Possibly unethical request from a translation agency
Thread poster: Patricia Hamilton

Patricia Hamilton
Canada
Local time: 15:33
French to English
Nov 18, 2018

Hello, fellow translators and wordsmiths.

After a decade as full-time senior translator/reviser (French to English) in a large firm, I was downsized and went freelance in 2012. Since I have more than 30 years of experience in general and technical translation (with several specific areas of specialization), I have generally done quite well. However, contracts have 'thinned out' considerably over the past couple of years and I am attempting to grow my customer base.
With this i
... See more
Hello, fellow translators and wordsmiths.

After a decade as full-time senior translator/reviser (French to English) in a large firm, I was downsized and went freelance in 2012. Since I have more than 30 years of experience in general and technical translation (with several specific areas of specialization), I have generally done quite well. However, contracts have 'thinned out' considerably over the past couple of years and I am attempting to grow my customer base.
With this in mind, I sent my cv to a (legitimate) translation agency. They sent me 2-hour translation test, which I passed, and then informed me that they had placed me on their list of active freelancers.

Friday afternoon, I received an e-mail from them. The subject line read "Sample translation requested for potential client," and they were asking me to translate the first four pages of a Website-type promotional document (about 700 words) for Monday morning. The person who sent the e-mail said they didn't have a word count for the first four pages (it was a PDF), but simply said that this was potentially a very big client. I suspect they expect me to translate this text for free, so that they can submit it to their 'potential client' as a sample. I have e-mailed them back asking for clarification, but don't expect to hear from them until tomorrow.

I have very little experience with translation agencies, so I need to ask: is this an ethical request for the agency to make? Needless to say, I'm not in the habit of providing my services for free. If they get back to me and say "oh no, we have no intention of paying you for this," does anyone have any suggestions on what I should do next?

Thank you all for your input.

Patty
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Thomas T. Frost  Identity Verified
Member (2014)
Danish to English
+ ...
Billable Nov 19, 2018

Once you've passed their initial test, which sounded excessive (should be no more than ~300 words), you should normally not expect to supply any work again without billing for it.

I might accept it if it's a good regular client that very occasionally (once per year or less frequent) asks for a small test in such a situation, because it's a drop in the ocean, and the goodwill factor can be worth more than the time in a few cases.

I would certainly expect to be paid for i
... See more
Once you've passed their initial test, which sounded excessive (should be no more than ~300 words), you should normally not expect to supply any work again without billing for it.

I might accept it if it's a good regular client that very occasionally (once per year or less frequent) asks for a small test in such a situation, because it's a drop in the ocean, and the goodwill factor can be worth more than the time in a few cases.

I would certainly expect to be paid for it in other situations or, if not, decline it.

Even if they win the bid, there is no guarantee they'll pass any of the work to you.
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Kay-Viktor Stegemann
Jennifer Forbes
 

Lorraine Dubuc  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 15:33
Member (2013)
French to English
+ ...
Hello Patty, Nov 19, 2018

As you said, you are the boss now, so you are the one who decides. Personaly I refuse to do tests and if by exception I do accept one, I tell them no more than 200 words. I have been providing free translations in the past and believe me, you never hear of them once they have what they need, with few exceptions.

Second, I refuse to work on portals. It is a waste of time to have to spend hours learning how they work, you cannot access your own translation memory and you have to invoi
... See more
As you said, you are the boss now, so you are the one who decides. Personaly I refuse to do tests and if by exception I do accept one, I tell them no more than 200 words. I have been providing free translations in the past and believe me, you never hear of them once they have what they need, with few exceptions.

Second, I refuse to work on portals. It is a waste of time to have to spend hours learning how they work, you cannot access your own translation memory and you have to invoice there, so it is more trouble for the freelancer.

Third, I don't answer requests starting with 'Hi there' 'Hello everyone' or personal email addresses.

I think submitting an offer on the jobs you find interesting is one way of expanding your business, another one is to surf the Blueboard and target 5-star businesses with outstanding comments from our colleagues.

You can also find few direct customers in your area, through institutions, etc. All you need are repeat customers that will keep you busy. Once you have a bank of ten, it will keep you busy enough and provide you with the income you need.

Finally, providing sample translations repeatedly to an angency is certainly no way of earning well.

Wish you the best!

Lorraine
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Thomas T. Frost
Robert Rietvelt
Gareth Callagy
Claudia Cherici
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Claire Shin
 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:33
Member (2008)
Italian to English
My suggestion Nov 19, 2018

The advice from Lorraine is good.

My suggestion: your areas of specialisation are excellent but your profile is thin. You should develop it until it's 100%, paying particular attention to the keywords at the bottom, because those keywords are what Google will search for when a prospective client looks for someone with your specialisms, in your language pair (the keywords should be in both languages).

Hang on in there and be patient, because it will take a year or two to
... See more
The advice from Lorraine is good.

My suggestion: your areas of specialisation are excellent but your profile is thin. You should develop it until it's 100%, paying particular attention to the keywords at the bottom, because those keywords are what Google will search for when a prospective client looks for someone with your specialisms, in your language pair (the keywords should be in both languages).

Hang on in there and be patient, because it will take a year or two to build up a regular base of repeat clients. But once they know you're out there and once you've done a few jobs for them that demonstrate your specialist knowledge, they'll come back regularly.

Don't bother with people who ask you for a (TWO HOUR???!!!) test translation. You haven't got the time and it won't earn you any money.

A very good profile is the key. I regularly get clients who've been surfing the web looking for a translator with my specialisms, who have come upon my Proz profile. The same will happen to you if you just keep calm and carry on.

[Edited at 2018-11-19 14:32 GMT]
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Sandra& Kenneth
 

Thomas Pfann  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:33
Member (2006)
English to German
+ ...
Your client needs your help to win a contract -> they'll be happy to pay extra Nov 19, 2018

Thomas T. Frost wrote:

Even if they win the bid, there is no guarantee they'll pass any of the work to you.


Exactly. And the point is that they want you to help them win a contract. This is a service which should come at a premium, not for free.

There are two types of sample translation: those sent out by agencies to test a new translator before using the translator's services, and those sent out by end clients before using the agency's services.

The first type of test translation is often expected to be done for free and some (not all!) translators are happy to do it for free because it is effectively a marketing tool for translators wanting to get a new client. In this case, the translator invests time to land a new contract.

The second type of test translation is basically the same one step further up in the chain. The translation agency might not charge their (potential) client for the test translation because it is a means to get work from that client. But by the same reasoning, they will, of course, pay the translator. In fact, they will often pay more than usual because they will want top-notch quality in order to impress the potential client. This is the agency's investment in order to land a new contract.

You have already done the first type of test translation for this client. And now they have a first project for you which happens be a test translation of the second type. I think it is unlikely that they are expecting you to do this new sample translation for free. Just make sure that everyone is clear that (and how much) you will charge for this work (ie. doublecheck with your client and make sure you get your PO before doing any work). If they are not willing to pay you can still politely decline.


Anne Gaujard-Scott
 

Thomas T. Frost  Identity Verified
Member (2014)
Danish to English
+ ...
Google Nov 19, 2018

Tom in London wrote:

paying particular attention to the keywords at the bottom, because those keywords are what Google will search for


It's a long time since Google paid any particular attention to lists of keywords. It's a bit of an anachronism that Proz still has it. Google analyses everything on a website and prefers copy written for humans, not search engines. While a few relevant keywords will do no harm (if they match the rest of the page contents), it's better to write good copy that mentions your key strengths.

And in case you don't believe me, here it is from the horse's mouth:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rk4qgQdp2UA

Matt Cutts is the former head of the web spam team at Google.


Angela Rimmer
 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 21:33
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
@Patricia Nov 19, 2018

Patricia Hamilton wrote:
I have very little experience with translation agencies, so I need to ask: is this an ethical request for the agency to make?


We can talk about ethics later.

It is normal for agencies to assume that translators will do lots of free tests for potential clients. However, you should limit the size that you're willing to do for free, to no more than half an hour's work. And you should be aware that some tests have a greater likelihood of leading to jobs than others.

You completed a test for the agency itself, so now they know that you're a good translator, but if they get an end-client who is unconvinced, they will ask you to do another test translation for that client specifically. I don't think you need to object to this as long as the test is reasonably short and as long as you are certain that you will get the job if you pass the test.

It's a different matter if the test translation is part of a bidding process. This is when agencies bid against each other for a job, and all agencies are required (by the end-client) to submit a test translation as part of the bidding process. Even if all the tests pass, only one agency will get the job. This means that you're competing not only on quality but also on price. If you do decide to participate in a bidding test translation, make sure the agency accepted your rate beforehand and considers it likely that they stand a good chance to win the job at that price.

There is nothing wrong with doing test translations as part of bidding procedures (it may help improve your relationship with the agency itself), but you should adjust your expectations.

If they get back to me and say "oh no, we have no intention of paying you for this," does anyone have any suggestions on what I should do next?


In your case, I suggest you offer to do 250 words for free. Ask them if that is sufficient. However, based on your description, I suspect that this is a bidding test.

The person who sent the e-mail said ... that this was potentially a very big client.


"Very big client" is agency-speek for "we'll probably be forced to offer a discounted rate".


[Edited at 2018-11-19 15:18 GMT]


 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:33
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Well - something works for me! Nov 19, 2018

Thomas T. Frost wrote:


And in case you don't believe me, here it is from the horse's mouth:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rk4qgQdp2UA


Well - something works for me!


 

Maxi Schwarz  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:33
German to English
+ ...
being in Canada Nov 19, 2018

I notice that you're in Canada, but I don't see any sign that you belong to any provincial organization of the federal CTTIC (ATIO in Canada, OTIAQ in Quebec etc.). With your background and experience you should be eligible for associate membership and then the exams for becoming a full certified member. I think there is also a "portfolio" option if you can prove experience, in lieu of the exam. After that you can point to your credentials and point out that you have already been examined by e... See more
I notice that you're in Canada, but I don't see any sign that you belong to any provincial organization of the federal CTTIC (ATIO in Canada, OTIAQ in Quebec etc.). With your background and experience you should be eligible for associate membership and then the exams for becoming a full certified member. I think there is also a "portfolio" option if you can prove experience, in lieu of the exam. After that you can point to your credentials and point out that you have already been examined by experts so there is no need for their (agency's) exams.

In Canada, for a lot of the work coming from the government, universities, and other institutions, they prefer that the work be done by a certified translator. Automatically this opens doors for you. Meanwhile the cheaper agencies that like to underpay translators can't do that with you, because they need you due to your precious certification. In turn, you represent quality because of your proven abilities, and as well because of the code of ethics you must adhere to.

In terms of agency test: I did these in the beginning, and not a single passed test ever led to work. Meanwhile an agency may get a good (expensive) translator to do a sample translation for a potential client with a large project. They land the project based on your excellent translation, and then hire a cheaper translator to actually do the project. That happens too. (In general I am a bit prejudiced against these tests). The 2 hour test is a red flag for me.
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Mair A-W (PhD)
Germany
Local time: 21:33
Member (2016)
German to English
+ ...
usual rates apply Nov 19, 2018

Samuel Murray wrote:

Patricia Hamilton wrote:
I have very little experience with translation agencies, so I need to ask: is this an ethical request for the agency to make?


It is normal for agencies to assume that translators will do lots of free tests for potential clients.


Really? I sometimes receive requests from agencies who inform me that it is a sample translation for a potential client, but I always quote them at my usual rate. I've not yet had an agency query that and I've never been asked to do anything like this for free except the initial agency test.


Thomas Pfann
 

Lincoln Hui  Identity Verified
Hong Kong
Local time: 04:33
Member
Chinese to English
+ ...
Why worry? Nov 20, 2018

If they won't pay, just say no. As much as you would love to do this for them for free, you're so busy with paid projects that you just don't have time for it.

It seems such a futile exercise to make any such assumptions until you actually hear back from them to the effect, though.


 

Philip Lees  Identity Verified
Greece
Local time: 22:33
Member (2008)
Greek to English
State your terms Nov 20, 2018

Patricia Hamilton wrote:

Friday afternoon, I received an e-mail from them. The subject line read "Sample translation requested for potential client," and they were asking me to translate the first four pages of a Website-type promotional document (about 700 words) for Monday morning.

...

I have very little experience with translation agencies, so I need to ask: is this an ethical request for the agency to make? Needless to say, I'm not in the habit of providing my services for free. If they get back to me and say "oh no, we have no intention of paying you for this," does anyone have any suggestions on what I should do next?



Reply to their original email, telling them how much you will charge them for this translation, when you will be able to deliver it, and your requirements in terms of payment (deadline, method, etc.).

As a professional freelance translator, that's all you need to do.


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