Make Working with Agencies Work for You

Photo Credit: PexelsTwo great blog posts this past week, one by Corinne McKay over at Thoughts on Translation called Accepting the constraints of the market(s) you’re in and one on the ATA’s Savvy Newcomer blog entitled Tips on Getting and Keeping Agency Clients, inspired me to share my experiences working at and with translation agencies.

I started my career in translation as a project manager at a very large, very well-known translation company. I worked up to the position of team lead before I left in 2013 to start my own business. I worked regularly with dozens of translators all over the world and in language pairs that many have never heard of (Telugu and Tuvaluan, anybody?). I also learned invaluable lessons about the translation industry by getting my foot in the door at a large LSP. Here are my biggest tips for having an effective working relationship with agencies.

Master the Technology

Some, if not all, agencies use one CAT tool or another. The largest agencies even have proprietary versions that they may require you to use. If you aren’t using a CAT tool at all yet, you may want to consider it for the host of benefits they provide, but to work effectively with agencies, you have to be highly proficient in at least one. Some agencies also use automated project management platforms and invoice submission systems, encryption software, remote translation memories, and collaborative teams of translators. Being more than just comfortable with the latest technology is an absolute must.

Get Past the Impersonality

Project managers are more stressed out than ever. As Corinne correctly points out, agencies have volume, and lots of it. That means that PMs are sometimes trying to place dozens of jobs in one day and might send mass broadcast emails out to every translator in the company’s database. When I was managing projects, this was only acceptable in emergency situations, but for some agencies, it’s the norm.

How can you get past this? As Tony Guerra in the Savvy Newcomer correctly instructs, cultivate the relationship. Become the preferred translator for a couple of PMs by being responsive, communicative, and reliable. PMs will come back if they know they can count on you. By treating PMs as you would direct clients (sharing personal stories, achievements, and employing a customer-oriented mindset), you will endear yourself to them and ensure they contact you before they contact anyone else.

Get Past the Urgency

Project managers are working in a fast-paced environment. Agencies’ clients are often billion-dollar multi-nationals who want their projects yesterday but won’t submit them until tomorrow. Corinne makes an excellent point throughout her post (and in the very title of it) that translators need to accept the constraints of the markets they are in. With agency requests, even if you are the number one choice for a project, the job will usually be placed within 30 minutes. Some projects are gone after just a few minutes. What’s more, the deadlines are often next-day for anything under 2,000 words. If you are a part-time translator who is less available or if you get particularly stressed under pressure, some agencies might not be the best fit for you.

Don’t Take Offense

Agencies are businesses. They have done their market research and competitive analyses, set their customer and vendor rates accordingly, and are simply trying to turn a profit and maintain a competitive advantage in this ever-growing industry. The PMs that are responsible for allocating projects are following internal company policies on vendor relations and required markups. Many of them know what it takes to be a good translator because they have backgrounds in translation, like I did. Very few of them believe that translators are just document-transforming robots churning out thousands of words a day for pennies. They, like you, are simply trying to make a living.

I remind myself every day that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. For example, I have received mass emails where the PM forgot to BCC his translators and contacted over 100 people (!) with one message. While it may be tempting (and satisfying) to send a snarky reply (particularly if you do not rely on that PM or agency for much work), it’s best to ignore it. PMs, like us, are just trying to do their jobs, and professionalism is a two-way street. I personally just don’t respond to messages that don’t start with my name.

Moreover, PMs are also working within set budgets. They are not offering you what they think you are worth, they are offering what their end client has made available to them. It’s easy to feel like you’re getting lowballed and respond accordingly, but a simple, polite reply will be much more effective in building your reputation as a professional. Try something like: “Thank you so much for your message. My rate for this kind of project is [rate]. I look forward to working with you should your budget allow it. Have a great day!”

I could go on and on, but if you keep the above in mind, you will be well on your way to building effective and mutually beneficial relationships with agencies.

Do you have any other tips for working with agencies? Please leave a comment or join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtags #xl8 and #t9n.

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