Getting the Best Business Translation Services

When you’re buying business translation or localization services, the stakes are high. Not only are you trying to negotiate the best possible price, but you also have to ensure that you obtain the highest quality, so that you avoid putting your brand at risk. Here are ten essential tips that will help ensure that you get the best possible value for your company:

1. Figure out which type of business translation provider you need.

There are many different options available, from a professional translation agency to an individual, freelance business translator. In general, you’ll want expert human translation if you’re a business buyer. Here are some free tips on choosing the best translation provider for your business.

2. Determine what your process will look like.

Generally, translation is a three-step process. First the translation takes place, then an editing pass, and last, a review step. However, there are thousands of potential workflows for translation projects. (Here are 50 of the most common ones.)

3. Make a short list of translation vendor candidates.

The best way? Word of mouth. Get referrals from companies like yours, and ask around to find a translation agency that has a strong reputation – and ideally, has a local presence and can meet with you in person frequently. You can also check online listings and reviews– and make sure that the company treats its translators well. They are often the most valuable assets that company has to offer. Here’s a directory of more than 50,000 translation agencies. If you only need one language, you might find a freelance translator directly from a professional translator association.

4. Document your company’s unique linguistic style.

Even if you only provide your translation vendors with one or two pages of tips, make sure that you create a style guide that outlines your brand voice, and how you want your brand to “sound” to customers. Are there any major taboos that your company guards against? Any words or terms that are “on-brand” or stylistic quirks that are important, even in your source language? Are there any things they definitely need to watch out for, that are especially important for your business (for example, decimal points or pricing information, acronyms or abbreviations that are specific to your business or industry?)

The more information your language translation provider has about this, the better they will be able to replicate your tone in another language. If you already have materials in other languages that you’re sure are of high quality, provide these to your vendor as well. This is the most critical step that many companies neglect! Do this, and save yourself countless hours and discussions later on. (For extra credit, provide a glossary of your most important terms. Translators will love you for it!)

5. Provide the materials for a small test translation project.

Now, with your style guide ready to go, you’ve set the stage for what “quality” means to your business and how you expect the translations to sound. Provide it to the translation companies on your short list. Give them a small test document (say, 1000 words or less), and ask them to translate it. Make sure you tell them what kind of translation volume you expect to offer later on – companies will be unlikely to do a free language translation project, no matter how small, unless there is some chance of more work later on. To be absolutely fair, share the documents with all of the candidate vendors at the same time.

6. Evaluate the vendors for their non-linguistic competence.

Many companies are afraid they can’t assess the quality of business translation projects because they don’t speak a given language. In reality, some of the most important factors related to a translation vendor’s quality have nothing to do with language expertise.

Here are the key areas to rate and compare them on:

  • Responsiveness. How fast does each vendor reply to you to confirm that they received your request? This is a very good indication of how important you are to them as a customer. If they take a long time to reply, you’ll want to look elsewhere. Test them by communicating frequently and asking specific questions.
  • Transparency. How much transparency does the vendor give you? Very few vendors will tell you which translators they are assigning to your projects, but if they do, excellent. At a minimum, they should tell you about the credentials of the translators working on your content and why they selected them.
  • Attention to detail. A good vendor will ask you a lot of questions, and it may actually seem like overkill at first. But, their level of attention to detail on your test project will tell you a lot about their attention to your needs later on. Good translation providers will ask you very clear questions about your deadline, your file format requirements, and other details after examining your files.
  • Technology use. Make sure that the vendors are tech-savvy. This is critical, because translation technologies are not limited to automatic translation. There are an array of tools, such as translation databases, glossaries, style guides, and computer-assisted translator tools, that they will naturally have at their disposal if they are truly qualified to provide business translation services. They should also have experience in the major translation software platform that you wish to use.
  • Flexibility. A good vendor will be nimble, and react to your requests on the fly. While every translation agency hates this fact, the reality is that business needs change, and customers often change project requirements mid-stream. Something to consider for your test is to change something about the project. For example, perhaps you want the file named differently than you originally stated, or maybe you want it delivered a day earlier. While you should avoid doing this over the life of the relationship to be fair to your vendor, making a small change to your requirements during the test project is often a good way to test the vendor’s ability to think on their feet and go the extra mile for you – now, and if they win your business long-term.

7. Evaluate the translation itself.

The best way to assess the quality of the actual linguistic performance of your translation vendor is to ask in-country staff or partners to take a look at the translation to see if it reflects the brand guidelines you provided as well as the local market that the content is destined for. Don’t assume that just because someone “speaks the language” that their feedback will be useful. In reality, someone who “speaks Spanish” may speak a very different variety of the language than what you’re actually looking for, and unless they really know your brand, they might not be qualified to review.

Another option is to search for a certified freelance translator and pay them for an hour of their time to provide an assessment for you of the test translation. If you go this route, make sure to pick an experienced editor. However, you’ll want to avoid doing this on a routine basis going forward. It isn’t a good long-term strategy for translation quality assurance, because it will create unnecessary discussions and headaches for you that can be solved by simply improving the relationship with your vendor, but it’s possible to use this during an evaluation period.

8. Leave pricing as the very last piece.

It may be tempting to ask for a price quote as part of the translation evaluation process. But think about it this way – if the quality, responsiveness, and other aspects of the vendor’s performance is unacceptable on your test project, why bother asking what it costs? If you’re not interested in buying from them, there is no point in discussing price. If you receive similar performance in all areas from multiple vendors, then you will want to take price into account. And of course, you can always get pricing to benchmark. However, don’t use this as a technique to talk the vendor down on pricing. In general, where translation is concerned, you get what you pay for.

9. Select your vendor and make a long-term commitment.

A relationship with any vendor, for business translation or some other service, takes time to evolve. In general, you’ll want to start the relationship with the longer term in mind, ideally a few years. Why so long? It takes a good amount of commitment and energy for your vendor to come up to speed on your style and brand. Once you’ve made that investment, switching vendors will generally require you to make the full onboarding and training commitment all over again. That isn’t a good use of your time.

10. Consider whether you also need translation software.

For companies that only do a small amount of translation, have very simple business document file formats, and don’t need to update their translations very often, purchasing a translation software platform license might not be necessary. However, if your company has routine needs for translation, or complex content types like websites, software applications, and mobile apps, you should evaluate an enterprise translation technology solution.

In fact, the best translation software providers will let you work with any translation vendor you choose, or they can help source one for you from their network to help save you time and connect you with a translation agency that their other customers have had good experiences with.

To learn more about how translation software can help you get the best possible business translation, check out our Translation Software Buyer’s Guide, and find out how to reduce what you spend on translation, boost translation quality, and accelerate the translation process.