How Do I Choose a Translation Company?
Updated: Sep 23
The Three Primary Factors To Consider (beyond cost)
Choosing a company to translate your valuable content is not a minor decision. Professional translation and localization can help your content reach more readers, learners, research resources, and any other audience you are targeting. But it can also create its own set of issues around quality, accuracy, and cultural issues. Finding the right translation partner is a critical decision. In this post I’m going to look at three considerations you should be considering, beyond the pure cost issue.
But what about cost?
Pricing is a major consideration but you need to take care about making it the only selection criteria you are using. Translation is priced as a commodity with the core translation being quoted on a cost per word basis. This cost varies depending on language pair (English>German, Chinese>Laotian, etc.), the complexity of the subject matter, timelines, formatting, etc. But generally, your quotes should be in a similar range across language service providers (LSPs). If you have big outliers that are much cheaper or much more expensive, you should question why. But assuming everyone gets the same content to quote they should be close. So, how do you make an informed decision?
A note about LSPs versus individual or in-house translators
Unless you are strictly doing one kind of content in one language (like tech docs in Spanish), it is generally not a great idea to use an individual or an in-house translator. There are multiple reasons but I’ll offer a couple of primary ones. First is quality review and edits. LSPs should have workflows that automatically send the initial translation to a second native speaker to do a quality review. Unless you have native speakers in-house who can do this, you have no way of judging the quality of the translated content you are distributing.
The second major consideration is the services the LSP provides beyond the basic translation: desktop publishing that handles different text lengths and character sets, specialized formatting for things like market research surveys, eLearning, or digital documentation, and very specialized actions like multilingual voiceover dubbing for video, subtitles, etc. An integrated LSP has these resources and the experience to manage them for you.
The three factors you may not have considered
Assuming pricing is in-line and your prospective partners can offer the services you require, how do you make a choice? Think about the three factors any of us consider when we make a major purchase: Quality, Reputation, and Social Proof. They are interrelated and an assessment of these factors can help you make an informed choice of vendors.
Quality: look for an established quality management process
In addition to the review workflows mentioned above, the LSP should have a written quality management process that is audited by a third party and follows an established standard like the ISO 9001:2015 certification. It should clearly state the criteria used for translator selection, including the use of native speakers who are subject matter experts in your particular subject matter. This quality management process is critical to maintaining a high level of professionalism across their entire business and help you avoid your work being passed on to less experienced translators and reviewers, third party service providers, and others who can mess up the results.
Reputation: who has used them, what do they say, what were the results?
If you’ve established that the candidate LSP(s) meet your quality criteria, the natural next step is to try to assess the company’s reputation in the marketplace. Have they been in business long enough to have experience with content similar to your own? What do other customers say about them? Have they handled the language pairs your require? What were the results of working with them?
These are human factors, and machine translation notwithstanding, humans are critical to the success of a translation project. In our business there is extensive use of technology to manage workflows, save clients money and time, and to automate as much of these processes as possible to make managing them easier and more transparent. But, ultimately, it is humans who do the translations, manage projects, and do the troubleshooting when it inevitably arises. You will be dealing with those people and you want to know what others have experienced on this level. It is reputation that should be the deciding factor.
Social Proof: testimonials, referrals, client company logos, reviews
Social proof is everything you can assess to determine reputation and the LSP should provide it on their website, when you discuss the project, and even by referring you to existing, non-competing customers in your field. It includes Case Studies, testimonials, display of company logos of other customers, and any outside reviews (this is not common in this business but if there were problems they may show up when doing buyers research).
Bear in mind that virtually every B2B translation project involves Non-Disclosure Agreements so there will be many cases where an LSP cannot reveal details about clients and the type of work they have done for them. This can be based on competitive intelligence issues, security regulations, and intellectual property protections, among other factors. The LSP may simply be unable to share experiences that may be very relevant to your project. But you should be able to tell from the quality of their quotes and your interactions with them, how sophisticated their knowledge and experience level is.
Avoiding commodification of your translation experience
These three factors, plus cost and time considerations, should drive your selection process. It can take more time initially but you will realize savings in ways that materially affect the overall cost of the process. It can be expensive to fix translation errors and the quality of your interpersonal interaction can make the difference between translation being a thankless task or a rewarding experience. Get it right and you’ll gain a valued partner who can help your business or organization more effectively reach the world.
Resources If You’re New To Translation
This eBook guides you through how translation workflows work, explains terminology, and covers the current software tools used to manage the processes. 16 pages.
This guide, though focusing on market research surveys, delves into the kind of cultural traps and mistakes content creators can make when entering new markets. It looks at French, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Japanese, and Chinese markets. Recommended for any kind of content being translated.
Translation is the first issue companies entering new markets will want to deal with. As such, it can be seen as a blocker but the reality is that it makes everything else possible, if handled correctly.