20 Factors to Consider When Choosing a Translation Agency

In recent years, the language services sector has grown into a $30 billion industry with more than 30,000 language services providers (LSPs) worldwide. LSPs vary widely based on the languages they translate, internal capabilities, range of services offered, subject matter expertise, quality and service. In such a vast and varied landscape, it’s easy to make the wrong decision regarding your selection of LSP. This report provides 20 factors that will help you identify the most professional operators and make navigating this incredibly large industry much easier.

  1. Established Business Built on People. Many well-funded, VC-backed tech start-ups have appeared on the scene in recent years promising a technology revolution that will make human translation obsolete. Others offer new approaches such as crowd-sourced translations in their effort to reduce costs. While technology is undoubtedly crucial and many small businesses can benefit from the cheap translations it provides, global brands should be wary of companies that claim that any specific technology can solve all their business problems or fulfil all of their translation needs.
  2. Financial Security. When entering into a long-term relationship with an agency, it’s important to know whether the company is financially secure. Are they profitable? Are they growing? Do they have a good track record of paying their staff fairly and promptly? You can easily assess an organization’s profitability and growth figures by requesting their audited accounts for the past three to five years. Further online research in translator marketplaces will allow you to determine if a company has a bad reputation for payment among staff and linguists.
  3. Accredited and Certified. If you value stability and quality, you should look for agencies with sophisticated and robust workflow management systems. You should only ever consider agencies that have acquired the ISO9001 and ISO 17100 certification for professional translation services. Be wary of companies that claim to adhere to these certifications or are self-certified, without being officially accredited and independently audited. Most accredited agencies will have details regarding their certification and the auditors available to download on their websites.
  4. Global Offices in Relevant Locations. You should consider an agency’s office locations when selecting LSPs. If you’re looking to market a product in Southeast Asia or Germany, partnering with an agency that has project managers located in these regions can help ensure that both your local and global teams have access to direct contacts during their respective business hours. Project managers working within the regions of your target audience will enable them to access talent more effectively and improve their ability to negotiate favorable terms. Ask for direct contact with the employees in these local markets and make sure they aren’t just dots on a map in virtual offices.
  5. 24/7 Global Customer Service and Operations. Round-the-clock service is critical in a global landscape where varying time zones can negatively impact key communications on a project. For example, there is a 12-hour time difference between New York and Hong Kong. If a client emails a project manager in China at the end of the workday to request changes to a project, they won’t receive that communication until late the following evening. This can cost a client an entire days’ worth of translation. Working with an agency that has production offices around the world ensures the ability to make changes to their project at any time of day and maximizes your company’s most valuable resource – time.
  6. Translation is the Agency’s Core Business. If your goal is to build a long-term, strategic partnership with an agile agency that can add value to your business while consistently adapting to the external business environment – then you should select an agency whose core business is the provision of translation services. Working with a staffing agency or business services company that offers a multitude of services, of which translation is a relatively small part, will inevitably reduce the quality of your translations. These businesses often outsource many elements of the production process to third parties, adding cost and reducing accountability in the process. Their systems and quality assurance processes are not likely to be suited to translation project management which will reduce efficiency and quality, while costing much more in the long term.
  7. Industry Specialization: Case Studies. Whatever your industry sector, specialization, or expertise requirements, it’s important to choose a translation agency that has specific expertise in your business sector. If you’re unsure about an agency’s experience in your niche, ask them to provide case studies of their work with other clients in your industry sector and make sure these case studies are for projects in languages that are relevant to you. Don’t be satisfied with them having one of your competitors’ logos on their site.
  8. Industry Specialization: Client References. Agencies that have completed translation projects successfully will have happy clients. Testimonials published on their websites may not be enough to provide you with the level of detail you might need about their expertise. So, ask them if you can contact their clients to request feedback directly. Agencies that deliver outstanding work will be happy for you to ask their clients questions and if they are pleased with the agency’s performance, their clients will be happy to provide positive feedback.
  9. Approach to Vetting Translators. An agency’s approach to vetting translators should be part of their quality management system (QMS). If they are a reputable agency, their QMS would be audited regularly under ISO9001 certification and the service itself would be audited further for ISO 17100 certification. Certification confirms that the agency has been proven to follow their stated approach to vetting translators for each project.
    Certifications provide evidence that supports the company’s stated claims. However, the guidelines and/or requirements when selecting translators may vary. Be sure that the agency is working with (1) native-speaking translators of the target language; (2) translators with the appropriate background and experience with the relevant subject matter; and (3) a minimum of five years’ experience translating into the target language and subject matter. A sophisticated content and workflow management system will also be able to provide you with a quality rating for the linguist, so don’t hesitate to ask your agency for this.
  10. Translators Have Signed NDAs. Before allowing a vendor access to your confidential files, it’s common to ask them to sign a nondisclosure agreement. What is understood is that the vendor has maintained NDAs with all staff and linguists assigned to complete the translations. Don’t hesitate to ask the agency to confirm that the appropriate documents have been signed, or have them provide copies of the signed documents from staff responsible for managing your project. It is reasonable to ask agencies to have their translators sign your NDA directly.
  11. Structured Approach to Project Management. As a part of an agency’s QMS, their approach to project management should be audited under the ISO9001 certification. Even with certification, the process may vary drastically between agencies. A reputable agency’s approach will be guided by two principles: (1) quality of product and (2) quality of service to both customers and suppliers. Rather than assigning multiple contacts to your account in various business functions, such as an account manager and project manager, a more successful approach has the project manager engaged with both the client and linguists. This enables them to better understand the scope and nuances of your project and improves client support and feedback.
  12. Project Manager Qualifications. Your point of contact for ongoing translation projects should be a highly skilled and multi-talented project manager. This project manager should be responsible for managing your work – performing the roles of both account manager and localization engineer. Their education, language expertise and ability to source talent for your subject matter are crucial to continued success. Beyond that, most project managers should be bilingual. If you prefer to communicate in your native tongue, your agency should be able to put you in contact with a project manager who speaks your language fluently and, if you prefer, can be assigned as your main point of contact.
  13. Guidelines for Quality Assurance and Incident Reporting. An ISO 17100 and ISO9001 certified quality assurance process precedes delivery of your completed translation. This includes (1) verification that all the content in your document or online project has been translated; (2) segment testing has been conducted for localization of online content; and (3) final confirmation that all special requests have been implemented. When omissions, localization mistakes, or unincorporated requests are found, the incident should be recorded in the agency’s workflow management system and senior project managers alerted. Once an assessment is complete, the senior project manager should provide feedback to the project team to allow them to improve performance.
  14. Client Review Stage. The ISO 17100 certified client review stage allows clients with in-country staff to perform reviews of the translations to ensure corporate and industry jargon have been translated correctly and consistently. Critical components of this stage are a streamlined process for incorporating the changes into the translation memories and the provision of feedback to the translators who worked on the project.
  15. Reconciliation Process for Back Translation. Agency and governmental regulations frequently require translations to be retranslated back into the original language to ensure authenticity. The original document and back translation will not be exactly the same due to the nuances of language; however, without being fluent in both languages, reconciling the difference is difficult for most clients to do. Work with an agency that will provide a reconciliation report from a separate translator stating the document or text in which the language varied and whether or not it compromised the initial translation. Once a back translation is reconciled, any segments found to be incorrect in the initial translation will be sent to the original translator to update and sign off on. You can ask for a reconciliation report to be provided with your completed translations.
  16. Robust Workflow Management System. A translation agency’s technological capability is possibly the best gauge of the size, capability, and stability of the business. Their workflow management system must (1) combine the project management, translator, and client portals; (2) connect to the content management system (CMS), online editor, and translation memory tools; and (3) be supported by a team of global engineers and operations professionals. Based on your current and future requirements, you should also verify whether the workflow management system has an API, allowing it to interact with your own systems should you require it. If your business handles sensitive information you should make sure that the vendor’s workflow management platform is secured with the latest SSL encryption technology.
  17. Experience with Glossaries. Every industry and business has its own set of unique jargon or terminology. For corporations operating globally, glossaries often have to be created for key languages to ensure consistency. Working with an agency that has proven experience in creating and maintaining glossaries is extremely important because it displays the will to provide high-quality translations and deliver customer value. If you’re looking for a provider to create and manage your glossaries, request an explanation of their processes and ask for references from clients who use the service.
  18. Experience with Translation Memory (TM) Tools. TM tools are used on translations that contain high levels of repetition. For example, if you have multiple manuals that share terminology, you can lower costs while ensuring consistency by TM applied to your projects. TM works by saving every text segment in a database and if that text segment appears again, it is automatically populated so that the translator can either select the text for translation, or if required, retranslate it. Most agencies use some sort of TM tool; however, similarly to glossaries, it is not a standard process. Therefore continuous updates of the glossaries throughout a project’s lifecycle can easily be overlooked. So, be sure that there is a documented process for managing your TM, as well as references from satisfied clients who use the service.
  19. Technology Integration Capabilities: API’s for your CMS, DAM, ERP, or Ecommerce Platform. If you have ongoing translation needs and multiple staff members submitting translation requests, or plan to in the future, then you should consider connecting to your translation agency’s workflow management platform through their API. This will allow your team single sign-on (SSO) access into their systems from yours, allowing you to better approve, manage and review your translation jobs. Seek out an agency with proven experience in connecting to clients’ systems, and get references from clients who have completed successful integrations.
  20. Data Security and Confidentiality Processes and Policies. A translation vendor’s technology platform at minimum will be ISO9001 certified. For companies with greater security concerns, they should look for vendors that are ISO27001 certified or have a clear understanding of its guidelines.

If your company is looking to develop a request for proposal, these 20 key factors will provide a good start. If you would like more information on any of the points above or would like to see how TOPPAN Digital Language performs against each of these criteria, please contact us.

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