Thirteenish reasons why you might stop working for an agency

Sometimes it’s time to sail away to pastures new

Correct me if I’m wrong, but the overriding factor causing translators to end their relationship with an agency is not being paid at all (no-brainer really, as continuing to work for a client that is not paying you—whatever their excuses and promises—just doesn’t make good business sense), and secondly being paid late. Fortunately, in all the years that I’ve been translating, I have seldom not been paid. A one-man band went bankrupt just after I completed a shortish job for him and I never saw a penny. Another agency didn’t pay me for all the words I’d translated as we disagreed on how many I’d actually done. However, I have received my money late more times than I care to remember, and I’ve stopped working for several agencies as a result, even some I had been collaborating with for years. “I was enjoying a wonderful holiday on the other side of the planet, so I couldn’t pay you in August, and now have no funds until my clients pay me” just doesn’t cut it.

As I mentioned in my post 18 reasons why an agency might stop working with you, if you want to raise your rates, but the agency refuses to play ball, or they have the audacity to ask you to take a rate cut because of the financial crisis or increased competition and price-sensitive end clients, then you should probably walk away. Especially if you later discover that the agency CEO is still getting his million-pound bonus. A drop of half a cent might be worth considering to keep a good client and help them ride out the storm when they really are in trouble. But halving your normal rate to completely untenable levels because “we’re all in this together” when this is quite obviously not the case (I believe some agencies have been known to record an increase in turnover in these instances) is ludicrous in the extreme.

Related to the above, if an agency thinks you are or have become too expensive (possibly because everyone else has dropped their prices except you), they may decide to ask you to revise mediocre translations instead of getting you to translate them in the first place and produce your standard of work for a fraction of your usual rate. Of course if you charge for revisions by the hour, you might not feel so hard done by; yet many agencies are so hung up on a per-word rate they would find it virtually impossible to alter their modus operandi.

A sixth reason, for me at least, is the online systems some agencies have introduced for accepting jobs and sending invoices. Although they might make sense for the agency, I find them rather irksome. Expecting freelancers who work for several different clients to not only remember to use the system, but also how it works (my memory is like a sieve for boring annoyances such as these) is asking too much. Although I might not stop working altogether for an agency with such a system, it does mean I relegate them to my outer circle.

This ties in with my seventh bugbear: fiddly paperwork. It can be quite difficult and extraordinarily time-consuming to keep up with agencies’ requirements regarding when to invoice them, how to invoice them, which date to use if you are invoicing them after a certain date in the month, whether to send it by snail mail or scanned with a signature, or upload it onto their website (see above), whether you need to use a specific number, or the file has to contain your name written a certain way, etc. (I expect the list is endless). Requests like these are unreasonable and often interrupt your work flow. If you prefer to invoice at the end of the month on a specific day as I do, then being forced to invoice at other times can be a bit annoying. I don’t like being told when and how I can invoice or that I’ll miss the payment slot if I don’t comply.

Don’t get trapped by abusive conditions

Another increasingly present aspect to watch out for is revised conditions. NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) are getting longer and longer and now often include clauses on how you should translate and the penalties that will rain down on you if you don’t comply with deadlines, deliver substandard quality or fail to use their systems properly. Study them carefully before you add your signature. Amend them if you feel you should. And before signing anything, read this informative interview with Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz on Rose Newell’s blog The Translator’s Teacup.

These days many agencies insist you use a specific CAT tool. That’s not a problem if it’s the one you happen to have invested in. But if an agency suddenly tells you to buy Trados or memoQ to continue working for them, and you don’t have either (I use Wordfast), then you’ll have to consider your options. They might even switch to using a cloud-based CAT tool, which means you wouldn’t even have a copy of your own work in your own TMs for later use. Personally, I’m just not into participating in a translation being worked on by a number of translators at the same time and having to accept others’ terminology choices if I don’t agree with them. This would give me zero job satisfaction and lots of headaches, so I don’t want to go down that route at all.

And while we’re on the subject of CATS, let’s not forget loathsome fuzzy discounts. Thinking about it logically, I can appreciate that no end client wishes to pay twice for the same translation, so I do regularly offer a lower rate per word for repetitions and 100% matches. But some agencies’ ideas of CAT-tool discounts are preposterously low. Time to get real indeed.

I think I’ve probably droned on for long enough now, so I’ll wrap up this post with another couple of points and let you discuss any others you can think of in the comments. Agencies often expect you to translate everything for the same per-word price they have noted down for you in their database. They’re just not prepared to pay anything extra for complex formatting, more difficult texts, using a particular style guide and/or a client glossary requiring you to check that the terms you are using are the right ones, and a long et cetera. These can all have a major impact on how long it takes you to complete the translation. Consequently, you end up earning far less per hour than you normally do. And this isn’t acceptable.

Lastly, you might have to part ways with an agency if your personality clashes with the PM’s. Sometimes it takes a while for that to become evident, but working with a person you don’t see eye to eye with is not pleasant, so it’s best to move on. I remember one PM was often grumpily rude, hanging up on me in mid-sentence as soon as she’d ascertained that I wasn’t available. “But you always translate this client’s texts.” Well no, not when I’m about to get on a plane for a long weekend birthday treat.

Since we are all different and our working methods vary hugely, when you do find a client who likes how you work and you like the way they operate too, then hang onto them. Put them in your inner circle and take good care of them. Because although there are loads of agencies and direct clients out there, not everyone is going to be a perfect match for you.

If you liked this post, you might enjoy reading the sequel to it: Fifteen more reasons why you might stop working for an agency.

This post was first published on 16/10/2014 on my previous blog.

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2 thoughts on “Thirteenish reasons why you might stop working for an agency

  1. Great post, thank you, Nikki.

    As a matter of fact, I have vaguely foresaw all of these thirteenish reasons (or fifteenish, if you count BJ’s contributions in) when I went on my own five years ago, and never thought of “agencies” as an option. I failed two short free test at one (judging by the feedback, the reviewers, my would-be competing “colleagues”, took good care of that), and never claimed the fees for four first paid test translations I had made two other “agencies” whose “proofreaders”, ignorant of the subject, mutilated into what was their idea of what they should be. I have never worked for an “agency” since and don’t bother to answer (and sometimes even read) their enquiries.

    Liked by 1 person

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