Things to consider before hiring freelance translators

March 16, 2016

“The Internet is in English”

It’s easy to fall under this illusion. Even though this statement used to hold true in the 90s, nowadays it doesn’t reflect the reality. Today only 35% of the internet’s content is in English, and this number continues to diminish. The internet is by far the biggest platform for global communication, but it is diverging. Communities all around the world are producing more and more content in their own native language. While browsing in English used to be the best way for people to access desired content, nowadays it’s not necessary. 74% of customers worldwide choose to search in their own language, and in some countries, even choose local search engines over Google (in 2013 both Baidu and Yandex had 62% of market shares in their countries of origin).

For business owners not recognizing this trend comes at great price. Not translating websites, apps, newsletters and customer service means losing a large number of potential customers. Let’s face it – localization is a must for companies who want to operate internationally. But even though it’s easy to decide whether or not to translate online content, the question remains – how?

[bctt tweet=”Let’s face it – localization is a must for companies who want to operate internationally.”]

If you’ve already decided that you want to win your non-English speaking customers by translating your online content, the first thing that came to mind was probably hiring translators. Translating is what translators do, right? So your first thought might be one of two options: 1) hire in house or  2) hire freelancers.

Let’s start with the first option of hiring in-house translators: a trusted team inside your company that will take care of everything. How many in-house translators do you need? If you’re a small company that needs to translate large portions of content, you might soon discover that you need more translators than employees you have. Conversely, if you don’t create that much content, will there be enough work for them? Translators typically translate into one target language, so can you afford to hire 10 people for each of the markets you’ll tackle first? And who will manage their time? Review their work? Cover their vacations? If you’re lucky to have a business development team focused on each market, you might soon discover your regional managers spending time supervising translations, when they should be focused on other things, like finding new customers in their market. Having in-house translators also means extra hires every time you want to start translating to another language or start producing more content. And then hiring extra people to manage those new translators.

So, are there any advantages of having this internal team? Of course. Your in-house translators will probably do market research for you, find local competitors, translate their messaging for you to understand, create marketing messages for you adapted to each market, and answer customer queries. Often times it’s the other way around – you hire a marketing resources native from your target market and that person spends half their time translating.

In sum, hiring in-house translators is like running your own translation agency inside your business. You could be putting all that energy and resources into developing your product or service, but instead you’re managing language professionals.

The second solution is to hire freelance translators. Hiring freelancers means less work for your HR team, lower fixed costs, and less desks to fit in your office. A large number of translators work as freelancers online through services like Upwork and Fiverr. With just a few clicks, companies can choose from hundreds of people to work with. Freelance marketplaces are great, but not necessarily for translation. Just take a look at this:


Which one do you choose? One translator works for $33/hr and another works for $10/hr, although the cheaper one appears to have a better rating. Where does that difference come from? How can you compare them accurately? Sure, you can go through all the comments they received, but you can only trust that feedback if it comes from a native speaker, and that’s not always the case. Do you really have time to do a background check on all of them?

Freelancers need to be managed too, and just like with in-house translators, growing internationally means hiring new ones. Any time one of them goes on vacation you’ll find yourself frantically searching for a replacement. Do you need to translate an e-mail to an important Japanese customer right now? Too bad, your Japanese translator is in a different time zone, and won’t be online until a few hours from now. The freelancer that was working for you last month translated visita guiada to tour, but this month another person is doing the job and this one translates visita guiada to excursion. He’s not wrong; language is full of ambiguity and style choices. But now your website is inconsistent. Translators need constant feedback, and you won’t be able to give it to them until you’re fluent in each language your content is translated to. Trust us, there is a definitely a limit to the number of times you can ask your Russian friend to review your translations.

Think of the way you’re going to distribute the content to those freelancers. It’s not an easy process – first you need to download it from the website, then send each text to a different person, collect the translated texts from them, check, give feedback, send the texts back in case they need to be corrected, and finally get them back again – will every freelancer you work with stick to the deadline? Will they all follow your instructions regarding tone and style of the text? It’s a lot of work, and I bet you and your team have better things to do than constantly worry about translation.

[bctt tweet=”I bet you and your team have better things to do than constantly worry about translation.”]

Another important thing to consider before choosing the right method is the volume of content you’ll need to translate, as well as the frequency. One translator without technology translates less than 2,500 words per day. Translating an average website with 10,000 words seems pretty doable even for one person. But what if your website isn’t average? If you’re running an ecommerce business, product descriptions can easily amount to hundreds of thousands of words every month. If you need to translate 7,500 words per day, hiring three translators might not be enough. Their productivity will vary, depending on many different factors. So while one of them will translate 2,500 words in a day, adding two more translators to the equation might still leave you with just 5,000 words translated. Let’s face it, manual work doesn’t scale.

[bctt tweet=”Let’s face it, manual work doesn’t scale.”]

Hiring freelancers has its advantages: you get flexibility, low fixed costs, and there are tools out there – Translation Management Systems – that help you manage your team and projects for each language.

All in all, hiring freelance translators is also really similar to running your own translation agency, even if it’s “outside” your business. You should be putting all that energy and resources into your own business. Let the professional translation services worry about everything else!


We already agreed that localization is a must. So why isn’t every company doing it? Because not every company has the resources to hire in-house translators, and working with freelancers can also be difficult. Using machine translation seems like an alternative, until you realize that it still lacks in the quality department. But don’t worry, you don’t have to abandon your dreams of world domination – there exists the perfect middle ground: combining technology with human translation. This is exactly what we do at Unbabel. Technology allows automation, with Unbabel’s Translation API, you won’t have to worry about the volume of your content and how to deliver it to translators and then put it back online. Unbabel’s technology also optimizes the way translators are used online, picking the best person to translate your content according to their proven skills. The technology also guides translators to ensure consistency in word choice and style.

Using a translation service takes all the heavy lifting of the localization process out of your hands, so you can focus on your real business. Translation should be a tool of growth for you, not the core of your business.

[bctt tweet=”Translation should be a tool of growth for you, not the core of your business.”]

Check out Unbabel’s website to learn more about solutions such as the Unbabel Translation API, which integrates seamlessly into your workflow, or Unbabel for Zendesk, which allows you to communicate with your international customers by email.

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