There are translators who work in-house and those who work on their own (there are also those who actually have a completely different job but translate on the side, but I am not talking about them here). I have done both for long stretches of time. Whenever there is a slump in my freelance work flow, I think back on how wonderful my monthly paychecks were back then. Whenever I realize that I am romanticizing my in-house years too much, I try to remember the mind-numbing routines I had to engage in and the stupid requests of my supervisors born out of total lack of understanding of my work. On top of it, it wasn’t really a 9-to-5 job. When deadlines had to be met, I staid way into the night and went to work on Saturdays and Sundays.
Recently, there has been a lot of chatter about freelance work for direct clients vs. working for translation companies. There were session at the recent ATA conference; Corinne McKay picked up the thread in her blog Thoughts on Translation in posts on November 12 and 13 about strategies for increasing one’s income; Susanne Aldridge, her new blog even entitled In-House Translators – A Dying Breed, weighs the pros and cons for a translation buyer of contracting out translation work to freelance translators or to translation agencies; Judy Jenner in Translation Times sings the praise of direct clients in her November 18 post We Heart Our Direct Clients.
I have to confess that I prefer to work with agencies – good agencies, that is. I am in this business for the translation and I would like to concentrate on the translation part of the transaction. I would like someone else to prep files for me (and it is getting increasingly complicated to prep them), to organize editing and proofreading, to make sure the final output is formatted correctly. For 12 years, I managed a translation company in Japan. Perhaps it was particular to Japan, but clients were brutal in their demands. For an individual, it would have been nearly impossible to comply with all the requests, changes in schedule, sudden changes in scope, and, most difficult, payment modalities. We were paid like all suppliers with 6-month notes. If we wanted to pay our translators earlier, which we did, we had to finance the difference.
Not all direct clients are that difficult, just as not all agencies are great. But before working for a direct client I am looking very carefully for signs that the job may turn into more than just a translation.
A couple of days ago I mentioned Gail Armstrong and her blog Open Brackets which she stopped writing back in 2006. Of the many memorable posts, one deals with the translator-agency relationship. It is entitled Snow job in July, and if you haven’t read it, you should do so before the blog disappears from the web.