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An inside perspective on freelancing for translation agencies

Much has been written about freelancing from the point of view of the translator, but not much is known about the perspective of language service providers.

By Mariana Quiroga

Most large Language Service Providers (LSPs) have an in-house team of linguists who handle the bulk of time-sensitive, confidential or strategic projects. When the workload exceeds internal capacity, Project Managers (PMs) turn to freelancers to take on the overflow. Likewise, to help existing clients with translation requests in language pairs out of their core competency, LSPs will seek to outsource the job rather than turn it down, since it could be the start of a business development opportunity. 

Facilitating this outsourcing is the Vendor Manager (VM), whose mission is crucial: to ensure the business can absorb any overflow seamlessly by recruiting capable and reliable resources. 

Not an easy feat

Recruiting freelancers is hard work, as competition for reliable, capable translators is fierce. A VM needs to spot the rare talent via a number of avenues:

  • Review of spontaneous applications;
  • Online searches in the most common translation forums, associations and groups;
  • Networking at industry events or following up on leads from known sources.

After identifying a promising lead, the VM approaches the freelancer to discuss rates, availability, and proficiency with translation tools. If they reach an agreement, the freelancer will take a short translation test, which should be specific enough in terms of subject-matter to allow the reviewer to assess the candidate’s potential. A passing grade means that the freelancer can become a vendor and sign all relevant paperwork (contracts, non-disclosure agreement, etc.). The collaboration may now begin in earnest. 

During the on-boarding stage, it is essential that close monitoring be performed: the deliverables will be carefully reviewed and scored, and detailed feedback sent promptly. At this stage, a degree of tolerance for errors is advisable—the expectation is not for a flawless translation, but rather for a reasonably good translation that the in-house reviewer can improve without having to redo. Key assessment criteria are:

  • Comprehension of the source: Did the freelancer understand the source? Are there mistranslations?
  • Target (deliverable): Are there awkward turns of phrase? Is the structure too close to the source? Was spell-check run?
  • Due diligence: Were the instructions read and understood? Were the term bases consulted and any relevant questions asked well ahead of the deadline? Did the translator leave comments for the attention of the reviewer? Was the translation delivered on time?

A passing score means that there is potential for the trial to continue, and expectations will rise slowly as the freelancer becomes familiar with the specificity of the accounts assigned. Once the on-boarding process is complete, reviewers or the VM will send feedback only when warranted, as a means of course-correction and continuous improvement. Besides reviewing the work of freelancers, the LSP has a responsibility to keep them apprised of any changes in terminology or style.

Advice for freelancers

These are some guidelines for freelancers as they embark on a new collaboration:

  • Get professional qualifications. Reputable translation companies only consider candidates who have completed a university degree in translation. If you are a professional in another field and want to make a career change that will allow you to keep tapping into your expertise, obtaining a diploma in translation will set you apart from the competition.
  • Be responsive. Most large LSPs will send an email notification for any jobs they want to assign to you. If you take hours to respond, the PM will likely assign the work to someone else.
  • Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Few things are more disruptive to a PM than having a freelancer accept a job, only to turn it down later, when there may be no time left to reassign it without there being an impact on either the next steps or the final delivery to the client.
  • Don’t outsource your assignments. You may think asking your colleague for help when you have taken on too much work is not a big deal, but you may be in breach of your non-disclosure agreement. 
  • Don’t assume. It is frustrating for a reviewer to find that important questions were not asked and answered, as it adds precious time to their overall task.
  • Don’t be late! LSPs servicing large clients run a tight ship. Do not assume that a slight delay in your delivery is not crucially important.
  • Make yourself available. However great he or she may be, a freelancer who repeatedly turns down jobs will quickly fall off the PM's radar.

A mutually beneficial relationship

A long-term partnership can be beneficial for LSPs and freelancers alike, but for the collaboration to work, LSPs must be supportive of the freelancer’s work in every possible way, and freelancers must be proactive and responsive to the LSP’s requests. 

A capable, loyal and reliable freelancer is a rare and precious asset. Good, ethical LSPs think of their freelancers as part of their team and invest time and resources to train them and help them succeed. 

Mariana Quiroga is a Senior Project Manager in a leading Montreal-based translation firm. She has worn many hats throughout her career in the translation industry, having been a freelancer, in-house translator, reviser, vendor manager, localization trainer, and project manager. 

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