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Running a translation company

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Considering running your own translation company? This can be an important step in the career of any translator. Understanding how you should set up your agency, and what responsibilities and challenges you will likely face, can help make that decision for you. Whether you just want to outsource some work to other freelancers, or are considering stepping into the role of a CEO or administrator of a corporate structure, the following information will assist you in that decision.

Pros and cons

The pros and cons of setting up your own translating company will be largely dependant on your skill sets and passions. While more money for less work is often the motivating factor for many small business start-ups, the truth is it often means more money for more responsibility, and more work.

Knowing if you’re ready to step into the shoes of being your own (or someone else’s) boss is the most important step in starting your own business. Here are some things to consider:


Do you want to take a more administrative approach to the translation business? If you do, will you be able to achieve the same level of income by being an employer? If not, will you be able to afford an administrative assistant or someone else to cover the day to day running of the agency.

Will you still translate?

If you are still planning to work as a translator, and simply want to outsource some work to other contractors, then you might want to consider working as a freelance translator who outsources (see below) as an alternative to starting your own small business or agency.

Longer hours

Especially at first, you can expect to work more hours every week. This is the nature of just about any change in business. You’re stepping into a new role. Even if you have decades of translation experience, the responsibilities of being the CEO of your own company are far different to working as a contractor, employee or freelancer.

Make sure you have a plan in place for the first two years of your business. Ensure that your family and friends understand the commitment you are undertaking and responsibilities outside of work that might be affected. While it’s possible to run your own small business with a regular workday schedule, almost every manager and CEO has to at least be contactable at most times to deal with crises and emergencies, and troubleshoot a broad range of issues.

Crisis control and management

If you do run your own business, you will have to know ahead of time how you plan to deal with emergencies, unhappy clients, unhappy contractors and general troubleshooting. Can you answer the following questions?

  • What will you do if the company’s website goes down?

  • What procedures do you have in place for clients who won’t pay their invoices?

  • What happens if one of your primary employees or contractors is taken ill, or needs to go on holiday?

  • How will you ensure the quality control of the work being done by your business, particularly in languages that you may not be familiar with?

Regardless of your business structure, these problems will ultimately be your responsibility. Ensuring the smooth running of any business can be a full-time task. You have to decide if that’s something you’re ready to undertake.

Consider the tax implications

Setting up your own small business means considering the tax implications of your earnings and that of your business. Part of your business plan should be projections of income, how you will handle tax (will you take on employees and pay their tax for them, or will your contractors be responsible for their own tax?) and a thorough understanding of the record keeping required for your business.

Some tax related activities you should do before starting your own business:

  • Read the relevant guidelines for tax in your country

  • Understand the tax requirements for contracting or employing translators and clients from overseas

  • Contact an accountant to help troubleshoot your business structure

  • Speak with other translators and small business owners you know who might be able to help set you up
Be a freelancer who outsources

One good way of finding out if you are ready to start your own translation agency is to work as a freelancer who outsources. Freelancing teaches you how to hunt for clients and stimulate your own business, while the freelancer who outsources gains valuable knowledge on how to be the middleman between client and translator. Freelancers who outsource are also able to step into new markets where previously they weren’t able to translate. Consider the following scenario.

As a freelance translator you already have your own client who sends you regular work in the language of your preference. Now, this client wishes to move into new markets that require translation into a language that you are not familiar with. Because you have made it known to the client that they should bring all their translation needs to you, the client has trust in your ability to deliver. By outsourcing the work you gain valuable experience dealing with an ’employee’, although technically at this point they aren’t yet employees.

It’s also a good way to progress into an agency model, as you’re already networking and building up a database of potential employees and contractors.

Build a good website

While freelance translators and transcribers might be able to get by with just a LinkedIn profile and a registration with a couple of freelancer sites, if you are thinking of starting your own translation agency, building your own website (or contracting someone to do it for you) is a must.

Your own website should be professional looking, simple to navigate, and create a ’sales funnel’ that guides users easily from the page they land on to a purchase or request for quote, or to make contact with your agency via a simple call to action.

Because your new agency is competing with established agencies in a global marketplace, it pays to learn a bit about the following in web design trends:


Search engine optimisation is when you create content that caters to search engine queries and is formatted with the behaviour of search engines in mind. As a new agency you will want to start out targeting smaller traffic niches (using longtail keywords) to build up the organic flow of search traffic before targeting larger terms and audiences.

Online advertising

Understanding the difference between advertising on Facebook and advertising through Google AdWords will go a long way to developing your overall sales strategy. Explore what kind of advertising options are available, test what you get out of them, and keep detailed reports of their effectiveness.

User experience (UX) and responsive web pages

How a user interacts with your website is important to your overall strategy in client acquisition and retention. The current trend is towards ’flat’ designs that create a uniform experience.

Another consideration is the responsiveness of your website. Responsive sites change their layout to suit the type of device they are being viewed on (mobile, tablet, laptop, desktop) without losing any of the key features integral to the site’s function.

Create your own or hire a professional

There are many web services that help you build your own functional site, and learning some of the basics of web design and HTML will save you money over time. Remember, the web is always changing, and like many industries is subject to trends in design and functionality.

Employing a professional might ensure you receive a top notch website, but are you learning how to manage and maintain that site? Will the web developer keep your site updated? How much will they charge for this work? Will it be easy to migrate your website to another domain or server, or allow another developer to access the site if you require it?

Having the answers to these questions before employing a professional will save you time and money in the long term. Consider your website in your business plan, and if you’re not ready to start your own translation business just yet, come back to the article when you’re ready to take the next step.


This article is proudly contributed:

I’m Emily Rebecca, an Australian by birth studied and worked in the UK for 15 years. Presently based in Singapore as a writer and editor at Translation Services Singapore ( An outgoing writer who Loves life and loves travelling. Cheers!

Published - August 2015

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