Three ways to guarantee translator/agency happiness

Finding a reliable and trustworthy agency to work with as a freelance translator can sometimes feel like a tall order. Particularly as more of us start working online and new translation agencies proliferate, it can be hard to tell a terrible translation services company from the genuine article. But it is possible to find an employer who pays on time, offers a steady stream of interesting work and is professional and friendly. Here are three ways to ensure your new potential employer turns out to be a keeper.


It’s good to talk

Topping the list of qualities you want in an agency is communication. Right from the start you should have a designated contact person within the agency who handles the on-boarding process, from contracts and nondisclosure agreements to explaining billing and dispute resolution processes. If the company seems disorganized or unclear about who’s in charge of what, proceed with caution. Whenever they approach you with a new job, they should specify their expectations regarding price and deadline in writing, ideally together with the project order number. If you’re having a hard time finishing a translation for whatever reason, be it technical snags, terminological problems or anything else, they should be keen to resolve the situation. Any professional agency will also be happy to communicate with you in the event of payment problems. Sometimes even the best agencies might pay late, often owing to circumstances outside of their control, but if they aren’t communicating clearly about when you can expect your money, it’s fair to give them a wide berth in the future.


Money, money, money

One topic that always has the potential to cause friction in any relationship is money, and the translator/agency relationship is no different. A good-quality agency should be willing to pay you a fair price for your hard work, and shouldn’t haggle with you endlessly to beat you down. Hold your ground here, and be very clear that there is a difference between offering discounts and being a doormat. Agencies can get away with paying such shockingly low rates because translators accept them, so do everybody a favor and demand market rates for your experience level, skill set and specialism.

That said, don’t expect an agency to pay as much as direct clients. For a start, direct clients are a lot more work, requiring more self-promotion to get them in the first place and much more communication about the work process to keep them happy. Agencies keep this off your plate, so you just communicate with the project manager, who should already have a clear understanding of the translation process. They also have to pay for their own staff. But the slightly lower rates that agencies offer are more than compensated for by the fact that they can provide a steady stream of income, which can become your most reliable monthly check.


Valuing you and everything you do

Finally, great agencies know that they are no more than the sum of their parts, just like any company. They should be involved and interested in their translators’ professional development, offering useful feedback, helping you out with technical problems, perhaps providing online training or resources or even incentivising translators with financial rewards. They should be willing to write you testimonials and even recommend you to other companies.

These tips should make it easy for you to weed out nightmare agencies, but if you end up with one anyway, don’t feel bad. Every translator has a horror story about a nonpaying agency, and it’s part of the job description that sometimes you’ll get your fingers burnt. Nevertheless, there are still a lot of great agencies out there for the finding, so good luck!