In Defense of Working with Translation Agencies

Working with Translation AgenciesAmidst all the chatter about rates, discounts, treatment of freelancers by agencies, etc., the commonly suggested solution seems to be to stop working for agencies and get direct clients.

I, for one, have absolutely no desire to work for direct clients and wish to speak in defense of the practice of working solely for agencies.

While working for direct clients may appear to be advantageous to us as freelancers, especially in terms of direct compensation, the disadvantages are seldom mentioned.

  • Inexperienced translators will find it difficult to provide the level of service required and market themselves well enough to obtain and retain direct clients.
  • Geography and language combinations may make it difficult to contact and negotiate with decision makers. Personally, I would need to woo German auditors, tax consultants and/or CFOs or corporate communications heads of SMEs in Germany, Austria or Switzerland. I find that extremely difficult to do from the USA.
  • There is a LOT of extra work and time involved in
  1. finding prospects
  2. selling yourself to those prospects
  3. client education when you win them over
  4. handholding before, during and after each project
  5. project management/outsourcing larger projects, DTP and layout work
  6. finding and keeping “substitutes” for you when you want some time off (and ensuring your helper doesn’t wind up taking your client away)

None of those activities (with the possible exception of project management duties) result in billable hours or pesos in your pocket. So while your gross per client/project may increase 1.5-fold or even 2-fold over agency pay, your net hourly pay could actually be lower depending on the time spent on these other non-billable activities.

Finally, some people, and I count myself among them, simply do not have the skills/aptitude, or may not have the desire to do all the marketing and “selling yourself” that is absolutely required to gain and hold direct clients.

And contrary to what many freelancers may think, or the impression newcomers may get reading blogs, LinkedIn or other social media “news” about our industry, there are plenty of translation agencies/companies that do pay fair rates (given market conditions), that do respect their vendors, that do pay as agreed, and that do return to those vendors/freelancers who not only deliver as promised, but also respect the agency for what they do.

Yes, the current wave of consolidation is seeing some of the “good guys” being taken over by some “not so great guys”. But even the mega-agencies have their “premium segments” and I have heard from numerous freelancers who are quite happy working for them under quite reasonable conditions. And there are still numerous SME-type agencies/companies out there that are run by “us”, as well as the “boutique” agencies that specialize in a niche market or a certain language pair/direction.

Working for direct clients is NOT the panacea for all of our freelancer woes. Yes, it may be the answer for some of us but it is not the only answer for all of us.

So until the market forces me to adopt a new strategy, I will happily continue to work for translation agencies and companies as my “direct” clients. I am more than happy to let them do all work required to get and retain clients, while I focus on delivering quality translations. And I am happy to let them take their fair share of the pie for that work. Such agencies are the norm, not the exception in my experience.

Header image credit: Picjumbo
Header image edited with Canva

Author bio

Ted R. WozniakTed R. Wozniak holds bachelor’s degrees in accounting and German and is a graduate of the German Basic Course at the Defense Language Institute. Before becoming a freelance translator, he was an accountant, stockbroker, Army liaison officer in Germany, and an interrogation instructor at the U.S. Army Intelligence School. After pursuing graduate studies in Germanics, he became a freelance German > English translator, specializing in finance, accounting and taxation. He is also the president of Payment Practices, Inc., an online database of translation-company payment practices, a former mentor at the Graham School, University of Chicago German to English financial translation program, a former instructor in the New York University German to English financial translation course, isthe current Treasurer of the American Translators Association, and owner/moderator of Finanztrans, a mailing list for German financial translators. He resides in New Orleans, LA.

Feeling lazy? A sure-fire way not to get work

By Riccardo Schiaffino
Reblogged from About Translation blog with permission from the author

Feeling lazy? A sure-fire way not to get workNovice translators often get advice on how to get work and how to successfully conduct their freelance business. Several leading translators, in fact, have published books aimed at less experienced colleagues (among these books, I especially recommend those by Corinne McKay, the Jenner twins and Chris Durban).

However, what if you feel lazy, don’t really want to receive work, but, for some reason, you have to make a show of looking for it? Maybe your significant other has been nagging you to send your résumé to your prospects, and when you temporized by saying “I need to research them first”, she answered by providing you with a list of 7,600 translation agencies and a paid subscription to Payment Practices.

What then: Are you doomed to the drudgery of toil? Not to worry: Here you’ll find a 10-point proven strategy to make sure no translation company in their right mind will ever send projects your way (and it works for direct customers, too):

  1. Be full of it: Write a bombastic cover message for your résumé. Feel free to add implausible claims (“…I am a Vogon native speaker, but can also easily translate into Klingon, as I spent two weeks on vacation there once, and I specialize in all subjects…”). A patronizing and condescending tone is also very helpful in turning prospects away (“…as you should know, language translation is a profession only a selected few can undertake…”).
  2. Deliberately misspell your cover message, and add some egregious error of grammar, syntax, punctuation and usage (very effective, for instance, is to claim “I have challenges to provide high-quality service and meeting deadlines,” as in an application I received some time ago).

Bonus material: If you don’t know how to write a thoroughly off-putting cover message, take heart: Here is a real masterpiece I received (with a few details changed to protect the sender) that you can use as a template:

“Good morning!
I hereby request the following question, I saw this email and you were recruiting freelance translators, I wonder if that offer is still open?
I am a young Portuguese who have a graduation in Portuguese and Dutch by the faculty of letters of Coimbra. And for three years I teached English in Portugal. Over these three years, at home, I did a translation of various texts, literary and non-literary, for example: user guides , how to apply a product; how to put a machine to work in a factory; the warning letters and simple letters; poems; short stories; emails with requests; cookery recipes; medical prescription; college and University diplomas and etc.
I´m available and able to make in these three languages translation. I can also translate from Italian to Portuguese and Spanish to Portuguese, because I had a year of Italian and Spanish in University.
I am currently living in Burma.
My work as a translator will be done at home in the computer and then I send my translations through my email for your company.
If you are interested in my services as a freelance translator, could you tell me what email can I send my CV?
Please contact me at (address) for any further information.
Best regards,
Jane A. Translator”

  1. Don’t mention your language pair in the title of your message. Let your prospects guess.
  2. Don’t mention your language pair in the header of your résumé, either. If you really feel compelled to add it, the bottom of page three (possibly under “other information and personal interests”) should do nicely. If they finally get there, your prospects will be happy to discover you don’t translate in a language they are interested in.
  3. If you have worked as a translator in the past, do include every detail of all projects you ever did (in fact, list all language assignments you did since middle school, for good measure). Remember: Your goal is to bore your prospect, and a seven-page single-spaced résumé should easily do the trick.
  4. Wide margins and a legible layout are for chumps. Use the narrowest margins your word processor lets you get away with, don’t indent between paragraphs, and don’t use any font other than Arial Narrow (8 points maximum). If your prospects cannot read your résumé, they will not be tempted to hire you.
  5. If (as you should) you are writing your résumé in a language which is not your own, make sure not to have it revised by a native speaker: She could accidentally correct all the errors you have worked so hard to add.
  6. In the unfortunate case that a prospect, despite your efforts, answers your message and asks you to take a short translation test, be original: don’t just say you don’t do free tests (they might respect you for that), and certainly don’t accept to translate the test and do your best on it. Instead, accept the test, use Gurgle Translate, don’t spell-check, and send the test late (if they gave you a deadline), or not at all (if they didn’t).
  7. If you decide to take a test, ignore any instructions that come with it: following them would waste your time, and you might unfortunately find in them some suggestion of how your prospect would like you to proceed. You want to show you are an independent spirit, not someone who meekly accepts to do what he is tasked to do.
  8. And finally: Now that we live in a Web 2.0 world, with plenty of social media available to show what you really think to all and sundry, let your personality shine under your real name. Badmouth translation companies and belittle other translators on AmateurZ and BabbleBook. Suggest plenty of erroneous terms in online translation fora (in fact, suggest them in at least three different languages you don’t know). Display a righteous attitude (better yet, a paranoid one), and let everybody know that all translation companies (and all direct customers, for that matter), are out to get you to work for free, that all other translators are infinitely worse than you, that of course translators can and should translate from their second language into their third one, and that the sole reason for university translation departments the whole word over is to churn out plenty of lemmings ready to jump off a cliff and take all the work away from you.

P.S. This will be the subject for another article, but learn to be very rude on the phone, especially if some project manager calls you.

NOTE: This article, together with many others from several prominent translators, was written for Mox II: What they don’t tell you about translation, the new collection of Mox cartoons by Alejandro Moreno-Ramos. Mox II was published today: go and order it – it is the perfect gift for any translator.

15 tips on how to increase your chances when contacting translation companies

By Riccardo Schiaffino
Reblogged from About Translation blog with permission from the author

15 tips on how to increase your chances when contacting translation companies

Our tiny translation company does not advertise for translators, since we do most work internally or with the help of a small group of trusted colleagues. Yet, every day I receive on average a dozen messages from translators offering their services for various language combinations. Unfortunately, most of these messages are written in a way that ensures they end in the junk mail folder.
Here are some tips you might find useful to increase your chances of success:

  1. Research your prospects.
    Find out who they are and to whom your message should be addressed. If you are sending your message without specifying to whom it is addressed, your message will be treated as spam. If most of your prospects are translation companies, find out if they prefer new translators to contact them by email: many translation companies prefer candidates to fill a form on their website. If that is their preferred way to collect information from freelancers, usually contacting them by email instead is a waste of time.
  2. Find out what kind of translations they do.
    You need to know what specializations they need from their translators. This will help you craft a more targeted and more successful message: for a translation company it is much more interesting to receive a message that says “I’m an English into Italian translator with a degree in mechanical engineering and over ten years’ experience translating maintenance manuals for naval turbines” than a generic “I translate from English French, German and Portuguese into Italian”.
  3. Keep the Subject of your message brief and to the point.
    A good subject, for example, could be “English > Italian translator with 10 years of experience, specialized in mechanical engineering”. That is better than, for example “Spanish Freelance Translator/Proofreader” , and much better than “Searching better opportunity at your respective company” (an actual subject line from a misguided translator.)
  4. Write your message very carefully.
    If you are writing in a language that is not your native one, I recommend you have a native speaker edit it. Remember: the purpose of your message is to entice your prospect in opening your résumé.
  5. Don’t say that you translate from your native language into a foreign one.
    Doing so ensure you will be treated as an amateur. If you are one of those rare people who are native speakers of more than one language (true bilingual), do say so, but be prepared to say how exactly you came to be a true bilingual (“I traveled and studied in X country” won’t do, but “My mother is English, my father Italian, each only speaks to me in their native language, and, while living in Italy, I studied from first grade through high school in an international school where most classes were taught in English” might.)
  6. Write your name and language pair in the heading of your résumé.
    For example, “Mario Rossi, English into Italian translator”.
  7. Keep your résumé brief.
    No more than one page if you don’t have extensive experience, no more than two in all other instances.
  8. Don’t include your rates in your email message or in your résumé. Talking about rates comes later.
  9. Don’t include your references.
    Providing them, if asked, comes later.
  10. Make sure your résumé is written flawlessly.
    Again, if it is not in your native language, consider having it edited by a native speaker.
  11. Localize your résumé for your target market.
    For instance a résumé for a French prospect should include your photo, but a résumé for an American company should not.
  12. Make sure your résumé contains all the necessary information, but no irrelevant details. If you have minimal experience, it’s OK to include in your résumé information about other kind of work, but, as soon as you do gain some translation experience, remove the extraneous information.
  13. Make sure that all the information you provide in your message and in your résumé is verifiable.
  14. What you should include in your résumé: Your working language pairs, how best to contact you, your translation experience, other relevant work experience, education, expertise with specific software programs (for example, CAT tools or DTP programs: don’t include in the list of programs that you know how to use Word or Excel – it is assumed that everybody knows how to handle them), and platform (PC or Mac.)
  15. What you should not include in your résumé: personal information such as your age or marital status (normally: see above – if a résumé for your target market usually does include such information, use your best judgment about whether to include that information or not). Also not to be included: your hobbies and personal interests. An exception to this is if your hobbies contribute to your specialization. So “I am a passionate skier, and I have competed at international level. This experience has helped me when I translated technical manuals for Rossignol” is OK, while “I like reading and classical music” is not.

Finally, very important:
Remember: it’s you who decides what your rates are, not the translation companies. Conversely, translation companies are free to accept your rates, reject them, or try to get you to lower them.

Image credit: Unsplash

How do translators showcase their talent to translation agencies?

By Gwenydd Jones
Reblogged from The Translator’s Studio blog with permission from the author (including the image)

shop-windows-in-london2Last week, Letraduct authored a post about one of the problems that your target customer (the translation agency) has, which is lack of time and desire to read lengthy cover letters, CVs and translation portfolios. The advice was clear: be a translator that makes it quick and easy for the project manager to see key data about you and you’re more likely to get a response.

Here are some methods that freelancers have used with Letraduct to showcase their talent and some thoughts (good and bad) on these techniques.

1. One-line cover letter saying “Please see CV attached”.

Brevity is good, but failing to include your language combination in the subject line and key credentials and prices in the cover letter creates work for the project manager. Downloading your CV requires an extra click, and you’ve given them nothing in the cover letter to make them think it’s worth the effort.

2. Lengthy cover letter giving lots of specifics about translation projects and work experience.

If you’re doing the opposite of the person in point 1, then you’re going too far the other way. If you’re quoting for a specific job, then it’s good to mention related experience, but think key facts and consider your reader’s attention span. Lists and bullet points can be helpful in a cover letter because they allow the project manager to scan through quickly. They want to scan.

See our post on writing a cover letter for a translation agency for some helpful hints and templates.

3. 6-page CV.

We won’t read it. Would you? Two pages maximum, with the most important data on page one.

4. CV packed with graphs and tables, showing the translator’s experience in numbers and percentages, with lots of different colours.

There’s a lot to be said for being creative and different, but, when time is of the essence, a CV that doesn’t look like a CV can obstruct the reader on their mission to locate your key data. They may not have the patience to figure it out, we don’t.

5. A second attachment containing a portfolio of samples of previous translations the translator has done.

In theory, a portfolio sounds very professional, but, does it solve a problem for your target customer or does it create one? Remember that it’s very unlikely that the project manager is looking for a translator that matches your profile at the exact time your CV drops into their inbox. They are either going to type your details into a database or file them away somewhere for some future time, when a translator that matches your profile is needed. So, given the lack of time and immediate need, it’s very unlikely that they’ll have sufficient motivation to read random portfolios (and that even if they can speak your languages). Also, you can’t store a portfolio in a database, so it represents extra filing for them. At Letraduct, at least, if we want something like that, we’ll ask for it, and if people send them to us, we don’t tend to look at them. See point 6 for our preferred solution.

6. Links to online profiles.

A link to a strong online profile is useful because it can be checked out quickly, but too many links in an e-mail creates an information overload and the project manager can’t decide where they’re supposed to go, so they give up. It’s a good idea to include important links in your CV, too, in case it gets separated from the cover letter. If you have translation samples that you want to share with the agency, put them online somewhere and include links to them inside the CV. If you’ve done work for someone and your work has been published online, once again, put the link inside the CV. That way, the day the agency becomes interested in you, they’ll have the info at their fingertips (it also makes it easy for them to copy and paste the data onto a spreadsheet, if they want to).

7. Certificates sent as attachments.

When the agency wants or needs them, it’ll ask for them. Some big agencies may require proof of your qualifications as standard; smaller agencies probably see them as a filing problem. Consider getting your credentials verified from your profile.

8. Giving references.

As per point 7, but, don’t underestimate the usefulness of tools like recommendations on LinkedIn and WWA on, which can be there ready and waiting and mentioned quickly in a cover letter or CV. The translation industry is quite a small world, and if you collect enough online recommendations, you may find that the people you’re working for or want to work for know each other and, as we all know, there’s nothing like a recommendation from a friend or colleague.

If you have any doubts about the way you’re presenting yourself, ask us a question in the comments below or on Twitter: @Gwenydd_Jones.