Achieving excellence in translation: insights from my 20-year journey with leading agencies



I once came across a statement from a renowned translator who firmly believed that the key to success as a freelance translator lies in finding direct clients, and that working with agencies only makes our work less predictable. I was surprised by this broad statement as I have been living comfortably for quite some time, providing my services to agencies (although I had also developed good relationships with some direct clients and I have enjoyed the benefits of having access to industry professionals). Of course, there were a few exceptions, as some agencies did not fully fulfil their role and instead chose to simply pass on the documents. However, these instances were relatively rare.


After two decades in the industry, I’ve gained extensive experience and a profound understanding of the field and its professionals who contribute to its advancement. Today, I want to showcase the excellent work done by agencies by highlighting their best practices. Here are some examples of doing things well that I have encountered over my career, which have helped me grow and develop as a translator and as a person.


Good translation agencies:


1. Work with a carefully chosen group of external partners. They review their CVs, set appropriate translation tests, agree reasonable rates and carefully explain their work process. Through this approach, they build up a database of language combinations and specialisations, enabling them to effectively meet their clients’ needs with translators who are already well-versed in their working methods.


2. They select the translator profiles that are best suited to the specific needs of each client, based on their area of expertise, and they form efficient working teams. They streamline tasks by assigning them to a dedicated group of professionals, which helps to avoid impersonal mass mailings and allows the translators to become highly skilled in the unique requirements of each account. This formula usually enables the most seasoned external partners to offer additional input, as they can frequently suggest improvements to the content itself or to the method of work. Of course, it is the customer who benefits most, as all these factors contribute to enhancing the overall quality of the final product.


3. When technical or linguistic challenges arise, they ensure that communication between the project manager and the translator remains open, allowing problems to be resolved swiftly and fostering a sense of teamwork. The most experienced translators value this close communication and use it to ask questions to improve translation accuracy and to tailor the final version to the client’s preferences.


4. They take care to explain to the client what the translation process entails and the steps that are involved, so that they are aware of the minimal turnaround times. Wherever possible, they leave a margin so that the translator does not have to work nights or weekends, and if the client’s requirements dictate that there is no other option, this is reflected in the price. They agree the delivery deadlines with the translators, relying on their expertise to accurately calculate it and move the job to the next stage of the process promptly and in the correct manner.


5. They not only review the translation, but also encourage collaboration between the translator and the proofreader. The translator is encouraged to include helpful notes that assist the reviewer in their work, fostering a collaborative learning experience. This relationship prompts the reviewer to exercise caution and to consult the translator when uncertain about his or her criteria or decisions. When the translator is open to accepting the necessary changes and the proofreader provides a clear justification for their edits, the final work for the client sees a significant improvement.


6. They clearly communicate their invoice payment terms; they strictly adhere to them and any administrative issues are promptly resolved. This willingness results in work of higher quality.


These best practices describe the operations of actual agencies I work with regularly, rather than just theoretical ideals. I would like to express my deep admiration for their outstanding work and pay tribute to all the excellent agencies with whom I have had the pleasure of sharing these intense 20 years. Thank you for your professionalism, responsibility, and ethical standards. Furthermore, if my perspective can provide any valuable insights to agencies seeking to enhance their relationship with external translators, I would be delighted. But, on further consideration, if an agency is questioning whether it is performing as it should, it is likely that the agency is already an excellent one.