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Should I hire a translation agency or a freelance translator?

Deciding between a freelancer and an agency to take care of your translation needs is not easy. Various factors might inform your decision, and we discuss this in our two-part series on choosing the right partner for your translation needs.

In our first article, we discussed how price, performance, and quality may affect the choice of your language services partner. Keep in mind those are not the only factors worth considering; availability, communication, and reliability are all vital for your success.

Availability and urgency

Availability: Agency

A freelance translator’s schedule can fill up surprisingly quickly. Sometimes, freelancers are working on large jobs that take up most of their work capacity, although most freelancers still try to organise their time so that they can take on small orders from regular clients.

Translation agencies have much greater availability. Each agency has a database of vetted freelance translators it regularly works with; some agencies may even have in-house linguists dedicated to their biggest clients or the most requested language combinations. This means that clients will always be able to count on a larger team of professionals, who ensure higher availability than one person alone ever could. To reduce the risk of producing inconsistent translations, agencies must maintain a database containing all of their clients’ translations (or, in professional jargon, translation memories), glossaries of specialised or preferred terminology, and effective quality assurance measures.

Urgency: Agency

Urgency is directly related to capacity and availability. If you often have urgent translation needs with little or no notice, it makes sense to work with an agency. The agency is more likely to be able to meet your needs due to its large pool of linguists and dedicated project managers to oversee the entire process.

Communication and reliability

Communication: Freelancer

One great advantage of working with a freelance translator is the fact that you have direct access to the person doing the translation. This makes communication more direct, personal, and less prone to misunderstandings, with all that this entails. With an agency, you normally contact the account or project manager, who is in contact with the language professionals working on the project, whether in‑house or external. So, as in the game of Chinese whispers, sometimes the client’s message may get lost or distorted.

Reliability: Agency

An agency may be easier to evaluate as a business: for instance, the number of employees, the turnover, legal and financial history. This paints a clear picture of the agency’s solvency, experience, and reliability as a company.

Agencies are also better able to offer language services in accordance with the established quality standards for translation services. The ISO standard qualification process [1] is quite complex and expensive; it is therefore easier to manage for companies with sufficient turnover and a wide variety of international or big clients.

Unfortunately, it is more difficult to find reliable information on freelance translators. The success of your choice will depend on your ability to conduct a successful interview, background check, or test translation. When it comes to qualifications, a professional translator should have undergone translation training (and be able to provide scanned certificates on request), use computer-assisted translation software (which is not the same as machine translation), and ideally belong to a professional association (e.g. SFT for translators in France, ATA for American translators, ITI for UK-based translators, or DZTPS or DSKP for Slovenian translators). You may not have the language skills and knowledge of the translation industry that agencies have to vet translators.

What do you need?

Your needs are the most important criteria (of all).

Do you need translations twice a year, in two language combinations, and you have a limited budget? The best option is probably a freelancer.

Are you a growing business with international aspirations or offices in several countries, translating one million words in 15 language combinations every year? Choosing a translation agency is a no-brainer; only they can meet your needs on this scale.

To ensure a translator will be available for you, whether freelance or via an agency, plan as much as possible. To guarantee quality, it is important to work with the same provider: they your business and needs inside and out. With time, this will yield better translations and quicker turnaround times, reduce the need for your input, and save you money all around.

To sum up…

Working with either freelance translators or a translation agency always has its advantages and disadvantages. The right choice for you will depend on your needs. The Alamma Team are always happy to answer your questions and advise you on the best way to manage your translation and localisation needs: do not hesitate to contact us at


[1] ISO 17100:2015 Translation services – Requirements for translation services Accessed on 18 May 2021