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I need a translation: should I hire a translation company or a freelance translator?

The first thing you should do is consider the pros and cons of using a translation company (or agency) or a freelance translator. Then think about your needs, resources and priorities. Although this blog is focused on translation, the same criteria could be applied to other services, such as design, publicity, computing or legal services.

Price: Freelance

A priori, it is clear that a professional freelance translator will be more competitive than a company, under equal conditions. However, if you ask for several quotes you may be surprised to receive higher quotes from freelance translators than from companies. There are freelance translators with long careers behind them who are professionally renowned and who charge higher rates for their services. In the translation field, this happens more in language combinations, such as Scandinavian languages, where clients from these countries, usually translation companies, pay higher rates due to the higher standards of living. On the other hand, you might encounter a translation company with an aggressive price policy that negotiates rates with freelance translators who are just starting out in the profession.

Translation Project Price

Nevertheless, generally speaking if you have a small budget you will have to work with freelance translators, as you will be more likely to find something more affordable.

Capacity: Company

Translation companies will have more productive capacity than freelance translators. So, if you have a high volume of words and several different languages, a translation company will be able to offer you a service which is tailored to your needs. In the case of freelance translators, you should bear in mind that a translator has an average daily productive capacity of between 2,000 to 3,000 words, depending how familiar they are with your documents and field of expertise. This option will be viable if you usually translate to one or two languages and you do not have high volume texts, or if you can adapt to the translator's productive capacity. You should also consider the technical complexity of the job. For example, if you have files in FrameMaker, Illustrator or QuarkXpress, most freelance translators will not have the technical capacity to process the files directly in order to avoid copying and pasting. In contrast, companies with larger infrastructure and organisational capacity will be able to offer this service, and even the desktop publishing stage so that you can publish (or print) files directly. 

Translation Project Quality

In order to help their clients with big jobs, it is also common to find freelance translators who collaborate with other reputable professionals so that they are able to satisfy their client's demands. You can always ask a freelance translator if they offer this option. In this case the freelance translator would be acting as a translation company, although without the infrastructure and business expenses, so they would be able to offer a more competitive price.

Availability: Company

You may be surprised by the lack of availability when working with freelance translators. Sometimes, freelance translators have to accept a big job from one of their other clients that absorbs most of their work capacity, although most always try to organise their time so that they can still take small jobs from their regular clients.

As they have a larger capacity, translation companies also have more availability. Companies have a database of freelance translators who they usually work with, as well as staff translators who work for regular clients or in the most highly demanded combinations. That means that clients will benefit from a larger team of professionals, and therefore greater availability. To make this possible and to avoid inconsistencies, translation companies must maintain databases of all of their clients' translations (or translation memories as they are known in the field) and, in some cases, they will also keep glossaries of specialised terminology. 

Translation Project Availability

Urgency: Company

This aspect is directly related to capacity and availability. If you frequently have urgent projects with little notice, you will probably prefer working with a company, as can be concluded from the two previous points.

Communication: Freelance 

Translation Project Communication

One of the biggest advantages of working with a freelance translator is having direct access to the actual person working on the job. This means that communication will be more direct and there will be less misunderstandings, and all of the inconveniences that this entails. In the case of a company, you will usually be in contact with an account or project manager, who will in turn be in contact with the professional responsible for your project, whether that be internally or externally. So, just like in the famous game of "Chinese Whispers", sometimes the final result of your instructions is not exactly as desired.

Reliability: Company

Another reason you may opt for a company is the possibility of doing some research before commencing any work. Thanks to services such as Hoovers or Company Check, you can see the year the company was founded, 

Translation Project Reliability

the number of employees, turnover, if it has any open incidents with the Government or pending court cases. It will therefore give you a good idea of the company's solvency and experience, and you will be able to check if the information given to you by the company is truthful.

Another advantage of using a translation company, and the reason why they can offer you more reliable translations, is their ability to offer translation and editing according to the processes established in the quality standard for translation services EN-15038. Obviously, this process has a higher cost. From a pragmatic point of view, it makes sense for companies with a large turnover whose translations are of great importance.

Unfortunately, the type of information available for companies is not available if you hire a freelance translator. In this case, the determining factor will be your ability to select a curriculum vitae or to conduct an interview.  You must be careful, as there is a high level of professional encroachment in the translation field. Many people think that just because they know a language they are automatically qualified to translate. Besides this, like in other fields, there are also a lot of false curricula vitae which may seem extremely good. A professional translator should have translation qualifications (you could ask for a scanned certificate), use a computer assisted translation tool (not machine translation, they are also known as translation memories: SDL Trados Studio [the market leader], memoQDéjà VuWordFastmemsource…) and belong to a professional association (for example: ITI in the case of translators and ATC in the case of companies).

What do I need?

Once you have studied the above aspects, you will have to think about what you actually need. If you are a company who will translate four times a year into two languages with a tight budget, your best option will probably be to work with a freelance translator. To avoid availability problems, you should plan jobs in advance. In the interest of quality, it is important to always try and work with the same translator. This way, the translator will come to know your company and in time the work will become easier and more profitable, meaning you will be better looked after. Below you will find some links that you can use to find professional freelance translators. Be careful, you must always use your best judgement to select and filter profiles. 

Project Needs

On the other hand, if you are an international company with headquarters in several countries and you translate a volume of one million words in 15 languages, then you will need a translation company who can take on your translation demand and correctly meet your needs. In this case, it will only be possible to work with freelance translators if you create a translation department within your company in order to manage and coordinate work with the external freelance collaborators. This is the option used by companies such as MicrosoftPayPal or Xerox.

Conclusion

Working with freelance translators or with translation companies has certain advantages and disadvantages. Depending on your own needs, you will chose one option or the other. Below you will find some pages where you can search for professionals.

Resources to search for translation companies and freelance translators

In the UK:

ITI

Institute of Translation & Interpreting

The Institute of Translation & Interpreting (ITI) is the UK’s only dedicated association for practising translation and interpreting professionals. Click here to search for a translator directly.

ACT

Association of Translation Companies

Association of Translation Companies. Click here to see member companies.

IoL

Institute of Linguistics

The Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL), known as the Institute of Linguists (IoL) before receiving its Royal Charter in 2005,[1] is a British professional and learned society for education founded in 1910. Click here to find a translator.

Proz.com

Proz

More than 300,000 professional translators and translation agencies. No fees or commissions for clients. Company with headquarters in the United States. It is one of the biggest and most important translation portals.

Freelance.com

Freelance.com

It is a portal with thousands of professional freelancers in different fields. You can post your project on the platform and different professionals can apply. You have to pay for the contact information of the professional that you wish to hire.

Translators Café

Translators Café

You can search for translation companies as well as freelance translators. Web site exclusively for translation professionals. It is free to post a job.

GALA

Gala

Globalization and Localization Association. It is currently the biggest international association of translation companies. You can access the company directory by clicking here.

ATA - American Translator Association

Ata

American association of freelance translators and translation companies. Click here to access the translator and translation company directories.

José Gambín's picture
José Gambín
José Gambín holds a 5-year degree in Biology from the University of Valencia (Spain) and a 4-year degree in Translation and Interpreting from the University of Granada (Spain). He has worked as a freelance translator, in-house translator, desktop publisher and project manager. From 2002, he is a founding member of AbroadLlink and currently works as Marketing and Sales Manager.