Buying translations

MEINRAD explains: translation agencies vs. freelance translators


If you’re looking for a translation service provider, you’ll inevitably be confronted with endless questions. We’ve previously explained what a translation agency does, but what’s the difference between working directly with a freelance translator and working with a translation agency? 

What’s best: working directly with translators or with a translation agency? 

Knowing exactly what a translation agency does is a big help for many clients when looking for the right translation service provider. But they may be thinking: why even get an agency involved at all? Wouldn’t it be better to work directly with a freelance translator and avoid the markup the agency will add?
The best option depends on your individual circumstances. There are a number of benefits from working with translation agencies rather than directly with freelancers that may apply to you:

  • Specialization and versatility
    Professional translators, interpreters and translation agencies usually specialize in a particular field, such as technical documentation (like MEINRAD), marketing or law. This benefits clients, as they get better translations: a specialist translator has the necessary expertise and experience with the technology, terminology, abbreviations etc. to produce high-quality work. But even if a language service provider focuses on technical documentation, for example, their clients will almost certainly need other types of translations from time to time as well – service agreements, press releases and so on. So translation agencies are always seeking to broaden their specialist expertise, in order to become a one-stop shop and offer these kinds of translations in addition to the technical texts they usually translate. This is easier for agencies than for individual freelancers, which means working with an agency is more likely to give you high-quality translations of all your texts.
  • More capacity
    Many businesses need translations into more than just one or two languages: in fact, it’s not uncommon for translation projects to involve 20 languages (or even more). One freelancer simply can’t offer this many languages – if they say they can, take that with a big pinch of salt – so a business would need to contact multiple freelancers in order to cover all the languages they need. And if they need revision as per the ISO 17100:2015 standard as well, they’ll need to work with double that number (20 languages means 40 freelancers). If this is your situation, it’s better to work with an agency. They’ll have the capacity to handle large translation projects, and you’ll get a project manager to oversee your project rather than having to manage it yourself.
  • A smoother process
    You’ll be grateful that you have a project manager when translators (as they inevitably will) ask questions about the source text. If the project involves multiple languages, the translators may well have the same questions: rather than you having to respond to each translator individually, the agency’s project manager will collate their questions and forward them on for you to answer.
  • Technical expertise
    The translation process involves a lot more than just translating one language into another. Varying file formats in particular can make things complicated – and freelancers often don’t have the expertise to handle these and other technical issues (after all, they’re trained linguists rather than IT specialists). By contrast, a translation agency will usually have its own localization engineering team who can prepare and process all files, whatever format they’re in.  

You might imagine that working with an agency is less personal than working directly with freelancers, and sometimes that is the case. But a good translation agency will work hard to establish a personal relationship with you. At MEINRAD, for example, we always put people first and value the personal touch – and that includes giving you direct contact with the translators working on your texts if that’s important to you. 

On the other hand, if you’re an individual (rather than a business) looking for translations, working directly with a freelance translator is likely to be the better option. Websites like or are a good place to start looking for the right translator. 

How to tell a good translation agency from a bad one

A good translation agency won’t just produce translations: it will also give its clients the support and guidance they need across all aspects of their projects. For instance, it will give clients access to a portal that allows them to monitor the translation process. The agency will also check source texts for consistent style and terminology, as these factors can have a big impact on the quality of the translation (so clients don’t just get good translations – they also learn how to produce better source texts, which in turn will help with future translation projects). And the agency will also offer support when it comes to file formats, connectivity and process optimization, with the ultimate aim of giving their clients even better value for money from their translations. If you’re still unsure whether the translation agency you’re looking at is right for you, these 6 questions will help you make your decision.

Look beyond the price

The translation market is highly competitive, and that has a big impact on prices. But price is often not a reliable indicator of how good a translation agency is – even if you’re prepared to pay more, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee high-quality all-round service. 

The key questions are: will the agency offer the support I need, and do they work with state-of-the-art technology? This may not be reflected in their quote, but in the long run it can end up costing you more than you bargained for in the form of slow, inefficient processes or poor translations. If you need technical documentation to be translated, errors in the translation can lead to the risk of expensive liability claims which damage both your finances and your reputation. So don’t rush into a decision you may later regret. 

Whether agency or freelancer, what ultimately counts is support you can rely on

What matters most is that your translation partner is by your side to offer the support and guidance you need. If you’re unsure whether it’s best for you to work with an agency or directly with freelance translators, you need to find out what added value the partnership can offer you. So don’t be seduced by the price, or by a provider who simply offers “high-quality translations”: if they don’t offer all-round support, they probably won’t be right for you. 


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