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Translation Agencies vs. Freelancers – what’s the best choice?

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If you are an aspiring freelance translator and want to step into the industry after graduation, you have a choice – either you decide to build up your portfolio of private clients or you can rely on translation agencies. The first option is definitely the hardest. Not only have you to do your job as a translator, you also have to become an investigator to find direct clients, a marketing expert to promote your business, even a graphic designer to develop your own brand and identity.

On the other hand, translation agencies do the dirty work for you – so you no longer have to invest your time in negotiation and you can focus 100% on your translation. Pretty cool, isn’t it? These intermediaries are perfect to start off your career. I did that too. I started my freelance career working with a local translation agency and collaborated with them for no less than 9 years.


I don’t blame my choices. I was in my early 20ies and wanted to gain some experience without going through the hassle. And it really gave me the chance to build the basis of my career and my specialisations. Little did I understand I was just a number.

Let me explain this for you. In the beginning it seemed like a bed of roses – long-term projects, important clients, steady workflow. I was happy to work for them. As time passed by, though, jobs were becoming repetitive. You’d think that, after all those years of non-stop collaboration, they’d have given me more interesting and important projects. Well, quite the contrary. I often found myself working on 50/60-word orders, HO 8.30 a.m. sharp, deadline noon same day. No more asking for my availability, no more proactive collaboration, not even a word on Skype. Not to mention my rates, which were far from being ethical.

As you can imagine, I quickly lost my enthusiasm in the job and felt underestimated for my skills. It had become a mechanical and alienating job. During my last months of collaboration, I would often think, “If it is not me, it’ll be another one” – and I was totally right. When I sent my goodbye e-mail to my PMs, after 9 years, they hardly answered back.


Unfortunately, that’s often the case with translation agencies. Bittersweet, at least for their suppliers. Having experienced it first-hand, I swore to myself I would have never worked with an agency again.

In my search for new clients, though, I was happy to find out my feelings were shared and that someone had already acted accordingly by founding more ethical agencies. Hopefully this will be the pattern for all future entrepreneurs who’ll decide to open a translation agency – fair rates, dialogue with suppliers, understanding the needs of both parties. In my opinion, that’s the real meaning behind the term “intermediary”.

The choice between a freelance or an agency is never an easy one – especially when it comes to costs. But I hope this post will help you understand that agencies could be a good choice only if you are sure they treat their suppliers right. When they claim “fast turnaround time, low rates”, please be aware there’s a human being behind who’ll have to work quickly – and, most likely, inadequately – and who’ll probably get 30% of those already “low rates”, if they’re lucky enough. If this is the case with the translation agency you want to hire, consider turning to a freelance (hello! If you’d like to reach out to me, just navigate to the Contacts page), or try and look for one of those ethical agencies.

sun shine

You’ll be part of a movement which I like to call, “let’s make translators shine again” 😃

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