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Should I hire a translation agency or a freelance translator?

Picture a scenario: you or your company need a translation, whether just this once or regularly in the future. The first question to consider is which option is best for you: if you do not want to invest the significant time and effort to set up an in-house translation department, your options are a translation agency or a freelance translator. Both have their (dis)advantages, which means you must assess your requirements, capital, and goals.

This is the first of two articles on choosing the right partner for your translation needs. We will discuss factors that may inform your decision; in this first article, we focus on price, performance, and quality. Our guidelines can be extended to other commonly subcontracted services, such as design, marketing, IT, and legal services.

Price vs. performance

Price: Freelancer

Theoretically, a freelance professional’s rates may be more competitive than those of an agency. Agency rates are usually higher due to greater complexity of processes involved in managing a translation request, greater number of services included in the price, and higher overheads.

Some freelance translators may offer you higher quotes than agencies. This may be due to their extensive experience, niche fields of specialisation (and highly specialised knowledge), rare or highly sought-after language combinations, or high standard of living in their country of residence.

Some agencies may quote lower due to their aggressive pricing policy and may go as far as to offer paltry rates to their freelancers or subcontractors. Some rogue agencies’ pricing practices may even be considered as dumping, which is highly problematic. The end result may be a poor-quality translation.

As a general rule, if you have a tight budget, a freelance translator may be the more economical choice.

Capacity: Agency

Translation companies have a higher production capacity than freelance translators. If you need a large volume of words translated quickly and/or into many languages, translation companies will be able to offer a more tailored service. A freelance translator can translate about 2000 words per day, depending on their knowledge of the documents and area of expertise. Employing a freelancer is thus a viable option if you only require a few language combinations, if the scope is not too large, or if you can adapt to the translator’s capacity.

The technical complexity of the required service is another factor. Most freelance translators do not have access to highly specialised software (Adobe programs for designers, IntelliJ for developers, AutoCAD for engineers, etc.) and are thus unable to process these file types directly. Translation agencies are much more likely to have the infrastructure and organisational capacity to handle these files and even do the desktop publishing for you.


Quality: Both

Both freelance translators and translation agencies can provide both extraordinarily good and despicably poor translations. Getting the required quality is usually a matter of picking the right person with suitable experience, specialised knowledge, and reliable quality management.

Agencies have a larger pool of translators; so, are they more likely to have the right people available for the job? Not necessarily. Freelance translators may also collaborate with other trusted professionals to be able to satisfy all their clients’ demands. You can always ask the freelance translator if they offer this option.

A major quality problem often reported when working with agencies is consistency. It is not uncommon for an agency to allocate translation requests sent by the same client in the same language combination to different linguists. This enables agencies to ensure the client will always receive the translations, but keeping them consistent is much more difficult and requires rigorous quality assurance processes. Read more about how Alamma assures quality here.

Next month’s article on choosing the right language services partner will focus on availability, communication, and reliability.

We are big supporters of open and honest communication, so we want to make our articles as informative and helpful as possible. Your feedback helps us do this. How else might agencies and freelancers differ in terms of price, performance, and quality? Does your company prefer to work with agencies or freelancers, and why? Let us know in the comments below or by dropping a line at!