On the Death of Quotes for Translation Projects

I recently had a conversation with a language service provider (LSP) that went something like this, after they saw a demonstration of the Smartling platform:

LSP: But how do we quote the project for our clients?

Me: Your client agrees to your rates in advance. In our system, every word processed for a given project is billed at those rates. All future work of the same type, in the same ongoing project, is billed the same way. You simply invoice your client for the work performed.

LSP: But… that’s not how we do things. How do we know the client will accept it?

Me: The moment the client approves the content for translation, that is their acceptance. That is your indication to assign translators and carry out your translation process.

LSP: But, that’s the opposite of how we do things today…

Me: Precisely.

Many LSPs think they have to provide a quote for each and every project because the client expects them to do so. In reality, many clients don’t want the hassle. Many buyers I’ve interviewed over the years simply don’t understand this outdated process. They ask, “If I’ve told the agency I want them to do the work, why can’t we just agree on rates in advance, to save all of us time in the future?”

That’s exactly why we automate this process in Smartling. Any client that has recurring translation needs shouldn’t have to start each project back at square one just because that’s the way their LSP has done things for decades. Using modern technology, the client can simply sit back and let technology extract content automatically. Or, the client can push files into the system with a simple web interface, triggering a process that sends the work to their favorite LSP (or freelancer); that is their contractually-binding authorization. Next thing they know, the work is done. Later, they get their bill from the LSP – but there are no surprises, because they knew how many words were authorized for translation. They knew the rates. That was all they needed.

Why are translation providers still so attached to quotes? Granted, quotes may still be needed for one-off jobs. But most LSPs have at least a handful of clients that send them work repeatedly, not just once. For those clients, quotes are not necessary, at least, not in a technology that removes that step to speed things up and get the work done more efficiently.

Also, from an LSP’s perspective, putting a quote in front of a client each time is basically giving the customer a chance to say “no” to the translation provider. It’s like having a clerk ask you, “Are you sure?” before you purchase each item in your shopping basket at check-out.

Imagine a world in which, once the client and LSP have agreed to the terms and rates, they never need to discuss payment issues again for translation work of the same type (documents, website, or mobile app). This is already a reality for hundreds of customers who use Smartling.

This idea may seem trivial, but it’s actually very important. Practitioners love to complain that translation is undervalued. Yet, some of the very practices that are accepted as “business as usual” are in fact enabling the lack of appreciation for translation that people decry.

When the notion that translation will happen is a given, it’s viewed as something essential — an ongoing service that is absolutely necessary. It isn’t something that needs to be questioned or second-guessed each time. It’s simply a normal business process, as important as any other. On the other hand, when translation for recurring clients is “quoted” each time, it is bound to be viewed as a “project” and just a temporary need – not as a continual and mandatory part of doing business.

Is the industry ready to get rid of quotes for translation projects? For companies that invested in the right technology from the start, and for those who understand the importance of evolving the vision for translation, quotes are already on their way out.

About Nataly Kelly

Nataly brings nearly two decades of translation industry experience to Smartling, most recently as Chief Research Officer at industry research firm Common Sense Advisory. Previously, she held positions at AT&T Language Line and NetworkOmni (acquired by Language Line), where she oversaw product development. A veteran translator and certified court interpreter for Spanish, she has formally studied seven languages, and is currently learning Irish. A former Fulbright scholar in sociolinguistics, Nataly lives in the Boston area with her husband and daughter. When she isn’t working, you’ll usually find her translating Ecuadorian poetry, writing books, and exploring the world (36 countries and counting!).