I have absolutely no problem admitting that in addition to direct clients, I also work with boutique agencies. I’m a firm believer in cooperative competitiveness and as a freelancer-turned-boutique-business owner, I’m happy to cooperate with other firms and agencies when they need experts in my field and language pairs, provided they are willing to honor my fees and other terms and conditions. I don’t decline work from agencies on principle alone, I don’t see all agencies as bad guys, and I certainly don’t share the view that if you’re cooperating with agencies you have failed miserably in translation. Success is subjective, everybody’s situation and choices are different and, as long as you’re not working for bottom feeders, competing on substandard fees, or otherwise lowering the bar for us all, then to each his own.
That being said, what I do stay clear from are the knights of low-end translation. You know the type: substandard fees, questionable NDAs, PMs that greet you with “Dear Linguist” and then fail to provide any pertinent information about the job at hand, etc. So when I get approached by agencies I hear them out; unless of course I pick up on signs that I’m talking to a leech. How do I know? Here are some telltale signs:
1) Fishy Phrasing
Just last week, I was approached by an agency I had never heard of before and who (rather unstrategically) opened with this: “We’re having a hard time finding Spanish translators.” Now I don’t know exactly how many Spanish translators there are out there, but I “know of” (virtually) hundreds of qualified Spanish translators. So this seemed odd, at best. Then I Blueboarded them and unsurprisingly found they had a 2.5 BB rating with dozens of complaints for non-payment. In fact, they had been banned from posting jobs on Proz altogether. Banned… from Proz! [Insert Sarcasm Here]
2) Inefficient Recruitment Processes
Efficiency is one of my favorite words. What’s efficient? What’s not? How do you measure efficiency? Well, there are ways to measure efficiency but they require the sort of human and intellectual resources that bottom feeders lack. Hence, why they send out mass emails to people whose online profiles meet certain basic and superfluous search criteria that say little or nothing about whether or not they are right for the job. You pick up on this when you read their e-mails and find yourself thinking things like, “It’s Paula, Mr. Arturo’s my father,” or “No, Chinese tractor manuals are not my area of specialization, I’m a Spanish speaking lawyer-linguist. Did you even bother to read my profile before spamming me?”
3) Asking for “best rates”
First of all, I’m a professional, so I charge fees, not rates. Last I checked, translation was not a commodity good. Second, if you (Mr. Two-Bit Leech) were seeking my legal counsel instead of my translation service, would you even dare ask me for my “best” fee? I didn’t think so! So how is translation different from any other professional service? Third, if by “best” fees you mean my lowest fees, what are you offering in return? Which brings me to number four…
4) Promising more work at lower fees (seriosly?!?!)
Your “best” fee in exchange for the promise of tons of work. Here’s the thing: why would I work 40 hours a week to earn X at a two-bit agency’s “best” fees if I can earn X in 20 hours with my other clients at my regular fees? The two-bit agency’s logic, of course, feeds on the desperation of those who don’t have other clients to keep them busy at higher fees; but even in that scenario, the rational choice for freelancers is still to turn down bottom feeders and go out and get better clients at higher fees instead of feeding a leech that will drain every minute of their day (which, by the way, could otherwise be used for marketing, CPD, and other activities that increase the value of their service). For excellent arguments against leech mentality, check out Corinne McKay’s post and comments to her post. For an existentialist argument against translating for peanuts, check out my somewhat philosophical post.
5. “Learn Language for Free While Helping to Translate” (Or Similar Scams)
No, it’s not a joke. There really are some bottom feeders out there convincing people to translate for peanuts + second language acquisition at the same time. Lucky us?! When a friend brought this to my attention, at first I didn’t believe her. I had to see it for myself. So I searched online and there, undermining the entire profession was a shameless post that read: “Learn Language for Free While Helping to Translate.”