The 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.
Sixth: 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.
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.