DIRECT CLIENTS OR TRANSLATION AGENCIES? THAT IS THE QUESTION?
by Sara Galluccio
One of the hottest topics among translators is undoubtedly about rates; it’s getting more and more frequent to deal with translation agencies paying ridiculously low rates and, of course, it can be extremely more profitable to work exclusively for direct clients.
As a general economic rule, reduced intermediaries = less mouths to be fed = reduced costs for the client. Or, if the final price does not change, there will be a wider margin for a translator working directly for the person or company requesting the work. No objections on this.
Unfortunately, since we don’t live in a perfect world, we have to consider other elements that may interfere significantly on productivity and profits.
Let’s have a look at some examples.
This is one of the most common mishaps you can face, but also one of the fiddliest. New clients, in particular, may want us to work with a specific CAT, or they send us files in a format that is not compatible with the CAT(s) we use or – last but not least – the file might be not working properly: this may result into spending several hours trying to load the file properly or make it work, etc.: hours that you probably did not consider in your quotation and that will either not be paid or bring you to an unpleasant re-negotiation with the client. A professional translation agency, instead, is supposed to always provide files in the correct format and be able to manage projects out of different CATs; they will also check that everything works fine before sending out files and so on, and all this is a burden that won’t end up on the translator’s shoulders.
“C’mon, you speak English, it’s gonna be a matter of minutes for you!” No, it’s not a matter of minutes. It takes time, dedication, in-depth analysis, preparation, a research of the specific jargon, perfect knowledge of the target language – including technical terminology – and so on. If you want a professional translation you need a professional translator, who will need to take his/her time to make a thorough research and revision work. It is no surprise that those who don’t work in the field just think translators are walking dictionaries able to translate any kind of text perfectly and at first sight. Dear clients, that’s really not how it works. Agencies, on the contrary, are well aware of what we do and will realize it’s not that easy to deliver a 35.000 word project by 9 a.m. on Monday if it’s assigned at 6 p.m. on Friday.
Unless there's a mutual-revision sort of agreement with a colleague in place, translators normally tend to do all by themselves, including revision. When dealing with particularly long or difficult texts, it may well happen to make little mistakes difficult to spot even after the tenth revision. A fresh eye on a text is always recommendable, and a professional translation agency is usually able to grant this kind of service.
This is one of the heaviest uncertainties for freelancers, especially with new clients. We’re not saying these things don’t happen with agencies as well, but in case of an non-paying agency the word spreads fast among colleagues and it is a bit easier to avoid being ripped off. In the case of direct clients it is harder to find information on this issue and if you run into a deceitful person or company you may not be able to realize on time.
Looking for new clients is a stirring, challenging activity that gives a lot of satisfaction once we persuade someone of our competencies and sign a new contract, but don’t forget that translators are paid for translating. This means that the client research phase is mainly a investment in time to get (possible) future advantages, but not a job on itself. Also, new clients may need several explanations on things they don’t know about our profession and may need clarifications on timing, rates and so on. An agency we’ve already worked with knows our rates already, speaks the same professional language we do and, if they’re happy with our job, they will probably call us back every time they have a new project matching our expertise. A slightly lower rate will therefore be balanced by the amount of unpaid time we would spend on looking for new clients – with no certain results.
And what about your relationship with agencies? Tell us about your experience!
Sara Galluccio - Editorial translator from English and Spanish into Italian, tireless reader, blogger by chance. Fond of travelling, nature, sport, food and wine. A real animal lover and in a weird relationship with technology, she hates wasting time and can’t wait for teleporting to be part of her everyday life. The World of her dreams is based on the respectf for all the living creatures inhabiting it.
"A different language is a different vision of life." Federico Fellini