Provider vs Freelancer
A translation agency or a freelance translator? Finding your match.
For companies in search of translation, the market supports numerous variants, from freelance experts to small boutique type translation agencies, to multinational language service providers.
Some companies prefer in-house translators, which is another viable choice.
The good news is there is enough room in the translation industry for all of them. From freelancers who had left their office careers to work less to LSPs operating millions of words in dozens of languages. If positioning their services correctly, all of them feel more or less comfortable.
But what is the right variant for a client? The differences between freelancers and agencies are significant, but the answer depends on your needs. Still there’s no clear-cut approach.
When searching for a service partner for today and tomorrow, how to choose between a translation agency or a freelance translator? Being aware of their capabilities and limitations, you are much more likely to make a good investment into the long-term mutually beneficial relationship. I’m going to ignore the hobbyists in this discussion. When I say ‘freelancer,’ I mean the pros who do this stuff day in and day out.
An agency is ready to take virtually every project claiming to follow established procedures under a clear chain of command. Apart from higher overhead, it also means on-demand availability and broader choice of services (see the next point).
When dealing with larger projects, agencies are better equipped to meet varying client needs and tough technical requirements. Usually, they offer a variety of translation/localization/asset management and other services.
Most agencies have an impressive translator base. An agency is geared to assemble a team and meet the most challenging deadlines for your translation project. It will also arrange text standardization and reviewing if needed.
In general, translation agencies are viewed as expensive, especially in comparison to language students willing to do the same job for 1/10 of the cost. Like any business, they have overhead costs to cover and will typically have several specialists involved on one project. But higher prices do not necessarily mean they work with well paid, experienced translators.
When asking for a full-package multilingual service, you have to control the qualifications of the person who will actually do the job. Too many agencies accept any translation project willingly and worry about finding a suitable translator later. In that case, you cannot control their hiring decisions. Moreover, an agency can’t guarantee the same translator for your project each time.
The hiring process for freelancers may only consist of a few emails back and forth. If you need a project done by tomorrow, it may be your best bet. Larger agencies have complex communication processes and structures, making everything slower.
YOU DEFINITELY NEED AN AGENCY IF…
Companies hire agencies because they are perceived as having almost superpowers. And they do have some:
- Dealing with high-volume projects and/or challenging deadlines.
- Offering all-in-one service packages to manage all your language-oriented tasks.
- Being able to manage of all the aspects of marketing communications.
- Choosing most suitable translators for clients who don’t know the target language of their translation job.
- Providing additional services like desktop publishing, video subtitling, web editing, audio recording, etc.
While not being immediate experts of your product, agencies may even have the tools and drive to dig deeper than your staff employees.
Most seasoned freelancers are passionate at what they do, so they take on projects only if they are qualified enough to provide the necessary result. Freelancers may also be an option if you need to find an expert in your specific niche. Be prepared to spend some time finding that person, though.
No extra layers to be found between the end client and the translator. You hire a freelancer you liked and tested; you get the job done by that freelancer. One point of contact ensures direct and quick communication: you work more closely with the linguist, allowing the project to move along faster. And you can be sure that your documents remain highly confidential.
Freelancers may be the best option for small businesses and solo entrepreneurs if cost is among key factors. Why not pay a translator directly for outstanding work and cut out the overhead ending up with cheaper services? Thanks to lower overhead, you’ll be offered lower prices, although rates can vary greatly.
Professionals tend to specialise in a couple of areas. It can be difficult to find one freelancer to meet all of your translation needs: legal, finance, marketing, localization, user guides, etc. Very few have all the skills (or teams) for large-volume complex projects involving translation and editing in multiple languages.
Many freelancers have a busy schedule and don’t work with subcontractors. If you have a looming deadline, most freelance translators will politely decline without being able to schedule days in advance.
Use freelance job sites with caution: you may end with the jack of all trades. Dedicated websites are preferable. And don’t be tempted to choose a service provider just by their price tag. Young freelancers get work by offering low prices with little to no experience.
YOU’LL ENJOY WORKING WITH A FREELANCER IF…
With all the pros and cons, there are certain projects and situations where a freelance translator is a better fit than an agency.
- I have a tough budget for localising new brochures for my company.
If you know your absolute limit, your best bet is seeking out a freelance translator and planning on giving him or her as much background and context as possible.
- We have a conference coming up and need extra translation help.
Call up that freelancer your buddy always recommends.
- It’s Tuesday, and I need this translated by Friday.
Tough situation. You might try calling a freelancer to check their availability.
- I have most of the marketing materials ready; I just need someone to flesh out the rest.
Try a freelancer.
- I need materials to be translated and published online regularly.
Find a freelancer with expertise in your sphere.
Freelancers are known for their flexibility. When hired wisely and not only based on initial cost, freelancers can be a great add-on to the in-house team. If you require ongoing translation services, your savings and benefits build over time. You get a reliable contact who knows your needs and demands, your style and preferred terminology.
In any case, the first step to choosing between an agency or a freelancer is to define your project. Start with making a list of translation jobs and tasks of your organization. Local start-ups have very different needs from large enterprises. By defining your needs, it will be easier to communicate with a prospective translator (whether they are an agency, boutique firm or freelancer).
Olesya Zaytseva, founder of Just Translate It, is a proficient translator and marketer with 20+ years of experience bringing her clients’ marketing communications to the next level through content translation, creation and promotion. Pursuing writing, archery, and combinatorial creativity. English and German into Russian.