Making money working for agencies?

Many translators scoff at the thought of working for agencies, who always try to force ridiculously low prices on you.
But there are some exceptions. I do recommend to sign up for agencies who allow some sort of bidding. And even if they don’t allow it, try to take advantage of urgencies. What you want is to get their regular project request e-mails.
You’ll have to sift through a lot of spam like “15 USD proofread request, due one hour from now”, but once in a while you’ll see big projects, like “20k words, due in 2 days, split ok”.
In this case, you can usually negotiate decently high rates, let’s say 13-15 dollar cents per word. Ok, that’s not major league, but USD 2600 for 3 days of hard work is motivating. As usual with rush projects, there’s little nagging about quality, unless you overtly misuse machine translation or miss the deadline. “On time” means “good enough” in this business.
Don’t bother bidding for projects under a certain amount, say USD 1000.
If it’s a split project, try to grab as much as possible. Project managers usually prefer to give away big chunks, it’s less puzzle work for them.
If you concentrate on this type of work, maybe you’ll land only one project every two weeks that keeps you working like a donkey three nights straight, but you’ll get enough cash in one swoop to get you through the month.
Also negotiate flat fees for the whole project, instead of word prices. That’ll get you out of the useless repetition discount discussion.
But do negotiate target word prices if you’re working with PDFs without OCR. Especially when it’s just boring business texts, you can adapt the verbose writing style used (clauses instead of single words as prepositions, for example) to jack up the end price a little without grossly violating your professional ethics.
What do you think?
Discuss, comment, post!

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