Back in October 2014 on my old blog I wrote about some reasons why an agency might stop working with you. As both the original post and the republished version on this blog on WordPress, My Words for a Change, amassed a lot of interest and comments, I’ve highlighted some more reasons below why you might suddenly find an agency no longer calls or emails you. They are based on the feedback and a few of my own observations.
Although this and the previous post focus on working with agencies, some of the points are equally valid for working with direct clients. I hope you find them useful.
Thanks very much to everyone who took the time to respond to the original posts and detail their experiences (Allison Klein Krüter, Allison Wright, Rose Newell, BJ Translation Ltd., Claire Cox, Galina Green, Igor Vesler, Alison Penfold and some others who did not provide their full or real names). There wouldn’t be a second post without you.
First. You demand to be paid in 7 or 14 days when the agency is paid in 30. I know we can set our own terms, but demanding payment earlier than the usual 30 days could create cash-flow problems, especially for boutique agencies and when large sums are involved. And it’s definitely a condition that translators should mention and get agreed before accepting the job rather than springing on the client in the invoice.
Second and Third. The agency shifts its business focus to a different language pair and/or specialisation. This might mean it’s moving up-market and your skills no longer match their requirements. Or the refocus could result in them having less work to offer in your field and they favour other providers over you because they have worked with them for longer, which is why you are no longer contacted.
If you used to receive a lot of work from an agency and it suddenly dries up, it’s worthwhile dropping them a line or picking up the phone to find out why.
Fourth and Fifth. You leave lots of terminology issues for the reviser to sort out. We all mostly work to tight deadlines. Delivering a job with lots of queries about terms and/or sentence structure/meaning is going to create havoc and cause the reviser and PM lots of stress. If you are finding a text challenging, perhaps because the author hasn’t written clearly in the first place, and need some help with vocabulary, it’s best to tell the agency before you deliver so there’s more time to solve the problems.
However, it’s also important not to ask too many questions that can waste the PM’s time, especially if most of the answers can be found in the instructions sent to you (and which you obviously didn’t read properly if you’re making the queries).
Sixth and Seventh. Another no-no: you never write back to the PM to confirm receipt of the files, instructions, deadline, price, etc. You don’t need to write reams as a simple acknowledgement will suffice, but you do need to respond and the quicker the better.
Prompt replies are especially important to the agency if you cannot take on the job so they can find someone else. You will almost certainly drop down their contact list if you take ages to respond.
Eighth. Misunderstandings. Make sure you write clearly and explain yourself properly. Hopefully the agency will have done the same, but if in doubt and it’s feasible, pick up the phone or Skype your client to make sure everything is clear from the outset. Given that PMs can usually pick and choose from a large database of providers, you don’t want your name to be deleted for a reason that could easily have been avoided.
Ninth. On the subject of communication, make sure your approach is professional. One-word responses might be seen as rude. Including details about your personal life might be equally off-putting if you haven’t built a relationship with the PM yet.
Tenth and Eleventh. The agency asks you for recommendations to put together a team for a large project. When it’s over, the PM realises he/she now has the names of some tried and tested freelancers who charge less than you do. To avoid this situation happening, it’s best to inform the colleagues you recommend how much you charge and ask them to at least match your rate. (Come on, guys! Undercutting your colleagues in this way, especially when you’ve been recommended, is simply not on. And it won’t do you or the profession any good in the long run.)
The above situation is not the only one that might lead to you losing an agency’s business since they’re constantly bombarded with CVs and email messages from potential new language providers attempting to get their foot in the door. If they try out a new translator, they might find they like them better, especially if their quality and prices are an improvement on yours.
Twelfth. On the subject of rates, if yours are on the high side for the agency concerned, the standard of your work should, in their view, match the amount they’re paying. Many agencies will fork out more for complicated texts, but you have to make sure you deliver the quality they need and expect.
Thirteenth. You refuse to budge on your rate and negotiate. That’s fair enough. We are freelancers after all and can set our own terms. But sometimes an agency lands a project with a tight budget and needs to ask you to drop your rate or waive your minimum fee in this particular instance. Hopefully this type of situation won’t crop up too often, but if it does, the agency will remember those that helped out and reward them with more work. And those that didn’t might never be contacted again.
Fourteenth. You move from the agency’s country and they have a policy of only working with translators who live in the same country. When I returned to England from Spain a few years ago, some of my Spanish agency clients were reluctant to continue working with me.
Fifteenth. You go on maternity leave and find that your services are no longer required when you’re ready to work again. When my daughter was born, which was shortly before my move back here, I didn’t stop working completely for very long, only about three months. After that, I put in a few hours every day, which was enough to hold onto the clients I was most interested in keeping. Every baby is different, of course, but I found it was perfectly possible to sit at my desk when she was asleep and get a few jobs done.
Sixteenth and Seventeenth. The agency decides all their providers have to use a particular CAT tool (Trados or memoQ, etc.), regardless of any compatibility with the one you own, so they drop you if you don’t purchase the CAT in question.
Similarly, the agency might decide it’s going to use a cloud-based CAT tool and if you don’t want to feed their TMs rather than your own, you’ll be dumped pretty smartish.
Eighteenth. The agency decides it’s going to move down-market and follow the MT route and you refuse to do post-editing jobs.
Nineteenth. You don’t pay enough attention to marketing and the agency simply forgets you exist. Since some agencies might have only a few jobs every year for your language pair and specialisation, it’s important to remind them you’re still available by sending them messages periodically, especially if you have time on your hands in a trough period.
Twentieth. You don’t have an insurance policy. If this is a requirement, it’s usually stated in the NDA/contract you are asked to sign at the beginning of the relationship.
Twenty-first. Your translation contains a mistake that you notice after you’ve delivered the job, so you send it again. And then possibly again when you notice another error. This is not going to inspire the agency with confidence in your ability. And if they haven’t revised your work and have sent it off to the end client already, they could be put in an awkward position explaining why they’re now giving the client another version.
Twenty-second. You say something publicly on social media they don’t appreciate. This doesn’t even necessarily have to be about them or translation, since they may take exception to your views on politics, religion and also, in my case, climate change, environmental issues, animal welfare… That’s why many colleagues decide to keep their public social media feeds completely free of anything controversial and off-topic, which is fair enough and probably a wise choice.
However, you also need to watch what you say in closed groups as well, such as Things Translators Never Say, and Watercooler on Facebook (The League of Extraordinary Translators is public). You never know who is going to read your vocal complaint about an agency and report back. Sure, we all need to let off steam now and again and most of us don’t have the opportunity to pop down the pub with colleagues at the end of the day for a rant, so we do it online instead. But please try your best to ensure who you are talking about isn’t obvious if you want to keep the client.