The job in question involved the translation of a Chinese electronics patent into English, making it highly specialised. I didn’t know anyone personally who could do it nor did I have any recommendations, so I had to turn to the web and find an agency or independent translator. After getting quotes from two agencies and one freelancer, I ended up placing the job with the latter. Some of the reasons for this decision were personal; I can’t help but be a little biased towards freelancers. Nevertheless, during this outsourcing process I made some interesting discoveries that I think are worth sharing.
1. It was surprisingly difficult to know where to start finding someone
Googling “Chinese translator” or “Chinese to English” is probably the most obvious way to go about it, but it annoyed me. The first page of results shows only online and machine translation tools, with the first agency not appearing until the bottom of the second page. I did eventually pick two agencies from the results, but I realised that a google search was not the way to find a freelancer. Instead, I found someone through the Institute of Linguists’ Find-a-Linguist service, where one can search based on language pair, specialisation and location.
What struck me, however, is that this is quite worrying from a freelancer’s point of view. Freelancers can rarely afford the Search Engine Optimisation that would get them higher up on the Google search results, but how many corporate clients outside of the translation industry really know about the Find-a-Linguist service, Proz.com, etc.? Not so many, methinks, which strongly suggests that the onus is on freelancers to be incredibly inventive and proactive in marketing their services to direct clients.
2. Few freelancers have a website that is actually helpful
This really surprised me. Whenever I want to buy a product or service, the first thing I do is Google for a provider. Their site has to be nicely laid-out, easy to navigate and full of the information I need in order to get my custom. This all sounds very obvious, but in my search for a freelancer I came across sites that were full of lengthy text and theory on why it was important to use a properly qualified translator but which failed to tell me what was actually involved in commissioning a translation from them.
As a potential client who’d never commissioned a translation before, I wanted the practical stuff: what exactly they specialised in, what their modus operandi was, and how much they would charge me. Agencies are much better at explaining what the client can expect when they place a job. This is definitely something freelancers can learn from.
3. You never really know who you are getting with an agency
As I mentioned, the translation was highly specialised in that it required someone who was familiar with both electronics and patent legalese. I expected to have to pay a premium for this. However, one of the agencies gave me a quote that worked out to a dismally low rate of about £60 per 1000 words. It made me wonder what on earth would the translator end up with?! More importantly, what translator qualified and experienced enough to deal with a Chinese electronics patent would accept such a rate? I decided that I simply couldn’t trust the job to be done to a high enough standard for such a price, and refused their quote.
One thing that works to a freelancer’s advantage then, is that we can use the more personal nature of our business in combination with our demonstrable qualifications to prove to a client exactly how suitable we are for a job instead of asking them to take this on trust. In addition, daring to charge a premium rate for a premium service rather than always trying to undercut our rivals in the way many agencies do can also work in our favour.