Tips on How to Better Connect with your Freelancers
By: Jill Sommer (Freelance Translator)
15 March 2012
Jill Sommer takes the freelancer's perspective on working with translation agencies. She shares advice for agencies on how to create lasting and fruitful relationships with translators.
Despite a recent push by many freelance translators to market to direct clients, many freelancers still appreciate working with translation agencies. Even though I earn a lower word rate, I prefer working with agencies for several reasons. First of all, I'd rather spend the time translating than contacting companies. Agencies provide a buffer between the end client and me, which means less effort educating the client. A good agency handles the logistics, makes sure the text I’ve delivered is even better thanks to the skills of a good editor, and collects payments from the client, freeing me to spend my time doing what I do best. Working for agencies also ensures that I can go on vacation and not worry about losing a client. Agencies have a database of translators from which to choose. If I have built up a good relationship with them, they simply call me once I am available again.
Being an overworked translator, I worked with about 30 clients last year. Some of my clients are amazing to work for and I look forward to a long and successful collaboration, while some I have no interest in working with again. Among agency employees and freelancers, there are both good and bad businesspeople. What makes a translation company good to work with, either as a freelancer or an in-house translator? Here are some best practices for working with translators that will make your agency stand out and make your translators rave about working with you.
- Treat your translators with respect. The ideal translation agency remains friendly at all times and establishes a relationship with its translators. My favorite project managers always confirm receipt of the translation and the invoice. They respond quickly to questions and contact the end client on behalf of the translator when needed. If you treat your translators with respect, they will respond in kind. You will find that your translators will be more willing to accept last-minute jobs, learn new software, put up with challenging clients, etc. because they are treated with respect and know they will be paid fairly and quickly.
- Personalize e-mail. When contacting translators with a job request, please try to refrain from sending mass e-mails. I am more likely to consider a translation job that is sent to me with an e-mail beginning with “Hi Jill” than I am “To whom it may concern” or “Dear translator.” I have learned that jobs that are sent en masse are usually no longer available because someone is inevitably faster than me, so I no longer bother responding (or even worse logging on to a website to find the job gone). In fact, my favorite client sends me a job request to me and me alone and will sometimes call me on the phone if I haven’t responded to an e-mail within a half hour.
- Limit paperwork. I have found that agencies with the most paperwork are often the most difficult to work with. You may lose a great translator because they don’t have several hours to spend reading and filling out documents. Plus, this paperwork is often heavy-handed and has excessive demands. In terms of legal documents, I have nothing against signing non-disclosure agreements, but I am often surprised to receive NDAs adapted from other industries that contain clauses that do not apply to our field or may be detrimental to the translator’s interests. The ATA's website will soon feature a new "Guide to a Translation Services Agreement" that has been drawn up by freelancers and agency representatives. When it is published I urge you all to read it.
- Pay us what we are worth. I know times are difficult, but the translation industry seems to be fairly recession-proof. Many of my colleagues have reported no drop in demand in the past few years, and some have even reported turning down work because they simply can’t handle any more jobs. We are busy at our usual rates, so it doesn’t make sense to work more (i.e., work overtime) at a lower rate and turn down better paying jobs. Translation is not a commodity. I understand the clients are putting pressure on to lower budgets, but this should not be at the expense of the translator. Find other ways to save money for your client through project management, better technology, or improved systems.
- Pay us on time – and if you want your translators to really love you, pay early when possible. My colleagues and I are more than willing to accept longer payment terms if you notify us ahead of time. If you have a 30-day payment policy and pay me after 60 or even 90 days, I will not be willing to work with you again and will be “unavailable” when you contact me again. On the other hand, if you have a 30-day policy and pay me in 10 days, I will be more willing to work for you again and might even consider accepting a lower word rate.
- Don’t make unreasonable promises to your clients. Many agencies have salespeople who promise the moon, and the project managers and translators have to suffer for it. Don’t accept a 10,000 word job and expect to be able to deliver it the next day. Translators are not machines that spit out words. We enjoy finding the perfect word, and sometimes that involves a little research. A translator can generally translate between 2,000 and 3,000 words a day. If you insist on breaking up a 10,000 word job among four or five translators, quality will inevitably suffer and the terminology will not be consistent.
- Make sure your project managers know what they are doing and that they don’t farm off some of their work to the translator. I can’t tell you how many times project managers have expected me to give them the word counts for a quote. Project managers should be able to contact the translator with a word count already in hand. They should also know not rely on word counts in Word or Trados analyses since the word counts can be flawed. A tool like Practicount or AnyCount can be invaluable. Also, despite my efforts to rectify this by presenting at the ATA conference, many translators don’t know how to OCR a document, so having a properly formatted document that has been carefully spellchecked to ensure incorrectly scanned artifacts have been corrected can really make a translator appreciate working for your company.
- Do be technologically savvy. Do not insist that translators use a specific tool. As freelancers we are free to choose the tools we work with. If you insist a translator use a certain tool then your company should pay for the license. One of my clients provides me with a free license to their tool, and I never say no when they call. In this age of tmx files and interchangeable formats there is no reason why an agency should insist on receiving a file that has been translated in Trados when the translator can just as easily have used MemoQ or Déjà Vu. Agencies should also at least know how the major tools work and ideally know how to use the tool features properly. At a minimum the project manager should make sure the TM they have sent is for the correct language pair. This happened to a colleague recently. She was supposed to translate a text from English into German and was sent an English-Chinese TM. Unfortunately, the German office was closed to celebrate Karneval…
- Allow your translators and editors to communicate on projects. My favorite clients send me the edited text so that I can accept or reject the changes. If your translators can communicate with your editor it ensures you will receive the best possible translation.
- Be willing to defend the translator. Sometimes a client will have negative feedback on the quality of the translation they received. The negative feedback may be stylistic changes and not true errors on the part of the translator. In my experience, it’s more often the client that makes mistakes rather than the translator. In many cases the client may have passed off a translated text to someone in their office who “studied X in college” and the result is a list of changes that make little sense. I’ve also seen clients unjustly complain to try to lower the price or avoid paying altogether. In the event of negative feedback, the ideal course of action would be to complete a third party review, to politely ask the translator on the issue and then to provide feedback on the client in order to clarify the situation.
- Inform your translator of the intended purpose and audience for the translation. There is a world of difference between a translation intended for doctors and one for patients in a clinical trial. By keeping lines of communication open you can ensure you will receive a text in the proper register and your client will be happy.
- Communicate effectively in English. The quality of the English in some of the correspondence I receive is very poor (to put it nicely). Spelling and grammar mistakes in professional e-mails just don’t look good. Especially if they are directed to translators, as their eyes are trained to immediately spot errors. I realize many project managers do not have English as their native language, but if I receive an e-mail that is rife with spelling errors and typos, I may think it is from a scam artist and delete it without responding.
If you follow these simple suggestions, your translators will be happy to hear from you. After all, we are a team, and our shared goal is to deliver translations that make our clients happy. Here is to more mutual success in the future!
Jill R. Sommer is a full-time, freelance German→English translator. She received her M.A. in German translation from Kent State University in 1995 and lived and worked as a freelancer in Bonn, Germany for six years. Her resume includes stints as an FBI contract linguist and an adjunct instructor at Kent State University. She has regularly presented at ATA conferences since 2002 and is the blogger behind Musings from an overworked translator (http://translationmusings.com). Contact: [email protected]