It is somewhat unsettling to receive panic requests from agencies asking whether I would be available to translate some urgent medical text. I do not touch medical documents and my professional indemnity insurance would not cover me in case of subsequent incident. Do agencies ever go back to the client and admit that they could not source a competent person in time to meet the tight deadline they had promised? Or are there individuals who do take such assignments on despite their lack of knowledge in the field?
Unlike many agencies, conscientious translators do not promise the moon on a stick, and that’s a good thing. While agencies prioritise profit, translators prioritise feasibility. Here are some of the advantages of working directly with the translators.
An honest answer
Translators have to put a sales hat on now and again but they are first and foremost linguists. They will therefore give you an honest answer as to what they can do, within what time scale and for what cost. They do not make promises they cannot keep.
When I used to work in sales (due to circumstances rather than choice), I sold surprisingly well. I never pushed anyone to buy and if I didn’t know the answer to any technical question, I’d put the client through to one of the engineers. This sold every time because talking to the experts themselves gives the client more confidence than dealing with any clever sales person. By talking to the translator directly, you can be confident that your documents are in good hands.
One contact for all decisions
As a sole trader, a translator is in charge of all aspects of the business. So whether you need to talk to a sales representative, the finance director, the operations executive, the CEO or the office tea-maker, you are talking to the right person every time.
Hiring the same individual for all your projects ensures consistency throughout your written communication as the translator soon becomes familiar with your needs, style, terminology, philosophy and intentions. This can also help to speed up their performance for future documents, saving you money if the translator charges per hour (as opposed to per word). It saves you time too, because they won’t need briefing a second time and will not ask the same questions again. If commissioning an agency, you may be talking to the same project manager but the translator may not be the same each time.
No Chinese whispers
Avoiding the middleman saves time and ensures clear and reliable communication: you can be sure that the translator understands your requirements and messages without ambiguity. Translation agency representatives sometimes make quick assumptions and answer the translator’s queries on the client’s behalf, leaving the translator frustrated and unsure as to the reliability of the answer. By working directly together, both the translator and the client can make sure that they are on the same wavelength.
Guarantee of credentials
Dealing directly with the translator also implies that you know who is translating your text (see introduction paragraph) and what credentials and experience they have: you can check their website, LinkedIn profile and/or any other online profiles they may have. The information should be consistent. Even a simple chat over the phone will tell you whether this person has sufficient knowledge of your field.
Other services available
Translators commonly offer other services such as proofreading, editing, copywriting, interpreting (oral translation), language tuitions, multilingual project management, and more. They can also recommend fellow translators for other languages and/or fields of expertise. Just ask!