The "freelancer vs translation agency" dispute has been going on for a very long time. Freelancers tempt with low rates and the possibility of individual adjustments of the cooperation model, easier communication, as well as a guarantee of terminological consistency. And what are the most common arguments against using the services of a single translator? Most often we hear the following statements:
"I'm afraid that the translator will be indisposed just before the deadline"
"I don't want to order additional corrections/proofreading from someone else"
"This is not a task for one person (many files, multiple language pairs)"
"Translators don't reply to messages when they're working"
"Apart from translation, I need advice and linguistic assistance"
"The translator translated two text for us and refused to translate a third one, because in the meantime he got another job - so I had to look for someone else"
Although many of the above can be argued, it is difficult to deny the legitimacy of at least some of them.
Most translators at a particular stage of professional development wonder how to "work less and earn more" - usually they have to face the above arguments. They often come to the conclusion that one way is starting cooperation with other translators. Those who like it have two options:
- Establishing a translation agency - the "classic" model that we see on the market most often - boss/owner and translators/freelancers. Usually at the beginning, the boss also (or mainly) deals with translation, in addition to conducting business, marketing, sales, accounting, etc. It is good for the boss to have a partner (often a life partner who comes from another industry) who is able to help at least in some of the mentioned tasks.
- Creating a group of translators - i.e. establishing cooperation with other translators, not necessarily in the form of a business. Often it is a contract (even verbal) between two or more translators, specifying mutual support and cooperation principles. There is no formula here - everyone does it differently.
Either way, none of these solutions comes easily and there are many issues to bear in mind. However, cooperation is usually beneficial and will most likely improve the quality of services provided.
In this article, we will focus more on solution number 2 - a group of collaborating translators - but most solutions can be applied to both models, because they are very similar, although in practice creating a translation agency is a bit more difficult.
Pros and cons of cooperating with other translators of the same language
As far as the translation industry is concerned, we sometimes see some reluctance towards each other in groups of translators from the same language pair (maybe apart from English, since there are so many of them) - mainly because these people struggle for the same assignments and sometimes even work for the same client, though they do not always know it.
And yet it is worth considering teaming up with at least one person working in the same language pair, mainly because learning from each other’s verification and proofreading can bring benefits. And the additional service of correction by another person will be an important bargaining chip for a potential client.
Also, a second translator can take over some of our jobs that you cannot handle - and vice versa. It can be particularly useful in the flu season or other unforeseeable circumstances. Having this type of "backup", we can offer a much greater guarantee of high-quality services.
Also, let us not forget that two translators knowing the same language may have complementary in-depth specialist knowledge. Specializing in e.g. legal translations and working with a marketing text translator, we create a comprehensive team that will translate, for example, texts for a website and its terms and conditions much better than a single translator specializing in only one of these areas.
The difficulty in this solution is to find the right person who will not only be willing to start such cooperation, but also will have a similar level of skills, will be communicative and development-oriented.
Pros and cons of working with translators of other languages
This more intuitive way of seeking cooperation partners is targeted at expanding the offer, obviously. Thanks to cooperation with translators of other languages, we can reach a much wider audience with our offer, we are opening to larger and more serious projects, and, therefore, also larger budgets.
Tasks in multilingual projects are usually much more motivating, and their impact is greater. Therefore, opening up to these opportunities is often the moment when you "catch the entrepreneurship bug". And that in turn allows you to discover completely new opportunities for professional development and enter a higher level.
The possibility of raising rates should not be the only motive to expand the offer with additional languages, but let us not pretend that it is not a significant one. After all, it is among multilingual translation agencies where we can find companies operating millions of turnover. We cannot say the same thing about freelance translators.
Of course, cooperation in such a model may cause some problems, such as order management, work separation, setting standards, time management and taking care of the same level of commitment among group members.
Pros and cons of working with anyone at all
The important topic of "freelancer loneliness" is also worth raising. It is commonly discussed in relation to topics such as burnout or difficult return to a full-time job. The lack of social interaction caused by working from home, without face to face contact with clients or colleagues, is difficult for many people. Some compensate it with numerous meetings with friends from outside the industry, or with family. This opportunity, however, is not always available or satisfies the needs.
Of course, this can be reduced to a clichéd discussion about intro- and extroverts, but this issue is much more complex and people who have been working as freelancers for many years certainly notice the lack of possibility to talk about industry topics or, for instance, exchange in-jokes at the water dispenser.
Well-organized cooperation, even in the absence of a physical office, allows you to fill this space and meet the needs of people who simply lack contact with colleagues.
How to organize the cooperation?
Group work organization - regardless of whether we choose the classic model of a translation agency or cooperation in a group of translators - it is a challenge. Many translators are terrified by this vision, because these things are completely outside their field of knowledge, as well as outside their comfort zone - therefore those who decide to overcome these problems will find themselves among the outstanding minority.
Develop your procedures
The word "procedure" is usually associated with a large corporation, but in fact it is the task delegation 101. Imagine that you issue an invoice to client X on the last day of each month and you do not have a description for this activity written down (even in the form of 2-3 sentences). And then you unluckily break your leg on October 31 (and according to Murphy's law this cannot happen another day). In this case it does not matter if you work with fifteen people or on your own. No one will be able to guess that they should issue that invoice on your behalf, since you are unable to do it (in this case due to your hospitalization).
Core processes (yes, another "corporate" word) that should be considered are:
- Query handling:
- what emails, social media or other channels to check,
- what and when to write back to the client,
- what rates, discounts, increases to apply,
- when to write to a client when there is no answer.
- Contact methods and tasks distribution:
- how to contact an interpreter/translator/proofreader for specific tasks,
- how to transfer files (network drive, email, Dropbox),
- how to receive them.
- Marking/signalling unavailability:
- how each vendor signals their workload, currently free "capacity",
- how to settle holidays,
- what happens in case of indisposition.
- Project management:
- who contacts the client and at what stage,
- what messages are usually sent,
- do we divide large translation projects into smaller stages with separate deadlines and feedback loops,
- does the client have direct contact with the translator or do we assign a dedicated contact person,
- do we require an advance payment and in what cases,
- when, how and where do we issue an advance, final, regular invoice,
- do we ask the client for feedback, references and how,
- whether and how do we contact clients who have not ordered anything for a long time,
- how do we proceed in case of exceeding the payment deadlines,
- when do we offer discounts and at what levels.
- IT security:
- risk analysis,
- password standards,
- email security, acceptable providers,
- disk encryption (especially on laptops and mobile devices),
- customer data retention.
These are, of course, only the most important issues. In individual cases this list may look completely different, but it is important not to overlook what is most crucial.
Plan your marketing
Even the best business can fail if nobody knows about it. Therefore, it is worth taking care of at least the basics of marketing to be able to reap the benefits from group cooperation.
For instance, it is a good idea to consider creating a joint website and optimize it for search engines, sharing costs with all members of the group. You can also designate a person responsible for social media activities (e.g. Facebook, LinkedIn) or schedule shifts - this is another way to distinguish your business from individual freelancers who usually do not have time for it.
It is also worth thinking about periodically creating interesting industry content on the website, on industry portals or on social media - this is a good way to promote your services for experts.
You can also take your marketing outside the Internet, sharing the high costs of outdoor or even radio advertising with all members of the group.
Designate a project manager
When working with other people, the need for a task manager arises almost instantly, and if it is not met quickly enough, it can cause a breakup of the best team. Therefore, it is worth establishing the principles of project management before starting cooperation. Most important rules being:
- who is responsible for managing orders and tasks,
- whether it is a permanent role or you take shifts (and how long shifts),
- what are the duties,
- what remuneration is due for performing this role.
Select the tools
Tools suited to the needs of any business comprise the company's strength and give it a competitive advantage. The basic tools in virtually all types of business activities are a website and email, so the potential clients are able to find us, learn about the services we provide and make the first contact. A phone can also be essential, but when you have to send a file for translation - you need an email account.
Currently, a quite common situation is replacing the website with a Facebook page, less often on LinkedIn or other social networks, although we advise creating a "classic" website with even a small monthly budget for search engines marketing (SEM), because in the long run it can bring much greater benefits. Social media pages can function independently of the website, which will build its value over time.
When setting up email accounts, it is good not to rely on free solutions, but to set up mailboxes in your own Internet domain, preferably one that contains the name of the company. This shows a higher level of professionalism and care regarding both legal and technological aspects.
You can also use file sharing tools, such as Dropbox, box.com, Google Drive, etc. Of course, you can do without it and send all files in emails, but mailboxes usually have a small storage limit, and sending the file back and forth several times causes the need to save it several times on the mail server - so the storage limit of the mailbox is decreasing rather quickly.
You should also think about an independent backup storage for performing regular backups. It can be the aforementioned cloud drive (other than the primary one), but also a network drive in the office or an ordinary high-capacity drive connected via USB. Although the convenience of these options is different (and the backup system has to be convenient or it will not be used as often as it should be), they ultimately lead to the same - making copies of the most important data on an independent media in a location other than the primary storage.
Finally, you should also take care of your accounting software. Online cloud applications as well as desktop ones can work here. Depending on how many people will deal with invoicing and what functions are required - the program should be adjusted to individual needs.
Of course, you can also take a shortcut and opt for a translation project management program, such as Mantreo, which comprehensively takes care of all the above-mentioned issues. After configuring your email accounts, simply connect them to Mantreo and messages with quote requests will automatically appear in our program. From there, you can transform them into a new translation project, prepare a quote in PDF, select the best vendors from your database, and process the entire project until you finally issue an invoice - all in one place.
Thanks to Mantreo, file management becomes simple and readable, files are not duplicated on the server, and automatic frequent backup in three independent locations offers you peace of mind and eliminates the need to remember about this important task. What is important, our users can store files without any limits in terms of the amount of data.
The only thing your company or translation group may need apart from Mantreo are CAT tools for translators. That of course is a topic for a separate article, but when working with other translators, it is good to arrange the use of the same application - not only because of the interchangeability of files, but also because of the possibility of mutual support in working with this software.
Determine the formal and legal issues
The selection of the right form of business cannot be ignored and it is best to solve this issue at the beginning or at least plan a transformation from one form to another where it is possible.
Permitted forms of business activity are strictly dependent on the country in which you are operating, so it is worth going to a qualified tax advisor or accountant for detailed advice in this matter. However, we advise you to stick to the rule "start small and grow according to your needs and opportunities".
Where to find translators for cooperation?
In a perfect world, we have known the best translators we want to work with for a long time. We know everything about them, how they work, their strengths and weaknesses, and we do not have to look for anyone else. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
We can run the search for translators on industry forums (e.g. Proz.com) or Facebook groups (e.g. Translation Jobs and Translators, Translation Jobs or Freelance Translation Services). We can also search some websites for freelancers (e.g. TranslatorsCafé.com, Gengo, Globtra, Upwork or Freelancer.com).
Regardless of the method you choose, you will need to verify each person you want to start working with. The easiest way will be a sample translation, e.g. text that you have already translated yourself, which has been rated very well by the client. Pay attention not only to the quality of the translation itself and the translator's specialization, but also how a potential colleague responds to messages, how they formulate their thoughts, whether they are able to meet non-standard requirements and of course the difference between the declared and the actual deadline (someone who finishes work much earlier than declared may have a problem with estimating the complexity of tasks).
In our humble opinion, cooperation in the translation industry is a must, and avoiding it may pose a risk of losing orders and competitive advantage in a market that is already highly saturated. It is therefore undoubtedly worth taking a moment to reorganize your business so that it is ready to start working with other freelancers.
The first and easiest step may be creating a Mantreo account - for 20 days you can test the program for free, see how easy it is to manage the database of vendors and clients, and how effective it is to run projects, starting from receiving an inquiry to issuing an invoice.