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Freelance translator or translation agency?

Whether you’re a start-up or a well-established company, if you're new to buying translation services it is easy to get lost in the abundance of choice.

The good news is you have two main options:

  1. use the services of a translation agency or

  2. use the services of a professional freelance translator

I’m leaving out options such as crowdsourcing websites, and non-professional translators because both of these should be avoided for reasons partially explained here and here.

So how do you know which option to go for? There is no one-size-fits-all solution. It all depends on your business and its translation needs. Whether you choose to work with translation agencies or freelance translators, there are advantages and disadvantages in both cases.

So, let’s take a look at them.


Working with translation agencies


Agencies contract freelance translators and build impressive supplier databases. This means they can translate high volumes fast and within tight timeframes.

They can offer a wide range of services such as interpreting, BSL interpreting, Braille print, desktop publishing, and independent proofreading.

They can offer their services across various language pairs. As they contract a vast amount of freelancers, they have access to translators working into and out of many languages.

Contracting one agency for all your translation needs, means you need to agree and sign only one contract. The agency then contracts the freelancers, and that means less legal paperwork for you.


Agencies are more expensive than freelancers because they are the intermediary. They’ll take your money, give some to the translator, then keep some for their own overheads and expenses. This means their prices need to be higher, otherwise, they are not making any profit. However, prices vary greatly and a freelancer could be charging as much as an agency. The golden rule is to ask for many quotes and choose the package that responds to your needs.

Due to the above business model, agencies will choose the cheapest freelancer for the job. This means a higher profit margin for them, so it’s a no-brainer. We cannot claim however that they all operate in this way. In the cases where they do, you may think you pay a lot, but what you’ll receive back may not necessarily reflect your investment.

Communications might be lengthy and complex. Given agencies are an intermediary between you and the translator, you don’t know who’s translating your content. You don’t see the translators, you don’t meet them. You might have a message for them, but the message might never reach them, or it might reach them filtered. Playing Chinese whispers, in this case, can be frustrating.


Working directly with freelancers


You know who they are, you choose them, you test them, you use them. Transparency here is not an issue.

They will be generally cheaper than the agency as they don’t have to make a profit to cover for their overhead costs, but they are still businesses and that means they still have to make a profit. So again, prices vary greatly.

Freelancers are true experts. They work into and out of specific languages and within specific sectors. So you can pick and choose the best for the job.

Freelancers are devoted business owners. They love what they do and they are dedicated to their customers. This means they are more likely to go the extra mile for you and their reputation.


They may have restricted or no availability as they’re mostly an one-man band. If they’re too busy they will say "no" to your project, especially if they think they’ll compromise quality by delivering a rush job. They may also turn down work if it is outside their area of expertise, not in their language pair, or if you’re asking for a service they do not offer. However, they can always refer you to a trusted colleague.

They cannot take very high volumes and turn around as quickly as an agency. Some freelancers, however, are so specialised they can deliver high volumes incredibly fast. The more experienced they become, the faster they become.

You might need to contract a different freelancer for each type of job, language pair or area of specialisation. This means more communications for you, more contracts, more invoices to deal with, and more paperwork in general.


Overall, both options have their advantages and disadvantages. Before contracting either, assess your business needs by asking yourself the following questions:

  1. How big is your business?

  2. How many words do you need to have translated per year?

  3. Into how many languages do you translate your content?

  4. Is your content mainly marketing, legal, medical, advertising, or is it a bit of everything?

  5. Do you need any other services such as review, proofreading, desktop publishing, interpreting?

Answering the above questions will help you understand your business’s translation needs better and choose the supplier that responds to those.


What's your experience working with agencies and/or freelancers? Leave me a comment! 👇

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Vasiliki is a translator, interpreter, transcreator, blogger, consultant and director of Greek to Me Translations Ltd. She works with English and Greek and specialises in legal, creative, and psychometrics. She is a Chartered Linguist, member of CIoL, ITI and PEM and she is registered with the Greek Consulate as a certified translator and interpreter. She holds a BA in English and Masters in Business Translation and Interpreting. She is a Steering Group Member of the CIOL Translating Division and CIOL Business, Professions and Government Division. She is an Associate Lecturer in Legal Translation at London Metropolitan University, a public speaker and writer for industry magazines. Her mission is to help you achieve your goals through the power of words. You can follow her on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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