Working with Translation Agencies

For freelance translators just beginning their careers, the decision to work with a translation service provider rather than directly with clients can be a great choice for getting started on the right path while securing both a consistent flow of projects and a steady income stream. Even experienced translators may find working with a translation agency beneficial to their efforts to remain steadily employed in the translation industry.

Benefits of working with a language service provider

There are many benefits to working with a language service provider: the potential for steady work, the reduced hassle of dealing directly with clients, and the time, energy and costs saved in administrative and marketing efforts. In addition, translation agencies are often privy to a variety of translation jobs, allowing their translators to work on many diverse projects.

And for those translators who don’t particularly enjoy sales or customer service, subcontracting with a translation service provider might be well worth the possible negative aspects, such as a potentially lower rate per translation project and less control over project outcomes. The industry also has its fair share of unethical agencies that treat translators as commodities, delay payment for months or skip out on payment altogether. But taking the time to sort the wheat from the chaff may ultimately result in a long-term relationship that can provide years of steady work.

Once you have been accepted to a translation agency’s panel, there are some practical tips and best practices for working with a translation service provider that you should be aware of. In the eight years that I have been operating a translation company, I have found six attributes that are often the most important factors when selecting translators to retain on our linguist panel.

1. Consistently deliver high-quality work

Your reputation as a translator will be determined by the quality of the translations you produce. In order to be a go-to subcontractor for any translation agency, you must consistently produce high-quality work. Most translation service providers are bombarded daily by freelance translators sending in résumés or calling, looking to be part of their panel. If you deliver a subpar translation, you will likely be cut from the panel, because the hard truth is that the translation service provider can easily drop you for another freelancer.

But another truth is that translation companies would prefer to work with the same translators again and again – it’s easier for them. This is good news for you if you are already on the panel, but makes it tough for those trying to get the work. The bottom line is that if you want to have a consistent flow of projects from a translation company, you must deeply value your place on their panel and make sure that each and every translation you deliver is your best work possible.

2. Play to your strengths

Who determines a satisfactory level of quality? A tangible object such as a car can be checked against a well-defined standard, and such an assessment can be fairly objective. A translation, however, is an intangible entity whose quality is very subjective in many cases. But even given the subjective nature of translations, there are certain guidelines that can be applied in order to rectify obvious errors.

When evaluating the quality of your translation, ensure that the grammar and style meet the highest industry standards. You may be a highly competent translator of legal documents, but you may have limitations when completing medical translations. Subject knowledge is essential, so only accept work in those areas that you know you can produce high-quality translations.

Some of our best translators do precisely this; they pass on projects that they feel they will not reflect their best work. One of our Chinese translators will never take on any medical-related translation projects. She knows her limitations as well as her preferences and will only accept projects that she can deliver with exceptional results.

Do not feel obligated to take all the work that is offered to you. Turning away work will actually earn you more respect from the language service provider, as it demonstrates professionalism and competence. If, on the other hand, you take on work for which you are not qualified and produce a substandard translation, it could have devastating results, as the agency will definitely not be pleased with poorly translated work.

Tip: If possible, have a trusted colleague check your work.

3. Meet your deadlines

It is absolutely critical to meet the language service provider’s deadlines. Sometimes agencies will try to build in some buffer time, but in our current need-it-now culture, buffer time is becoming a thing of the past, so it is wise to take all deadlines seriously.

If your agency gives a deadline of Monday at 9:00 a.m., for example, your should deliver the translation on or before Monday at 9:00 a.m. This may seem obvious, but you would be surprised at how many translators fail to adhere to clearly stated deadlines. A translator who submits his or her project ahead of deadline demonstrates a high standard of professionalism and consideration for both the agency and the end client.

Translators who consistently return projects behind schedule are viewed as unprofessional and unreliable. Late projects affect clients, who are often in urgent need of their translations. But even in cases in which urgency is not a factor, agencies are much less likely to use translators who consistently return projects late, as this practice ultimately reflects badly on the agency.

So, when working with translation service providers, make sure you deliver your work on schedule as per the stated deadline. Making this a consistent practice will place you in a highly favourable light with the agency, as well as allow you to move on to other projects. It’s a win-win!

4. Be tech-savvy

Proper formatting matters! Translated documents usually appear in the same style and format as the source document. The translated work should contain all of the tables, graphs, headline indentations and so forth as the original. Equally and perhaps more important, however, is the format of the final translated copy. Do not leave it up to the language service provider to format the document (except in cases of desktop publishing or other specialized formatting). Charge a higher rate if the formatting is beyond what would normally be expected.

Do everyone (including yourself) a favour and do not take on a translation project if you are not capable of completing the formatting. Often translators who lack experience or who are overconfident in their technical abilities will take on projects that are beyond their expertise and are unable to format the graphs, tables, indentations and so forth. The language service provider is then forced to fix the formatting, which often results in delays for the client.

It is also important that a translator understand what software may be needed to complete a given translation project. In the case of specialized formatting needs, such as brochures and advertising copy, desktop publishing software may be needed. If you lack the software required to complete the task, do not accept the work.

It is very important that translators be completely open and honest about their capabilities. If a translator does not feel comfortable accepting a project for any reason, be it subject matter, deadline or formatting requirements, he or she must let the language agency know. You will earn respect for your honesty and openness about your abilities. When project managers are forced to take time to format translations, that is time taken away from managing other projects or attracting new clients.

Tip: You will be respected for your honesty!

5. Communicate responsibly

Project managers and translators are all busy people, so it is generally best to limit phone calls and emails to what is necessary to complete the project. Constant communication may limit a language service provider’s ability to respond to client inquiries and quote requests. At the same time, however, translators and project managers should remain accessible to each other.

Often a higher than normal level of communication is to be expected, especially with complex projects and rush assignments. Where tight deadlines are involved, project managers and translators should stay in close contact in order to ensure that the project is completed accurately while still meeting the required deadline.

Again, problems arise mainly when the level of communication interferes either with a translator’s ability to successfully complete projects by their deadlines or with a project manager’s attention to his or her other agency responsibilities, such as client requests.

6. Go the extra mile

As in most endeavours, you will be a standout if you go above and beyond in providing extra service. For example, if you spot an error in a source document and alert your project manager to the issue, he or she can notify the client, thus securing a stronger client relationship which could in turn result in more work in the future. Enabling your company to provide added value to its clients is a service that will not go unnoticed!

Some things to consider

Should translators correct errors they find in the source text? In general no, because they have not been contracted to work on the source text. It can be very helpful to the client, however, for the translator to make a note pointing out the mistake. This way the client will be able to correct it once the translation is received. Clients appreciate this courtesy (which is oftentimes unexpected).

This leads us to the next question: Should translators include mistakes in the translation if they are present in the source text? Again, we think no. While preserving the meaning of the original text, translators should still present an accurate translated copy, because readers expect accuracy and readability. There is no reason to introduce clearly unintentional mistakes into the translated copy simply because they appear in the source text.

In addition to placing a translator’s note, translators should always notify the project manager of mistakes in the source text, as this helps facilitate communication with the client. Upon receiving a translation, most clients expect that it is ready to use, error-free and faithful to their original version. They are often unaccustomed to looking for translators’ notes, so it is helpful for project managers to advise clients of their presence.


To sum up: consistently deliver high-quality work, know your strengths, meet your deadlines, communicate wisely, take on only work you are capable of completing and go the extra mile, and you will undoubtedly become an invaluable asset to any translation service provider. Because none of these behaviours are givens in our industry, a translator who consistently demonstrates these attributes will be treasured by any astute language service provider!

As a freelance translator, you have the unique ability to choose the type and amount of work you take on, as well as where and when you do it. Be realistic about the work you can or cannot produce, and be honest with your translation service provider. You will be respected for knowing both your capabilities and your limits. If you are honest, professional and consistently produce excellent work, whatever translation service provider you choose to work with will keep coming back to you.

Author: Karen Hodgson

Karen Hodgson is the CEO of Translationz Pty Ltd., a premier source for professional translation and interpreting services worldwide. Karen heads a talented team of linguists utilizing best-in-class technology to deliver exceptional translation services to companies of all sizes, with the majority of their clients based in Australia, Canada, Asia and the USA.


How (freelance translators) to Work With Translation Agencies
%d bloggers like this: