As a freelance translator, one of the biggest issue when starting out is finding the right clients, and that is just the beginning. After landing that client, the next big issue is how do I retain that client? Which we know is not as easy as we think.
Now comes the part that we have to choose how we get our clients. Is working for a translation agency the ideal route or having a mix of translation agency work and private clients? Undoubtedly, working for translation agencies will give some comfort, since you are more likely to get a more reliable flow of projects, even though you may have to offer lower rates to translation agencies.
Having private clients often results in higher rates, since agencies often have its profit margin to protect by deducting some amount from the client’s payment before paying you your share. The good side to working for translation agencies as a freelance translator is that it minimizes the need to be always hunting for the next client or freelance translation job.
Starting off as a professional freelance translator, it is better to do a combination of both. Having some private clients and working for agencies to get that reliable flow of work till you build your private clientele, or hone in your marketing skills in attracting new clients is the best way to go.
Not to say getting private clients is easy, but building your network of businesses who typically need translation services will enable you to be in their minds when a translation job comes up. Remember that prospecting for new business takes time, and you should have your portfolio of your work ready just in case you bump into that business person who works in a company you are looking to do business with.
Another advantage of working for a translation agency, is the fact that you get to specialize in a certain field or industry e.g. industrial, automotive etc. With private clients, it is more difficult to specialize in a particular area, except you expressly target those industries or areas. A translation agency specializing in particular area will give many jobs in that field, enabling you to build your expertise translating in that niche or area.
Of course the main disadvantage in working for an agency, is the much lower rate you receive for your services. The rate per word could be significantly lower depending on the size of the agency. The larger translation agencies sometimes tend to pay less since they have more overhead. Also, you will not be able to build a relationship with the client directly since the agency controls that relationship.
In a nutshell, you basically have two options as a freelance translator, and that is either working for your own private clients or working indirectly through translation agencies. Your preference really depends on your tolerance for risk versus reward and stability in job orders. However, most freelance translators try to do both if they can, since they need that security in case one avenue slows down or closes.