Translator bait and switch

Some of the more unscrupulous translation agencies practice what I call the bait and switch. They use their more expensive translators on the first couple of jobs for a new client, and then switch to their cheaper translators after they've locked in a juicy contract.

Of course, you always want to do the best possible job on the trial translation or first job; otherwise, you won't get any more work. But there's a line between putting a bit of extra spit and polish on your first couple of jobs, and creating the impression that your top translators will always be handling the client's work when you intended from the start to farm it off to your scrubs.

This is why when you buy translations through an agency, and you don't have access to the translators, you can never be sure of what you're getting. Clients need to check the quality of each translation, and look for downward trends.

Some agency customers appear to be cottoning on to the bait and switch, because lately I've been seeing more of them demand access to their translators. I wrote before about how I recently went with an agency to visit an end client that demanded access to the translator.

Then a couple of weeks ago, I started a contract with another agency whose end client demanded the CV of each translator on the project, and a guarantee that only the translators who team-translated the trial would do the translations for the contract.

The bid probably ended up higher than if the agency planned on swapping in scrubs down the road, but the end client is happy, because it gets the assurance that the same translators who sent in the winning trial are the ones who'll be doing the actual translations.

I think that the more agency-using translation buyers become aware of the old bait and switch, the more they'll demand direct access to translators, or at least guarantees of who'll be doing their translations.

5 comments to Translator bait and switch

  • There have been a few occasions when an existing client has asked me to do a sample translation in hopes of landing a big job, and then the actual job never came. I always wondered—did they not get the job because their bid was too high? Because my translation was not up to par? Or perhaps they did get the job and handed it off to someone else.

  • @Adam
    That is one reason, as to why I always insist on getting paid for sample translations too at my usual rate. It is actually the agency which is on trial with its new client. The agency is already my client and aware of my capability. Hence there is no reason as to why I should fund the agency’s marketing effort.

    If I do a free sample test and the actual project won on the strength of my test piece goes to someone else due whatever reason, I end up as the fall guy.

    N. Raghavan

  • @ Adam

    You might be surprised at how common this practice is. I’ve seen it first hand many times.

    That’s why, as with N. Raghavan, I won’t do unpaid trials for agencies who are bidding on jobs unless I’m confident that I’ll get the work if the bid wins. If they want to pay me my normal rate for the trial and then use someone else, then it’s their business as far as I’m concerned.

  • Hi Ryan,
    I have heard that this happens “all the time” with EU tenders, only that the good (or let us say best) translators never see the colour of the job. Some agencies simply use diplomas, credentials etc. to open the doors of EU institutions. And the rest is… silence.

  • Robin Schmidt

    I have experienced a bait and switch by agencies where you are given a Trados job, quoted as lower of course, but then the document will not actually work in Trados. So you end up doing the translation without using Trados because you have already taken it on as a job and have taken up some time already manipulating it in order to try to use Trados on it, and so feel conscientious about having taken time up on the job already. You feel an obligation to finish what you started, even if the MT did not work out. However, agencies will then argue that they should pay the Trados rate on it. I have had this happen enough now that I believe I will not take Trados jobs anymore. I would rather work with end clients to produce a good product for a reasonable rate, but am not sure how to obtain this sort of work, i.e., cutting out the middle man. From either perspective, the middle men provide a service, but they also cause problems and skim off an enormous amount of cream that–for the proportion of it they skim–should simply go to the worker who has done most of the work!

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