Reader question: how do I find good agencies to apply to?

A reader asks: I’d like to apply to more translation agencies, but how do I find good agencies to apply to?

This question applies to a lot of people who want to work with agencies, so let’s talk about it. There are various online databases of translation agencies; for example I launched my freelance business back when ATA still mailed every member a paper membership directory, like a phone book for the translation industry. I opened it to the agencies section, started at A, and applied to a couple of agencies every day. By the time I had gotten to M or so, work started coming in from the As and Bs. It was a spaghetti-against-the-wall system, but it worked. But many translators want to know how to find good agencies to apply to. This is important, and tricky, because you can’t just Google “high-quality translation agencies” or “agencies that will treat me like a professional and value my work.”

If you’d like to pursue a less spaghetti-against-the-wall system, you could use the system I used, but with some improvements. Resources like the ATA directory are great for finding a heap of agencies, but you need to vet them somehow, to determine a) whether they’re hiring new translators, b) whether you fit what the agency is looking for and c) whether the agency is credit-worthy. So, you could:

  1. Use a resource like the ATA directory to find agencies’ names and websites
  2. Never contact the agency directly by using the contact information in the directory (don’t e-mail the person whose e-mail address is there, because it’s often a violation of public directories’ use policies to use them for marketing purposes)
  3. Take a look at the agency’s website: are they hiring freelancers, and do you fit what they might need? If it’s a financial translation agency and you do IT and patents, move on.
  4. If the agency seems like a potentially good fit, then check their creditworthiness. Because when you do a job for an agency without being paid in advance, you are extending credit. My favorite translation agency rating service is Payment Practices (not an affiliate deal, I just love them). A subscription is $19.99 per year, and you can get 25% off and a 7-day free trial through the ATA member-to-member program. Other potential resources are the ProZ Blue Board (some access with the free ProZ membership; full access requires the paying membership or payment with ProZ points), or various industry blacklists (I won’t list those here because I don’t use them and thus can’t vouch for their trustworthiness, but they’re easy to find on Google).
  5. If the agency is hiring, looks like a potentially good fit and is creditworthy, then visit the agency’s website and apply to them. Most agencies now use online forms or even an online vendor management portal, but some still use a dedicated e-mail address where you send your resume.

Or, especially if you want to target agencies in a specific geographic area, you can start with a database like Payment Practices. For example you could search only for agencies in Switzerland, or Boston, or Florida, that are rated 4.0 or higher in both of the categories that Payment Practices rates. Again, do not use the agency’s direct contact information as you find it on Payment Practices; go to the agency’s website and use the application information that’s there.

A few other potential ways to find better-quality agencies to apply to:

  1. Ask translators who work in a different language pair or specialization than you do. Approaching people whose profile is relatively similar to yours is always tricky, because it looks like you might poach their clients. But if you translate German, ask some French translators; if you do legal translation, ask some medical translators (as long as the agencies aren’t medical-only).
  2. Ask translators who work primarily or exclusively for direct clients: what agencies have they heard good things about? If these translators don’t actively apply to agencies any more, or if they charge more than most agencies will pay, they’re not likely to view you as competition.
  3. Look at agencies that exhibit or present at industry conferences. You still want to check them out on a site like Payment Practices, but this is an indication that the agency could be good to work for.

If you’re interested in what happens after you do this marketing campaign and get some bites from good agencies, check out our Speaking of Translation podcast, Insider tips for working with translation agencies.

Readers, any other thoughts on finding quality agencies?

12 Responses to “Reader question: how do I find good agencies to apply to?”
  1. patriciafierroc February 16, 2015
  2. astrid February 16, 2015
  3. Nathalie Reis February 16, 2015
  4. Michelle R February 17, 2015
    • Corinne McKay February 17, 2015
      • Michelle R February 17, 2015
      • Michelle R February 25, 2015
  5. Katrin A. February 18, 2015
  6. Beatrice Hendon February 19, 2015
  7. Natalie February 26, 2015

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