Translation: hire in-house, freelancer or agency? Oh my!

When your business needs translation services, it can be tough to decide on the best approach: should you hire in-house, or seek out a freelancer or translation agency? The truth is all 3 are valid options, depending on your circumstances, budget, and needs.

Keep reading to understand the different types of translators, pros and cons of outsourcing and in-sourcing, and when to go with each option.

Types of translators: In-house, freelancer and agency

Before we dive too deep, let’s cover the basics. When it comes to translators, there are various types of professionals and even types of translation services. But for the purposes of this article, we’re breaking it down into the types of working relationships you might have with a professional translator.

Pros and cons of hiring an in-house translator

In-house translators are employees who join your organization and fill a dedicated role providing translation services for your business.

Benefits of having an in-house translator:

  • They’re able to work collaboratively with the team as an equal, full-time team member.
  • They understand the broader context of projects because they’re involved in the planning and prioritization.
  • They’re personally invested in the goals of the business, and understand how their work contributes to them.

Downsides of hiring an in-house translator:

  • Their workload may ebb and flow depending on need, so you may want to find someone who can take on other tasks or who can effectively outsource excess work.
  • It might take some time to create an efficient workflow and integrate them into the team’s rhythm of work.
  • Hiring a full-time employee is more costly than outsourcing, because they’ll receive a salary, benefits, and perks.
  • It can take time and resources to find the right translator, and their time with you may be limited.

When to hire an in-house translator

If your business will need regular translation work done, it might make sense to bring someone on-board. Especially if you’re in a highly technical industry or the content being developed has a specific subject matter, having an in-house translator who really understands the bigger picture can save you a lot of time and effort in the long run.

Pros and cons of outsourcing to a freelance translator

Freelance translators can be fully self-employed or offer their translation services in addition to other part-time or full-time work.

Benefits of outsourcing to a freelance translator:

  • They might be more flexible and willing to take on smaller projects, depending on their overall workload and areas of expertise.
  • They may be available to attend meetings with your team, which will give them more context and integrate them more deeply into the project.
  • It’s often the most cost-effective option, because freelancer’s don’t have the additional costs of a full-time employee or of an agency.

Downsides of outsourcing to a freelance translator:

  • It can be challenging to properly brief them as an outsider, and make sure they really understand the scope and context of the work.
  • Sourcing the best freelancers takes time and effort, and without a good recommendation you might be taking a chance.
  • The final result might not be what you anticipated, either because of improper briefing or a freelancer who’s skill set isn’t aligned with your needs.
  • They may or may not be available for your projects.

When to outsource to a freelance translator

Working with a freelancer gives you the chance to develop a rapport, even though they’re an external contributor. Usually the best freelancers will either come highly recommended from someone you trust, or have a background in your industry and/or a strong portfolio. If you decide to work with a freelancer, dedicate some time and energy into helping them understand your business, audience, tone, and style to really reap the benefits.

Pros and cons of contracting a translation agency

Finally, translation agencies offer a group of skilled, talented, and vetted professionals who take on your translation projects.

Benefits of contracting a translation agency:

  • Agencies have a wealth of experience and expertise to offer, and everyone working there is a well-vetted translation expert.
  • They have a team of specialists, some of whom may be better suited to your needs, and therefore can assign the best people for the job.
  • Translation is their full-time commitment, and they’ll be dedicated to your project. You can count on them to meet deadlines and be reachable during business hours.

Downsides of contracting a translation agency:

  • Finding the best agency for your needs may require some research, especially if you’re looking for more specialized work and you may need to try them on for size.
  • Depending how they work, you may not have one dedicated specialist, but several, meaning you may have to catch people up to speed at times.
  • Some agencies might not specialize in your field or industry, and so won’t be the right fit.

When to outsource to a translation agency

Agencies can be a great option when your translation needs are increasing, and going beyond the scope of one (or no) internal translators. If your translation needs are in several languages, an agency is also the best way to go as individual translators usually specialize in translating from one language to another. Finally, agencies can help you centralize and streamline your translation workflows and cost, and improve your terminology management and brand consistency across assets.

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Hybrid scenarios

Sometimes, no one option is quite right, and you might decide to opt for a hybrid solution. This can take shape in a number of ways, like:

  • Hiring an in-house specialist who outsources to freelancers and/or agencies as needed.
  • Working with a freelance translator for some projects, and working with a translation agency for others.
  • Using a translation agency in the short-term, with the goal of hiring someone in-house.

Key takeaways : Finding the best translation provider for you

Translation is as much an art form as a science — language carries so much impact, and getting the right words in place to communicate your message effectively is key to your brand’s success. So when you’re seeking out translation services and trying to decide if hiring in-house, outsourcing to a freelancer, or contracting a translation agency is the best approach, keep these takeaways in mind:

  1. Because every situation is unique, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.
  2. You might want to experiment with different options to find what works best.
  3. Ensuring your translator has proper context will help them