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Is a Freelance Translator or Translation Agency Right for You?

When you’re ready to grow your business in new markets, you’ll need to hire a professional translation service to prepare your content for the language(s) spoken in those new markets.

Here’s the good news: You have options.

Translation Agencies

Translation agencies come in many varieties, all with the same general business model of serving as a middleman between translation buyers (like you) and translators (like me).

Agencies typically consist of an owner, one or more salespeople, one or more project managers, an administrative/finance team, and possibly a team of in-house translators/editors. Most of the translators an agency works with, however, are freelancers with which the agency has an agreement. An agency could potentially have hundreds of translators in its database, thereby broadening its capacity of available language pairs and specializations.

The advantages of working with a good translation agency include:

  • Availability: Some agencies offer 24/7 availability. Also, with a larger pool of translators, agencies are better equipped to deal with tighter deadlines and can accommodate your schedule even when a translator gets sick or goes on vacation.
  • Multiple languages: If you need your content translated into many languages, an agency can manage the project for you. This is convenient for you as the translation buyer. Also, it allows for greater coordination during the translation process because, as questions arise during the translation project, the project manager can easily share answers with all of the translators working on your text.
  • Word of mouth: If a trusted colleague had a good experience with a particular translation agency, you may feel more confident about using the same agency, even if your content requires a different language pair or area of expertise.

Unfortunately, translation agencies have drawbacks, too. Disadvantages of translation agencies include:

  • Less control: You have no direct interaction with the translator. You could provide a style guide or glossary as guidance (please do!), and you can answer questions passed through the project manager. But when you work with a translation agency, you’ll lose the valuable opportunity to truly collaborate the translator working on your text.
  • No guarantees: Although agencies have many translators to choose from in their database, their best translator for your job might be backlogged or otherwise unavailable. This means that the agency will reach out to more and more translators until someone is available who feels comfortable with the text. Ultimately, there is no real guarantee that the translator working on your project is a great fit.
  • Still no guarantees: Even if you loved the first translation an agency did for you and you request the same translator the next time, there is no guarantee that you’ll work with the same translator and editor in the future.
  • Costly: As a company with employees, agencies have lots of overhead, which is reflected in the price they charge you.

Freelance Translators

Freelance translators are highly-trained translation professionals who offer their services on a freelance basis to agencies and/or directly to translation buyers. Most freelance translators have a professional website and are members of one or more translation associations.

Translators work in one or more language pairs, always translating into their native language. We also specialize in specific areas of expertise. Specializations may be stated in a broad sense, such as medical, legal, or technical, and within these areas, translators may specialize even further. Often, a translator’s specialization may even reflect a past career, as in my situation, where I have a degree in computer information systems and spent over 10 years in software before becoming a translator. I know other translators who similarly had other careers before ultimately becoming a translator.

It is important to choose a translator whose specialization aligns with your business area. The quality of your final translation will be better as a result.

You can find freelance translators by searching Google (try searching for “translator”, plus the language pair and business sector) or by searching in the directory of a respected translation association, such as the American Translators Association. Many freelance translators are also active on LinkedIn and Twitter. You might even meet one at a trade show within your industry, as we often attend events within our specializations to network and stay current on the latest developments and terminology.

The advantages of working with a freelance translator include:

  • Consistency: Once you find a translator whose background is a good fit for your needs, you can continue working with that same translator for years. Over time, the translator will become extremely familiar with your style and preferences.
  • Confidentiality: When working with a freelance translator, your file is passed only between you, your translator, and the translator’s editor. This streamlined process protects the confidentiality of your text. By contrast, agencies may pass your text among several translators until they find someone who is available to do the work.
  • Affordability: Unlike agencies, freelance translators have less overhead, so the price may be lower. That said, translation rates vary considerably. Good translators are in high demand and typically set their rates accordingly.

The disadvantages of freelance translators include:

  • Availability: When you choose to work with an individual instead of an agency, you may need to plan more time for your translations. For example, your translator may be busy with other work when you need him or her, or your translator may be feeling under the weather or on vacation.
  • Capacity: One freelance translator can usually only help you with one language you need translated. If your content needs to be translated into five languages, for example, you’ll need to find and coordinate with five freelance translators, which may divert too much time and attention from your own duties.

Final Word

Ultimately, the decision comes down to your needs.

If you need translations into several languages and don’t feel the need to control the process, a translation agency may be the better solution for you.

If your content only needs to be translated into one or a few languages and you want to be closely involved in choosing and working with the translator(s), consider working directly with freelance translators.

Good luck!