A Case of David and Goliath: Freelance Translation Versus Translation Agencies
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December 1, 2017
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February 2, 2018
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The Next Fork in the Road

Countless hours of hard work and decision making are now behind you. With a company-approved scope of work in hand, you’re itching to jump-start the bidding process; but, your job’s not over yet! You need to answer one more question before you start hunting for a vendor: freelancer or agency? The correct answer depends on a multitude of factors: the number of languages needed, your available budget, the project scope, and the size of your company.

Let’s Meet David

A freelance translator is someone who offers language services on a contractual, or temporary, basis.  These individuals typically provide translations for between one and three closely-related languages. Prices vary wildly depending on the languages and level of technicality involved. According to Proz.com, for example, English to Hiligaynon translation costs an average of $0.16 per word; translating from English to Kannada, on the other hand, comes in at half that. It’s time to examine how freelancers stack up against their corporate counterparts.

The Upsides of Going Solo

When compared to a translation agency, freelance translators offer the following benefits:

  • They’re Better for Your Wallet. Because they lack administrative staff and tend to avoid superfluous fees, a freelancer usually costs less than a full-scale agency.
  • No Middleman. As you can contact the translator directly, you spend a lot less time playing telephone tag with a project coordinator. Using a freelancer makes it easier to deal with questions and concerns.  
  • Mastery of Their Given Language. While a translation agency offers many languages, its translators sometimes lack in-depth localization knowledge. As freelancers focus on just a few languages, they typically have key insights into a given language’s associated customs, beliefs, and modern trends.
  • Greater Consistency: With only one person working on each project, you can rest assured that your translations will be consistent and seamless. Unlike agencies, freelancers aren’t prone to swapping out staff in the middle of a job. Better yet, if you work together over a long period of time, a freelancer gets the opportunity to know your company’s products, staff, and culture.

The Downsides of Freelance Translators

While freelancers offer plenty of advantages over translation agencies, they may not be the right choice for you or your company. Here’s a list of obstacles you might face when using an independent translator:

  • They’re limited. If your company needs a lot of languages translated, or a lot of auxiliary work done, then you might need a translation agency. While they may be experts at one or two languages, it’d be difficult for a single translate your content into twenty-three of them. As they lack the support staff of a full-service agency, they’ll also tend to have greater difficulties dealing with technical issues.
  • They’re not as fast:  Unlike an agency, freelancers can’t just bring on more staff when time gets tight.  They also can’t clone themselves. So, on average, it takes a freelancer longer to complete a high-volume job. However, you can trust that only one, known, person is handling the whole project. This leads to more uniform results.
  • The Lack of an Official QA Process:  Translation agencies have staff whose sole purpose is to edit, proofread, and double check translations. Freelancers, however, double check their own work. And, if he or she is tired, even the best translator can make mistakes.

When Should I Go with a Freelancer?

  • If you’re a small to medium company who needs translation on a sporadic basis.
  • When you just need one to three languages translated.
  • In instances where time is not a big concern.
  • When the budget is your company’s biggest concern.

It’s Time to Introduce Goliath

A translation agency is an independent entity that provides and coordinates a wide range of translation-related services. Their catalog typically includes straight translation, product localization, language management, and typesetting. These organizations tend to hire large numbers of translators and support staff. But, all this overhead doesn’t come cheap! A study at Slator concluded that the average agency charged $0.21 per word in 2016. Read on to find out how these multiarmed businesses stack up against their tiny counterparts.

The Power of Numbers

When you place freelancers against translation agencies, the latter emerges with the following advantages

  • They Offer Plenty of Fringe Benefits:  As outlined above, agencies provide more than translation services. By letting them take care of finishing or technical steps, you can save money on further processing.
  • They’re Faster:  As they typically have multiple translators working on any given language, it’s much easier for agencies to speed up the translation process. By throwing a few more bodies at a project, they’re able to churn out content at a rate far higher than a one freelancer. However, this haste can lead to inconsistencies and errors.
  • Rigorous Quality Checks. With added staff comes greater oversight. Any reputable agency runs content through multiple editors before sending it over to a client. While this doesn’t create perfect content, it lessens the likelihood of a disastrous typo.

The Downsides of Going Big

As you can tell, there are plenty of reasons to hire a well-reputed translation agency. However, like all things, these businesses have a dark side. Companies who hire agencies typically struggle with:

  • Inconsistent Translations. Because they use multiple translators for the same language, styles can differ wildly across finished content. To native speakers, this can come across as choppy and confused.
  • Skyrocketing Costs:  Someone has to pay for the overhead costs (i.e. you). On a per word basis, agencies charge much more than the average freelancer. Worse yet for the budget conscious, extra fees and services charges are commonplace.
  • Middlemen Abound: Good luck speaking to a translator! With so many layers between you and them, getting changes made can be a bureaucratic nightmare.

Situations that Call for a Translation Agency:

  • If you’re a large company expecting regular, high-volume translation work.
  • When you need content translated into a lot of different languages.
  • In instances when you need work done quickly.
  • In cases where budget is no obstacle and your project calls for a lot of added services


If you’re a mega corporation that needs regular translations in 23 different languages, or a mom and pop grocer who needs a few things translated into Swedish, your decision is obvious. For the rest of us, however, the choice between agency and freelancer can be a difficult one. Here’s what it boils down to:

  • Freelance translators are your best choice when you need just one language or when your main concerns are to budget or quality-related. As they’re experts in their given language, and often deeply knowledgeable about its associated culture, they tend to produce more localized content. Furthermore, as they work alone, the work they produce will be more consistent.
  • Translation agencies are the better choice for larger companies needing multi-language support, centralized translation, or speed. Due to a high amount of overhead and fees, however, these companies are rarely the most economical solution. With multiple staff working on one translation, the resulting work is often full of inconsistent styles and lacks a true understanding of a company’s product or culture.

Once you make your choice, it’s finally time to find your translator! Just be on the lookout for these signs of a subpar translator.

Swedish Translation Services is a company owned by Tess Whitty, a freelance translator (English-Swedish), proofreader, editor, copy writer, localizer and entrepreneur.

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