More resources and better infrastructure allow agencies to support complex translation projects more efficiently

Recently I read a blog hailing the virtues of hiring a freelance translator or internal employee over a professional translation agency. Of course the blog was written by a freelancer and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. Before delving into the competitive advantages a language service provider (LSP) can offer, let me first dispel any notion that I don’t like freelancers.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I, myself, started out as a freelance translator. I cut my teeth in the industry working for other agencies. Now on the other side of the equation, I rely on freelancers to make sure our clients’ projects get done quickly and accurately.

To be sure, there are benefits to working with a freelancer or even an in-house translator, and for some, that may be the way to go. Yes, an agency is a middleman, but having an expert on your side to manage a lot of moving parts is not necessarily a bad thing. Here are seven reasons why outsourcing translations to a professional agency can be a better option for your organization.

Reason #1: An Agency Manages the Headache for You

Translation is much more than simply taking content from one language and putting it into another. It involves a dizzying mix of quirky (yes, quirky) humans, ever-changing technology, complex software, and multiple time zones. Add in other services and languages and the challenge of vetting a seemingly endless supply of bilingual freelancers, and it becomes quickly apparent that an agency has better infrastructure to manage the entire process. Also, when you hire freelancers, someone in your company has to manage them and the entire process. That takes them away from what they were originally hired to do and can create hidden soft costs in the form of man hours and even elevated frustration.

Reason #2: Wider Range of Subject Matter Experts

There is a myth in the general public that anyone who speaks two languages can translate. Not true. Another myth is that a professional translator can translate anything. That’s also not true, and this second myth can lead to a lot of trouble. Just because someone speaks two languages very well does not mean that they know every subject intimately enough to translate it competently. Think about a complex medical, legal or engineering document or perhaps something on oil and gas production, avionics or nuclear power plants. You get the idea. A freelance translator, as good as he or she may be in a particular area, cannot possibly know enough about every subject to translate them all well. A good agency will have a vetting processes to qualify the right resource for the right job.

Reason #3: Responsiveness & Time Zones

Translators live in the most far flung places. Often it’s hard to communicate with them in real time, due to big time zone differences. Also, some translators, while they may translate from English, do not always speak or write it very well. That can lead to communication problems, misunderstandings and a bottleneck in the workflow. An agency can offer a dedicated project and account manager whose sole job it is to make sure your projects are delivered on time and your scope is met. Sometimes a freelancer has to drop out of a project (we actually had one die during a project!). An agency can shift gears when needed without clients having to worry.

Reason #4: Multiple Services May Be Needed

Many “translation” projects today require more, non-translation services that a freelance translator cannot or will not provide. Gone are the days when all projects were simple Word documents that could easily be translated and returned to a client. The Internet, software and other technologies are changing at breakneck speed. Translated content is now delivered online, via mobile apps and advanced learning management systems. Language service providers have teams of proofreaders, voiceover talents, typesetting experts and engineering teams that can assemble all translation assets into the high quality, tested, final deliverables that clients need.

Reason #5: Rigorous Qualification Process

There are literally hundreds of thousands of translators and bilingual people advertising themselves as translators out there. So how do you know if you are working with a quality translator? It can be hard to tell. Online reviews, self-promotion and friend references can be deceiving. Finding out too late that a translator is bad can do a lot of damage to a company’s image. A good, professional agency will have a tried-and-true vetting process, which includes rigorous testing in specific subject matter areas, to ensure quality and competency.

Reason #6: Errors & Omissions Insurance

Let’s face it, no solution is perfect. In an industry where the main activity is so subjective, mistakes are inevitable. When something does go awry, what is the response? Most credible translation agencies carry errors & omissions (E&O) and professional liability insurance. Claims are rare, given the vetting and quality checks in place at a good agency, but such insurance adds another layer of comfort and protection for the agency’s clients.

Reason #7: Your Employees Were Hired to Do Other Things

It sounds straightforward, right? Any bilingual person can translate anything. Wrong. Translation is an art and science. It takes years to master and, on top of that, no one can understand every subject matter thoroughly enough to craft a quality, competent translation. In fact, professional translators will turn down a project if they feel they don’t possess the necessary expertise of level of understanding to do just that. Any translator who says, “I can translate ANY subject” doesn’t get very far with our firm. We respect translators who turn down projects based on the subject matter, because it demonstrates, even if subtly, their knowledge of what it takes to do a job right. By dumping a translation project off on your in-house project manager or accountant, because they speak Spanish, you not only run the risk of getting poor translations, you take them away from the job they were hired to do. You wouldn’t hire a professional translator to prepare your taxes, why let your team accountant work  on your very important corporate messaging?

Summary

There are pros and cons to working with freelancers and agencies alike. Freelancers play an important role in the translation industry, and for some, they are a good fit. Those looking more for a turnkey process, a wider range of service offerings and extra peace of mind might find working with a professional translation agency a better way to go.

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