How do you decide whether to use a translation agency or a freelance translator? And how do you choose among the many agencies and translators out there? Here is a nice guide to help you get started making that choice: Translation: Buying a Non-Commodity (PDF). I can also offer a handful of quick tips based on my experience:
How many languages do you need?
If you need a document translated into a dozen different languages, an agency will help keep things simple by coordinating with all of the translators, editors, and proofreaders you need. On the other hand, if you have a document you only need to translate from Spanish to English, using a freelance translator will cut out the middle man and allow you to work directly with the service provider.
How specialized is the subject?
Some agencies specialize in certain subjects and can help you find the right translator for your needs. On the other hand, translation agencies that claim to translate all languages and all subjects may be a master of none. To be sure that you are working with a specialist, go directly to the source: the translator. Working with a freelance translator allows you to check their credentials and references, as opposed to trusting that an agency will find the right person for your job.
How important is consistency?
While translation software provides tools for maintaining consistency across translations, nothing ensures consistency like using the same translator for all of your documents. Agencies may provide their translators with glossaries or translation memories (although they don’t always do so), but they may not always have the same translator(s) working on your projects. Also, consistency isn’t just about using the same words or phrases. For marketing translation, the tone and writing style is as important as the individual words. Using a freelance translator means that you will get your message across in translation—consistently.
What kind of formatting do you need?
Agencies often provide desktop publishing services in addition to translation, meaning that you can get a finished, formatted product. Many freelance translators focus on what they do best: translation. If you need to outsource the entire project, it may be best to use an agency. However, translators can surprise you! Because of my background in developing marketing materials, I can handle translation and the desktop publishing process. In other words, I can translate a document from Spanish to English and produce the formatted collateral materials, ready to be delivered to your printer.
What is your personality?
After considering all of the technical aspects of working with agencies versus freelance translators, you have to consider your own personality. Some people want to hand a project over to an agency and have a project manager take it from there. Others would rather have direct access to the translator and manage the translation more closely. Whatever your personality, look for a translation service provider who will work well with you!