Translation fail
January 18, 2020

Finding the right translation provider

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Finding a good translation provider, also called vendor management, is not easy. Although agencies seem replaceable, many large buyers have ended up stuck with the wrong one. Especially small companies and first-time buyers have a hard time sourcing translation services. Here’s some things to watch out for:
  • Check if the company owners are willing to put their face on their business. Big agencies tend to use stock photos or avoid photos overall. Clients end up dealing with an anonymous bureaucracy. When it comes to agencies, bigger is usually faster. They have big pools of freelancers and sell your project to the fastest responder with the lowest price. This comes at the price of quality.
  • Look if your vendor offers personal contact, or do they handle all their business by e-mail? Dedicated customer support is a cost factor that’s easy to skimp on, because it makes itself felt only after the sale is closed.
  • Do they listen to your wishes, ask questions and take time to look at your texts, or do they just give you a quote without asking about your readership, your deadline and any other things you might have to say?
  • Also check your language version of the website to see if it’s properly localized. Is it culturally adapted to the target audience or is it a literal, stilted and wordy copy of the original?
    On the other hand, a creative translation without cultural sensitivity may also backfire: The German website of one leading global agency translates their slogan “Be everywhere” into “Erobern Sie die Welt” (Conquer the world). Trust me: those days are over. A running gag about the Bundeswehr goes that it wouldn’t withstand an invasion by Liechtenstein’s fire brigade.
If you only have one language combination, go for a single-language vendor (SLV). This could be an established freelance translator or a specialized agency. Check if they have an up-to-date website, recent testimonials, and meet the above criteria.
 
One caveat for small agencies: the language industry has seen a lot of M&As recently. One reason is that large agencies have flown the trust of their clients into the Bermuda Triangle of low prices, low freelancer rates and low margins. So they’re grabbing for smaller agencies with good client relationships and higher profitability to keep the corporation afloat.
 
Hence your trusted agency might be just a front operation. While there’s nothing wrong with being a subsidiary, clients might want to know who else they’re dealing with. You can find hints about a company’s ownership in the legal notice or by checking an industry publication like Slator.
 
In the end, finding a good contractor is all about building a relationship. Whether it’s software or translation, successful projects are built on communication. If you’re a client, take your time to scan the market. In some ways, it’s just like buying food – look at the ingredients, not the wrapper.

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