“Your fee is well over the budget for this assignment”.

August 15, 2018 § 9 Comments

Dear colleagues:

Have you noticed mediocre agencies always say: “unfortunately, your fee is way over the budget this client has for the event”? This seems to be the answer I get most of the time, even from the big multinational interpreting services agencies, and it is the main reason I reject an assignment offered.

It makes me wonder how those huge multinational agencies, worshipped by their colleagues in the “industry”, who claim to be service providers to the biggest corporations and organizations in the world, can be as big and profitable as their financial statements show, (and believe me, thanks to public litigation records from lawsuits involving some, market share values, and their own bragging about their success, we know they are turning profits never seen before) when according to their conversations with interpreters, our fees are almost always above their clients’ budgets for their main, once-a-year conference, launching of a new product presentations, multi-million dollar fundraisers, or award ceremonies.  I find it difficult to believe these agencies would only work with “starving” clients.

The main issue is how these agencies’ clients decide on a budget for their events. I would think that corporations have little knowledge about interpreting services, and for that reason they go to language service agencies to find out about interpreting costs, just as they go to the caterer for information on the cost of food, or to the hotel to see how much it costs to rent a ballroom for the weekend. The agency informs the client or event organizer how much interpreters will charge, and what else they need to factor in (equipment, booths, technical support) before determining the amount needed for interpreting services. The agency tells the client what interpreters will cost. Then, armed with all necessary information, the corporation of association sets a budget. It is not the other way around.

The problem is that agencies want to pay interpreters very little so they can have great margins, and they tell their clients they can get interpreters for very low fees; even when the agency knows they will never get the best human talent for such a tiny paycheck. They have offered lower quality interpreters willing to work for below market non-professional fees.

If an ignorant client contacts the agency and tells them they want an interpreter for no more than a certain amount, and the amount is below prevailing professional interpreter fees, that is the time for an agency to educate the client and tell them: “…sorry, but a team of interpreters would cost you such and such professional fee per interpreter per day…” and then explain that interpreters charge by the day, that every time they are retained to work four hours or less, they must be paid for half a day, unless the four-hour (or less) assignment encompasses both morning and afternoon hours, because in that case interpreters need to be paid for a full day since they cannot generate any other income on that day.  During this conversation, an agency interested in quality interpretation would add: “…by the way, half days are handled this way…”

Then, if the event requires interpreters from out of town, the agency must make it very clear to the client these interpreters will charge at least half of the full-day fee for each travel day. Finally, the agency should clarify that, separate from their fees, these out-of-town professional interpreters will need for the client to cover their travel costs: travel, lodging, in-town transportation, and Per Diem.

At the beginning, these agencies may have to sacrifice part of their margin, but in the long run they will turn more profitable than those who turn their backs on the interpreting profession and embrace the low-quality ranks of the so-called “industry”, because their clients will notice the difference in the quality of the service and will go back to the same agency time and again. These are the agencies interpreters look for. These are the real interpreting services agencies. I would like to hear your ideas on this issue, and please share any relevant experiences you had.

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§ 9 Responses to “Your fee is well over the budget for this assignment”.

  • Arturo Schubert says:

    Excellent article as usual. Thank you…

    Arturo

    ________________________________

  • Stephen D Moore says:

    This problem doesn’t just occur with agencies handling interpretation; as a translator only, I run into it also.

  • Mark Willan says:

    Some specifics about how this is operated as an actual scam in Singapore and elsewhere in South East Asia:
    1 The “agency” collects CVs for genuine interpreters
    2 Bids are submitted (and jobs obtained) based on those CVs
    3 Genuine interpreters are NEVER contacted, instead “in-house” staff (often foreign mother tongue students taking monthly wages at less than the legal minimum wage)are used.
    4 If clients ask why the people whose CVs were submitted were not there, they get some story such as last minute illness, or no-show etc., thus damaging the reputation of the bona fide colleagues
    5 These students are incapable of stringing more than a couple of sentences together and people who travelled thousands of miles get nothing to take back from the event.

    Some colleagues are not providing CVs anymore. There is now a trend to fly in interpreters from Europe who are happy to absorb at least part of the cost of travel, on the basis that they can then bolt on an exotic holiday before or after the event.

    What can we do? The only thing I can think of is a system for rating interpreter agencies world-wide, a little like the (non-) payment boards exist for translation agencies.

  • André Csihás, FCCI says:

    I’ve had the same experience.

    I have been made to understand through their evasive defense, that they simply can’t believe that we —interpreters and translators— are being paid “for just talking” or “for just writing stuff”. That attitude and reaction proves their supreme ignorance about the importance of a successfully-interpreted corporate image.

    It’s tragic and shameful that these companies continue being penny wise and pound foolish for the wrong reasons. When will they ever learn?

  • When organising conference interpreting, There is a solution which enables interpreters to receive their usual fee and the agency to provide a discount to the client while making a higher margin: RSI, Remote simultaneous interpreting!
    Not having to rent booths and transmission equipment, and the elimination of transfer and accommodation expenses, reduces the total costs by half or more. Lower costs lead to higher demand and more work for interpreters.

  • Mark Willan says:

    In the end the cause of all our ills is simple: we interpreters have allowed middle men (agencies. i.e. simple intermediaries) to rule the roost and tell us what we can and cannot charge!

    We need to organise and provide clients with OUR first point of contact and NOT agencies. because in the end they provide NO SERVICE to anyone!

    They simply take a cut (and sometimes keep all charges by non-payment, lest we forget) and give what? to whom?

    Unfortunately many colleagues get lured by the attraction of taking a cut from the work of others and want to found their own agencies, when what is needed is in-depth reform of how the market works.

    It can be done, if we just decide to do our own advertising and marketing…and maybe there is a market for providing just that for our colleagues…

  • I wholeheartedly share your opinion. I would go as far as saying that it is a way of sticking to the translators they rely on or who accept peanuts or even pedestrian translators .

  • heleneby says:

    When they paint my house, the budget starts with the cost of paint at Ace Hardware, the hourly rate of the painter, etc.

    Here, they do it backwards. “We negotiated x and you have to fit in x.” That doesn’t work.

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