Monday, 24 December 2018

As a Freelancer, I Want to Step It up a Bit and Improve My Agency Base. What do I do? (Pt 1)

Hi, guys. If you used to follow this blog, doubtless you must have noticed I've been writing less lately, lately meaning the last couple of months if not years. Today I thought about the original reason why I set up a blog — to prevent the long, meaningful posts that I sometimes make in translators' groups and forums from disappearing into the abyss of oblivion that is anything older than two weeks on Facebook and in forums. Later on, most of the posts here, almost all in fact, were written specifically for this blog and only a few actually served the original purpose — meaning a lot of potentially useful bits of advice or voices in discussion continued to be lost, partly because I don't even always remember I have a blog (apparently, adjusting to the thought and learning some new habits takes some time).

So today I want to do what this blog was supposed to do, and preserve a potentially useful post from a Facebook group about what to do if, as a freelance translator (as was the case), you want to expand or improve a bit without making the drastic step of dropping agencies altogether and plunging into the world of exclusively direct clients.

And why would you choose that?

  • A 100% direct end client mix is not always viable to achieve.
  • Nor is it necessarily optimal.
  • Between costs and gains, keeping at least some agencies in the mix may be the best choice.
For example staying in touch with an agency that always has some work to do is a good insurance strategy for when you need a stop-gap measure to help liquidity in the short term, avoid losing the momentum when you hit the flow but there aren't enough client jobs to eat through all of your capacity, keep gaining experience in a particular field (e.g. medical, legal) in which you don't have too many direct clients, and so on and so forth; this certainly isn't an exhaustive list.

Am I suggesting you should make a point of retaining some agencies in your mix when you might as well skip them entirely and still fill your calendar? Nope. Not unless some of the above applies to you. This is all conditional, situational, wholly governed by your circumstances and your unique personal preference. Not in all, but in a lot of cases at least some of the above considerations will apply, meaning you'll either have to or want to keep some agencies in the mix.

One thought about keeping some agencies in the mix is that you may still want to 'upgrade'.

And by upgrading, I don't mean dropping old, tried and true sources of reliable, somewhat comfortable and somewhat gainful work to embark on a goose chase or stake all you currently have on a slim hope that perhaps a new agency with a new approach will be a little more profitable to work with because it seems to pay marginally better rates. Nope.

But, a lot of freelancers work with agencies they don't quite like, where there are no warm feelings of friendship and loyalty, no long history of good old times to create a lasting bond, but just business the way it is with agencies, where the translator is getting the work because he or she is currently the best option in comparison to the alternatives and switching costs (i.e. it's better working with you than spending the time and effort, and incurring the risks, that replacing you would require).

… And some of those agencies can in fact be quite toxic, taxing your reserves more than is worth it. When talking about 'toxicity', I am focusing primarily on the result rather than the cause. This means I'm concentrating on the effect the behaviour has on you, rather than allocating the blame. Toxic behaviours include, for example:

  • always nibbling away at your rates
  • always nibbling at service scope or added value, trying to squeeze something extra out of you
  • dumping secretarial/technical/client-service tasks on you because they promise full service but don't have the staff to actually pull it off, or just want to save staff time
  • trying to go back on confirmed arrangements
  • requesting bookings for potential jobs that have a statistical 30% probability of materializing
  • only coming to you with stuff nobody else can or will do
  • being rude to you when talking or mailing
  • hardball, manipulation and all sorts of dodgy tactics

Those are probably agencies you'd like to no longer have to work with, agencies you only work with because you have to. And why do you have to work with them? Because you don't have alternatives. So that's what we'll be talking about in Pt 2.

Or perhaps there isn't that much toxicity going on but neither is there anything to keep you other than that you need work from somewhere, anywhere. Those are agencies you don't have to dump but have no special reason to regret to move on from. And that will be the focus of Pt 2.

And, for the record, a lot of Part 2 will be applicable to direct end clients as well, just not framed with them in mind.

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