How to start your own translation agency

3 Tips on How to Create Your Own Translation Agency

I would say that probably about a third of the questions I am emailed have to deal with questions on how to translate something, be it a name, a phrase, a slang term, or even a translation job… you get the picture.

Another third of the questions deal with people interested in how to become a certified translator, or how to even start out as a beginning translator.

The remaining questions are the ones I’m going to talk about now, which are all about translation agencies – the good, the bad, and even how to form your own. Most of these types of questions go along the lines of something like this:

I am a translator of XYZ language and am interested in doing translation work. Please let me know if you have any translation/interpretation openings.

I always find these types of emails interesting for a variety of reasons.

First of all, for most of my translation career, I worked alone (although I did do some work with Spanish translation agencies back in the day).

Because I’m a freelancer, I don’t usually work with others on translation projects.

Second of all, my language of choice is Spanish and because I am a Spanish translator, I don’t work with XYZ languages, and potential clients don’t email asking me if I can provide those languages because I’ve made it clear that Spanish/English are my languages (although I’m currently in love with Brazilian Portuguese).

I’ve often wondered why it is that translators of other languages will email be this question about looking for work and whether or not other translators receive these kinds of solicitations as well.

I think that at least one of the reasons I get these requests is because freelance translators are trying every avenue possible to get work (as a way to bullet-proof their business), including emailing freelance translators that have nothing to do with the language in question.

In addition, I think that another reason is that there must be some translators out there that think that I am not a freelance translator but rather one of a number of translation agencies looking to work with translators of other languages.

And that got me thinking…

What does it take for a freelance translator to become more than a freelancer, and instead make the jump to joining the list of translation agencies out in the market?

What would it take for a freelance translator to make the transition from a freelancer to an owner of a translation agency and outsource translation jobs?

Collaborate with Translators

First of all, if you’re interested in expanding your business, the best way to do it is slow and steady.

That is, if you’re getting multiple requests for translations in a language other than the one you provide, it’s best to find a competent translator that could translate in that particular language instead of trying to provide services for every language combination out there.

How do you find a competent translator?

This is probably the hardest part, and is one of the reasons why freelance translator applications for translation agencies are so long and involved. Translation agencies want to make sure they get translators that can actually do the jobs sent to them. The one thing any agency wants to avoid is contracting out to a translator that does a horrible job and ruins the trust a client has.

So hiring the right person is the first step in expanding your translation business. There are many places to look online, like freelance job sites such as eLance and others, but you never know if the person you choose really has the credentials they say they do.

One way to vet a person and his/her abilities is to come up with a sample document that you can give to the person as a test translation. You can then either check the translation yourself if it’s in your native language, or have a friend who is competent in that language proofread the translation to make sure it is up to par.

Unfortunately, language skills aren’t the only skills that you want your potential colleague to have. A person can be the best translator on the planet but if they are not punctual, or don’t deal with timelines very well, you’re going to have a lot of frustrations ahead of you. If it takes a long time for a potential translator to get the test translation back to you, that’s a sign that you might want to look to hire or collaborate with someone else.

Communicate With Translators

Once you choose a person to help you expand your translation business, the next step is to figure out how you’re going to communicate with your colleague.

Since freelance translation is a global industry, your colleague doesn’t have to work in the same office as you, neither be in the same state or country.

Whenever I’ve done a project with another translator, I’ve always found that the most basic communication tool (email) is also a fairly decent communication tool. The reason I like email so much is that differing timezones often prevent me from communicating with that person when he or she is on the other side of the world.

Also, I’ve found that using email has helped me be more concise and to-the-point because a lot of time can be wasted getting information back and forth if there are ambiguities or misunderstandings.

If you are relatively close time-wise with the person you will be working with, other tools are even handier, such as Skype if you like to talk over the phone, or instant messaging (WhatsAapp is a decent tool for this). I like Gmail because it allows me to do both of these straight from my laptop without having to worry about anything else. This saves me headaches and keeps everything right there on one screen, which is something that is very important to me as I work.

Figure Out Payment

Finally, you’ll want to figure out and agree on the payment terms and payment methods  you will offer your new partner.

Presumably the reason the translator wants to work with you is because they need additional sources for translations which is what you will be providing. As such, the money you will earn from the transaction is payment for finding a translation job and passing it on.

The new translator, however, will still be the one doing the translation and deserves the bulk of the payment. As the translation agency manager, you’ll want to make sure that you pay the translator a good rate because they will have earned that. Don’t think that just because you are the manager you deserve the bulk of the payment.

What portion or percentage of the payment should you give the translator? This is a question that ranks right up there with how much you should charge for your own work, and is something that you will have to figure out based on the various circumstances surrounding each individual situation.

This can best be explained by an example:

A while ago I was swamped in both my professional and personal life and didn’t really have time to take on any new work or new clients. However, someone emailed me with a job assignment for a translation from English to Spanish. I didn’t feel comfortable translating this particular document into Spanish, and because of that and the fact that I didn’t have much time to work on it on my own, I decided to contract out to a colleague I had in my translation network.

In order to figure out how much to pay my translator, I first looked at the source text and figured out how much per word I would charge for the job.

I usually charge between $0.08 and $0.10 a word and I determined that if I were to do the job I would charge $0.08 a word. I then informed my colleague that I had a translation for her to do and would pay her $0.06 a word to do the translation. Because that is more than she usually makes on her own doing translation work or when working for a translation agency, she was very willing to do it. I kept $0.02 for myself and when I received payment from the client I sent the payment to her. She received what was a good amount for her work, I got some compensation for facilitating the work, and the client got a quality translation.


It’s not a bad idea for you to work on setting up your own translation agency.

Basically, you’ll be able to keep doing the translation work you want to do while also getting paid for facilitating collaboration between clients and translators who work in language combinations that you don’t deal with.

Are you a freelance translator that has set up your own translation agency?

If so, let us know how it went and what other translators should know if they want to do the same!

P.S. Want to become a successful freelance translator? Read my book.

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