Werner George Patels
Reprinted with Permission
17 Rules for Dealing with Agencies and Direct Clients
Here are a few tips (based on personal experience and accounts of colleagues):
1. Always get your client to sign a Purchase Order.
2. If the agency requires you to sign a contract for subcontractors, read it carefully. If there is only the slightest doubt in your mind, don’t sign it.
3. “Contract Law 101”: your contract with the agency is different from and independent of the contract the agency has with its client. Some agencies always try to download the financial risk on to their translators by telling them that they will get paid as soon as they have been paid by their client. WRONG. This would go against the fundamental principles of contract law. As I said, your contract is different from theirs; even if their client never pays them (for whatever reason), they will still have to pay you on time. Recently, I heard of an agency that includes a clause in its contract (“fine print”) that says that translators will be paid if and when they have received payment from their client. Do not sign an agreement like that – it is ILLEGAL (in most jurisdictions)!
4. “Train” your clients: explain to them, in simple language if necessary, what translation is all about. Do not accept any unrealistic demands from them (eg, 5,000 words within 24 hours).
5. Be strict about your terms of payment: upon initial contact with the agency (or direct client), explain your terms to them. Be polite, yet firm. Inform them that they will be subject to late-payment interest if they don’t pay within the period of time stipulated. Draw up (or have them draw up) an agreement stating your terms of payment very clearly and get the agency to sign it. If they refuse, don’t bother – it is a clear sign that this particular agency is not trustworthy and you would not want to work for someone like that anyway.
6. Sometimes, an agency may tell you that they cannot pay you on time because of cashflow problems – that is, after you have already sent them several reminders for payment. ALARM BELLS! This means: a) they have lousy clients themselves that don’t pay them (which is not exactly a ringing endorsement of the agency and its business practices); b) their management is really sloppy; c) they are not professional; AND d) things can only go downhill from there ==> so stop accepting any new jobs from them; tell them that you may consider working for them again if and when you have been paid and if and when they have set their house in order.
7. If you do get into trouble with an agency, again, be firm.
8. Avoid any agencies that post jobs on the Internet but fail to give detailed background information on themselves (phone number, mailing address, etc.).
9. Avoid clients that use free e-mail accounts such as Hotmail or Yahoo – if an agency uses such accounts, you can rest assured that they are not legit and professional
10. Avoid agencies that require an excessive number of words to be translated by way of a “test” – it could be a way for them to have a document translated for free. Remember: standard translation tests should not exceed 200-250 words.
11. Regarding tests: even if the sample is only 200-250 words in length, make sure it is a self-contained text; otherwise, it might be that they are sending out small portions of a larger text to a number of translators as “tests” – again, for the purposes of getting the translation for free.
12. Beware of UNSOLICITED e-mails you receive from agencies (“we have recently come across your name and would like to invite you to join our team of translators. Please send us your CV, rates, client list, etc.”) – this is often a trick to “scan” the competition (they want to know who your clients are), so if you provide them with 2 or 3 professional references, they will contact them, not to verify your work, but to solicit business from your clients!
13. Regarding references: never, under any circumstances, give out references. Giving out 2 or 3 references is common practice when applying for a permanent position, but as freelancers we cannot do that: we are legally and ethically bound to keep any and all information regarding our clients confidential. Therefore, suggest to the agency that they could send you either a 200-word test or a small job for which they would have to pay you a minimum fee (“the proof of the pudding is in the eating”). This way, the agency does not take on too much risk and you would not have to breach your clients’ confidentiality. Remember: when you see a new doctor, you cannot ask the doctor for his/her patient list either!!!
14. It is always better to forgo a potential job (in case of any doubt about the client) than to go through the hassle and headaches of chasing after your money later on.
15. Stay away from “telemarketers”: if you phone the agency, and you get a person who talks as fast as a telemarketer or used-car salesperson and does the whole “salespitch dance” (even though that person may strike you as being very personable), be polite and end the conversation as quickly as possible.
16. For larger projects, charge a “retainer”, or down payment, of about 25%. Demand to be paid in various phases as the project moves along. Don’t beat about the bush: tell your client that you will still have to feed and clothe yourself for the duration of the project (e.g., 2 months). For example, 25% upfront, another 25% halfway through the project and the remainder upon completion of the project.
17. If a client asks you to acquire special software or any other product (as a requirement for receiving work), please check and double-check the facts before you agree to anything. In most cases, these people are not real clients, but merely “telemarketers” or scam artists trying to sell some useless software, product, etc. Remember: as a professional translator, you should never have to *PAY* your own clients …. that would be ridiculous and insane, wouldn’t it?