If you need to translate a document or text into another language, there are several options available:
1. Use free translation software
2. Hire a professional translator
3. Hire a professional translation company
Using free Machine Translation (MT) software
Almost everyone has used Google Translate at one point in their life. There are also a number of other free online translation platforms: Bing Microsoft Translator, DeepL Translator, PROMT, and SDL Free Translator are some of the other applications.
Free translation software is a good option for translation of text that you need for internal use. Like if you received an email in a different language from a colleague; or basic instructions for a cellphone app. MT is not perfect but it will deliver the job in a basic way. Since the translation is for internal purposes, slight inaccuracies will not be that damaging to the business at hand. Free translation can be an excellent option if you yourself (or someone in your organization) are fluent in the target language. So you can run the text through an online translator, edit the outcome and fix any inaccuracies yourself.
Hiring a professional translator
Go straight to the source. This is a good option indeed. Finding freelance translators online is easy. Here are some of the leading websites for finding a freelance translator: Proz, TranslatorsCafe and TranslatorsBase. You can also find translators on the websites of the various translation guilds like the American Translators Association and the Japan Association of Translation.
The advantages of working with a freelance translator are obvious. You will save money since you are cutting out the middleman. What are the disadvantages?
Lack of quality control. Unless you are fluent in the target language, you will not be certain that the translation is of good quality. Even the best translator can have an off day; or be uncomfortable with the text you have assigned to her/him; or be unaware of the correct subject-specific terminology to use; or be in a rush to complete the translation and assume that it will be reviewed prior to delivery.
Inconsistency of service. Let’s say that you found a good translator and are happy with the work that she/he turned in. But since that translator does not work for you on a full-time basis, there is a good chance that the translator will be unavailable for the next project. Sick, vacation, other work, etc. There are a 100 reasons why the freelance translator you hired may not be available for the next project.
Form of payment. The majority of translators in any given language tend to live in the country where the language is spoken. The translators you want to work with may live in Russia, Thailand, France, Egypt or any other country on the planet. So how will they get paid? Check in the mail? Not feasible and most translators will not be interested. Credit card? You will find that most freelance translators are not set up for credit card payment. Wire transfer (ACH)? This is a good option but (a) international wires are costly ($30-$40 for each bank wire) and (b) can be a hassle if you are not setup to execute this form of payment. Online payment platforms like Paypal and Skrill are good but may also require some time-consuming configuration on your part.
Multi-language projects. If you require a translation into several languages, you will need to negotiate with multiple translators. This will be a time consuming effort.
Lack of buying experience. If you are first time buyer, you may not be aware of the price levels and can overspend on your project. Unless you are a translation industry professional, getting to know the prices requires a time investment on your part. So the money you save on translators costs may be offset by the time that you spend doing the due diligence. As an inexperienced buyer, you may be missing some price discounts that an experienced buyer would take advantage of.
Hiring a Professional Translation Company
Hiring a professional translation company will definitely cost more than using free machine translation, and will probably cost more than hiring freelance translators. The advantages of working with a professional translation company are the reverse of the disadvantages listed previously for working with freelance translators:
Guaranteed Quality Control. A good translation company will always deliver work which was reviewed by a second linguist. Additionally, a seasoned translation company Project Manager will know which translators to assign the work to based on the type of text and availability of resources. Most good translation companies have a Quality Management System (QMS) in place which is designed to deliver consistently good quality. And a good translation company will have a proven team of translators who will consistently deliver high quality.
Consistency in service. Professional translation companies will have the resources you need to deliver your translations on time and at the desired level of quality.
No-hassle payment. Translation companies are usually set up for all forms of payment and will be happy to accommodate your preferred method of payment. This includes payment after delivery.
Buying experience. Translation companies have professional buyers who know the business. They will know how to get you the best prices for reviewed, high quality translation. Some of these buyers purchase thousands of dollars of translations a day, which means that they get better prices than you would get from a freelance translator.
Translation Certification. Some translations, like immigration documents, medical device instructions and clinical trials documents, need to be certified. A professional translation company will have the experience and backend required to get you the necessary translation certification papers.