I wonder a couple of things about translation agencies. And when I say “I wonder…,” I mean that honestly. Not as in “most agencies do it this way, and that’s clearly the wrong way.” As in “I honestly wonder.” Here we go:
Why don’t more agencies have in-house translators?
The knee jerk answer to this is cost and flexibility. When agencies use freelancers, they pay only for the services they need, when they need them. No benefits, no office overhead, no providing computers and software, no caffeine-addicted translators draining the coffee pot all day, and so on.
But here’s the other side of the coin: I’m guessing that most mid-sized agencies, and certainly all large agencies, have enough work to keep at least a few in-house translators busy full-time in their most commonly requested languages. And then, the agency has a few advantages:
- Those translators can work for the same clients all the time, which the agency can’t guarantee when it uses freelancers.
- Those translators are on salary, so the agency can charge a markup for rush projects without paying more to have them translated.
- Confidential projects are never sent outside the office.
- It’s easier to monitor the quality of a translator’s work when they’re right there in your office.
- A small team of translators would get used to working together, which would probably raise the quality of their translations.
- The agency could cut its administrative overhead significantly. Instead of having to find an available freelancer, negotiate a rate and deadline, deal with snafus like the project being late or the translator having a computer crash, the project could just be assigned to one of the in-house translators with no back and forth.
Why don’t more agencies specialize?
One of the first pieces of advice given to any beginning freelancer is: specialize. Become the expert. Don’t try to be all things to all clients. Yet, the vast majority of agencies do not specialize *at all*, and even use “translating all subjects, all languages” as one of their selling points. Just Google that and you’ll see what I mean.
There are exceptions: I work with a couple of agencies that only do one subject area, and I can think of a handful of agencies that only do one language. But again, that’s the exception. It seems to me that by specializing, agencies could reap many of the benefits that specialized freelancers do:
- Become the go-to agency for their language or specialization.
- Fish in a smaller pond when it comes to marketing.
- Get to know one subject area really well, thus producing better translations.
- Know who to market to, rather than anyone on Earth who needs a translation.
Agency owners? People with insights into this? Any thoughts here?