Agencies VS Freelancers: How To Choose The Best Translation Service Provider For Your Needs?

When it comes to expanding your business abroad, translation plays a key role. While a good quality translation can attract a lot of potential customers, the opposite is also true: nothing is more efficient
than a webpage translated word-for-word or – even worse – using Google Translate to drive away all your prospects. Not only does this negate the impact of the message you want to convey, it also makes your prospects feel like you do not really care about them. Would you buy goods or services from someone who did not even bother to adapt to your language? Neither would I.

It is easy to get lost among the different translation solutions available on the market. Therefore, choosing the translation provider who is going to handle your projects requires special attention, especially since the best solutions are not always the best known or the most enticing, far from it! In this post, I will present the main translation solutions available, with their pros and cons.

 

Machine Translation

I will not write a lot about this topic, since I think that many already know what I am going to tell here: do not ever, ever, use a software such as Google Translation for commercial purposes. While it is true that significant progresses have been made in machine translation over the past few years, the quality of the translation produced is still way too poor. At best, you will get a strange-sounding text with an approximate meaning, grammatically correct but obviously not written by a human. At worst, the result will be incomprehensible. Machine translation may be useful to find the most widespread translation of ONE word, but should not be used otherwise: avoid it!

Translation Agencies

Translation agencies are often the first solution that comes in mind when a company is looking for a translation provider. A translation agency basically acts as a middleman: when it receives a project to translate, it assigns it to freelance translators working with the agency in accordance with their language pairs, rates, etc. Although some agencies also hire in-house translators, most of them partially or completely outsource their orders. In return for their services, translation agencies make a benefit from the difference between the amount invoiced to their customers and the amount paid to the freelance translators who actually translated the project. Working with an agency offers several benefits to the customer: translation agencies are usually responsive, easy to contact, and can translate big projects in many languages. Furthermore, they often inspire confidence, as many agencies proofread the translation provided by the freelance translators as part of their services.

That sounds pretty interesting, doesn’t it? However, I advise you to be very cautious if you wish to use the services of a translation agency, as the best known agencies are not always the best ones, far from it. Here is a personal experience to illustrate my point:

A couple of years ago, I did an internship with a translation agency as a university student. On its website, the agency highlighted the quality of its work and the rigor of its translation process. Potential customers were told about how the agency hired only the best translators, whose work was proofread by editors to ensure a perfect quality. Besides, its prices were particularly low. That definitely sounds great, doesn’t it?

Here is the reality, now: the “best translators” the agency was so proud of were actually (unpaid) interns such as myself. Most translations were performed by students from universities or translation schools, while the few projects we could not take care of were translated by freelancers for peanuts. Only my first project was proofread. As far as I remember, the other ones were directly sent to the final customers, unchecked.

Unfortunately, this kind of story is not that uncommon in the translation industry. While there are many “serious” translation agencies that indeed hire professional translators and thoroughly proofread each project, too many of them are willing to sacrifice quality and professionalism to inflate their profits. Fortunately, this kind of agencies can easily be spotted. Here are two points that need particular attention if you are looking for an agency to work with:

  • Check the reputation of the agency. Besides the traditional Google search, you can have a look at this translation agencies blacklist where some agencies known for their poor business practices are listed.
  • Have a look at the prices offered by the agency. If they are too low, move to the next name on the list. By way of comparison, freelance translators in the US and in Europe usually invoice at least $0.10 per word. Lower rates mean that the agency hires cheap – and possibly unqualified – translators. Furthermore, do not forget that the amount you pay is divided into two parts: what goes to the agency, and what goes to the freelancer. As an example, one of the best-known agencies charges its customers nearly $0.09/word, even though the translator is paid $0.05/word. Think about the amount of money you could save by working directly with him!

As I wrote above, there are, fortunately, many serious and professional agencies that are worth working with. Just remember to be very cautious when you choice an agency!

PROS & CONS OF AGENCIES

 

+ Able to manage big projects, in one or many languages. Furthermore, big projects can be quickly completed if the agency assigns them to several translators

+ Easy to find and contact

+ An extra proofreading step is often included in the service

– You do not know who translates your project. Depending on the agency, it can be an experienced translator, a cheap freelancer, a student… Be very careful about who you choose to work with! (see above)

– If you submit a big project to an agency, the translation may lacks consistency if it is divided among several translators (e.g. if you translate a long document or a big website, the kind of vocabulary used and the overall tone may differ if different people worked on it)

– More expensive than a freelance translator for the same quality, since you actually pay the freelancer AND the fee collected by the agency

 

Freelance translators

There is no middleman – and therefore no agency fee – when you work directly with a freelance translator, making this solution more cost-effective. Besides, you can pick a translator among the wide range of freelancers available online. While some of them translate many different kinds of content, others specialize in one or more fields (such as marketing, law, music, tourism, etc.), allowing you to choose the best specialty for your project.

Of course, this solution also has its disadvantages. First of all, freelancers are often harder to find than agencies, and a Google search is not always enough to find what you need. Fortunately, some websites can help you in your research. Try to browse the directories of national translators associations (the ATA in the US). You can also have a look at the directories of translators on professional websites such as ProZ or Translators Café.

Another problem is that you cannot always evaluate the quality of work of a freelancer. While working with a good agency may guarantee that your project is handled by selected translators, working with a freelancer is a bit more uncertain. Fortunately, there are several solutions to this issue: the best one is to have a look at past works carried out by this translator. Do not hesitate to ask him directly if you cannot find anything online. If you need another demonstration of the translator’s skills, or if he cannot show you past translations (most of the time for copyright reasons), the best thing to do is to ask him to translate a SHORT extract of your project for free. Although some translators may refuse (essentially because some may take advantage of this and have them work for free), others – including myself – will gladly accept to translate a sample if the project is big enough. In any event, do not forget that the skills of a translator cannot be evaluated only by reading his resume!

Finally, working with a freelancer can be difficult if you need a big project to be translated within tight deadlines. The same applies for multilingual translations: while you can send your content and have it translated in 15 foreign languages by an agency, you would need to hire 15 freelancers in this case, one per language. Managing this team can be very time-consuming, when an agency could take care of that for you.

 

PROS & CONS OF FREELANCE TRANSLATORS

 

+ More cost-effective, as there is no middleman here

+ A wide choice of languages pairs, rates and specialties, as you choose yourself who is going to work on your project

+ You can contact the translator directly, making the communication more efficient

– Finding the right freelancer is harder than simply contacting an agency

– Assessing the skills of a translator can be difficult

– You need to manage yourself a team of freelancers if you project is too big for one person or if several languages are involved

 

Conclusion

At the end of the day, choosing the best solution depends entirely on your needs. Here is what I recommend:

  • Avoid machine translation at all costs
  • Hire a freelancer if your project is not too big and too urgent. If your project entails too much work for one translator (e.g. if you need to translate more than 12,000-15,000 words within a week) or if it requires several languages, you should think about hiring several freelancers. Be aware that this solution may give you a lot of extra work as you will have to manage yourself the team of translators you work with.
  • You should use the services of an agency if you cannot afford to spend time monitoring the translation process on your own, particularly if you have to manage several translators. Since working with an agency costs you more for the same quality, I recommend to hire freelancers whenever possible.

 

And whatever you choose to do, always keep in mind that your translation provider can offer you quality or low prices, not both. Never trust someone who claims to sell you the best of the best at unbeatable prices!

 

Have you ever used the services of a translation provider? Feel free to react below or send me your messages here!