Specialised agencies and online marketplaces – what’s the difference?


What are translation marketplaces?

SmartCat, Translators Café and the more professionally recognised are all translation marketplaces. More general freelance marketplaces also exist, such as Fiver and Upwork.

These websites offer freelance translators a place to list their services, and are even potential leads for agencies in their quest to add freelancers to their supplier databases. Translation buyers also post projects on the websites’ job boards, for which members can then go head-to-head in bidding wars in an attempt to win projects.

Some marketplaces, like, also offer a range of additional tools and services, such as forums, discussions, training sessions and resources, which has given rise to global online communities of language professionals.


What’s the difference between a marketplace and an agency like Over the Word?

Over the Word specialises in the translation of financial and legal documents and corporate communications. We work with the very best translators and proofreaders, meticulously selected on your behalf, who have consistently proven their expertise in our specialised fields. Every linguist in our select database is therefore a specialist in legal, corporate or financial translation, ensuring that the best translator for the job is assigned to your projects.

The trouble with a marketplace, however, is that – in the words of Forrest Gump – you never know what you’re going to get. Not all freelancers listed on an online marketplace will have experience in your field or meet your exacting requirements. Given the thousands of translators listed on these sites, it can become difficult to sift the wheat from the chaff.


Who can list their services on a translation marketplace?

Anyone can list their services on an online marketplace.

You’ll find all kinds of profiles listed – anything from expert lawyer-linguists to language students looking to make a few extra bucks; and therein lies the challenge for translation buyers. Rates and skill levels vary wildly: some are certified, others have acquired specialised expertise over years as in-house translators, and others simply speak two languages and are looking to try their hand at something new.

This inclusivity and ease of access to the translation industry is also undermining it – given the lack of regulations and restrictions when it comes to listing services on online marketplaces, the sea of profiles becomes a minefield for translation buyers and agencies, which they must navigate extremely carefully. Without knowing what qualities to look for in a translator, it can prove difficult to make the right choice. Finally, the dearth or absence of official accreditation requirements for translators in most countries makes searching on these marketplaces a risky business.

The best way to achieve accuracy and consistency across all of your translations is to choose a team of translators that you know and trust. In this article, OTW explains how its in-house team of translators guarantees clients the high level of quality they expect.


How do online marketplaces affect the industry at large?

Although has a paid professional membership option (translators must provide proof of experience and qualifications in order to sign up), anyone can sign up as a free member and start bidding for jobs, at rates that often undercut industry standards. This is referred to by some as the race to the bottom. While professional membership options do indeed help ensure a higher level of quality for translation buyers, not surprisingly, this also forces experienced and qualified translators to pay for site membership, simply to remain on the professional market.

So, how do you choose the right translator or agency? Your best bet is to go with a specialised agency like Over the Word wherever you can – this is the best way to ensure that the translators involved in your projects are experts in your field. Another option is to use websites that only list members who are all professional translators, having provided evidence of industry experience and qualifications. These include CNET and SFT in France, ATA in the United States, ITI in the UK, and NAATI in Australia.

Many other skilled professions require accreditation before an individual can operate. Translation, however, no matter whether it’s a job for a chemical patent, the pharmaceutical sector, construction, finance, law or engineering, is more or less self-regulated. Marketplaces offer no barrier to entry to these expert fields, however specialised agencies like OTW select only the most qualified and experienced translators.


Click here to get to know Over the Word’s expert team of in-house translators.

Want to learn more about the world of professional translation? Take a look at our Frequently Asked Questions.


Rachel King