The freelancer-large agency relationship is often an ambivalent one. On the one hand, the industry behemoths can provide a steady flow of work, which is a good thing if you have bills to pay. On the other hand, larger also means more layers of organization, so the people you talk to don’t have the authority to make decisions, and the people who do tend to be well-protected behind the organizational line of scrimmage. Plus some of them don’t pay a lot. When I first started translating I didn’t realize this was an issue, because I was happy to have work at all and I jumped on every job offer, no questions asked (which, in hindsight, I don’t recommend).
But at a certain point I realized that the rates I was agreeing to were on the low end of the scale, and that there were many people with similar skills and experience who were successfully negotiating (much) higher rates. So the next time I traveled to the Netherlands I made an appointment with the senior project manager of one particular large, ubiquitous agency. I primarily wanted to introduce myself in person and build on the e-mail rapport we had established, but I intended to bring up the rate issue as well. So after a wonderful chat over coffee I launched into “oh by the way, before I go…” and nervously gave my spiel. The atmosphere became acutely uncomfortable as the project manager explained that he didn’t recommend such a move and that the best he could do was give me the e-mail address of the vendor manager — who, in response to my subsequent e-mail, flat-out refused to raise my rate.
It was hugely disappointing, but also a much-needed wake-up call. I decided it was time to get me some better clients. I got my ATA certification, hired a designer to create a website, and became active on social media to connect with colleagues and potential clients. It was a gradual process, but one day the tipping point came and I had enough higher-paying clients to drop the McAgency altogether. It felt as good as paying off a huge visa bill.
Most of the agencies I work with now are specialized boutique firms, and I love the informal, professional interaction without the layers and layers of bubble-wrap. A few are larger agencies, though, and one in particular sends me a lot of work. When I signed up with them I gave them my rate in dollars, but they paid me in euros. This was fine as long as the exchange rate was stable, but over the past year the euro has been dropping steadily, and last week I realized that the per-word rate on my work orders was actually 2 cents lower than I had initially contracted for.
So here I was once again, I thought, faced with the daunting task of squeezing an extra few cents out of a large-agency bureaucracy. I dug up the e-mail of the person who recruited me two years ago and sent him a carefully composed e-mail explaining the situation and asking for an adjustment, halfway expecting another sad break-up.
Imagine my surprise when I immediately received the following response:
Nice to hear you enjoy the cooperation and are happy with the projects. The feeling is mutual J. It’s really all up to you to decide on your own rates. Translators change their rates all the time, depending on new exchange rates, need for work, increased ability to provide qualitatively high standard translations etc. etc. So you if you let me know what rate it is you want (in euro please), I’ll change it on the spot.
If you’ve ever been in a similar situation you know what a rare gem of a response this is, and why I want to shake this man’s hand the next time I go to Holland. His response is a perfect example of the easy professionalism of the best agencies, proving it is possible for large firms to be as responsive and attractive to skilled translators as their smaller, more nimble brethren. He restored my sagging faith in larger agencies and you can bet I will work hard to keep up my end of this business relationship.
What about you, colleagues; can you relate? I’d love to hear about your experiences with smaller and larger agencies that left you either drained or refreshed and energized.