In-House Translator vs. Agency vs. Freelancer? A Guide to Help Businesses Make the Right Choice
Updated: Sep 8, 2021
Let’s say you own or work for a relatively new company and have made the decision to reach an international audience. Reasons for this could be:
to grow your customer base
to increase sales
to branch out globally for more security
Congratulations on this big step and broadening your horizons! You realise the world holds many opportunities for your business and you have a lot to offer the world in return. Operating beyond local borders and breaking into international markets is an undoubtedly exciting endeavour – and there is a LOT to consider when doing so. To begin with, the audience you want to market to will have to understand your business communications. This includes the following, depending on your industry:
Your company website and all its sub-pages (category pages, product listings, case studies, legal information, payment terms, etc.)
Magazine articles / blog posts
Social media campaigns
Corporate communication (emails, presentations, welcome brochures, etc.)
Many start-ups and small businesses face the same sort of challenges when wanting to grow internationally:
Who can we put in charge of translating our content into our target market’s language?
Can we do the work ourselves?
If we choose external experts, who will provide the most value?
How much is this translation service worth to us?
If we like the service we find, can we keep going back for future translation needs?
As with many things in life, there is no universal answer. However, this guide aims to explore all options and ultimately determine which one suits your business best. After reading, you should have a clearer idea of which option is right for you and your goals.
"Outsourcing our content translations to skilled freelance translators frees up time for our team. This way, we can focus on what we're good at: content creation, market research and analysis.
We're making the choice to work with a critical, engaged expert in the field of translation who's also aware of trends and additional marketing-related needs such as the implication and importance of keywords or other SEO-related core tasks." – Jérémy Tousch, Junior Brand Manager for France at UK-based eCommerce Business Limitless Digital
So, who should you trust to look after your business translations? Making the right selection depends on your objectives, long-term strategy, growth stage, budget, and business sector. Let’s explore 3 options for you to choose from:
1. In-House Translator
Do you have someone on your team who is a trained and experienced translator, ideally speaks (and writes) the language of your desired target market fluently, if not on native-speaker level? Is this skill why you hired them in the first place? If so, then great! You already have someone who can take care of your translation needs. If not, however, I strongly advise against using in-house personnel for your linguistic projects. Here’s why:
Lack of expertise: Translation is an art, a skill that takes years of training and experience to master, including becoming confident in handling language nuances, industry terminology, and tone. Just because someone learned a bit of German or French in school, or even grew up bilingually, doesn’t mean they have what it takes to be a translator. That is, of course, if high quality is important to you – and I’m assuming it certainly is. You want what’s best for your company. That sense of taking charge and being professional is also what you want to be known for to the outside world, particularly your target market.
Training and tools: If you do end up hiring an in-house translator, note that you will have to provide specialist training courses, relevant memberships, translation software and tools.
Uneven workloads: It is very likely that the in-house translator's time wouldn’t be filled 100%, leaving them feeling bored or even useless. From experience I can say that companies' translation needs vary quite strongly: One month, there may be so much that the entire 8 hours in the work day aren’t nearly enough, but next month, you would struggle to fill 2 hours with dedicated translation work.
Peace and quiet: I know this sounds boring, but it’s true for most translators (any fellow translators reading this who disagree, please feel free to correct me): Translating, post-editing, proofreading – any linguistic task – requires large amounts of concentration. Therefore, chatty co-workers, top 40 radio music, or the noisy coffee machine (all commonly found in open office settings) are factors that will not help but hinder the quality of this type of work.
2. Translation Agency
A quick Google search will yield more translation agency results than you could possibly count. They exist for any industry in any country and for any language pair you could imagine. They’re the middle man between yourself and the (usually self-employed, remote-based) translator doing the – you guessed it – translation work. Translation agencies typically have an office with project managers who coordinate workflows and communication with all parties involved. Here are some pros and cons when considering using an external translation agency:
Accessibility: Translation agencies are easy to find.
Team of specialists: They’ll look after your translation project from start to finish, including rigorous quality checks carried out by various linguists. A full team of specialists will have worked on the project by the time it is returned to you.
High-volume workloads: Agencies are equipped to handle high-volume projects. They can easily dedicate the required resources (teams and time).
Speed: They’re fast and have no problem dealing with last-minute deadlines. Because of their large vendor pool, they’re typically able to assign work to a linguist very quickly and meet the client’s desired turnaround time.
Process: Agencies have workflows and protocols in place to automate processes and deliver ready-to-publish content.
Price and pricing: Agencies take a considerable cut as they have to pay various linguists for their contributions and still make a profit. That’s why they’re certainly the more expensive option for you as the client. One could argue that agencies’ pricing policy is often unjust, i.e. the linguists aren’t always paid what they deserve. And what happens as a result? Exactly, quality suffers, like with anything in life.
Overwhelming options: With the vast amount of options out there, it can become quite difficult to find the right one. Especially if your company is in a niche industry or sells a very specific product or service, there is no way of immediately knowing if a particular agency is equipped to handle your request well.
Suffering consistency: The consistency may suffer as a result of the stages and various linguists working on your project. The final text can sound choppy to the reader. At the end of the day, you want your materials to read seamlessly and tell a story, thus, engaging your audience emotionally.
Niche and subject matter: Agencies are less flexible because they already have a vast amount of knowledge, processes and workflows, thus, they’re far less likely to go the extra mile to learn about your specific, once-in-a-lifetime product or service. As we say in German: "Es gibt keine Extrawurst!" (Engl. lit: "There’s no extra sausage", fig. "There’s no special treatment").
3. Freelance Translator
Similarly to translation agencies, there are a ton of freelance translators out there. Many of them are happy to just be working for agencies and won’t make an effort to build a website, invest in marketing, join seminars or networking events. They prefer keeping to themselves and if that works for them, that’s great. You’re more likely to have in some way come across the other type of freelancers, the ones who embrace being both a translator and a “solopreneur”. We actively search for businesses and people to engage with. Always helpful and glad to answer any language-related question, even before getting the job, this is the type of translator you want working on your content projects. Here are some pros and cons of working with freelance translators:
Cost-effectiveness: You pay the freelancer exactly as much as the work they provide you with is worth. Nothing more, nothing less. They don’t charge for any extras like “admin fees”. It’s all included in the price you initially agree upon while related tasks such as formatting can always be discussed further, of course.
Flexibility: As their livelihood depends on it, freelance translators will make you their top priority, always. They will move things around to accommodate your projects and go the extra mile for your needs. Beyond that, they’re also flexible in terms of work models: For instance, if you know you will need lots of content translated for weeks or months at a time, you can work out a contract temporarily hiring the freelancer on a full or part-time basis. If you have low-volume but regular work, a 2-hour per month retainer option would work well. The options are creative and vast. Simply speak with your freelancer.
Ambition: Freelancers are always working, even when they’re not. They invest in learning to become better at their craft, they explore marketing measures to drive their business, they keep up to date with industry matters. They can’t just go ask their manager or co-worker for help if something isn’t working so they become used to getting things done on their own.
Direct line of communication: You’ll have the translator’s website, email, probably even phone number to establish a direct line of communication. This significantly decreases the chance of any miscommunication. Efficient communication is a huge part of a project’s success.
Specialisms: Do you operate in a very specialist, niche field, for example biodegradable packaging or electric radiators? If you find the right freelancer, you will be working with an expert on the subject matter that your business focuses on. This way, you’ll be able to communicate with an international audience more effectively.
Greater consistency: As a translator works on all steps of a language project and adheres to specific style guides and glossaries throughout, the end result will achieve much higher levels of consistency and the text will read better. With time, the translator will become more and more aware of your brand and tone.
Lasting relationship: The freelancer will also make an effort to get to know your company’s core values, culture, and staff. In the long run, this builds trust. Your business relationship will have a nice personal touch. You may even be able to obtain loyalty discounts, quicker turnaround times for special projects, or little company cards or gifts.
Duration of projects: In the case of high-volume projects, the turnaround time for translations (of value) may require more than just a day or two because only one person is working on your project at a time.
Physical absence: Freelancers are not physically in the same office as you, therefore, you can’t simply turn your chair around and ask for amendments to be made. In addition, there may be an initial lack of understanding of your company culture. It may be necessary to provide the translator with more input than a full-time employee in the office.
Trust-building: A service is only a promise until it is fulfilled. In the beginning, of course, you may need to try working together and simply hope for the best. There is no up-front guarantee that your collaboration will be smooth. Trust takes time, but once it's built, it's there to last.
Limited languages: A good translator or editor will focus on primarily one language pair in which to immerse themselves as much as possible and offer expert-level service. Therefore, if you require content to be translated into more than one or two languages, a freelance translator may not be the right choice for you. A team of freelancers would work as an alternative.
Adding to the potential downsides of a freelance translator: I would like to bust the myth that freelance translators give you “just” a simple translation. In many cases, that may be true. Remember: You get what you pay for.
However, in the past year of starting my own freelance business – and even in the many years before that as an employed translator – I found that you start to adapt to what your manager, colleague, or client really wants rather than what you think you should be offering them. I have recently walked clients through available options for their project such as providing extra formatting work, which not all CAT (computer assisted translation) tools automatically do for you, or adding another round of quality checks. In future, I’m even considering going beyond the translation, editing, and formatting aspects and offering more website-specific services, i.e. identifying areas that could be improved to reach a broader, international audience. Everything is open for discussion, and specific conditions can be agreed upon. That’s the beauty of a freelancer’s flexibility.
Which option you ultimately decide to go with depends on your needs. Generally speaking, translation agencies, on the one hand, are better for larger companies with bigger budgets for whom time is a pressing factor. It is no problem for agencies to handle high-volume translation work across numerous languages on a regular basis. Freelance translators, on the other hand, are ideal for small to medium-sized companies who need translations for one, sometimes two languages on a more sporadic basis and suit very well if your budget is tight. They will highly value you and cater to your needs, making you a priority every time. The personal experience you will get with a freelancer cannot be replaced by working with an agency. Freelancers (should) realise that you’re not “their” client, that you could take your business anywhere. This makes them work all the more to keep you around for years to come. The best option for you may be to try both in the beginning and see which you like better. Hopefully, this guide was able to provide you with all the insights you need to make the decision that feels right for you.
Would you like your blog or other corporate content to be translated or reviewed? Then get in touch with Belinda Grace Translating today!
This is how I can help:
📗 Support and improve your content strategy by offering high-quality translation services
📗 Grow your customer base by reaching an international audience with the right terminology and keywords
📗 Not quite sure which direction you want to take yet? I’ll happily hold a consultation session with you free of charge
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Smiles all around,