Polymath A (mostly) technical weblog for Archivale.com

May 12, 2012

Notes to myself about starting a translation agency

Filed under: Personal — piolenc @ 6:25 am

Lately I’ve resurrected a project that I abandoned over ten years ago, namely that of starting a translation agency. My main reason for dropping the idea was that I was doing fine asĀ  an independent translator working for agencies and sometimes for individual clients; that being the case, I saw no reason to incur the additional responsibility of running an agency, with all the attendant hassles. Now that I’ve seen the caliber of agencies in the market and have found all that I have dealt with far from ideal, I’m thinking again about “starting something.” Here are some jottings about what I want to accomplish, and what I want to avoid.

1. Do not start a “Me Too, Ltd.” translation agency; it has to be truly and recognizably different from the norm – and preferably much better – to be worth doing.

2. Don’t encumber the agency with an overburden of corporate trappings; start off as “F. Marc de Piolenc, Translation Broker” or the like, doing business as a sole proprietor, then add on and alter as the actual market demands. Initial capitalization is limited to a cash reserve (operating capital) greater than or equal to all outstanding liabilities to translators.

3. No salaried employees; contract for all services except direct customer relations – order taking, scheduling, QC and invoicing will be performed in-house by the proprietors.

4. No freebies – translators get paid for everything asked of them, including tests. (Whenever possible, ask translators to submit samples of work already performed.)

5. No “we’ll pay you when we get paid.” Maintain a cash reserve sufficient to pay translators on a fixed, agreed schedule, whether or not the client pays on time (or at all). Expand the business only as and when a larger cash reserve is available.

6. Demand quality and be willing to pay for it. Accept – initially at least – a lower profit margin in order to get the best translators and still offer an attractive price to prospective clients.

7. Provide clear and simple pricing to customers, and issue clear and simple instructions to translators.

8. Translators translate – other services are procured at additional cost or provided by the agency. It is not reasonable to expect translators to deal with elaborate formatting and page layout for the same price as straight text unless the agency provides a template that the translator can use directly.

9. Politely refuse work that imposes an unreasonable delivery schedule. Insist on time to do the job right – and then do it right, and on time. Leave the “instant” translations business to the slimeballs, and wait for their disillusioned ex-customers to come to me with more reasonable expectations.

10. Accept down payments on larger jobs, but only from established customers, and only on jobs allocated to proven translators. Down payments cannot count toward the cash reserve, because they are liabilities too – to the client, in this case – until the client accepts the finished job. Segmentation and progress payments can be used to mitigate this problem.

11. Until a pool of proofreaders is established, accept only work with a target language known to me, Sharon or my immediate circle, and in familiar fields of endeavor.

12. Educate the customer – help him to recognize good quality work and give him an honest idea of what he needs to budget to pay for it. Show a clear separation between translation tasks and other work that might be required.

13. Be a translation agency – not a tax collector or social-insurance agent. The translator is responsible for his relations with his local tax authorities. The agency will provide documentation required BY THE TRANSLATOR directly to him and him only; what he does with it is his business.

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