Saturday, 20 September 2014

Don't Outsource, Raise Your Fees

(The inspiration for writing this came from seeing a snapshot from Gary Smith's IAPTI presentation at Rose Newell's Twitter, but I've dealt with the subject before on this blog.)

In a limited, narrow perspective, it may seem to you that in taking jobs from clients and handing them out to your colleagues in exchange for a cut (e.g. 20%) you're helping them fill their calendars and make a living. And that's not quite wrong, actually.

On the other hand, for all the freelancing ups and downs, there is still a natural path of progress. Your job title may never change, but you gain experience levels just like your old WoW character. You move up. Others fill the place you left.

When you outsource, you don't move up, and others don't fill your place. You're stuck where you are, and others are stuck as your invisible henchmen instead of advancing their own careers.

Either do it right — and start a translation company (in which you can still translate if you want to) — or move up and free up your previous place for others.

It won't necessarily be your designated pals who get the free spot if you just simply raise your rates, but in the broader perspective the market will come to realize that the most wanted translators are an asset to compete for and reward fittingly.

The increased price and publicity will take care of the selection process on both sides: yours and the clients'. Yes, some prospects will no longer be able to afford your services. However, they can still choose from among your many colleagues who may very well be up to the task, not even necessarily being worse translators than you are but perhaps less successful economically.

With the emergence of a visible, easily distinguishable echelon of the most wanted translators, clients who have the resources but can't or don't want to gamble or experiment would know where to go and wouldn't need to burn their fingers cycling through one million seemingly identical but randomly qualified translators or rely on intermediaries to fish in a flat pool of all skill levels mixed up.

Nor will translation buyers continue to believe that for a measly six or twelve or twenty cents per word they deserve world-class quality generated by the unique combination of rare personal talent, many years of dedicated study, rich and varied or close and focused long-term experience and — in some cases — overall brilliance.

If you want to make more money, start an official agency and command fees in the proper agency range. Or change a separate management fee above the counter. Or take normal editing jobs that may well pay better than a 10% cut for editing your sidekicks. Or, well, just raise your rates already and either make more in the same time or make the same in less time.

If you want to help your sidekicks, you'll help them more by introducing them as your designated successors to the clients you leave behind than by signing their work at 50-80% of your old fees. They will be making more and building their own name.

Even the client will benefit from being directly in touch now with the person who's de facto been doing that client's jobs for a while.

Related articles:
Freelance Outsourcing: Make it (Semi-)Official or Don't Do It (longer treatment of the same subject)
Don't Flatten the Quality Scale (we should quit pretending that only the best is ever adequate in terms of translation quality — this includes handing clients down to less established but still adequate colleagues according to what a client is ready to pay)

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