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In-house translators vs freelance: 5 reasons to never ever go with in-house

Apr 29, '19 by Gabriel Fairman

Time and time again I see people trying to solve their localization management problems by bringing people in-house. The translation quality is bad. Bring in in-house reviewers. The translation quality is still bad. Bring in in-house translators. Project Management is awful. Bring in in-house project managers. And so it goes.

There is a clear bias. We think we can control and get more from those that we can see right in front of us. And while there may be some truth to that, solving things by beefing up the in-house team whether with Translators, Reviewers, Engineers or Project Managers, is rarely addressing the core of the issues.

Let's talk first about translation quality. If the translation quality is off, these are the core root issues: 

a) wrong talent - you have selected talent that just does not have what it takes to do the job well

b) wrong pay - your compensation structure, or the compensation structure your suppliers are using is insufficient to attract the correct talent, or insufficient to get the correct talent to work at their best. either way, wrong pay will directly impact translation quality

c) bad management on the buyer end - crazy timelines, change after change during project execution. A tumultuous environment will impact translation quality.

d) insufficient information or engagement - translators half way around the world are insufficiently connected to your brand, your customer base, your people and your product.

e) bad management on the supplier end - not measuring quality effectively, not sticking consistently with the same small team for your projects, mistreating or mishandling the talent

We could itemize more. But these are the core drivers for insufficient quality. By bringing people in-house, you will solve several of the above mentioned items. You can hire them carefully and pay them well which solves items a and b. You can cut off the middle man which solves item e. You can get your teams working closely together which solves item d. You are still left with an unresolved item c because chances are that your organization will become even more disorganized and chaotic by leaning on the flexibility that the in-house team will provide you with. Employees can complain but at the end of the day, they just have to get it done.

But the big problem is that while it may seem that you have short-circuited the problem with an elegant fix, the fact is that the in-house solution will bring an entire host of problems which may be much harder to solve in the long run:

a) accountability - you have the right talent but now you need to hold people accountable. employees are much more protected and can find more excuses than an outsourced supplier can. It will be harder holding people to deadlines, quality and other aspects.

b) demand elasticity - your people are likely to either be overworked and underdelivering due to soaring demand and you will still have to outsource work, or they will be idle, researching on the latest practices of underwater basket weaving.

c) productivity - with a lot more distractions, you will notice a profound decline in productivity. in addition being paid a fixed salary regardless of productivity does nothing good to encourage people to work at their top performance. In 2009 we have 40 in-house translators. After conducting a survey we found out that over 80% of them would rather work from home if given the chance. They wanted the freedom, flexibility and the opportunity to make more. With a few exceptions, most of our translators immediately doubled their daily output within a month of working from home on a per word basis. We also noticed an improvement in quality.

d) career advancement - while some of your translators may be able to move on the corporate ladder, most of them will be doing the same thing for several years which a lot of more forward thinking organizations find unacceptable from a cost-efficiency and organizational behavior perspective.

e) Overhead - rather than working with a dynamic cost base that fluctuates according to your need, now you have W-2s or their equivalent and a growing fixed cost base which is another big no no for most companies that need to turn out a profit to survive.

So yes, you will solve things by bringing in-house translators. In the short term it may even be great. But you could also work to solve those same issue from their root without engaging in an entire array of challenges. Here is how:

a) ensure your deadlines are feasible and that your internal stakeholders are kept in check in terms of change management and realistic project expectations

b) ensure you are paying your supplier appropriately and most importantly ensure that they provide you with enough transparency so that you know that the translators working for you indirectly are also making enough to live well

c) ensure you are vetting talent appropriately. don't just look at cv's. in fact don't look at cv's at all. Look at how translators are performing on the job to make your selection of who is fit and who is not to work for your organization.

d) invest in training and knowledge management. Bring your indirect translators occasionally for field training. Establish channels so that they can engage with your staff. Provide them with abundant access to information around your company, brand, product and consumer base. Most importantly, make sure to pay them for their continued efforts in learning about your company.

While these steps are not necessarily a guarantee to well oiled localization machine, it does seem a lot more logical to me to fix the problem by tackling its roots rather than just throwing in-house people into the problem and now having an entire new set of problems to deal with.

 

 

Gabriel Fairman

Written by Gabriel Fairman

Gabriel is the founder and CEO of Bureau Works. He loves change—and eating grass.

Keep your finger on the pulse of the localization industry - technology, innovation, people.

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