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Some lessons I learned after I started subcontracting work

'e-commerce' photo (c) 2008, Garfield Anderssen - license:
It has been about 6 months since I started subcontracting work to other freelancers. So it's about time to make some conclusions and share my lessons.
I'd also like to hear from you if you have experience working with subcontractors.

First of all, before I started subcontracting work, I asked an agency owner who started as a translator to give me some advice. So here are three tips he gave me:
1. Sign an NDA with all subcontractors;
2. Ask a client for permission to subcontract their project. If they say 'no', don't subcontract it.
3. Proofread and if necessary edit the work you get from your subcontractors. Never send the work to the end client without proofreading it first.

I followed his advice and I am so glad I did. Thanks to that, I didn't have any problems with clients who gave permission to subcontract their projects. However, I came across some not very pleasant moments, too. And those moments came from fellow translators.
When I chose translators I made sure they had excellent recommendations; I read their previous translations etc. Only after that did I invite them for collaboration. I must say, all deadlines were good. I pretty much know how many words an average translator can do during a working day, so I'd never ask them to do anything impossible. And I paid them the rate they requested (far from the minimal one). Many of them did a wonderful job and I am so thankful to them (and I know our collaboration will continue), but I found that some of them behaved in a very strange way.

  • Some would send me a translation ahead of time but it wasn't proofread and contained quite a few spelling and grammar mistakes;
  • Some would send me the work that wasn't fully translated saying, "You are also a translator, so since that line looked tricky to me I decided to leave it in the original language and let you do it";
  • Some didn't send me the translation when I asked them to send it. When I asked them why they did it they either said that they forgot to let me know they wouldn't be on time, or they figured that I had some time before sending the work to the end client anyway (yes, I had some time, but it was for editing, not for waiting), so it wouldn't do any harm if they sent the translated text later.

Though I am a translator, in this case I am also a client. And such unprofessional behavior makes me speechless. Why would a translator do a good job for other clients and such a poor job for me? Why do they think that they can behave unprofessionally with a colleague who buys their services?
Any ideas?
The good thing is that my experience reminded me over and over again that I should NEVER EVER behave unprofessionally with my colleagues if they subcontract the work to me.


  1. Good post, Olga. I have a lot to say about subcontracting, but I'll try to be short.
    Normally my subcontractors are all right, but in some cases they behave the way you described above.
    But once I received a google-translated text from one subcontractor, who, according to her own words, has a group of fellow translators, with whom she constantly cooperates. That does not seem strange to me, as long as she is satisfied with the payment I offer her. Of course, I always read and edit (proofread) the translation she sends me, but it turned out that SHE does not always do the same if the translation was translated by someone from her group. And once I received about 30000 chars of google-translation!!!! I was furious, of course, and told her there would be no payment. The subcontractor didn't object, but anyway I had to correct the translation on my own. I asked her to 'punish' the person who used google and to check all translations she receives from her colleagues. Since then I give her a small piece to check her quality, and ask her to send the translation in pieces.
    But fortunately my other subcontractors are perfectly OK.

    My friend, who owns a small translation agency, often tells me a lot of 'funny' stories about her subcontractors. Of course, the stories are not at all funny for her. For example, the last week she was furious, because one of her subconractors did not send her the translation on time, switched off his mobile telephone, was not available per email, and 2(!!!!!) days later informed her per Email that he accidentally became part of the fight late at night and was put to jail together with other participants of the fight. My friend and me thought that it was a made-up story. She is not going to work with that subcontractor again.

  2. Olga, thanks a lot for your valuable comment! I really feel so sorry for your friend. This post was published because we as freelancers talk a lot about dishonest clients, but obviously some freelancers sometimes forget that they should also be honest and professional in all cases. There's one more word that keeps coming to my head and this word is "personal integrity".
    Ok, enough said. Maybe I am just in a grumpy mood ;)

  3. True- we must remain professional with our work. For me, this is my bread and butter so I have to do it right and professionally.

  4. Cassy, I found myself searching for the "like" button hear your comment. I absolutely agree with you.

  5. Yes, I agree, too. If I'm offered a project, doesn't matter translation, interpreting or tour guiding, I try to consider it very carefully, all aspects of it, inluding deadlines, duration per day, etc. If I suspect that due to some reasons I can have problems, I prefer to say 'no', even if the payment is really good. Unfortunately I haven't always behaved like this, and I'm really sorry for many things I did in the past. But it is also a matter of experience.

  6. True, Olga. Experience definitely matters, too. I also made quite a few mistakes in the past that I'm ashamed of even now. It's a good thing new translators can find so many blogs of their colleagues now and learn from us. The Russian proverb is probably right saying that smart people learn from the mistakes of others, silly people learn from their own mistakes ;)

  7. Very good insight into the industry - I like how you are making a transition from being a translator to sub-contracting work. I think it takes a lot of skills. Your blog offers excellent advice - thank you for taking time out to share...

  8. Sarai, thank you for your kind words! Yes, I have been learning a lot lately. But that's what our proffession is about - learning, learning and more learning :)

  9. The best part of your subcontracting experience is that you learn the lesson and you now know how to handle subcontracting translation work. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  10. Dear Cassy, you are so right, this experience has definitely taught me a lot! You are very welcome and thank you for support :)

  11. The first time I subcontracted a job I learned that you need to verify that the subcontractors are qualified enough to handle the job at hand. I was in a hurry and send one paragraph of a sample text to see how they would translate it. Translations were OK; "I can make the necessary corrections", I thought. Well, I had to re-translate everything later on... Lesson learned :)

  12. Hi Recep! Oh yes, I know what you're talking about! Been there, too. Good thing we know now how to do it right :)


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