This post and the next one were originally published in the Adventures in Freelance Translation blog, by Christos Floros, who kindly authorized this republication. I’ve divided the article into two parts to facilitate the podcast publication. This topic should be of interest to many translation clients—after all, a large number of them are translation agencies. Thanks again, Christos!
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
What makes a good translation company to work for, either as a freelancer or an in-house translator? This question comes to me from time to time, but I haven’t found the answer yet. An excellent presentation by Karen Tkaczyk at the 52nd ATA conference, entitled “How to make translators rave about your company,” made me think about this a bit more. After taking into account my experience with translation agencies, I compiled my 10-point wish list regarding the ideal company I would like to work for.
1) Educate the end client
There are times when the translator is a point of reference for the language s/he translates into. The professional translator who specializes in a certain field is expected to have good knowledge of the language, slang/idioms, culture, field, etc. Sometimes the end client asks for something that cannot be delivered, for example, to fit a slogan translated into Greek in the same space as the original in English. If I inform the agency that it cannot be done without “chopping” the translation beyond recognition, I expect the project manager (PM) to pass this information to the end client. I have occasionally heard a lot of excuses from PMs, or even agency owners, as to why they don’t want to do that: they are afraid that they may lose the client; they don’t want to “upset the client”; they’ll take it up with them at a later stage (coded response for “not in this lifetime”); they’re willing to find someone else who’ll follow the client’s instructions and won’t mind shortening the target text, et cetera, et cetera. Few translation agencies bother to properly educate clients and explain why their instructions sometimes may jeopardize the quality of the translations.
2) Aim for a good margin of profit without squeezing the translator for all s/he’s worth
I totally understand that profit is a main concern for every company (and for freelancers, for that matter). What I don’t understand is why so many translation companies choose to make low bids in order to win the contract and then expect to balance the loss by squeezing the translator. I’ve come across agencies in Europe that advertise their services online in a specific area (such as gambling & gaming) and offer extremely low rates to the end client. It is highly unlikely that the agency will be able to cover the rates of a specialized translator.
3) Know your subject areas
In the same area in which I specialize (gambling & gaming), I’ve come across agencies that have no knowledge of either gambling or gaming. In these cases, a lot of specific questions were left unanswered because the PMs didn’t know what I was talking about. They also wanted to hide their ignorance from the client, so I was left in the dark more than once. Their usual reply was to search the term in Wikipedia… What’s the point of advertising that your agency is the leading specialized provider in poker translation if your sales people (i.e. PMs) don’t know anything about poker?
4) Be technology savvy
Don’t laugh, but I’ve also come across translation agencies that insisted on using Trados without knowing what Trados is! I got suspicious after a few technical questions and some irregularities. For example, they had no idea of ini files that are needed in order to open .html or .xml files through Tag Editor. Another time, they sent me a 100-word MS Word document for translation. My translation memory (TM) showed 0 no matches, 50 reps, and 20 fuzzy matches. They paid me for 70 new words and 20 reps (no idea how they calculated that). One of the advantages of any TM software, especially to translation agencies, is cutting the cost for repetitions, but there is no point in asking for something that you don’t know how to use.
5) Pay on time
Good relationships are based on honesty. I am more than willing to accept (or consider accepting) longer payment terms if the agency informs me beforehand. If they claim that they have a 30-day policy and pay me after 90 days, something is wrong. If they have the same 30-day policy and pay me in 10 days, I’ll be more willing to work for them in the future. It’s as simple as that. Yet more and more agencies blame the “economic climate” and delay their payments…