Translation Costs: In-House vs. Outsourced

April 6, 2023

Before your business takes the global stage, you need to consider one question: “Should I outsource translation services or build an in-house translation team?”

CSA Research recently conducted a survey on the “Evolution of Work Volume from Direct Clients.” The survey had over 11,000 respondents and showed 75% of translators are self-employed (freelancers), whereas only 13% work in-house either with clients or Language Service Providers (LSPs). The remaining respondents were unemployed or didn’t identify as professional linguists.

The figures reveal the level of openness among businesses towards collaborating with freelancers.

When choosing between in-house versus outsourced services, you should factor in the translation costs of either approach. It’s also important to weigh the pros (and cons) of hiring third-party translation services and recruiting full-time translators.

So what determines translation costs, and is it better to outsource your project or hire in-house translators?

How much do translation services cost?

Here’s a quick rundown of translation costs when outsourcing and hiring full-time translators:

Outsourced translation costs

When outsourcing translation services to freelancers, expect to pay an hourly or per-word rate. Online data shows that the per-word rate of freelance translators ranges between $0.08 and $0.40 — sometimes higher.

The average hourly rates for freelance translators are around $20 per hour. However, it’s possible to find contractors who offer translation services at $11 per hour or below. In contrast, some freelance translators charge up to $69 per hour.

Differences in freelance translator rates depend on multiple factors, including:

  • Language pair: More obscure languages are sometimes more expensive

  • Word count: The higher the count, the more money your translation will cost

  • Deadline: Rush jobs are more expensive than regular translations projects

Freelance translators also adjust their rates based on supply and demand. The more translators specializing in a language pair, the lower their rates get (i.e., English-Spanish translators may charge less than English-Bislama translators).

With LSPs and translation agencies, you don’t pay hourly translation costs. Rather, the pricing depends entirely on your needs.

Most companies use a quote-based pricing structure for professional translation, which can include services like content writing, editing, SEO, and regulatory compliance. Other translation platforms charge based on the number of words you need to translate, along with factors like:

  • Desired turnaround time (TAT)

  • Content topic

  • Language combination

In-house translation costs

The hourly salary of in-house translators is on par with freelancer rates, ranging from $11-$41 per hour (average of $21.46 per hour). Per annum, the median salary of US-based translators is $56,754 in 2023.

However, in-house translation teams come with additional costs. This includes your expenses for recruiting, training, and retaining full-time translators, even during low seasons.

Providing your in-house translators with the facilities needed to perform their work — including office space, equipment, supplies, and other utilities — adds to your monthly expenses. You also need to pay for perks, including insurance, paid leaves, healthcare, and retirement benefits.

Lastly, you have to pay your manager, editors, subject matter experts (SMEs), translation coordinator, and other essential staffers.

Outsourced vs. in-house translations: Which is more cost-effective?

For cost reduction, outsourcing translation services is a better choice than building an in-house team.

Working with LSPs or translation platforms involves fewer costs than building an internal translation team. On-demand translation services and freelancers are also more flexible than in-house translators, who get paid all year round, regardless of output.

Should you outsource translation work to a language service provider?

Cost-effectiveness isn’t the only advantage of outsourced translation services. Below are five other benefits of outsourcing.

Advantages of outsourced translations

  • Get translation operations running quicker: With on-demand translation services, your translated documents will be ready in a matter of hours. You don’t need to spend weeks or months building your in-house translation team.

  • Take advantage of service integrations: Modern translation platforms feature multilingual tools and integrations for your existing processes. For example, Unbabel bolsters your customer service with automated translations through progressive machine learning (ML).

  • Pay only for what you need: With per-word translations, it’s impossible for you to overspend on your translation projects. Outsourced translation services also let you decide your project’s TAT, helping you stick to your translation budget and timeline.

  • Optimize your global marketing: Some LSPs and translation services have specialized localization teams that can tailor your marketing strategy to international audiences. This sometimes comes with extra costs, but other companies have local marketing baked into their translation services.

  • Access more language options: By outsourcing translations, you don’t need to look hard for full-time translators who specialize in the language pairs you need. Translation service providers provide an expert network with hundreds of languages at your disposal.

  • Outsource other services: Hiring an LSP unlocks other opportunities like regulatory compliance, sales enablement, conversion outsourcing, and marketing automation at a discount. Again, these services are more affordable than building an internal team for these processes.

Disadvantages of outsourced translations

  • Inconsistent quality: Translation service providers work with several translators, which may lead to slight variances in quality over multiple projects.

  • Vulnerable confidential information: While rare, translation platforms — particularly low-quality, “budget” translators — may compromise the privacy and security of confidential information.

  • Little to no control over translations: Most language translation partners maintain close communication with clients, but you still have limited control over their translation process and quality assurance.

Should you build your in-house translation team?

Although in-house translation teams involve higher costs, they provide a few long-term benefits.

Advantages of in-house translations

  • Gain granular control over the translation process: Play a more active role in managing your own in-house translations. With qualified in-house translators, you can build the translation workflow from scratch, design feedback loops that suit your organization, and establish streamlined collaboration channels between stakeholders.

  • Communicate better: In-house translators are easier to reach in case of urgent communications. This takes the stress out of last-minute changes to translation projects.

  • Keep translated content on-brand: In-house translators are more familiar with your brand’s goals and voice. Over time, they’ll be more efficient than contractors in producing content that perfectly fits your brand’s vocabulary and writing style.

  • Ensure information privacy: With an in-house translation team, rest assured that confidential information never leaves your organization. This lessens the risks of intellectual property theft and data leaks that could jeopardize your brand image.

Disadvantages of in-house-translations

  • Rigid spending: You still need to pay your translation team full-time salaries even during less-busy periods.

  • Hard-to-find native language experts: Unlike translation service providers with global connections, building an internal translation team with native language speakers in a variety of target languages isn’t always possible.

  • Continuous investments in translation technology: Running an in-house translation team makes you solely responsible for funding new translation technologies to keep up with the industry — from AI-driven translations to terminology management tools.

  • Poor scalability: Machine learning translation tools allow agencies to help translate large amounts of content into multiple languages quickly with high-quality assurance. In-house teams can’t compete with that output.

Some companies feel that outsourced translation services won’t be able to fully respond to customer needs, and consider customer service an in-house obligation. What those companies may overlook is that an in-house team is less agile than most third-party translation options. That means they’re less likely to handle surges in customer service calls. Say there’s a glitch in a tech launch or a sudden need for your company to help solve a problem, only a scalable translation system can adequately handle the sudden volume and then return to normal levels quickly once the surge ends.

A case for outsourced translations: Competitiveness driving innovation

To remain competitive, LSPs and translation service providers continue to explore language technologies and partnerships that take their products to the next level.

Unless you’re “all-in” with your internal translation team, it’s more practical to hire companies that reinvest and innovate to be the best in the space.

Unbabel’s machine translations utilize AI-driven “Quality Estimation” (QE) technology in its self-service translation solution. This system provides instant analysis and feedback on automated translations — underlining low-quality output for expert human proofreading and editing. It’s this blend of machine and human translation in one scalable, efficient, and accurate translation company that leads to faster, more affordable, and high-quality translations for gaming, tech, retail, and travel businesses.

Get a first-hand look at our self-service translation platform with a free trial today.

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Unbabel’s Content Team is responsible for showcasing Unbabel’s continuous growth and incredible pool of in-house experts. It delivers Unbabel’s unique brand across channels and produces accessible, compelling content on translation, localization, language, tech, CS, marketing, and more.