their cards close to their chest. However, many translators appear to be very open to sharing, which is an encouraging sign.

As individual translators we should generally have a lot more options available to us than agencies do.


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Elin Davies  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Member (2008)
English to Welsh
+ ...
We are each others co-workers Nov 30, 2007

Also, I always assume that agencies and agents are office based whilst most translators are home based and sites such as this is our form of office gossip and chit chat. The agents probably spend quite a bit of time complaining about us over their VDUs all day...

I'm quite new to proz by the way (just over a month I think) so a bit like the new girl ar the office, 'hello all and nice to meet you all' and sorry if I make any mistakes/break forum rules etc...

Elin


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Elvira Alves Barry  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:34
Member (2007)
Portuguese to English
Welcome! Dec 1, 2007

Welcome to ProZ, Elin. I just became a full member last month myself. Don't worry about "making mistakes", we all do and we're all here to learn together.

Elvira


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Richard Bartholomew  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 11:34
Member (2007)
German to English
TOPIC STARTER
That must be it. Dec 1, 2007

Elin,

Now that you mention it, "places" like proz probably play the role of office water cooler for freelancers. When you have a physical water cooler to gather around, you feel less need to meet online.

BTW, welcome on board and thanks for your contribution.

Henry,

I've found that freelance translators share the openness you mention with freelancers in other fields. At www.cjhunter.com, for example, freelance programmers, pipefitters and draftsmen conduct active exchanges with practically no input from the "'cruiters".

It looks as though a fundamental difference in mentality between freelancer and direct employee may be at work here.


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xxxIreneN
United States
Local time: 04:34
English to Russian
+ ...
Agencies are different spieces Dec 1, 2007

What can they possibly share? Good translators and good projects are their assets. Why would they want to lose good translators showing them the way to better deals? Why would they be upset if a competitor uses a lousy translator and loses the project?

They are running businesses, not chat rooms or language academies. They safeguard their top people. They know it all, they have their blacklists in the back of their minds but they have no reason to go public about it or anything else regarding their internal affairs, for that matter.


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Richard Bartholomew  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 11:34
Member (2007)
German to English
TOPIC STARTER
Good questions both directions Dec 2, 2007

Hi Irene,

You explain pretty well why agencies don't communicate openly about their businesses. But now you have me wondering why freelancers do.

Let's apply your questions and arguments to translators instead of to agencies:

Good agencies and good projects are their (translators)
assets. Why would they want to lose good agencies by
showing them to other translators? Why would they be
upset if another translator uses a lousy agency and
doesn't get paid?

They are running businesses. They safegard their top
agencies. They have their blacklisted agencies in the back
of their minds. They have no reason to go public about
anything regarding their internal affairs.

Maybe it's just as you say: Agencies are a different species.


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xxxIreneN
United States
Local time: 04:34
English to Russian
+ ...
Different scale and different objectives Dec 2, 2007

Hi Richard,

The reasons are so many I'm not sure I'll cover them all. Before I even begin, I must explain the roots of my philosophy and say that throughout my entire freelance career (17 years in the US) I stuck to a couple of principles:

Think big and go for big clients, through agencies or otherwise. I do not hunt for 2-5 pages from 100 sources. Too big of a herd to shepherd, and, of course, with petty clients there is no room for anybody else plus all the commotion takes too much time with too little yield.

Specialize. Build your reputation not only on an agency level, but on the level of the industry you serve. In time the industry will start looking for you personally, they will start telling the agencies that they want you to do their job. For 15 years now I have only 4 permanent clients that I have acquired myself. They are big. Everything else comes through the word of mouth and I'm darn picky because I look for excitement and visibility, not for money, meaning that I must reject the same money to take a new project. I'm much less picky when it comes to saving a good colleague's butt. It will come around some day, it already does. Right now I can't handle all I could have from just the 2 of my own. So I continue to share:-) Actually, I'm lying - the prime and the largest one came through the word of mouth too, I didn't come to them myself.

1. Reputable and established freelancers live by the word of mouth and are not afraid of sharing. On the contrary, sharing pays back tenfold, at least for me. Believe it or not, I'm known to recommend Russia-based people in my pair who charge less than myself, and I still have enough work from the same sources. The quality of their work adds to my reputation and reliability and brings me more work. Networking in the US gives me the chance to recommend a team I want to work with when I go on interpreting assignments. Agencies trust me, they know that I'll bring in good people. In turn, through the word of mouth I worked as an interpreter in Paris, Rome, Barcelona, Moscow and so on.

2. No kind of sharing can possibly be profitable for agencies. They want and can swallow it all. If required, they can easily expand on staff, office space, whatever. Again, they want it all. We can't, we have 10 fingers and 24 hours. They can have 240 hours in one day by engaging 10 people. Yet through sharing we can remain part of the project and build on our added value of reliable team players and sources of more good people. As for the bad translators, they can afford and correct a slip once in a while. For them it's less of a loss than sharing.

...Why would they be
upset if another translator uses a lousy agency and
doesn't get paid? ...

3. We should all be upset about each non-payment case because this hurts our pocket. The more clients know that they can't get away with it, the stronger the position of our trade as a whole is. The proverb 'Curses, like chickens, come home to roost' may not work for agencies but it sure does work for freelancers. Agencies work in multiple pairs, remember?

4. Agency strength is in continuous, round-the-clock, round-the-world support, and I mean true support, not just a heroic response to a phone call at 3 in the morning only to say "Sorry, I'm busy tomorrow and I have kids to take to school in 4 hours" , diversity, connections, scale etc. Our position is weaker by definition, we are in a standalone mode. Newbies normally try to hide and protect whatever they can scavenge and it is quite understandable, but openness and sharing brings nothing but profit to strong freelancers. As strange as it may sound, our strength is in numbers.

By all means, this is no Bible to follow. Some very successful people stick to their big direct clients and safeguard them fiercely yet this is but another policy, which does not exclude mine.

Regards,
Irene






[Edited at 2007-12-02 12:13]


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Richard Bartholomew  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 11:34
Member (2007)
German to English
TOPIC STARTER
I understand the situation better now Dec 3, 2007

Hi again Irene,

Thanks for your comprehensive reply; I read it several times. There had to be reasons for the for the behavioral differences between agencies and freelancers. I just hadn't thought much about them until now.

I knew about the value of specialization and networking for translators. The advice to prefer big clients to small is new to me though. I've already gotten into some difficulty trying to keep track of numerous small clients. It does involve a lot of overhead.

It almost looks like a company / union situation where individual translators have created an informal "union" to counterbalance the agencies' advantages of scale. Whatever the case, I found your conribution worth reading and thinking about.


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