Whether to work with direct clients, translation agencies or both is a personal and business decision. I work with both types of clients and I feel that this mix keeps my work volume and income up while giving me a wide range of projects to choose from. Paula Dieli’s blog has an insightful interview with Peter Berends, the primary translator recruiter at LUZ, Inc. (a medical translation company). It’s well worth a read if you’re looking for agency clients. Here are some additional tips, and feel free to add your own!
- Target your marketing. As Peter comments in the interview, there’s no bigger turnoff than a generic, carbon-copied e-mail asking for work. The more personalized your e-mail is, the better. For example, something like “Your agency’s focus on the translation of annual reports caught my eye; during the 2010 annual report season I translated all or part of five companies’ annual reports and I would love to help you with similar types of projects” is much more attention-grabbing than “Dear Sir or Madam, I would like to offer you my services.”
- Don’t lump all agencies together. Yes, in general agencies pay less than direct clients and also add a middle layer between the translator and the client (which can be a plus or a minus depending on the project and the client). However, top-quality agencies pay respectably and can save you some of the administrative overhead that comes with working for direct clients. Just as in every other business sector, there are agencies that operate on the Wal-Mart model and agencies that operate on the Mercedes-Benz model.
- Charge real money and earn it. I think that a lot of translators eschew the agency market because they think it’s all 8 cents a word and 5,000 words for tomorrow. Insider tip: it’s not. I think that quality-conscious agencies know that quality-conscious translators save them money because their work needs less editing and they help keep the agency’s own clients coming back. Give some metrics of your quality: you proofread a hard copy of every translation (no missing text, no untranslated text); you compile a list of queries and send them all at once, allowing time to get the queries resolved before the deadline (no endless stream of e-mails to the already-busy PM, no file submitted right at the deadline with queries still outstanding); you always meet or beat your deadlines (no stressed-out PM having to make excuses to the end client).
- Focus on high-margin projects. For example if you actively seek out projects on which you can produce 500 finished words per hour and you charge 15 cents per word, you’re earning $75 per hour. I think that it’s also fine to let your agency clients know that you are most interested in medium to large projects, for example $500 or more. High-margin projects can also come in unexpected places, as I described in a previous post about translating official documents. Each invoice might be small, but on most official document translations I make at least 50 cents per word.
- Use the objective data that is available to you. Don’t market to agencies as if you’re throwing spaghetti against a wall; pick some agencies that mesh with your business goals and market just to them. For example, search the Payment Practices database for agencies that are rated highly by other translators.
- In general, target small and medium agencies. Not every big agency is a sweatshop, but I think that in general, large agencies are geared toward the high volume, low margin market. In addition, you’re more likely to find small and medium agencies that work primarily or exclusively in your specializations.