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Should I Hire a Freelance Translator or a Translation Agency?

Michail Strijov  ·  Updated: 5 May 2021

The translation market can be quite opaque and difficult to evaluate from a buyer’s perspective. There’s myriad translators and translation agencies out there, all essentially claiming to provide high-quality services at a fair price.

In this article, let’s take a look at your particular project and needs, and let’s try to figure out whether you should go with a translation agency or one (or more) freelance translators.

General Considerations

While some may disagree with this statement, I personally think that working with individual freelancers will often lead to better results than working with an agency.

There are a few reasons for that, most notably a certain diffusion of responsibility: With one or more account and project managers along with a number of translators and editors working on a project, everyone feels less responsible for the project’s (and the customer’s) success. While a good translation agency will establish appropriate QA processes to counteract those effects, a freelancer has no one to hide behind in the first place – for him or her, a happy customer is the immediate result of his or her work, as is an unhappy one.

While I do believe that you will mostly fare better working with freelance translators, that might quickly get admin-heavy as your translation needs grow in size.

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5 Key Questions

  1. How many languages would you like to translate into?
    As a rule of thumb, a team of freelance translators is an excellent choice for projects with 3–5 target languages while anything above that will be increasingly hard to manage. The reason is simple: with every language requiring one translator and one proofreader, the amount of emails sent back-and-forth tends to grow quickly. This raises the administrative burden unless you’re using a translation/project management software; and even then, chances are your working hours are better spent taking care of your business instead of managing translation, proofreading and QA (which is something good agencies specialize in).
  2. How much work will it be, and how consistently?
    A good freelancer will be able to handle a consistent workload as well as guarantee availability and a relatively quick turnaround time. It’s also a good idea to have one person per language translate all of your material since that person will come to know the specifics of your material very well. However, if you expect high volumes that have to be delivered within tight deadlines, an agency will be better equipped to handle that while keeping the style and terminology consistent.
  3. How much specialization does the project require?

    Let’s say you’re looking to translate chemical safety datasheets for a new type of paint your company is launching. The best way to go about this is to head over to ProZ.com, look for linguists with experience in translating safety data sheets, and choose someone whose profile and references are a good match for your particular project. While you can trust an agency to do that well, most will simply look for a technical translator.
    While most agencies have a big roster of linguists with different specializations, it’s still more preferable to find one translator who has worked on similar material before and who has a matching profile. Again, it’s also best to stick with that one person for any material you would like to translate later on since that will guarantee consistency.

  4. Are additional services involved?

    Many translation projects require additional post-translation services, for instance typesetting or SEO. And few translators can provide those services in addition to their main job. A good agency will have a decent network of professionals in those fields as well and will be able to handle your project from start to finish.

  5. Do you need high volumes translated ASAP?

    As noted earlier, agencies will often have the necessary infrastructure and personell to split your project between a handful of linguists for one language. You can reasonably expect to get high volumes of material translated very quickly. However, splitting a job between translators is inevitably detrimental to the consistency – and thus to the overall quality – of the translation.

Conclusion

If you can handle the additional admin work that comes with it, I would recommend you to go with a team of freelancers. However, if you would like to translate into 5+ languages or if you expect high-volume work to be done quickly, you should enlist an agency that can satisfy these requirements.

By Michail Strijov
Michail is a full-time freelance translator specialized in technical and IT translations as well as trans-creation. Learn more…