Improving your rates with agencies is a little more challenging. It’s not the focus of this book, but should not be ignored as it has built thousands of careers spanning many decades. You see, with agencies you are less of a scarce resource. That holds true for the majority of translators; the minority-language folks (hello, Swahili > Icelandic translators) might not need much in the way of sales advice as they’re as scarce as it comes. Being less scarce limits your price potential, as does the fact that the majority of agencies are set on pricing per word. They seem intent on keeping it as the industry standard. So we will have to consider some agile techniques that optimise who we work with, and how we work with them.
By marketing your freelance services to agencies in countries with a higher average per capita income than that of your home country, i.e. living in Poland, working for Scandinavian agencies or living in Scandinavia and working for Swiss agencies (apologies, Swiss reader, you’ll have to look for countries with similar income levels) you maximise potential income where possible by making the most of the discrepancy.
But aside from this basic method, carving a niche is the next best way to boost your agency earnings. By seeking out agencies which deal heavily in your ideal subject area specialism (finance, patents, medicine, IT, engineering… the list is long) you can charge specialist rates and begin to use this body of work to help improve your direct client strategy.
Raising rates with agencies can also be done through teamwork. Teams can take on a higher work volume, pool resources, proofread each other’s work and cover more specialisms at no additional cost, thereby charging more on average. This all leads to a higher quality of service and approaches a business that is more akin to a consultancy than a freelance practice, yet still allows agencies to do the marketing and sales work on their behalf.
Teams can work in-house or a through a looser distributed network of same-language pair (or reverse direction) colleagues. As a solo-freelancer you can emulate this by keeping a list of these colleagues and their rates to share work between yourselves, perhaps charging a slight premium for project management.
It is best to avoid those agencies that end up costing you more than they make you. The commodity agencies will not call back if you say no to their lowball request, but this is a good thing. You yourself are not a commodity, and neither is your work. And neither is the end-client’s. There are better contacts out there to be made, you just need to regularly and systematically work through the ways of finding them.
The worst agencies can end up costing you money when their margins leave no room for proofreading or QA of any kind and the end client is disappointed with the results. You know, because you didn’t use that glossary that they provided the agency during the job, who then didn’t see fit to mention it to you at any point before the delivery date…
Optimising your income from agencies can also be done through ruling out any free tests. They are time-consuming, invariably poorly marked and assume that you work for them, not with them. You work together, and you don’t work for free. Your CV and portfolio show your work standard and experience, your references are proof. This is sufficient.
These ideas on raising rates with direct and agency clients are a baseline for our sales and marketing work. Before we go on to look at sales techniques in any depth, let us briefly look at an approach to health and wealth that will lay further foundations for streamlining your overall business and work/life balance.