Translators on… Agencies


Translators on… brings together a collection of industry professionals, each sharing their experience and advice on certain topics of their career, offering a wider, more authoritative range of opinions than a single source. Want to know more about the series? Watch the launch video.

In the last Translators on… post, in which our contributors recalled how they landed their first clients, we saw that you can pretty much find clients anywhere you look, yet it largely depends on how well you network and establish links in the industry even before launching your career.

This crucial period is a time for sowing your seeds and watering regularly to turn your seedling into an orchard that can yield more fruit than you can savour. The idea is to harvest the freshest produce and attract flocks of punters to your stall willing to pay top dollar for a top product. Easier said than done, though, especially at the start of your career. And this is where translation agencies help to fill the void.

Ask a translator for their opinion on agencies and be prepared for a diverse range of responses, from the affectionate to the militant. The fact is that they have come to form a lifeline for many newcomers for an array of reasons, which our contributors will explain.


Like any industry, ours has both good and bad agencies. Some employ hundreds of people across the world, others just a handful. And it can be a minefield when it comes to selecting those that you want to work with. The last thing any new translator should do is fire off a hundred emails to any and every agency out there, forgetting that you are not applying for a job; rather, you are presenting yourself and your services based on certain qualities and values, which may well not coincide with those of the agencies you are approaching. Picking the wrong agencies to sell yourself to could cost you dearly further down the line. What do our contributors look for in distinguishing the good, the bad and the ugly?


Louise makes an excellent point; we should distinguish between translation agencies and translation companies. When I worked in-house, we had a team of ten or so project managers who outsourced work to freelance translators, yet we had a team of ten or so in-house translators, so the company was thoroughly familiar with the linguistic components of the translation process.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are agencies set up by people without any background in or knowledge of any other languages, let alone translation, employing similar folk; these types of establishments therefore have unrealistic and frankly warped perceptions of the industry and thus apply practices common in other industries to drive down costs for the customer and for themselves, tactics that are simply incompatible with the translation industry, as recognised by some of our contributors.


But the downsides of working with translation agencies or translation companies should not distort the overall benefits and, in my opinion, is certainly no justification for the often aggressive retort against agencies as a whole, as Allison highlights.


That’s why many freelance translators seek to strike a balance in the types of client they work for. There is no shame in agencies making up your entire client list, not least at the start of your career.


In any case, you should always bear in mind that you as the translator are in the driving seat. If an agency tries to impose something you don’t agree with – whether a 60 day payment term, a ridiculously un-user-friendly portal or preposterous CAT tool discounts – don’t work for them. It might take you a while to find them but, as emphasised by the contributors, the good ones are out there.

In the next instalment of Translators On…, the contributors will reflect on maintaining and developing existing client relationships.