Freelance translator, copy writer or translation agency: what are the pros and cons?
Whether you’ve made a conscious decision to expand your business overseas or whether foreign clients have approached you with an opportunity you can’t refuse, it is important to choose the right language partner for your international business venture. Your translator will be responsible for all your communications with foreign markets and you will have little means of checking their work : needless to say, you should have full confidence in their skills and reliability.
Let me attempt to explain the main differences between the language providers, their way of working and to list the pros and cons of working with them.
The Translation Agency
Like any middle-man, they sometimes have a role to play. A good translation account manager will aim to understand the objectives, the ethos and the tone of your business and your brand, to find and brief the translator(s) on the project, to ensure consistency across all translations and to make sure the translated documents are delivered in time. More importantly, they will control the quality of the copy by checking the credentials of the translators they work with, by organising appropriate proof-reading and by implementing their own quality control procedure. Finally, they are in a better position to handle urgent and large projects by involving several translators at once (although this may affect the consistency of the results – read my article on why it’s best to avoid urgent and large translation projects if you can help it).
PRO’s : less work for you, access to a large pool of translators and proof-readers, fast work with a broad range of file formats
CON’s : more expensive, less control
The translator delivers the work – which is kind of key, right? Cutting-out the middle man can have many advantages: cheaper translation fee, less potential for miscommunication and more control. However, their ability to manage the whole project and to handle certain file formats (such as web files or graphic files) can greatly vary from one translator to another, and it will pay to check their procedures and their capabilities before entrusting them with a large project. Finally, working with one person is a good way to ensure greater consistency across your documents : a good translator will aim to become an expert in your products and services by asking many questions at the beginning of your relationship (if possible, invite them to spend some time with you so they can gain a better understanding of your business).
If you’re happy to do the leg work (such as transferring web content into a Word document for them to access) and to be a little more patient, this can be an excellent and economical arrangement.
PRO’s : cheaper, more control, better contact and knowledge of your product and industry
CON’s : more work for you, potentially slower, file formats accepted will depend on the provider
If you are looking for a truly localised text, you might need to consider the benefits of working with a bilingual copy writer rather than a translator. What’s the difference ? I hear you say. A translator will convert your English (or other source language) text into the target language (French, in my case), aiming to remain as faithful as possible to the original whilst making sure the result makes sense. A copy writer will read your brief, understand your objectives, carry out their own research and write relevant copy directly in the target language. If you’re nervous about not understanding it, you can always ask for what’s know as a back-translation, but beware that it is totally normal for the grammar and syntax of a back-translation to be a little weird. You can read my French expressions page to understand why…
PRO’s : Potentially higher quality, copy will be truly localised and relevant to your objectives in the target market
CON’s : Generally more expensive, you may not understand the text or have to pay for a back-translation
Generally not a good idea, unless your contact is completely aware that you’re using a machine and that they should therefore take the result with a pinch of salt. Not convinced ? Try this.