Three of the most popular posts on my blog over the years have explored the relationship between translators and agencies: ‘18 reasons why an agency might stop working with you’; its sequel, based on feedback on the original post, ‘22 more reasons why an agency might stop working with you’; and a post looking at this relationship from the opposite perspective, ‘Thirteenish reasons why you might stop working for an agency’.
Today’s post is a sequel to the latter based on comments made on the original post, my own experience and opinions I have read in forums or discussed with colleagues in person.
1. The PM asks you to translate sentences for free as a favour.
Never ever get fooled into thinking that ‘it’s just a few easy words’. If it’s marketing material/transcreation, a few words could take you ages. Even adding some extra words to a text you have already translated can be time-consuming because the additions can affect your choice of phrasing and terminology in the sentences/paragraphs around it. CAT tools segmenting documents and machine translation focusing on one sentence at a time don’t consider the whole and that’s where we come in, ensuring it all makes sense.
2. The PM asks you to produce a quote for them, which they then use to send on to their client. This can involve analysing several files to work out the number of words and feasible deadline.
Agencies should be providing this service themselves, not skirting their responsibilities by getting one of their freelancers to do it for them. In my earlier days as a translator, I used to fall into this trap quite a lot, believing it was part of my job and, consequently, I’ve wasted hours of my time quoting for jobs I never received.
Of course, giving agencies some freebies every now and then can be a good way of standing out from the crowd and building a long-term relationship, which can be highly beneficial. You just need to strike a healthy balance between being helpful and being exploited. Hours of DTP or producing glossaries are not included in a normal translation rate and should be charged for separately (see Nancy Matis’s guest post for more ideas on extra charges).
3. The agency only uses you to land a client’s ongoing business (perhaps even using the quote you produced!) and then they switch to a cheaper provider, so you get none of the promised volume, but do sometimes have to clean up the resulting mess (I mentioned revising mediocre translations in the previous post).
4. Incompatibility with their revisers (most people call these proofreaders, although that actually refers to a different job, see here), who like throwing out comments such as ‘you’ve used Google Translate’, when you quite obviously haven’t, or ‘this is the worst translation I’ve ever seen’, when most of the changes are preferential.
5. On the other hand, some clients demand a more literal style that you might refuse to deliver out of principle.
6. The agency doesn’t revise your work or doesn’t send you a copy of the revisions. Given that one of the best ways to improve our craft is by receiving feedback, being left entirely in the dark about our translations is deeply unsatisfactory and gets us nowhere.
7. When you are the reviser, they just want you to check grammar and spelling to make the process quicker and cheaper, but as the sentences don’t make much sense in your language to start with, focusing on these aspects alone is frustratingly impossible.
8. The agency seems to specialise in promising end clients the impossible and large texts are split among several translators so the translation can be completed in days rather than weeks. And that’s just not your cup of tea because you just cannot fathom how everyone involved is going to translate key terms the same way, let alone stomach the clash in styles or the fact that quality will go out the window.
Perhaps I’m getting old, but I cannot bear the stress involved in rush jobs anymore and generally refuse them even if I’m not busy, unless, of course, an extra fee is paid for the urgency and I can easily fit it into my schedule.
9. You find the texts the agency sends clash with your morals and beliefs. Not everyone makes a stand like this, but if you have strong views about religion, politics, experiments on animals, warfare, and so on, you could find yourself refusing a number of jobs.
I hardly ever translate menus these days, despite offering tourism translations, because I find researching meat products distasteful (as an eggetarian). And I am especially against foie gras (due to the abusive treatment of the ducks and geese before they are killed), which seems to creep into many high-end Spanish dishes.
10. The type of work they offer bores you. For example, they only send you the tests of other translators to evaluate, or only revisions and you’d rather get your teeth properly into a text and translate it, or other clients simply send more high-calibre stuff your way.
11. Suddenly the end client cancels after you’ve started the job and the agency refuses to pay you for the work you’ve already done. Once you’ve started work on a translation, you should always submit the proportion you have translated, even if it isn’t the final polished product, and be paid for it.
12. The client’s standard terms of payment are more than 30 days. Many agencies have established fixed procedures for when invoices can be submitted to their accountant and paid. As annoying as this is, an agency that has these in place is unlikely to be willing or find it easy to change their system to accommodate a shorter payment period.
13. The agency switches to a first-come, first-served system by sending out an email to all their freelancers working in that pair and specialisation and giving the job to the first to respond. This might be convenient for the agency, but it’s not going to endear them to their service providers.
14. Or, similarly, the agency switches to posting jobs on their online platform and gives them to the lowest bidder.
15. You find it difficult to understand their job instructions because they don’t write clearly and/or succinctly and this can lead to problems with the final translation and end-client satisfaction.
I’m sure you all have your own reasons for dumping agencies and I look forward to hearing your stories.