Amazingly enough in this economy, my sense from the ATA conference is that most freelancers are very happy with their work volume and income levels. Especially as compared with the gloom and doom of the US economy (maybe even the world economy?), I think we’re doing quite well. 2011 has brought me as much work as I wanted and I’m happy with my income despite devoting a fair bit of time to the second edition of my book and my new webinar venture.
Still, low-paying agencies were a hot topic at the conference. Some freelancers feel that ATA should take a stand on this or somehow get involved (not likely to happen in any case), or that freelancers should come to some sort of consensus on how to handle these agencies. I don’t have the perfect answer, but here are some of my thoughts, and feel free to add your own:
- The best defense against low payers is simply to be too busy to even contemplate working with them. When I receive lowball inquiries from agencies, I either delete them without responding or respond and say “My minimum rate is X and I’m very busy at that rate, so I will have to decline. Please keep me in mind if you have any future projects with a larger budget.” Part of me feels that an agency looking for a professional translator for 6 cents a word doesn’t even deserve a response, while the other part of me feels that it’s a public service to communicate that professionals charge real money and that we are very busy dealing with clients who pay real money.
- There really is enough well-paying work to go around. Judy Jenner says this all the time, and I completely agree. There is more than enough well-paying work for all 2,000 people who were at the ATA conference and then some. Leave the low payers to their business model while you pursue yours: the market is there.
- Most translators charge what their work is worth. You know how every once in a while you have this horrible sinking fear that there are people out there charging a tiny fraction of what you charge and producing well-researched, beautifully-written translations delivered on or before deadline with a smile? Well, I would let go of that fear. As demonstrated by Chris Durban‘s “Mystery Shopper” experiment (described in her presentation at the ATA Translation Company Division conference), agencies that compete on price alone generally produce unusably lousy translations, using some combination of non-native speakers, people who aren’t actually professional translators, machine translation or all three.
- If you don’t want to deal with low payers, step away from the places they hang out. I’m not one to name names, but auction-style translation marketplaces are not the place to be if you want to earn real money. Instead, market to quality-conscious agencies: see my post on Using Payment Practices as a marketing tool for some ideas on how to do that.
- Don’t expect associations to get involved. It’s not really ATA’s place to disrupt the free market or set freelancers’ rates for them. Even if ATA were legally able to get involved in rates, who gets to decide what constitutes lowballing? If you currently work for 15 cents a word, 7 cents is lowballing. If you currently work for 45 cents a word, 30 cents is lowballing, and so on.
- Put your energy where it matters. I believe in fighting for what’s right, but you’re never going to put the Wal-Marts of translation out of business or convince them to quadruple what they pay their translators. So move on; let go. You know how they say that living well is the best revenge? Get your revenge on the lowball market by charging more than they will ever be able to!
In general, I can’t say that I spend a lot of time thinking about or dealing with the Wal-Marts of translation. They’re not my target market and I have more than enough work without them. Other thoughts?