What really goes on in mega-Translation Mills like Lionbridge and Transperfect?

Responding to criticisms of Lionbridge, an ex-project manager reveals some startling truths….


I am a former PM from similarly minded gigantic agency (which purchased the small agency I had been working for) that also ruthlessly demands discounts of its vendors while making ever increasing profits. I thought such tactics of negotiating in bad faith and freely lying to its suppliers was uniquely exercised by my former employer, but I can see it has some comrades in arms in Lionbridge. I have no experience with Lionbridge, but I would like to share some insights from the other side from the PM stuck in the middle at such an company that regularly pulls this crap as well.

I remember reading in our vendor database how a large group of Dutch translators had resisted their attempts to work down rates and I remember thinking “Go Dutch translators! Unite!” I can tell you such companies usually treat their employees with equal disregard. And talk of “quality” under such conditions is truly laughable. I have no idea how my former employee got away with it except for the fact that by and large the client has no idea what they are getting.

We regularly had translators say “I asked you long ago to take me out of your database! I will not work for you ever again!”. But of course, the staff was stretched so thin all around that the vendor managers never accomplished this seemingly logical task of cleaning up the vendor database.

We were also asked to get as much for free from our vendors as possible while still charging the client full price. And making translators wade through incomprehensible instructions and perform extra free steps of formatting and sorting through text was par for the course. The agency was gunning to eliminate minimum fees for everyone but themselves. On the whole, I felt it was tantamount to vendor abuse, the Walmart approach of making vendors completely dependent on you by offering them loads of work at tiny prices – “well, you can make a good living if you work at least 18 hours a day!” And then, should the translator have the audacity not to accept another discount? Blacklist them until they learn! Nice way to treat your “partners”, huh? (Our agency always used such inappropriate niceties as well.)

The salespeople promised the clients the moon and the stars without bothering to check how much such things cost at wholesale. They were encourage to separate the cost of the project from the price quoted – and to let the PM manage to work over the vendor so as to still achieve the full mark up price. When I could finally break free, I felt like someone with PTSD. The PM turnover was at least 70% a year and I was one who hung in there way too long. It’s a wonder I stayed in the translation business at all.

I say too: Refuse the discount! Refuse their jobs!

There is actually not an enormous number of translators, especially those with special skill sets who know how to use the technology you use, are talented at their jobs and pleasant to work with. How many times I had my pathetic offers as a PM turned down with the comment “My other clients have no problem paying my full rate”. This has been confirmed now that I am a freelancer myself. My time is worth more than that. My full-price customers keep me quite busy! Why on earth would I ruin my evening/weekend/holiday to give you a rush job at 1/3 of my normal rate? Delete! There is a whole other world of agencies that pay fairly and respect vendors as human beings. I prefer to work with them.

(Anonymous because I know first hand my old company is quite vindictive indeed.)

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9 Responses to What really goes on in mega-Translation Mills like Lionbridge and Transperfect?

  1. Sean Oliver says:

    Working for a small agency, I can’t even imagine PM’ing under these kinds of working conditions. I also don’t understand how translation buyers aren’t employing internal reviews to check quality (which can’t be good coming from some of these sweatshops); it pretty much communicates that you don’t care about your (likely) non-US locations.

  2. Pingback: What really goes on in mega-Translation Mills like Lionbridge and Transperfect? (via No Peanuts! for Translators) | translatingmum

  3. Very enlightening. Thanks to all commentators for explaining what goes on at some agencies. I have had no more assignments from a (very large) agency since not going along with a mass email requesting a discount on editing rates (mine had been judged acceptable up til then), and after reading your descriptions I have a better understanding of what’s behind it; I feel better about having lost that client and have no regrets.

  4. James says:

    After working freelance for 5 years, I have become “a little bit” frustrated by the common malpractise of translation agencies (resp. big LSPs) that everyone seems to talk about: Constantly haggling Translation Buyers, rates going down, academically graduated transators being pushed in 18h weekend shifts but at the same time being still unable to pay energy bills, flat rents, health insurance and last year’s tax bill with decreasing rate offers and non-negotiative discounts and penalties for global financial crisises.
    However, big agencies such as thebigword, Lionbridge, transperfect, worldlingo.com rely on subcontractors that deliver client-ready translations (Classically called “TEP”) to their doorsteps, and they have no inhouse editors whatsoever who take care of those sweatshop translations delivered for ridiculous rate offers of $0.05 to $0.10 per new word.

    Instead of gaining the insight into truyl professional production chains, thebigword for instance even entertains the malpractise to perform random checks on a few of all monthly delivered translations up to 60 days AFTER the obviously unrevised delivery to the client. They still believe that this would be professional and client-orineted – delivering unproven translations to the clients and advertising a DIN 15380 quality lie on their website in order to take the clients in. Such malpractise reminds me more of organized criminality than of a proper translation agency. Have those Stern School and Yale MBAs not pocketed enough money from this industry that they apparently must have despised? Why do they still have to keep translators? Are those MBAs still unwiling to retire with a dog on their Vodka loaded Yachts?

  5. There is some more (anonymous) information available through sites like Glassdoor – http://www.glassdoor.com. Simply search for the agency through the “Companies & Reviews” tab ;).

  6. transperfectnot says:

    For a summary of concerns at Transperfect and related companies, please see:
    http://www.transperfectnot.wordpress.com or http://www.transperfect-translations-concerns.blogspot.com
    with few notable exceptions, tpt is a hornets nest of deceit, dishonesty, hyped up mediocrity and cheap veneer. their directors ask their employees to lie relative to ‘certifying’ translations; managers, directors, employees will lie to you and laugh while doing so. there is a substance abuse problem at tpt fostered by its management. directors/managers brag about ‘boning’ clients’ daughters. transperfect is notoriously known as a low quality agency. its qc/qa is comparable to a wayne’s world meets the beverly hillbillies meets a thinly veiled (vindictive) lord of the flies. STAY AWAY FROM TRANSPERFECT.

  7. Damian Howlett says:

    I can only agree. Avoid transperfect at all costs. In 30 years of otherwise untainted experience as a freelancer I have never once encountered a firm of such ill repute with employees who blatantly lie to get your interest. I worked a three week assignment for them abroad earlier this year. To this day they still owe me $8,225. Steer clear of this company and believe nothing they tell you. Given the amount they owe me i am meanwhile considering legal action. Care to comment, Alejandro Gonzalez at TransPerfect?

    • Ina Wilms says:

      That sounds bad. I worked for them for the first time, 5 weeks of work for US$ 6,000. I haven’t even got their PO yet, also I hold back part of the work. I won’t certainly ever work for them again. I should have informed myself in advance.

  8. The trick is to be a contractor–that is–write your own. Google “contract creator tool”…
    This takes you to a page by the Freelance Union with a widget that you may use to design a contract for, say, a translation or interpreting assignment. The end-result can be saved as a Word file and is an excellent start on contract boilerplate. Observe that it generates no hold-harmless clauses or market allocation agreements. If someone sends you an unworkable contract, you can reply with a better agreement for THEM to sign as your bid.

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