There is a never-ending debate in the translation community about whether it’s good or not to work for LSPs (translation agencies). Sometimes, the opinions are so strong on the matter, that translators might feel discouraged to even apply to work with agencies. Having collaborated with LSPs for more than ten years, I think I have a clear picture now about what a successful collaboration should look like, about what to avoid and about how to recognize a good agency from the early stages of collaboration.
Instead of covering all the details about the relationship between a freelance translator and an LSP in a single long blog post, I will write a series of posts on the topic. In this first one, I want to point out several aspects about how a good LSP distinguishes from a bad one. I’ll start with:
The Bad Agency
The bad agency is not very concerned with quality — and don’t let the ISO label fool you, that is not necessarily a guarantee for quality (more on this here). It regards translations as a mere commodity and it generates profit from processing high volumes (without any added value provided to customers). This means that the rates it offers to freelancers are low — sometimes very low. The bad agency will most likely use machine translation and only require post-editing services from their linguists. And while MT has improved significantly over the years, if the quality of the input is bad (and it’s bound to be this way), the output will be equally bad.
You can also recognize a bad agency by how they address you in emails. If the email starts with ‘Hello’ or ‘Hello vendor/translator/expert’ (or even Hello [First name] [Last name]), it means that you are not the only recipient of the message. Your name has been pulled from a big database along with the name of at least one additional colleague with the same language combination. The project manager has no idea who you are and they are looking to assign the project to the first professional who replies. Upon following up with them, they might (just might) tell you that ‘unfortunately, the job has already been allocated to someone else. Better luck next time’… The word ‘luck’ in such a context is a clear indicator that you are collaborating with the wrong people. Luck has no place in the translation business.
Nowadays, agencies use various platforms to manage translation projects and they have even implemented marketplaces where linguists can bid for various projects. Needless to say that in such a context, the lowest bid will always get the job. But that’s not all. Many times, these platforms are confusing, require a lot of time to figure out, and even once you figure them out, understanding the instructions for a specific task require more time than the task itself! Throw a bad proprietary CAT tool in the mix, and you’ll have the full picture of what a translation management platform should NOT look like.
A bad agency is a place where PMs assign projects randomly and don’t care about translator retention. Since they aren’t concerned with quality, they will quickly find a replacement.
I saved the ‘best’ for last :). When confronted with complaints from idle translators who have not received work in a long while (and whose only seeming role is to fill up the vendor base), they jump at the occasion and ask them to lower their rates in order to increases their chances of being allocated projects in the future.
The Good Agency
Good agencies are always concerned with quality. They hand pick their translators and they take the time to actually study their profile or CV. They will even organize short interviews with candidates and they will clearly explain their process, tools and expectations.
A good agency will assign tasks for a certain account to the same team of translators in order to ensure consistency. PMs will learn your name and will actually know who you are and what you do. They will acknowledge that you are a human being and will make sure that you are happy with their way of work. They will give you proper heads-up before a project and they will negotiate a reasonable deadline. And if you’re lucky enough, you’ll even know the identity of the colleague who edits/revises your work. Also, they will ask you whether you agree with the edits before submitting the translation to the client.
A decent agency will be open to feedback and will appreciate additional comments on various issues from you. On the other hand, it will provide regular feedback on your work. If there are quality issues, it will try to find out the main reason and help you overcome difficulties.
Last, but not least, rates will be negotiated fairly and reasonably :).
One thing it is worth mentioning at the end of this post is that the first signs rarely lie. If an LSP seems bad, than it most probably is. So instead of giving a second, third or fourth chance, do yourself a favour and look for a replacement :).