7 benefits of working with a translation agency

Working for direct clients is what most freelance translator’s dream of. Freelancers new to the industry aspire for their first direct client. Doing away with the middleman and earning in full what the client is willing to pay seems like a very lucrative prospect. Or is it? Getting a testimonial from a direct client can pave the way for more work from similar clients in future. But what’s the reality like? Why doesn’t every freelancer work only with direct clients? Why do translation agencies run and flourish? Let us see why.

  1. Direct clients might not understand what the translation process involves

The biggest hurdle you will meet is probably the fact that your direct client is not a translator. He does not understand what is involved in the translation process. He is not likely to understand the pros and cons of different file formats. He probably has never heard of a CAT. You will spend many hours trying to explain why a certain format is best suited for a job or why there would be additional time and expense involved in these additional steps in the workflow.

When you deal with an agency, these issues are minimized. They handle these awkward, often uncomfortable, situations for you. Since they are in tune with the technical aspects of translation, it is likely that they will send you the job in a format which is mutually acceptable and easier for you to handle. Also, if you happen to use the same CAT as your agency, that would be even better. In fact, most agencies insist that you do that.

  1. Fewer distractions when you translate

Translation is an engrossing process and calls for a great deal of concentration. When you are the person handling the business end of affairs, you will have no option but to handle all your client’s queries. These questions often enough, seem ridiculous to a professional and is nothing but a distraction from the job at hand and a sheer wastage of time. These are handled by the agency leaving you free to do what you do best.

I remember one of my direct clients, a large manufacturer of medical equipment; spending over an hour with me on Skype trying to understand why certain words and phrases suggested by Google translate and Microsoft translator are not the best of fits. In situations like this, I feel the agency’s function as a buffer is invaluable.

  1. A steadier flow of translation jobs

You can expect a continued flow of work for a longer period of time from agencies than direct clients. A direct client will let you work only on what they have to offer but an agency will be able to provide you with work obtained from multiple sources. My experiences have shown me that my association with agencies is significantly longer than with direct clients. If you work with direct clients alone, you continuously need to be on your toes looking for new clients and invest time and money in your marketing efforts. But after the initial hunt, once you have been successful in tying up with a few agencies that provide you with regular work, you can afford a not so vigorous approach towards marketing. To me, a steady flow of work that minimizes the uncertainty of not knowing where your next job is going to come from justifies the lower rates that an agency offers in comparison to a direct client.

  1. Related support after translation at no extra cost

If you work with an agency, your work will be proofread before delivery. The agency will probably assign your work to someone to be proofread and reviewed before it is delivered to the client. Any minor changes or edits that may be needed usually gets handled by the agency. When working with a direct client, the responsibility of doing these things lies entirely with you.

  1. Comparatively lesser time and efforts needed for marketing

When you consider the time and expenses involved in your marketing efforts in finding direct clients, you will probably feel satisfied with the modest rates an agency offers you. Most of the usual avenues of marketing yourself, like maintaining a website, running a blog, attending conferences, email marketing, search engine optimizing, forum postings and a few others, are all time intensive activities. In fact, in today’s competitive world, the amount of effort you ideally need to put in can be a full-time job in itself. As a freelancer running a one-man show, you will be faced with the dilemma as to how to run your marketing efforts simultaneously with your actual job, which is translating. For beginners to freelance translating, this can prove to be a real challenge after they find their first client(s). It is very important to understand that unless you have spent many years in the industry and have a large clientele, you cannot afford not to market yourself continuously. Now, you need to do most of these things even to get your first agency clients, but once you do, you can afford not to run so aggressive a marketing campaign. I strike a balance between marketing and translating by applying myself during the brief lulls between jobs to my marketing efforts. But if it is direct clients you are after, vigorous marketing has to be a continuous process, at least during the first few years.

  1. Putting your area of specialization in translation to good use

Working for agencies gives you the chance to concentrate your work on your fields of specialization and therefore be more productive. The agency you work for knows what you excel at and assigns work accordingly (more often than not). Whereas, when you work with a direct client, it is likely that you will be required to work on a number of different domains within the same project. For example, a direct client involved in running a manufacturing unit might ask you to work on technical manuals, product literature, guarantee/warranty terms and conditions, all within the same project. An agency with more resources at its disposal is likely to find and assign the work of a certain domain to the right person with a specialization in that particular domain.

  1. The negotiation process is faster and more streamlined

When you deal with an agency the negotiations and onboarding process is a breeze. Well, you might get a bit dazed filling out those seemingly endless forms some have on their websites, and the tests some ask you to take, but you need to take that with a pinch of salt. The agency understands the job at hand and how it needs to be done. They have a clear idea of what they expect from you and also how much they are willing to pay for that. So, if you fit the bill, negotiations happen fast. They either take you on if they can afford you or let you go promptly so you are free to look for the next prospect. Unfortunately, when you are dealing with a direct client things are usually different. Some, mostly the big ones, might have a dedicated press/printing department where they have people who understand the entire process of printing and publishing on different media, if not of translation. Negotiations there are somewhat easier. However, in most cases, you negotiate with people who understand nothing of what is involved and end up spending endless hours explaining and negotiating for each and every component of the job. Even then, it might take them days to make up their mind and more often than not, you might get to hear that they do not want to get translated after all because they did not foresee the hassles and cost involved with the process. This is a very stressful experience and takes up a lot of time, anyone who has undergone this would tell you. When you work for an agency, they act as a buffer between you and the end client so you can get down and dirty with the job at hand and need not concern yourself with anything else. Negotiating rates and terms of their contract are an important job for the translator. You can read this post by Tom Ewer, it is as relevant today as it was the day it was written.

So, the advantages that an agency offers are significant and cannot be overlooked. Now, whether that justifies the reduction in earnings is for individual translators to decide. If the translator is as skilled at online marketing as he is in translating and can afford the time and has the mindset to put up with the distractions involved in dealing with direct clients, he might as well go in for them. Others, like me, who are not as skilled in these arts, prefer to deal primarily with agencies. Any direct clients I have worked with have found me through my profile on various translation portals or through my website. I have never marketed myself to them actively. I guess the right kind of clientele would be to have a mix of both agencies and direct clients with the scales tilted in favor of agencies. Marketing efforts should also be planned accordingly.