Every localization business owner has encountered this question: Should I build a large in-house translation team or should I focus on outsourcing to an even larger pool of freelance language specialists? And the answer isn’t always simple. In this article we will take a look at the pros and cons of both approaches for different aspects of the localization business. Also, we’ll explore some expert tips on how you can make the right decision.
Collaboration with other teams
Convenience, communication, teamwork, training
Having an in-house translation team is all about convenience and time efficiency. Your linguists are right there for you from day one, making it easier to perform trainings, undertake small unplanned tasks, answer questions, provide feedback and fix issues. Planning each day’s workload is much easier knowing that tomorrow you’ll have the same team at your disposal. Furthermore, a dedicated in-house translation team helps to build close professional relations within the other teams, which can facilitate everyday work. It’s just easy to communicate with colleagues who are just a desk or a door away. And all this leads to a happier workplace and consequently to a better service level for your clients!
Collaboration amongst in-house teams is vital for every business.
Credit: © TransGlobe International Ltd.
And with freelancers?
On the other hand, working exclusively with freelancers requires a bit more project management and planning. Initial trainings may need to be conducted remotely, and thus be less effective, or may require more time. Communication is harder due to the need of phone calls, emails or messages for confirmation and clarifications. Getting feedback on already completed projects could take more time as freelancers are not always available during standard business hours. The same is valid for small daily tasks – it’s almost impossible to find freelancers who are always available for small, same day translations. Such an unstable and sporadic collaboration definitely takes more time to develop and turn into a close professional relationship. So, as far as teamwork goes, it’s way harder to achieve with freelance resources.
Finance and operations
Expenses, workload balancing, scalability
A good reason for choosing freelancers over in-house specialists is the lower overall expenses. Yes, the rates per word can be a bit higher compared to your in-house translation team. But most of the added salary costs and company benefits don’t apply for freelance specialists. Choosing freelancers takes a great load off the company budget. They pay for their own coffee, as well as for most of their own insurance, retirement plans, vacations, sick-leaves. And this leads to practially no need for workload balancing. The LSP pays only for the work done when there’s actual work to be done. No work, no payment, no costs. On another hand, with a large enough pool of freelance linguists, scalability is a breeze. Just call a few more translators and editors and book them for the time needed. Not enough resources in your pool? Well, finding new ones and testing them is maybe the hardest part.
So what about in-house?
With in-house translation teams it is a whole other situation. They will need to sign your standard full-time employment contract, which brings all associated taxes and benefits. These may vary, but will include some or all of the following: health / dental / life insurance, retirement, sick-leave, vacation, workplace perks, team buildings, bonuses and many, many more. Thus, even with lower rates ‘per word’ the costs for having a dedicated in-house language team is much higher than with a freelance team. Also, your PM team will need to balance your workload between the in-house linguists and make sure they all have at least enough work to cover their salaries. And here comes the problem with scalability – with a fixed number of language specialists it’s very challenging to find additional capacities. After all, an in-house translation team can only do so much. And expanding the team means hiring another linguist, testing, training, losing time to integrate them in the team, etc. And of course, including another full salary in the budget as well as making sure the new person has enough work. Juggling so many things while still trying to maintain a healthy budget can be a real nightmare.
Build your translation team with your regular workload in mind!
Credit: © TransGlobe International Ltd.
Trust, stability, loyalty
Another positive aspect of the in-house translation team is the level of trust and loyalty that can be established with time. With good company policies you can have a happy and thus stable and dedicated linguistic team. And once you have that, your project managers will be able to plan all tasks with ease and provide better deadline estimates to your clients. Also, with in-house translators and editors the chance of surprises with deadlines and quality is much lower than with freelancers. It’s liberating to know that each day during business hours you have trustworthy language professionals at your fingertips – ready to undertake whatever tasks you may have.
On the other hand, working with a pool of freelancers is a bit different in this context. While you can establish friendly relations with some of your freelancers, you’ll never be able to reach in-house levels of loyalty and trust. As the name suggests, the freelancers are free to work with other translation companies, they don’t depend entirely on your projects. Similarly, you don’t depend on them as much as you depend on your in-house translation team. You can easily find new freelancers and start working with them almost right away. But all this doesn’t mean that freelancers are not trustworthy, stable and loyal. It simply means that the way of collaboration with freelance specialists doesn’t require those virtues – at least not to the same level.
Maybe one of the biggest advantages of the freelance profession is the freedom to be flexible. Flexible working hours, flexible vacations, flexible location, even flexible pricing with the appropriate project. When used right, this gives language service providers a big advantage when the non-standard projects and requirements inevitably come. The ability to provide something that is a little bit outside of your comfort zone can elevate your Clients’ trust and loyalty towards your company.
Quality control and security
While there are many good freelance language specialists, nothing beats the convenience of having your linguists right there by your side. With the better training mentioned above and with a bit of personal touch you can easily reach the desired levels of quality from your in-house translators and editors. Furthermore, keeping that quality to a stable high level is also easier, and your translation team can benefit from a more adequate on-site feedback and ongoing trainings. And there’s also the security aspect – all linguists, in-house or freelance, are required to sign NDAs and similar collaboration agreements to protect company data, personal information and other. It is all about working with honest people, however generally you will feel a bit safer when your data is kept within your company.
Making the right choice
Taking this decision depends on several internal and external factors that are known to every business owner. If you’re not sure which way to go, consider the following:
Having a stable daily, weekly and monthly workload is one of the indicators you might need to build an in-house translation team. If you have clients with consistent volumes sending projects every day, week or month, you will be able to plan your team’s assignments in advance. On the contrary, sporadic projects with unknown or unexpected volumes are perfect for utilizing a large freelance translator pool. Just book them when needed and get some rest when the volumes are low.
When you offer services in several languages, especially in other than your native language, building an in-house team can be frustrating. There might not be enough skilled linguists in your city or even country. This is why collaborating with foreign freelancers is the best solution in this case. Just make sure to ask for references, sample translations and always test their translation competences before assigning them to a real project.
Naturally, industry specialists are usually working within their industry. It may sound tempting to hire an entire in-house team of medical doctors to translate your medical projects, but this is almost an unthinkable task. Doctors like to work as doctors. And while some of them are actually pretty good translators, not a single one would quit working as a doctor and move to a translation company. But working as a translator in their free time – why not? And the same applies for all other specialized industries. So you can build separate in-house teams for all fields you cover, and go crazy and bankrupt due to hiring 50 people. Or you can recruit the same teams for the same subject fields, but as freelance linguists – and work with them whenever needed. Sounds simple, right?
Find the right balance for your business.
Credit: © TransGlobe International Ltd.
Finding the balance with your translation team
Of course, things are never just black or white. You may have several long-term and loyal clients who send you consistent volumes each month. But you will also want to find new clients and grow your business without worrying that you’re not making any profits this month. Remember – in-house teams are a blessing when it comes to serving your regular clients. However, they can also be a big financial burden when work is low. You have to find the balance and decide what’s best for your own company. You might need to build a small in-house translation team for a single language and industry and oursource the rest. Or you might need 3 separate teams. You can choose to use only freelance translators, but keep the editing team in-house for better quality management. And keep in mind that all this can change just within a few months. Be ready to react to the changing times and grow your teams with your business.