Translation Services Buyer’s Guide

If it’s worth getting something translated, it’s worth getting it done well. Quality translations do not come cheaply and you should make sure you get value for money.

Value means that for a reasonable price you get a qualified translator with experience in your field and a working knowledge of any relevant terminology. The translator must respect your deadlines and be working under a contract that protects your interests.

Using internal company resources or friends is usually a false economy. Their time has a value and they are unlikely to work as well or as quickly as a professional translator.

You could try to source translators yourself and deal direct with them. However, this is time consuming and difficult, not least because many of the best translators work exclusively with agencies (they make more money by working continuously).

The quickest and easiest way is to outsource your work to an agency. But, when the need arises you should pick your agency carefully. So, here is a two minute guide on how to select a translation agency.

What to look for

  • Membership of industry bodies (like the “ATA” or the “ATC”). Industry bodies are not guarantees of quality, but it’s a box you should expect to be ticked.
  • Accreditations. The two to look for are ISO:9001 and the (rarer but better) special translations standard EN:15038. These accreditations mean that the agency can demonstrate a satisfactory standard of information management and internal procedures.
  • Don’t let agencies waste your time. For a simple job, you should be able to get a rough cost indication immediately and without supplying source documents. Many agencies publish their per word rates for transparency. If an agency can’t or won’t give you a simple cost indication immediately, move on.
  • Be suspicious of cheap rates. Agencies that compete mainly on cost inevitably use cheaper inferior translators.
  • Faster is not always better. Very few good translators can do more than 4,000 words per day. 2,000 to 3,000 words per day is a more realistic target and plenty of good, conscientious translators are significantly slower. Agencies who offer very quick turnarounds are either rushing the work, or splitting it between multiple translators. When there is a tight deadline, work may have to be split between two or more translators. But, the best way to ensure consistency is to use one translator and one proofreader. If you can afford the time, then don’t rush.
  • Ask who will do the work. Agencies should be accustomed to supplying sample CVs.
  • Translation Memory.If you expect to have a substantial need, get your prospective agency to walk you through the latest softwares that “remember” your previous translations and manage glossaries. These can help ensure consistency and save time and money.
  • Lastly pick an agency that you think you can work with for the long term. A good agency keeps its translators, and you’re much better off having the same translators working on your account over time.

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