Translation agency or Translator? What is the best choice?


In a Nutshell:

Translation agencies are suitable for:
  • large companies and
  • very large volume and
  • break-neck urgent translation projects
Freelance translators are suitable for:
  • small and medium sized companies with
  • normal sized documents (c. 2000 words / day)
Some examples of 'normal' sized documents that are in better hands with professional translators:
  • Status, B2B-contracts, General Terms and Conditions
  • Websites
  • Product Manuals, Company documentations,
  • HR documents etc. 

Better quality for a better and fairer price!


Remember: Translators are always cheaper than translation agencies (unless the TA is unprofessional) and often provide better quality than TAs! 
Advantages of a translation agency (FA):
  1. Bigger and quicker turn around (projects with high volume)

  2. Handling multiple languages 

Advantages of a freelance translator (FA):
  1. no hidden administration costs or provisions often comprised in the pricing (savings up to 50% for the same quality)

  2. direct contact and interaction with linguist

  3. better continuity assurance in quality (linguists do not change all the time)

  4. better quality for a better price (TAs often pass the job on without checking quality)

  5. quicker response, greater reactivity 

  6. better coherence in style between different projects

  7. no automated translation done by machines or translation software (Google, Lionbridge, Babylon Systran or such like)

  8. more transparent interaction and job processing (you know your provider and his/her quality)

  9. intelligent, imaginative and contextual translatio

  10. long-term collaboration 



In detail:



Should I opt for a single translator or a translation agency?

Generally, it is very much a question of volume and time line.

Arguments in favor of translation agencies (TAs)

As big companies and groups have much more documents to translate into multiple languages, a translation agency seems to be the better – but not always the cheaper and quality safe – option. One translator alone cannot handle several languages or translate a large number of words within a very short deadline. 

Arguments in favor of freelance translators (FTs)

Translators are the best choice for medium a small companies, when the volume of translations are moderate and less frequent and only up to 5 major European languages are being used. You may have to deal with five different service providers, but it does pay off in the end, as you pay directly translators (and you pay not half of the price for any translation agency and obscure translators or other subcontracted agency that follows behind it). You know who you are dealing with and the translator can get directly in touch with you to clarify important queries concerning the document to be translated. 
Another important factor is you can check the skills and qualifications of the freelance translator, which you cannot with an agency. You may have done a test with one TA before, which turned out perfect, but with the next project, they may choose another (cheaper or next available) linguist not up to the job. 
Western translation agencies being increasingly under aggressive price attacks from unprofessional quick-profitmaking agencies based in the Far or Middle East often are forced to let their contracts spiral down from one sub-contractor to another, until even the first translation agency does no longer know who actually did the translation for them. Quality issues and complaints have grown significantly in number.  (Bearing in mind, that most clients do have no means of checking the translations delivered!)
The number of translation agencies going bankrupt has tripled in the past five years! (Only to set up another agency shortly after with a new name…)
If you are lucky, you will get a fairly reasonable job back, but in most cases, you do not, and if you have no means of checking the translation, as you might not speak the target language, then you have to satisfy yourself with a slight hope or a blissful illusion that you hold a quality translation in your hands. 
I have come across many Websites that have been apparently translated by Google or other translation machines. As a translator you get the impression, most of the clients believe, that, if a German translation for example shows some umlaute (ä, ü or ö) or a sharp “s” (ß) than it must be a good translation! Those who know the target language well, however, will understand hardly anything and find the text strangely amusing.
Which is a shame, because: When you see the original, you can tell that the client really made sure to get the wording and phrasing right, that it sounds good? The original shows poesy, well spaced phrases. The original text is thought through, is pleasurable and easy to read, is sophisticated and fascinates by its captivating style… All this is lost in a mediocre translation, given away to some obscure person who translates beside his main job, but is not actually a qualified translator, let alone professional linguist.  
I am always amazed, how easily and carelessly many clients nowadays trust their well-composed text into the hands of the first best and cheapest translation agency and have all that refined and sophisticated work destroyed and trivialized by a translation agency, as this agency has spiraled down your precious work to a cheap but incompetent non-qualified translator. At worst, your work was translated by a Google translator somewhere in an Indian office!
I have been working with Internet agencies that create first rate and highly modern Websites. There fine design  is simply impressive. They often turn to translation agencies to have their website-projects translated into four or five major European languages for their clients. This is meant to give “added-value” to their product (the creation of Websites). These IT-agencies, however, have the tendency to opt for the cheapest translation coming from translation agencies. 
No doubt, those Webmasters trust blindly any translation agency no matter how low the price. Neither the agency nor the end client may have the means to check the quality of the translations. 
When I spoke to one of the developers about the considerable quality issues on some of their recently developed Websites, he said, they “could not change anything about it now”.  I asked why. He replied: “Well, the customer has never complained until now.” What is, if the customer does not speak the languages of the translated documents? Puzzled about this attitude, I asked him whether it was the client who chose the translation provider or they themselves (the Internet-agency). “We did,” was the reply. That settled it, because, the Website-agency would certainly not contact their end client and admit, that their translation was a perfectly botched job and would have to be redone. This would shed a doubt on their overall professionalism and would discredit their  reputation. Of course, it would have financial consequences, because the IT-agency would then have to pay again for all the Websites and probably pay more this time, as they would have to pay at least the standard rate for a professional translator.  Consequently, the end client is left in the dark about how terrible their German, Italian or Spanish translation reads on their Website! 
For this reason, websites should always be translated by a single professional translator. The end client should always take the time to find his or her translator able to produce references and qualifications. It is worth the time, as you will be working with this linguist over a longer period of time. Not only is he or she will be offering a better price as translation agencies, but, if your found your translator,  the quality is often better and this not only for one project, but for all projects to come in the next few years! 
A translation agency on the other hand, very often switches from one linguist to another, according to the quickest and cheapest available  linguist. The translation might then be promised for a quicker delivery, and you may have the translation within 2 days instead of 5 days, but without knowing, what surprises the quality of the translation may have in store for you! 
General company websites as well as small and medium sized documents can and should  be handled by a single translator only, not by translated translation agencies. Your money and quality will be safer with a translator!
Small contracts, statues, company conventions product labels, product manuals or other product documentations also do not need to be translated by translation agencies, but are best translated by experienced professional freelance translators. They are more reasonable in prices and you know at the end what you pay for and who you pay! In opting for a professional translator, you are fairer to yourself and to the translator. Fairer to yourself, as you do not fool yourself in believing that you might get a first class quality translation for next to nothing! Moreover, you are fairer to yourself, in not having you fooled by an unethical translation agency that tries to survive on low prices. 

What to watch out for:

If a translation agency is cheaper than a freelance translator (for example 0.07 USD per word), then there is something seriously wrong. This agency would have to find themselves a very… – very (!)  cheap translator to still get a margin out of it. Often those translation agencies have it translated by a machine like Google and (if lucky) “proof read” by a cheap un-professional translator. Just to give you an idea: A translator working for under 0.05 USD per word would need to accept an hourly rate of 5 USD! You will find no quality translator working at that rate, not even a quality translator who happens to live in an emerging country. 

What prices should I expect for a quality translation?

Considering the above, you would need to be prepared to pay at least 0.10 USD (0.8 EUR) per word for a translation done by a freelancer and 0.015 USD (0.012 EUR) for a translation done by an agency. 
For a Website, you need to estimate about 100 EUR per page. The Website is your label, your shingle! That is your costume your apparel, that is how you present yourself and come across. As a commercial agent, you would not present yourself to your prospective business client in trainers and worn-out second hand attire. You would choose your best and most expensive suit… Why should you do it otherwise for your translations of your Website?! The website, your tool of communication! The vehicle transporting your ideas your philosophy and firm believe in quality control. Why should you leave this important tool in the hands of some obscure translation network? Already in the translation, the reader would have doubts about your quality control, if you cannot control the quality of your own translated Webpages!  
Neither in our mother tongue  or any other target language should you leave the translation to the chance. If it is bungled, the targeted public will smile and click to the next Website and service provider. They will get the (possible wrong) impression, that you are not sufficiently professional or that working with you may bang against too many linguistic hurdles. At worst, they might think, you were not able to afford a decent translation and you are struggling with finances.  Some sensitive readers may find themselves disvalued as prospective client, as a poor translation suggests, that you do not really care about the culture and language of your targeted client and that the only thing you care bout is that he or she gets the gist of what your products and your company is about and does business with you. It smacks of disrespect towards the client’s origins and lacks professionalism.
If you are looking for a qualified professional translator, I would be pleased to help you. 
(C) Frank MÖRSCHNER Decembre 2013