The Love-Hate Relationship That Freelancers Have with Agencies
Translators and interpreters have a complicated relationship with language service providers. They depend greatly on them for revenue, but often just don’t like dealing with an intermediary. In CSA Research’s survey of more than 7,300 linguists, we inquired about the working relationship between freelancers and their LSP customers.
Linguists who work with agencies get an average of 72% of their income from them. About one in five respondents (21%) derive all of their revenue from LSPs. In contrast, about one in six respondents (17%) earn all of their income by bypassing these intermediaries and going straight to direct clients.
With so much of linguists’ work coming from agency clients, that must be what the linguists prefer… But actually, not quite. About two-thirds of respondents (63%) favored direct commercial clients. In addition, when it comes to working with LSPs, size matters – 51% like working for midsized ones, 47% for small ones, and only 40% for the larger providers.
Why do linguists like to work for direct clients? Their main motive is the ability to earn higher rates (80% of respondents). They also like the freedom and ability to control the work more closely thanks to the loss of intermediaries.
Respondents brought up additional elements centered on the closer relationship they have with their direct customers – they contend that it leads to more collaborative and creative work. Linguists feel more valued and therefore get a greater sense of satisfaction. They like that they can go beyond translation and can act as a consultant who advises customers. They also find they receive faster responses and payments.
Subcontracting for other LSPs brings more work for a great majority of responding linguists (71%), and also delivers increased support with technology and personal development. However, respondents rate these additional benefits much less important than the greater availability of work through language service providers.
Linguists’ commentaries were rich in other elements they appreciate when working for agencies: the reduced liability; the bigger range of subject matter they get to tackle; the reduced need for sales, marketing, and administrative duties; the ability to decline work and take time off; the fact that projects require less pre- and post-processing; and more frequent opportunities to collaborate with other linguists.
All in all, most freelancers combine both direct and LSP clients. Few end customers with large-scale localization needs are willing to take on managing freelancers directly. They rely on agencies not only as talent brokers but for the value-add they bring through technology solutions, project management skills, and scalability.
The love-hate relationship between linguists and LSPs is bound to remain, but that’s not to say language service providers can’t do their part to offer more appealing work conditions. One such example is to improve the vendor portals they use to communicate project details and files with translators and interpreters. Another example is to rethink how they communicate with vendors: One of the disappointing elements of this research was to see that one-quarter (25%) of respondents perceive a lack of respect for what they do. This can be the result of multiple elements such as pushy negotiation techniques, mass mailers that make linguists feel like robots, and the lack of recognition of the work and skills involved in delivering a project. Bringing a human element back into the vendor relationship would benefit all parties involved. Language service providers must rethink their courting strategies to gain the affection of freelancers. Talented linguists have the luxury to be picky and turn down offers from poor suitors. And with fewer new linguists entering the training pipeline, the ability to retain the best workers will become a differentiator in the coming years.
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