Shock Survey: Translators Prefer to Get Paid

by Translation Guy on January 2, 2013

The translation industry ecosystem is bright with the silvery flash of vast shoals of independent contract linguists. They are the glittering backbone of the industry and  the bottom of the translation food chain.

Common Sense Advisory, a self-described  translation market research company, recently took a look over the side of the boat to see what these translation industry small fry were swimming up against. Since I’ve only seen the press release, the survey comes across more like a Playboy playmate interview – turn-ons, turn-offs, that kind of stuff – than anything particularly content-heavy. Just my style.  Here goes…

Translator Turn-offs:

Cheapskate translation companies penny-pinching on the translator’s dime. There’s even a website about this called No Peanuts! for Translators. Translators don’t like to work cheap, either. Imagine that.

Even worse are the translation companies that don’t pay their bills at all. Translators are not the only ones with elephant-like memories of those who do not pay. In the course of my own career, I’ve been cheated out of about $400K total, and  I can name every joker in that hall of shame lineup, starting with that son-of-a-bitch Andy Skapic conning me out of 30 bucks in Boy Scouts over that entrenching tool.

Chief research officer Nataly Kelly says, “Many translation companies go to great lengths to protect and promote their brand to their customers and prospects, but very few consider how important it is to develop good relationships with the hundreds of thousands of freelance translators actually performing the translation work. Translation agencies that wish to seek an advantage in the marketplace should pay more attention to what freelance translators are saying.”

Translators Turn-ons:

There were no turn-ons reported.

Translators and Translation Agencies :
– Freelancers receive approximately two-thirds of their income from translation agencies and about a third from direct clients.
– More than a third of translators have been victims of a translation agency failing to pay them for work completed.
– 40% of freelancers reported that they turn down jobs from a translation agency with a bad reputation. Gee, I wonder who they could be talking about?
– Over 80% of freelancers have turned down work because the compensation offered was too low. (Makes you wonder about those other 20%, doesn’t it?)

The report also dishes dirt on the reputations of my competitors, which is just the kind of business porn that really rocks my boat, but I didn’t want the CFO seeing it on the line item as it might raise certain questions about my predilections, if you know what I mean. Now.

Now at 1-800-Translate we’re not like our disreputable competitors. We are really nice to our vendors, or at least they think so, since according to the pros we were ranked pretty high. I think it’s because we overpay, or at least because we pay on time.

But you have to be careful about getting too friendly with all those freelancers. As remote workers, they’ll keep you on the phone for hours out of sheer flat-screen loneliness. Invite them over to your house and your liquor cabinet will soon be empty, as I have learned from painful experience. But they are generally amusing drunks and I guess they deserve to be paid for the work they do.

So, freelancers, today on the first work day of the year 2013, on behalf of the industry I salute you.

Thank you for your participation.

PS The check is in the mail. xoxo


  1. Wilber says:

    I was stiffed a couple of times years ago but didn’t pursue it – they were puny giglets for puny fees, not worth the time or bother. Also had one or two clients who chiseled me down on the final word count. I dumped them, gracefully. On occasion I’ve also given in on a small job where the agency pleads tearfully that if they pay what I ask they won’t make any money themselves because they’ve already promised the customer yada yada yada . . . I don’t do it anymore though. I tell them my fee, take it or leave it (but politely!). My regular clients pay well and on time, and I can afford to pass up penny-ante stuff. Once in a while I’ll do a job that doesn’t pay much if it’s personally interesting.

    On a different topic, this XOXO at the end of the blog. Is that the conventional “hugs and kisses” or perhaps, at a stretch, a dead ringer, if read as Cyrillic, for Ho-Ho in Russian (sarcastic laughter)? S Novym Godom!

    • Ken says:

      Oh no, it’s Russian. People always seem to think it’s a “Gossip Girl” reference.

  2. Freelancers deserve to be paid properly. I think some of them became choosy and they always turn down some agencies because they don’t want to become victims again. It is important for freelancers to know their agencies well and always be clear about your salary.

  3. Laural says:

    Shocking isn’t it, people like being rewarded for the work they do. The world is a crazy place.

  4. Jim says:

    I really think that the industry as a whole needs to address the issue of compensation, I had to deal with non-payment and scrounging for jobs that didn’t pay much constantly until I moved away from freelancing. Not sure how you fix it, but it’s just brutal for people out there on their own.

    • Ken says:

      it’s a business with a low cost of entry and price is a big driver. That makes for one deadly discount cocktail. see you at happy hour.

  5. Chuck Parker says:

    You’d think that with how reliant the industry is on freelancers that there would be some thought given to how companies engage with them, or is it just that the market is so saturated with those looking for work that companies don’t need to?

  6. Paula says:

    Over the years I’ve had some issues with getting shafted, never for anything do big, but it’s happened and I have had clients argue over rates/fees, but I always just assumed that it was a small part of being in business, any business. You have bad clients, but apparently this is more of an industry wide kind of thing, which is really kind of troubling.

  7. Amy says:

    Does the link lead to press release, lead to the actual report as well? I’d like to see some of the information.

    • Ken says:

      You know what I know, Amy and I’m too cheap to pay common sense advisoryto find out. Welcome to my world.

  8. Elizabeth says:

    Does the report address interpreting as well, or just translation?

  9. Tom Lackman says:

    I think that the point about companies focusing on brand development and client relationships while ignoring the fostering of good working relationships with essentiallu employees performing the actual work is key. I’d like to see more companies actually treat trnslators as something more than a disposable resource.

  10. Over the years you just have to learn which jobs to take, and which to pass up, with experience you can learn the signs of when you’re going to end up getting screwed or having to waste time arguing about money. Although, sometimes you still get broadsided and what seems like a reputable gig ends up a pain in the ass, but hey, cost of being your own boss.

    • Ken says:

      I think a lot of freelancers starting out are shy about establishing and enforcing payment terms for fear of client pushback. But failure to do so can put your business. Translation is a trade like any other, and it takes time to learn the ropes and sniff out the deadbeats.

  11. So, the moral of the story is people like money, pay them.

    • Ken says:

      That’s the moral of all my stories Martinek. Mo money!

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