Crafting translations that speak to your audience

The time has come to translate your marketing materials into a foreign language to reach new customers. Now what? Should you approach a translation agency or trust an independent translator with your translation needs? There are pros and cons to each of these options, and the best decision may depend on the scope of your project.

Large, multilingual translation agencies may be your best bet if you need translation services for several languages or if you need large volumes of text translated in a short amount of time. Otherwise, especially if your timeline is flexible and you are only looking into adding one or two languages to your marketing portfolio, a qualified, independent freelance translator is in the position to provide you with much better service.

1. A freelance translator offers close client relationships. You only have one point of contact, who is there for you every step of the way throughout your translation project. If you require ongoing translation services, a freelance translator will get to know your business, your language, your style and your specialized terminology, effectively becoming part of your team. A translation agency, on the other hand, will outsource your projects to various translators and, over time, may even have changing project managers working on your account.

2. A freelance translator eliminates the middle man. This not only facilitates communication, it also reduces cost. With a translation agency, part of your payment goes to the agency, while the rest is passed on to the translator. Why not pay a translator directly for outstanding work and cut out the overhead that effectively means you will end up with a cheaper translator? In return, you get to work closely with the linguist, who will be able to come directly to you if he or she has questions, and you will be able to answer them much quicker than if you had to communicate through an agency, allowing the project to move along much faster.

3. A freelance translator puts you in charge of the hiring decision. When you are looking for a freelance translator, you can check out a potential candidate’s qualifications and decide for yourself if this particular linguist is a good fit. Many translation agencies accept virtually any translation project that comes through their doors and worry about finding a suitable translator later – and unfortunately, some are more suitable than others. A good freelance translator will never accept work for which he or she isn’t qualified, and will tell you up front what’s doable and what isn’t.

4. A freelance translator guarantees complete confidentiality for your project. Usually, professional freelance translators have a confidentiality clause in their standard contracts. Most will also be happy to sign your NDA. Either way, you can rest assured that if you send your confidential information to a freelance translator, that’s as far as it will go. With a translation agency, on the other hand, your information may not only end up in the hands of various agency employees but also may be sent out, at least in part, to various translators during the assignment and translation process – which may end up involving numerous translators if the project is large.searc

Luckily for translation buyers, finding a translator is easier than it may seem. Professional associations such as the American Translators Association and its local chapters, such as the Colorado Translators Association, have extensive directories that allow you to search by language, specialization, and other criteria. These organizations also have a strict code of conduct, so you can rest assured that you are reaching out to true professionals in the language industry.

About the author - Marion Rhodes


  • Shai Navé (@ShaiNavecom)

    October 8, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    Nice article, Marion.

    I would like to add that the Time, Cost or Quality triangle applies to translation as well. Despite their promises, large agencies may be able to process large volumes fairly quickly – and sometimes even cheaper – but it most often comprises quality.

    Furthermore, working with an independent translator (or a small group) is not always cheaper than working with agencies. Most of the “agencies” operating in the market are mere broker, competing on price – and it is not uncommon for an agency to pass the work to another agency adding an unnecessary middleman (or middlemen) to the mix. The result, as could be expected, is a low quality service. Even the bigger agencies compete mostly on price because their business model is based on pushing volumes. They often offer the same or even a lower price than highly skilled and specialized independent translators, and hire cheaper and unskilled translators to do the work because they need to fund their overhead..

    The best tip that I can give to a translation buyer is to know what you want. If quality is important, an independent translator, a group of independent translators (that can take the project management off the client’s hands), or a boutique agency (an agency run by people with experience and knowledge about the translation profession – mostly former or current translators) that specializes in few languages and fields is the safest bet. Be wary of generalists who claim to translate everything and anything from any language to any language. Translation is a highly skilled and specialized profession that requires great writing skills, and good familiarity with your (the client’s) industry.

    If choosing an agency (the larger and generalist ones), remember: it is never about what you care about and how much you are willing to pay; eventually it all comes down to how much the broker that you hired is willing to pay and the quality of service their business model and processes are suited to serve.

  • germanxl8or

    October 8, 2014 at 5:21 pm

    Thanks for the input, Shai. I agree, translation buyers must be aware of what they want and that there is almost always a trade-off between quality and cost. I would even concede that in some cases where a general, “get-the-gist-across” translation is all that is needed, a low-cost translation agency might actually be the better option. But when it comes to marketing translations in particular, which have a tangible effect on a company’s image, I would always recommend a freelance translator who specializes in this area.

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