18 reasons why an agency might stop working with you

BH2The general advice regarding clients is that you should be actively seeking new ones all the time because you never know what’s around the corner. Not only should you be looking to replace clients already in your circles that you are not overly keen on working for, but you also need others to fall back on if you lose some. This post is going to focus on why an agency might stop working with a translator, although some of the reasons will hold true for direct clients as well.

First & Second: you decide to raise your rates—at the beginning of your tax year, for example, to match inflation—and the agency is not willing to go along with that. Sometimes agencies ask you to lower your rates to remain competitive and continue working with them. I have been asked to do this by a few in Spain still suffering the effects of the recession, which has hit this country particularly hard. That’s why raising rates can often be a tricky decision. There is always the risk of losing some clients along the way.

Third: the agency is not happy with the quality of your work. If this ever happens to you, then please don’t despair, since this might be due to any number of factors. The agency might be one of those that does not tolerate any errors. Regardless. Or they might pay you less if they find mistakes and actively try to find fault with your work to do just that. It can be incredibly unnerving and disheartening to have your knuckles rapped for an error that another client would not consider a serious offence. Mistakes happen, most mortals commit one or two now and again (even if they rarely admit to them), and defining quality is a subjective exercise. Remember that an agency’s purpose is not just to cream off some of the translation pie (although unfortunately some provide no added value, so that is all they do). In my (possibly not so) humble opinion it’s their job to ensure the translator has not omitted anything and that everything is correct before sending it off to the end client. That’s why all translations should be revised. Four eyes are obviously much better than two. We all know how easy it is to read words that are supposed to be on the screen/paper instead of the actual content. And there is usually room for improvement in any translation.

Fourth: of course you might actually have made a huge blooper which the agency isn’t prepared to forgive because it’s caused a major hoo-hah with their client. In the most serious of cases, the agency might even lose this client; I guess it wouldn’t be surprising if they then decided to give you the boot. In these (hopefully rare) instances, it’s still a better idea to own up to the error and offer to fix it rather than trying to hide behind a myriad of excuses and seek justification for your terminology choices where none can really be found.

Fifth: if you usually cover the translations for a particular client and the agency loses that client (to another agency that charges less or provides more services/languages, etc.), then they might have nothing else to offer you in your specialisms. It might be an idea to contact the agency if you haven’t heard from them for a while and make sure they have an up-to-date list of all the fields you specialise in so they can contact you if something crops up.

Ensbury Park5Sixth: the PM that usually sends you work leaves and the new one decides to use someone else instead. Maybe the new PM used to work at another agency before and has favourites they continue working with. Or perhaps you don’t click the first few times they work with you so they decide to look elsewhere.

Seventh & Eighth: PMs need to get on with you and feel confident that you will deliver a good job. If you are late for deadlines, or don’t do the formatting properly, and they have plenty of other service providers to choose from, then you will be dumped. They’ll also remember how you have reacted to any problems that have arisen. Working with them to find a solution fast is bound to get you some brownie points.

Ninth: you are not VAT registered. This has caused many a headache for translators like myself living in the UK who are not legally required to register for VAT and have not signed up voluntarily. In Spain, where the majority of my clients are based, bureaucracy is notoriously hard to navigate sometimes, and some accountants, and, therefore, agencies, still refuse to contemplate working with anyone whose situation is not the EU norm. I am currently mulling over whether I should bite the bullet and get my head around the extra paperwork being VAT registered involves in order to win back clients that have stopped working with me for this reason and gain new ones on the Continent.

Tenth & Eleventh: you don’t accept all the work an agency offers you when they think you should (such as nasty fiddly certificates or PDFs), or you refuse to send your CV and fill in lots of forms so that the agency can take part in an EU tender and they take umbrage and decide not to work with you any more. In my opinion, you are better off without agencies that imagine they can dictate the type of work you should accept. We are not employees after all, and, therefore, we can pick and choose the translations we do.

Twelfth: some small agencies run by just one or two people might close down if the owners decide to do something different, work freelance, etc. (I lost a good client this way); or they might go bankrupt, conceivably before they’ve paid you everything they owe (this happened to me once too, but luckily it was only a small amount).

Thirteenth: they hire an in-house translator to do the work you used to do. Long ago one of my best agency clients at that time offered me an in-house position. However, given that the pay was far lower than the income I was earning freelance, and I didn’t buy their argument that I could translate in the evenings for other clients to top up my earnings (!), I refused the job, which didn’t go down too well. I never heard from them again.

Evening skyFourteenth: they don’t want to pay bank or other charges when they settle your invoices. I rarely work for agencies that expect me to cover transfer costs.

Fifteenth: fluctuating exchange rates, which means they could end up shelling out considerably more than they wanted to pay, unless you quote in their currency.

Sixteenth: you are never available. Of course if you cannot deliver by the deadline proposed, there is little you can do except refuse the project. However, how you decline the job does matter. Some PMs will simply stop putting you top of their list or take you off it altogether if you keep saying no. This might be because they get the wrong end of the stick and assume you no longer want to work for them. If you are interested in the job and the client, yet cannot do it for the proposed deadline, I recommend you write back clearly stating that you would love to do the translation and when you could deliver it. This has worked for me on many an occasion and I have landed the job despite not being able to meet their seemingly pressing deadline.

On the other hand, if you could meet the deadline, but the job offered is not your field, again make it clear to the agency that you hope to collaborate with them soon, however, as you only work in such and such fields, the text offered is beyond your capabilities.

Seventeenth: they cannot contact you easily. The beauty of being freelance is that we can organise our day as we like, often around childcare duties. That’s fine, but you must have a smartphone so you can pick up your emails and answer or return phone calls as soon as possible. Agencies need to find a translator to do the job quickly, otherwise they might have to refuse the work themselves, and if you are constantly difficult to reach, they might soon not bother trying.

Eighteenth: you are rude to the PM. I’m stating the obvious here. If you get all huffy and puffy about an agency’s mistake (we can all make them, remember), you are not going to endear yourself to anyone. Ensure you are complaining to the right person, try to stay calm and keep it polite. It’s worth bearing in mind that even though you might wish to part ways with an agency (see my related post Thirteenish reasons why you might stop working for an agency), PMs are not permanent fixtures. Given that they want to further their careers too, the PM of today might be your freelance colleague of tomorrow (and imagine how you’d feel if you bumped into them at a conference after a rant), or start working for an agency you are interested in collaborating with. You certainly don’t want them to remember you for the wrong reasons and pass the juicy job that is right up your street to the next translator on their list instead of you.

I’m sure you can think of other reasons and I’d be interested in reading about them in the comments.

This article, first published on 14 October 2014 on my previous blog, rapidly became the most popular of all my posts. Please click here if you would like to read the many interesting comments.

There is now a “part 2” based on the feedback this post received: 22 more reasons why an agency might stop working with you.

Versión en castellano

27 thoughts on “18 reasons why an agency might stop working with you

  1. Nikki, you wrote: “Tenth & Eleventh: you don’t accept all the work an agency offers you when they think you should (such as nasty fiddly certificates or PDFs), or you refuse to send your CV and fill in lots of forms so that the agency can take part in an EU tender and they take umbrage and decide not to work with you any more. In my opinion, you are better off without agencies that imagine they can dictate the type of work you should accept. We are not employees after all, and, therefore, we can pick and choose the translations we do.”

    From my experience, it is much better to play dead (i.e. not answer, not react, as if you were not at home) than saying “no” to an agency.

    Refusing anything might lead you to having to give reasons, to justify yourself. If all of the PM’s other usual translators are busy, if the PM is too lazy to find someone else, is running out of time, etc, he will turn around your reason and try to force you to accept at all cost: then you are in a VERY tricky situation and might well lose this customer!

    As you said, we are not employees (and even less slaves).

    And we do not have to refuse or justify ourselves.

    So it is much much safer to play dead and do as if we never saw their email, as if we were not at home/too busy/their email went to the spam folder this time/etc…

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    1. Many thanks for your comment, although I cannot say that I agree with you. I usually do respond and explain why I don’t want to/cannot accept the offer as this is a chance to educate the client and make them aware of your specialisms and what you are and what you are not prepared to do. I very rarely play dead, especially with a client I want to keep. And if they don’t appreciate my reasons for rejecting their job, then perhaps we are not a good fit and it would be better to stop working for them anyway.

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      1. Recently I rejected an offer on the ground that the deadline was too short.

        Then the PM sent me an email offering me a much far-away deadline, the next morning instead of the same afternoon/evening.

        It was a semi-automatized system in which translators receive email notifications that there is a job for them in their online profile on the company’s website. Once there, you have to accept or reject the offer. But if you reject it, you find yourself having to say why, choosing one of the options in the drop-down menu, then you can add further comments in a text field.

        So I went back to my dashboard but did not accept the offer, since the official deadline had not changed.

        I sent an email to the PM, asking what was happening, since I could not commit to such a short deadline.

        Then she said that I could already commence this revision task because in the meantime the translation had already reached her PC.

        So she did not want to change the deadline any more.

        She could not understand why I could not start immediately with this task.

        Because I had mentioned something about already looking as the source text, which I had discovered in my dashboard only after rejecting the offer. And I had indeed complained that their system did not point to the fact that one could already have a look at the source text and even sort of work on it.

        But it did not mean that I was ready to start revising right away and that I could meet such a short deadline, especially from German to French, a language pair that I have been using for less years than other pairs – so these people cannot assess a CV and even give revision tasks to rather “junior” translators in some language pairs…

        I could have done it, with more time.

        Anyway, I thus went back to my dashboard, officially rejected the offer for the second time, maintaining that the deadline was too short (or did I even justify it this second time? I can’t remember).

        Anyway, I could see from the beginning of her email answer that she started treating me a non professional and blablabla, out of frustration… I archived her email for further reference if need be, without reading the rest of her literature…

        This was a Latino-American young woman working for a German agency. I had expected more professionalism and more respect from a German agency. I found myself with a thing that absolutely wanted ME to revise this by the first deadline at all cost.

        So I deeply regretted having officially rejected her offer, since other PMs in that German company might be easier to get along with (as you wrote, PMs can change companies…) and I would have been better off not answering at all…

        As I said, there is no obligation to answer such emails. But once you reject and are led to giving justifications, that’s when problems start.

        I lost another agency 3 years ago because they wanted me to translate 4,000 legal words overnight. Since I had had to refuse several of their offers lately, I did not dare refusing once more (which proved stupid), so I doubled my usual rate on the ground that it was night work – thus I did not refuse.

        Unfortunately in the meantime the customer had obtained 24 hours more from the court, so the PM came back to me offering a generous second night (!) to work on it – so I had no more argument to refuse and got stuck in an impossible deadline, since I needed at least two full days (and not one day and two nights!) to produce this translation.

        On top of it all, some supplier sent by my appartment owner against my will harassed me until I answered the interphone, then threatened me because I refused to open my door. So I did not sleep the whole night and was totally unable to work well the next day. And I had no room for manoeuver with a deadline that was already extremely short, involving night work.

        Again, I told myself afterwards that rather than refusing, I should just not have reacted – and I still would be working for this customer….

        See ?… 🙂

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  2. Nikki, you also wrote: “If you are interested in the job and the client, yet cannot do it for the proposed deadline, I recommend you write back clearly stating that you would love to do the translation and when you could deliver it. This has worked for me on many an occasion and I have landed the job despite not being able to meet their seemingly pressing deadline.

    On the other hand, if you could meet the deadline, but the job offered is not your field, again make it clear to the agency that you hope to collaborate with them soon, however, as you only work in such and such fields, the text offered is beyond your capabilities.”

    These are different cases than in my first comment above…

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  3. P.S. By “interphone” (French word coming from a brand name), I meant “entry phone, security phone”. Sorry, I went too fast.

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    1. Undoubtedly, there are many of us who have accepted jobs we shouldn’t have accepted, or would have preferred not to have done because we felt pressurised by a PM. However, we just need to get better at saying “no”. If your first excuse is that you cannot meet the deadline and then they extend the deadline, give the real reason (not my speciality, still not enough time, not enough money, or whatever the reason is).
      As for losing agency clients as a result, there are plenty more to work for. If there isn’t a level of trust and contentment between both parties, then it’s not worth continuing the relationship.

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      1. Very useful article indeed, I always answer quickly so the client knows where they stand with me and I always try to offer a solution, e.g a different date… I have lost 3 clients due to going on maternity leave twice for a year and due to the PM moving on… why do PMs move so much? Nobody has ever made a complain so I hope they haven’t stop working because of that… Another case is an agency drop you if you don’t have insurance…

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post Nikki. I definitely think it’s good to respond, but to get clear on your own timeframe / limits beforehand. The problems experienced by LawFinanceandMarketingTranslator all came about through communication issues. I guess these are things we only learn with experience. I once spent the worst weekend of my life translating 2000 lines of trade fair-booth building instructions, and it almost killed me. I had stomach cramps from the stress. On the upside, it’s hard to earn 3000 euros in one weekend without doing something you would regret! ; )

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  5. I hope there were lots of repetitions in that text!
    Yes, experience does help to decide whether a project is worth doing or not and to steer you clear of jobs that will just cause a lot of stress and not represent a good rate of pay per hour of effort put in. Unfortunately, I still make bad judgement calls sometimes.
    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I’ve only just discovered your blog and hope to find time to read more of your posts later.

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  6. Dear Nikki –

    Albeit delayed, my response to this piece of advice from a seasoned professional like you would be the following:

    Should we, the freelancers like you, who enjoy respect from dozens of reputable clients over years or even decades, ever be concerned about why an agency stopped working with us?

    From my experience, most of the times it stems from an event beyond both agency’s and translator’s control, such as (a) completion or termination of a specific project, litigation, government program, etc.; (b) new management that decided to radically change agency’s pricing policies to attain better financial performance and improve their balance sheet; (c) new project manager(s) that decided to reduce their own work pressure and shifting part of their workload onto translators (e.g., determining word count and deadline) and then using these data to hire another—cheaper—translator, and (d) the agency switches to rat racing technology by opening an online bid for a specific job and assigning it to a lowest bidder, just to name a few.

    In such situations an agency would rarely (mostly, informally) or never share their true reasons and/or motives of such abrupt abandoning of their valuable asset.

    Should we bother?

    My unambiguous and decisive response is always NO.

    We are not beggars. We are professionals with our sense of dignity. It is in the agencies’ best interest to use our knowledge and skills. If they are more concerned about money, let be it. If they have never heard of a “time-cost-quality” triangle, too bad. If they don’t understand specifics of translators’ work, God help them. If they use dirty tricks to make us work harder for free, trash them.

    It takes two to tango.

    In conclusion, wouldn’t it be proper to explore the topic “XX reasons why a translator should stop working with an agency”?

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    1. Many thanks for your comments and your insights, which prove that this really is a broad industry where no two translators’ experiences are exactly the same.
      Personally, I believe there is plenty of room in translation for good agencies and that many clients are better served by agencies than individual freelancers. It all depends on specific requirements.
      Concerning your suggestion, as I mentioned in the post above, I have already blogged on the reasons why translators should stop working for an agency.

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    2. “Should we, the freelancers like you, who enjoy respect from dozens of reputable clients over years or even decades, ever be concerned about why an agency stopped working with us? ”

      Yes, I think so, sometimes, and particularly if it’s a direct client rather than an agency. Obviously there may be agencies you’d be only too glad to see the back of, but others you really would rather not lose (some agencies are actually a pleasure to work for!), especially for what might turn out to be a relatively trivial reason, or if it’s going to leave you wondering whether it was because of something you’d done. For a while, I used to get work from a former colleague who’d moved to another firm, then the work dried up. When I finally met him face to face (I hadn’t wanted to ring or email him at work because of a lack of privacy), it turned out that they were getting less translation work from the end client whose work I’d been doing, and they had a couple of freelances they’d been using for years who they felt deserved to have priority over me because of their longstanding working relationship. I can live with that – client loyalty is a good thing, even if it means that I might personally suffer for it – and if they suddenly find themselves inundated I expect they’ll be back in touch.

      Looking at the availability situation with my former project-managing hat on, it can be very disappointing if a good translator is always too busy to take on jobs, and at some stage you will start wondering whether there is any point even trying them, or whether you should move them down the list. If this is the case for you, there’s no harm, when you spot that you’re likely to be less busy, in dropping the agency an email and saying that you might have some capacity available in X weeks if there’s anything they would like you to do. Or you may have told them that you were unavailable for X weeks and forgotten to remind them when you were available again, and find they were waiting for you to get back in touch.

      There are of course agencies you’d never really miss, but if an agency has been agreeable to work with in the past you might want to find out whether or not the situation is irretrievable.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Very informative post. Thank you for posting!

    As an owner/project manager of a small LSP, I think I’m well positioned to add my two cents to this discussion. I’ll add some of the reasons why I myself have stopped contacting a few of the translators I’ve worked with through the years.

    1) Negotiability: There are some projects where the budget is tight and one needs to try to negotiate the translator’s rate down just a little. Now, I’m not talking about a huge discount; but more of something in the way of $0.12 per word to $0.10 per word. And I usually ask this of translators that I’ve worked with for quite some time, and I don’t ask it often, only when needed. There are certain translators that just won’t budge and remain steadfast in their rates and, over time, I’ve have stopped using these translators. This also goes for those that have a rigid minimum fee. I think the thinking at the end, for me a at least, is that the rigid rates also sometimes implies someone that is a bit hard to work with and does not really care about us a business, and the fact that I in turn give THEM business. Again, I’m not talking about discounted rates that are extreme; but there are times when we need to lower our own rate in order to acquire a project/client.

    2) Correspondence: Write your emails simply, but professionally and to the point—friendly but not too friendly. You wouldn’t believe how many one-word replies we get from translators; or how many translators will start discussing some personal thing that really should not be part of the correspondence (unless, of course, it’s someone you’ve worked with for a while and have a relationship with).

    3) Finals: Make sure that when you send the final translation it is in fact the “final translation.” I’ve had translators send me the translation, then send me a revised translation 10 minutes later because they found some mistake; and even sometimes even send a 3rd revised version. As a project manager, one tends to lose confidence in someone who does this, even if they do it just one time; not to mention that the project manager probably already sent the client the first version of your translation and they’re now in the awkward position of sending them a revised version and explaining why.

    4) Respond to emails promptly: Nothing makes a project manager happier than getting an email response in under 5 minutes. Doesn’t matter if you’re unavailable, just respond quickly—it makes us really know that you care about our time and understand the position we’re in (with our clients).

    5) Own up to mistakes: If a project manager finds a mistake in your translation don’t make a big deal of it, and don’t blame anyone else or try to defend yourself (I’m talking about a “true” error here, not anything subjective): just fix the mistake.

    That’s all the ones I can think of right now, though I’m sure there are others. Hope this comment can also prove helpful to translators working with agencies. And again, thanks for the very interesting post!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. As far as VAT is concerned, it does give a headache to clients when translators from some EU Member States are not VAT registered. This means that the agency/its accountant has to be up to date with the exceptions provided for by the VAT legislation of 28 Member States. A huge waste of time.
    I just organized a call for tenders and this problem was so time-consuming. Next time I will just ask that every translator has to be VAT-registered in order to participate in the call for tenders. Otherwise I will lose months of my precious working time to check out all the individual circumstances and all the different VAT-rules. Being VAT-registered is the general rule in the EU and any deviation from this rule causes problems for the person in charge of applying the VAT legislation.

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    1. I can certainly understand your point. As I am not VAT registered, I don’t give work to translators that are because I don’t want to pay the VAT. Now that the UK is leaving the EU I imagine the rules about VAT will change, so I don’t think I’ll sign up until I know what is happening. In the meantime, however, if a client’s accountant doesn’t know how to handle non-VAT cases, then they really cannot be good at their job.

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