As I said in my previous post, I am very particular about translators who I decide to work with.
I usually find translators by asking for referrals from people I know. I think this is the best way to find a good professional – be it a dentist, a lawyer, a plumber, or a translator.
I don’t often look for new translators. My operation is very small – mostly just a one-man band, although I occasionally work with about a dozen translators on a yearly basis. So, unlike the translation industry, all I need are a few good men or women.
But I am generally always on the lookout for new clients. Even when I am not looking for new clients because I have too much work, I really still am because at some point the work I have now may and probably will dry up.
There are two kinds of clients that one can work for: direct clients, and translation agencies, which prefer to be called “LSPs” or “language services providers”. If you want to know what I think about the acronym “LSP”, you can run a search of my blog. I’ve written half a dozen posts on this subject.
In my silly post today I will say a few words about translation agencies, and I will save direct clients for a future post to keep this one reasonably short.
The worst type of translation agency to work for is the big corporate type of agency that has many offices in different locations, including abroad. They pay the lowest rates and have the worst, extremely repulsive working conditions, spelled out in great detail in their deceptively named “Non-Disclosure Agreements” (I call these agreements deceptively named because they are about much more than just confidentiality, which was their original purpose), that are usually at least three thousand words long, sometimes much longer.
When these agencies contact me, as they do quite frequently when yet another new, young and clueless project manager finds my website or my entry in the ATA database, I simply ignore them. I believe that at this point, it has become basically impossible for established and experienced translators to work for the business model that large agencies created, a business model that treats translators so savagely.
Some smaller agencies use the same kind of predatory business model and I ignore these outfits too. It’s easy to identify who they are when they contact you because they use the same boilerplate for all their emails. The email often starts with the words “I am reaching out to you”.
It sounds dramatic, as if they were trying to tug on your heartstrings by using this language. When they put it like this, accepting a translation job from them could seem almost as noble and praiseworthy as adopting a sad, lonely pit bull from a shelter for abused animals who is in danger of being “put to sleep” because nobody loves him or wants him.
You can also tell that an agency is one that you don’t want to work for by the fact that they don’t even bother using your name in the greeting line. The reason for this is also obvious: they send the same mass email with the melodramatic words “I am reaching out to you” to a number of translators, often a large number. So to save time (time is money to them, except when it’s our time, which they don’t value very highly based on the rates they want to pay us), they simply address each prospective translator with the greeting ‘Dear Linguist’.
Maybe they think that ‘linguist’ sounds better or more distinguished and better educated than just ‘translator’. But, personally, I consider the words ‘Dear Linguist’ a major insult and I never respond to this kind of an insidious insult.
These outfits usually hit all ‘Dear Linguists’ with incredibly short deadlines for the translation jobs offered, although the jobs tend to be smallish, and the coordinators often stipulate in advance how much they want to pay for the smallish, extremely urgent job.
The payment offered is another major insult, even a bigger insult than the words ‘Dear Linguist’. Imagine that you emailed a plumber and offered this person a job, for example a clogged toilet, for which you would be willing to pay no more than 150 dollars.
The plumber would naturally think you were crazy. Nobody would dare dictate the price to a plumber because plumbers are perfectly capable of determining their own rates and fees. But when a translation agency says to a prospective translator “Our budget for this” (that’s how they usually put it) “is 150 dollars”, it’s not crazy, I suppose, because it happens all the time.
I still sometimes do accept jobs from new, smaller agencies if they seem to have a human face, once I check them out online. But not very often because I have been so busy for the last little while with work from my regular clients that it seems that all I do is work, because that’s pretty much true –all I do is work.
I occasionally still work for a few small agencies, some of which have been sending me jobs for a long time, and I plan to continue working for them for as long as they need me. Incidentally, all of these agencies that I still work for have one thing in common: they pay right away.
In contrast to what a certain blogger said on her blog some time ago, namely that there is basically no difference (I am paraphrasing her statement) between working for an agency and working for a direct client, I happen to think that there is a world of difference between working for a translation agency and working for a direct client.
I think that a single good direct client is worth a hundred translation agencies, even good ones.
What kind of business equity do you accumulate as a highly experienced, highly educated and extremely skilled translator if you have been working only or mostly for translation agencies … for a decade, or two, or three?
It’s great if the agencies keep you busy working for them, hopefully at good rates, and some of them do pay decent rates, although these rates are still likely much lower than what one can make without an intermediary. They made it possible for you to pay your bills, and for that, they shall be praised.
But as far as I can tell, a translator who has been working only for translation agencies has not accumulated any business equity at all, regardless of for how many years or decades he has been making his knowledge and skills available to an intermediary between a translator and the actual customer.
This translator does not really have a business, because one characteristic of a business, even if it is an intangible asset such as a translation business, is that it is an asset that can be bought and sold.
It is possible to sell a translation business if you work only for direct clients, depending on what kind of clients you have and what you want for your business.
But if you work only for agencies, you don’t really have a business at all. You are just a temp, and temps generally own nothing, except their ability to work.
Temporary workers usually want to be hired for a full-time, permanent position. And if they are good, persistent, and smart, they can achieve their goals after some time, and other temps will step into their shoes, temporarily.
Temps who have no ambition to rise above their temporary situation are usually considered losers. It may be cruel to think about people in this manner, but we live in a cruel world. If I had a daughter, I would be very unhappy if she married a permanent temp.
Just like temps, translators who work mostly for agencies, especially the big ones, can after some time figure out how to graduate to direct clients. This is, in my opinion, the best way to keep the translation industry from interfering with our profession, especially since the translation industry is doing its best to destroy this profession.
If more translators take business away from corporate agencies, the balance of power between corporate translation agencies and the little busy bees called “Dear Linguists” may start changing.
I will try to address the topic of working for direct customers, which I have dealt with a number of times on my silly blog, soon again, I hope in my next post.