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How many agencies to work with to make ends meet?
מפרסם התגובה: François Sechier

François Sechier
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Local time: 01:35
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Aug 23, 2018

Dear fellow translators,

I am writing this post to ask for your opinion. I recently stopped working for the only agency that employed me, and I am now looking to work as a freelancer for new agencies (in the video game field). Since I started doing that in may 2018, I passed tests and was included in the translator pool of 4-5 agencies, but things are going slow.

My question is: how many agencies are you working with to make ends meet? How long did it take for it to be
... See more
Dear fellow translators,

I am writing this post to ask for your opinion. I recently stopped working for the only agency that employed me, and I am now looking to work as a freelancer for new agencies (in the video game field). Since I started doing that in may 2018, I passed tests and was included in the translator pool of 4-5 agencies, but things are going slow.

My question is: how many agencies are you working with to make ends meet? How long did it take for it to be economically viable?

I know there won’t be one single, typical answer to these questions, but I would like to know your story! Advices are also welcome, of course. Thanks in advance for your feedback!
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Heike Holthaus  Identity Verified
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Local time: 19:35
חבר (2012)
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Keep applying and signing on Aug 23, 2018

Hello François,

From 2012 until the end of 2017 I had signed up with 47 agencies, 19 of which I "fired" at the beginning of this year for various reasons. The bulk of my work comes from 3 of these agencies. And with about 6 of them I hired on after last years ATA conference.
In my experience, it takes time to develop a strong relationship and receive orders on a regular basis. For one of my Top 3 agencies it took nearly 2 years of intermittent orders.

Keep applyi
... See more
Hello François,

From 2012 until the end of 2017 I had signed up with 47 agencies, 19 of which I "fired" at the beginning of this year for various reasons. The bulk of my work comes from 3 of these agencies. And with about 6 of them I hired on after last years ATA conference.
In my experience, it takes time to develop a strong relationship and receive orders on a regular basis. For one of my Top 3 agencies it took nearly 2 years of intermittent orders.

Keep applying and signing on
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P.L.F.Persio
 

Vadim Kadyrov  Identity Verified
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Local time: 02:35
חבר (2011)
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Agencies are not the only clients out there Aug 23, 2018

You can have lots of direct clients. All you need is a bit of effort, consistency, and patience.

And never ever put all your eggs into one basket again - try to have as much as 3-4 clients at any time who are feeding you proportionally.

That`s the basics.


Nikki Scott-Despaigne
Steve R.
 

Kay-Viktor Stegemann
גרמניה
Local time: 01:35
חבר (2016)
מאנגלית לגרמנית
A dozen Aug 23, 2018

I can only speak for myself, of course. There are agencies that send me jobs every month (or even every week), there are agencies that send me jobs only once in a while (but big jobs), and there are agencies that I have worked with once and then never again, for whatever reason. And of course there are some direct clients, some of them regulars too.
Overall I would say that there are a dozen agencies that send me work more or less regularly. Maybe four or five of them send work every week.
... See more
I can only speak for myself, of course. There are agencies that send me jobs every month (or even every week), there are agencies that send me jobs only once in a while (but big jobs), and there are agencies that I have worked with once and then never again, for whatever reason. And of course there are some direct clients, some of them regulars too.
Overall I would say that there are a dozen agencies that send me work more or less regularly. Maybe four or five of them send work every week. At the moment I have to turn down jobs all the time, probably because many other translators are on vacation (back to work, guys!). Sometimes I look on my calendar on Sunday and it seems that the coming week might be quiet, but on Monday noon already my calendar is bursting with work again. So it seems that I have more than enough agencies at the moment. I don't do much marketing, but sometimes I reach out to other agencies simply to keep the ball rolling and maybe to get better rates here and there.
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Dan Lucas
Teresa Borges
Vesa Korhonen
Valérie Ourset
P.L.F.Persio
JaneD
Erika Ballardin
 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
ספרד
Local time: 00:35
חבר (2007)
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You aren't asking quite the right question Aug 23, 2018

François Sechier wrote:
My question is: how many agencies are you working with to make ends meet?

Would it make you happy if you found one agency that supplied you with work full-time, François? It really shouldn't. You'd be in an incredibly risky position. It's actually against French law for a freelancer to work full-time for one client. That "client", who would actually be an employer in all but the contributions they pay and the protection they give you, could be prosecuted. That "client" could simply disappear overnight - and believe me that happens! From one day to the next you'd go from being well-paid to having literally zero income. No redundancy payout; no unemployment benefit; nothing.

So, the question you should be asking is: how many clients should I be aiming to work with to give my business a firm foundation?

My answer to that question would be that you need to have a good handful of "best" clients - ones who come back month after month with a fairly steady amount of work. Then, you should have probably twice that number who occasionally ask for work. I've just had a look at my data since 2012 and I see I've worked with 64 different clients in that period. I would certainly feel very worried if I wasn't invoicing at least four different clients every month. I prefer to invoice 6-10 clients per month. In my case, I do work with a few translation agencies, but I also work with other intermediaries such as magazine publishers, agencies responsible for event management, marketing, web design, communications..., and then there are all the direct clients, plus fellow translators who outsource work. In fact, I try not to limit my range of clients in any way - you never know where a client will come from. I also send my invoices around the world - to 33 different countries since I started translating back in 2007.

I know there won’t be one single, typical answer

There is one typical piece of advice, and I see Vadim has already referred to it: Never put all your eggs in one basket!


Vera Schoen
Arabic & More
Angus Stewart
Teresa Borges
Marina Menendez
Christine Andersen
Matheus Chaud
 

Vera Schoen  Identity Verified
שוודיה
Local time: 01:35
חבר (2008)
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Time Aug 23, 2018

When I started out, I started from scratch and it took well over a year before I could live from translating alone. It takes time to build business relationships and a reputation. In the beginning I worked with perhaps 2 or 3 agencies, today I regularly work with at least a handful regularly each month, and about 15 to 20 that contact me when they have a German to Swedish texts. Pays my bills.

Valérie Ourset
JaneD
 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
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Local time: 01:35
חבר (2006)
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@François Aug 23, 2018

François Sechier wrote:
Since I started doing that in May 2018, I passed tests and was included in the translator pool of 4-5 agencies, but things are going slow.


The important thing is not how many agencies have you on their books, but how many agencies actually send you work.

Every time a question such as yours pops up, I'm reminded of how poorly my own client database is organised, for I can't answer simple questions like "how many clients no longer sent me work since 2 years ago" or "which clients have the lowest average invoice amount per invoice", etc.

But I had a quick look at the statistics for 2016 and 2017 for you:
* In 2016, I had 1200 purchase orders, I sent 470 invoices, and I worked for 65 agencies.
* In 2017, I had 1200 purchase orders, I sent 450 invoices, and I worked for 80 agencies.
* In 2016 and 2017 combined, I worked for 110 agencies in total. For 45 agencies I only worked in 2016, for 30 agencies I only worked in 2017, and for 35 agencies I worked in both 2016 and 2017.

So as you can see, in both years, about half of my jobs in the one year came from clients who did not send my any jobs in the other year. Note that these statistics must be qualified since they do not take into account how much work I get from each agency.

Other translators may experience vastly different ratios, and I think it does depend a bit on your language combination. In my language combination, small and tiny jobs are common.

I estimate that 80% of my income comes from 20 agencies, and 40% of my income comes from 5 agencies.


[Edited at 2018-08-23 13:29 GMT]


P.L.F.Persio
 

EvaVer (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:35
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Do as Heike did Aug 23, 2018

Sign up with many, then you will see which ones actually send you work, and which ones among these you are happy with. The resulting number doesn't need to be high in your case - you work in "major" language pairs, so once you establish good relationship with clients, they should have enough work for you. The trouble is to achieve this - major language pairs also mean a lot of competition. Unlike you, I work in a number of "small" pairs, so I have many clients with often very small volumes.

Samuel Murray
P.L.F.Persio
 

Philippe Etienne  Identity Verified
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Local time: 01:35
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2-6 invoices a month Aug 23, 2018

When I expanded from "acquaintance work" in 2000, I was lucky enough to get two busy clients in my first batch of 42 letters sent to French agencies with paper and stamp. But there was likely less competition at the time, and it was easier to get a foot in the door.

Samuel wrote:
in 2017, I did 1200 "jobs", I sent 450 invoices, and I worked for 80 agencies.

in 2017, I did 265 "jobs", I sent 47 invoices, and I worked with 11 agencies (for 42 end clients/brands). Courtesy of Translation Office 3000. I suppose about 4 agencies cover 90% of my income.

Sheila wrote:
since 2012 ... I've worked with 64 different clients.

since 2012, I've worked with 37 different clients.

There is clearly no "best" route in terms of client numbers, and as Eva and Samuel mention, language combinations may affect the shape of your customer base.

Philippe

[Edited at 2018-08-23 14:10 GMT]


Chris S
 

Chris S  Identity Verified
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And at the other extreme... Aug 23, 2018

Samuel Murray wrote:
* In 2016, I had 1200 purchase orders, I sent 470 invoices, and I worked for 65 agencies.
* In 2017, I had 1200 purchase orders, I sent 450 invoices, and I worked for 80 agencies.
* In 2016 and 2017 combined, I worked for 110 agencies in total.


I work with 4 agencies and 3 direct customers.

Samuel, don't you ever wish you worked more for agencies that provide more repeat work?


 

Tom in London
הממלכה המאוחדת
Local time: 00:35
חבר (2008)
מאיטלקית לאנגלית
4 or more Aug 23, 2018

I work with a nucleus of 4 agencies who send me work regularly and are happy to pay my rate (which other Italian agencies complain is "too high" but that's because they're "pidocchiosi").

However one of these agencies has been sending me less and less work, I suspect because they've found someone cheaper.

There are a few others who send me work occasionally.

In addition to those, fairly often I am approached by agencies who've seen my Proz profile and are
... See more
I work with a nucleus of 4 agencies who send me work regularly and are happy to pay my rate (which other Italian agencies complain is "too high" but that's because they're "pidocchiosi").

However one of these agencies has been sending me less and less work, I suspect because they've found someone cheaper.

There are a few others who send me work occasionally.

In addition to those, fairly often I am approached by agencies who've seen my Proz profile and are specifically seeking a translator with my specialism.

I also work very occasionally for direct customers - mainly professors, PhD scholars, and academics who need a translator who understands the requirements of academic writing.

As other translators will tell you, I sometimes hit a lean patch with no work at all coming in, sometimes for weeks. Just as I'm beginning to think I've reached the end of the line, a flood of work comes in. I don't know why that happens but apparently it's very common.
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P.L.F.Persio
 

DZiW
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probability theory: the more, the better Aug 23, 2018

Say, you need at least some $3000 a month; at $0.08/w it would take about 37'500 words--about 100 A4 pages--over two weeks of full time translation.

So what is the expectancy of landing a single 40k-word project or a dozen of 5-10k projects in a month?
Let me guess... or just do the math in a combinatorial analysis.

Besides diversifying your possible sources, why not diversify your earning capabilities, say, as an interpreter or mentor, or something else?
... See more
Say, you need at least some $3000 a month; at $0.08/w it would take about 37'500 words--about 100 A4 pages--over two weeks of full time translation.

So what is the expectancy of landing a single 40k-word project or a dozen of 5-10k projects in a month?
Let me guess... or just do the math in a combinatorial analysis.

Besides diversifying your possible sources, why not diversify your earning capabilities, say, as an interpreter or mentor, or something else?

Cheers
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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
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Local time: 01:35
חבר (2006)
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@Chris Aug 23, 2018

Chris S wrote:
Samuel, don't you ever wish you worked more for agencies that provide more repeat work?


I smooch and smooch, but it is what it is -- agencies often get just one or two jobs in my language combination, and then never again. I generally turn down jobs only if I don't actually have time for them, if I'm really not qualified, or if the amount of work is not worth the effort.

[Edited at 2018-08-23 19:29 GMT]


 

Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
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Local time: 01:35
חבר (2003)
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Ten to a dozen invoices a month Aug 23, 2018

I used to send out about ten to a dozen invoices a month. In the early days two agencies in particular sent me a lot of work, and that was enough to make ends meet.

However, Sheila has explained why that is not ideal in the long run. One of my two clients decided overnight to drop translators who did not live where their target language was spoken - I live immersed in my source language, Danish, which I find is an advantage with a less widespread language and English as the target!
... See more
I used to send out about ten to a dozen invoices a month. In the early days two agencies in particular sent me a lot of work, and that was enough to make ends meet.

However, Sheila has explained why that is not ideal in the long run. One of my two clients decided overnight to drop translators who did not live where their target language was spoken - I live immersed in my source language, Danish, which I find is an advantage with a less widespread language and English as the target! Meanwhile I was getting very tired of that agency's CAT tool. We parted as friends, but as a source of work, they dried up overnight.

A while later, the other actually went bankrupt. I did not lose a lot of money, but it was sheer luck, and some colleagues did.

By then I had quite a lot of other clients. Some agencies specialise in Scandinavian languages, so they send a lot of work regularly, while others only occasionally need translations in my languages.

Out of my dozen invoices, there would typically be two or three fairly large ones going to agencies who sent work every month for several years, and the rest would go to occasional clients or about one to a colleague who normally translated from English and was outsourcing a translation into English. (I have worked with a number of colleagues like that over the years.)

Some of my clients had a regular job once a year (Tourist catalogues, trade fairs, various things for universities) or at shorter intervals, and some were simply one-off clients.

They all come and go. One really nice little agency grew too big too fast, started pressing rates and asking for discounts, and made itself really unpopular, so I dropped them after working with them for years! Another started to specialise in heavy technology and I pulled out, again after several happy years with them.

In all these cases, I had enough work from other clients to carry on without a dip in my earnings. I probably had 30-40 clients a year.

For the last couple of years I have been partly retired, with fewer agencies, but that is another situation.

[Edited at 2018-08-23 22:24 GMT]
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P.L.F.Persio
JaneD
 

Maxi Schwarz  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:35
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for security, rather than "to make ends meet" Aug 23, 2018

It is not a good idea to have only one client, for a number of reasons.

JaneD
 
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