Agencies have their own role in the translation market: they handle customer contact, marketing, and client acquisition. Some agencies also prepare the source material as well as piece together and manage bigger projects for you. Sometimes they take care of revisions. Billing the end client and the credit risk that comes with it is the concern of the agency, along with any reclamations and general client management work. Through translation agencies you may also get the opportunity to be involved in multilingual projects of multinational companies – opportunities an independent translator never gets. For all this work the agencies deserve compensation, which is the margin between the translator’s fee and the retail price. Upholding a reasonable margin and receiving compensation for services provided is vital to all commercial activity; it does not mean you're “being ripped off”. At its best, a translation agency can be your trusted partner and friend, not an exploiter or an enemy. If cooperation with an agency doesn’t go smoothly or feel fair and professional, the partnership isn’t worth continuing.

Your contact person in an agency is usually the coordinator. Over time, you may develop a friendly relationship with your client. However, keep this relationship professional as well. Don’t complain to the coordinator about a difficult end client or the specifics of a commission, and certainly don’t open up about your personal issues. It's not the coordinator’s job to be your therapist; their job is to order your expert services, which they expect you to deliver on schedule and according to the terms agreed.

Make the coordinator’s job easy: don’t mix up comments meant for the translation agency and the end client. Be friendly and collegial even in matters that don’t directly relate to your own language pair. If you recommend a colleague to your client, the client will remember that you helped them solve a problem, which will earn you some bonus points! In turn, if one of your colleagues recommends you to one of their clients, remember to be worthy of their trust.

If the coordinator isn’t quite up to speed with their tasks, help them. While it isn’t something you’ll get paid for, you’ll nonetheless save yourself from a lot of trouble when you help the coordinator arrange matters sensibly. This way you can also become the coordinator’s go-to translator, whom they contact first with any commissions in your language pairs.

An agency isn’t obligated to use your services if you don’t have a binding contract with them. You often hear “My name is on their list too, but I never get any jobs from them.” At the end of the day, no one is required to buy your services, but in turn, you have no obligation to sell your services to just anyone, either. Even if orders trickle in quite infrequently, every order that you complete successfully builds a basis for the next one.