Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Should I Become an Agency?

Last week I wrote about suddenly hitting a feast period in terms of workload when I had expected the usual Summer famine. That trend seems to be continuing. I am working on a large project that will now take me through the end of the month. Yet, agencies with whom I have sometimes worked in the past keep contacting me about projects they'd like me to take.


So far, I have simply told these agencies that I'm too busy right now to take on more work. When asked who else I could recommend, I either gave the agency the contact information for a colleague or referred it to the American Translators Association's website referral service.


At the same time, my net earnings are rather low for the well-over 40 hours a week I put into this business. Freelance friends (not translators) have counseled me to "become a manager" if I wanted to make better money. In the translation industry that would mean opening my own (mini) translation agency.


My friends are probably right about the earnings potential - I could be earning money from translations performed by others while earning additional money from the translation work I do myself. There are large agencies who farm work out to small agencies who in turn work with individual translators. Becoming one of these small agencies seems possible, even without direct clients of my own.


Plus, a pool of translators who work in different language pairs might get me direct clients whose needs extend beyond my own language combination. If I specialized in into-English translations, I could edit/proof the translation without necessarily being fluent in the source language. (Always sending the edited version back to the translator for verification, of course!)


I was a middle manager once (in IT) and hated being squeezed between the boss' (read: large agency or end client's) demands and the needs of the people I managed (read: the translators with whom I would contract). On the other hand, I wouldn't be stuck with the same boss day in and day out. If an end client's demands were too unreasonable, I wouldn't have to accept subsequent projects from that client -- should they even be offered after I told the end client that his or her demands couldn't be met.


Then there is the whole question of vetting someone else's work. How would I know that the freelancers I contract with for other languages provide high-quality translations? Even if the English translation they sent to me were fluent, how do I know that it is accurate? If I limit my agency to languages I read (German, Spanish, French, maybe Swedish), I can catch glaring errors, but probably not more subtle problems. Besides, part of the idea of becoming an agency would be to offer more languages and this approach would severely limit the number of languages I could contract out.


Networking is the key to getting both clients and translators for an agency. I'm not particularly good at networking, even online - and worse face to face. Given a choice, I'd rather sit in a corner with a book than talk with strangers at an event.


So maybe this whole agency thing is not for me, after all ...



12 comments:

  1. I understand you perfectly and have found myself facing the same dilemmma. I love translating and interpreting, can't complain about the income, realize there are only so many hours a week, feel awful when I have to say no to a client...
    BUT Deciding to become an agency, even if it meant more income, would mean I would have to devote more time to managing administrating, vetting, reviewing.
    So I have decided to treat clients nicely, be helpful and refer colleagues I respect nd trust, and hope the client will remember my helpfulness and come back a d my colleagues will remember my referals and do the same for me...
    Meanwhile, this seems to be working! I enjoy my work and continue doing what I love while earning enough....
    Guess I am not really too entrepeneurial, but I am happy and satisfied.

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  3. Dear Barbara:

    You definitely sound like you don't really want to become an agency.

    You seem to be intrigued by the possibilities, but not enough to really give it a try.

    I think that the real question is: Can you add more value to translations of translators working for you than your average agency?

    If the answer is yes, at least most of the time, then .... I don't really understand your hesitation.

    (Feel free to send me business that you don't want, but only from direct clients, not from agencies).

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Thanks for your comment. I will review comments weekly, so please be patient if you are expecting a reply. - Barbara