The advantages of a small agency (1)

It’s perhaps time that I tell you a bit about myself. Before founding Fairtrad, I was a freelance translator for various translation agencies, then an in-house translator, and finally a project manager which involved managing external translators, relationships with large translation agencies and quality control.  I have therefore been, in turn, both supplier and customer and have been able to observe and understand “both sides of the fence”. It’s in response to this experience that I wanted to set up my own company. I have seen that quality, the be all and end all in business communications, is not a constant and never the top priority. Cost is always taking the lion’s share in negotiations whereas it really is not that difficult to implement a process offering a fair and effective price-quality ratio.

I have also understood the frequent errors made by linguistic service providers and the strategic errors made by their customers.

I now know that even the biggest agencies can sometimes deliver poor quality work… and I know why. They lack the one thing they absolutely cannot afford to offer: time. A big group demands big margins, and productivity is bound to the time spent on a project. The need to be quick and manage the largest number of requests possible means that project managers are not aware of all the details relating to one customer’s requirements. Information and requests come from many sides (customers, linguists, editors) and are relayed by several people (numerous contacts with varying levels of responsibility, customer management handed over to other project managers according to the agency’s needs). Some information gets lost, especially the very detailed type. Here’s a practical example: I am a proofreader for a major agency which translates all communication materials for a very big company. For two years now, I have noticed that despite my corrections, the translations I proofread always contain the same mistakes. I therefore took the initiative to put together a glossary to have it approved by the agency and their customer, in order to ensure terminological coherence and consistent quality.  This glossary never came back to me, and I can see that it was never passed on to the other translators working on the same project. The agency plainly didn’t take the time to explain the importance of this glossary to the customer, and above all, the money that the customer would have saved by putting a translation memory and official glossary into place. All the better for me I suppose – I’ll always be their indispensable proofreader because, for the time being, I’ve got it all stored in my head! The fact remains that this agency – the market leader – insists on paying less and less for its translations whereas it could save money by putting a more effective tracking process into place which would, however, require a little more time and attention. As a translator, I even have direct access to the copywriters (not particularly ethical), but I still often don’t get a response to my requests for information. In fact, apart from the customer (who pays), all the other elements in the chain (communication agencies, marketing directors, interns, partners) see translation management as a waste of time. And they’re right, it’s not their job, it’s the agency’s job. But the agency also manages other projects and cannot focus on major issues. That’s why they offload part of their work by allowing customers and communication agencies to communicate with their own subcontractors. It’s not about transparency; it’s about lack of commitment. The fact that the copy (for which the customer has paid a large amount of money to a major advertising agency to write) is poorly translated, contains spellings mistakes or loses its impact and initial style, is just a detail. The same goes for the translators: they’re so badly paid that they aren’t prepared to argue, especially when no one else seems particularly bothered either.

At Fairtrad, things happen very differently.