Selecting your translation supplier is a business critical decision. Your customers will engage with your translated content; you need to be confident that their brand experience is as good as your base language. You spend time and effort in producing content that appeals to your customers. You are trusting your translation supplier to do that for all your other languages. Here is our guide on best practice for selecting a translation supplier.
Here are 23 Insider Secrets: How to choose a translation supplier
1. What kind of translation company do you need?
There are two kinds of translation company. A translation agency is a translation company with in-house translators. They usually only cover one language pair, e.g. in Hong Kong, most translation agencies provide English to/from Chinese translation services.
The second kind of translation company is a translation management business. A translation management company provides translation for multiple languages. Translation management companies work with translators and translation agencies around the world to provide their customers with a managed translation solution for all content types.
If your business needs occasional documents translated into another language, you are better off choosing a translation agency that specializes in that language.
The rest of this article will focus on companies who need Translation Management as a Service.
2. What problems are you trying to solve?
Is your company going to enter international markets for the first time? Are you unhappy with your current translation provider?
Are your marketing or product management teams spending too much time on translation activities rather than their core responsibilities?
Is it taking too long to have your translated content ready? Are translation costs out of control?
Is your translated content inconsistent across different functions? Do you need to get your support content translated but you are unsure whether you can use machine translation to do this?
Are you entering a new market and you are unsure if you need to translate all content or just high-impact content?
3. What supplier interaction do you want to have?
Are you looking for a partner that can operate across the business as a trusted advisor?
Do you need a partner that can help you optimize a translation strategy across different content types and languages?
Do you have all that solved and you want a technically competent partner that can build API integrations to your internal systems to automate content handoff/hand back?
Do you want a portal that authorized users across the company can upload content for translation? Where you can track spend by language, by content type, by time?
Do you need someone to hold your hand and make sense of it all?
4. How many people will send content for translation?
Most companies have content that needs translation across different groups in the business: marketing and web content, legal material, product/service content, support FAQs, HR policies. Are you only responsible for content for your group or across the business? Does the company need better coordination of content across all the business? Are you looking to reduce overall cost, improve consistency and translation quality and reduce time to market?
5. How do you want to authorize spend?
If you are like most business today, content creation never stops. What are the internal approval channels for translation spend? Is anyone tracking translation spend across the company? Would it be helpful to track spend and show savings?
6. What kind of reporting do you need?
What are the key metrics that would be helpful for you to track? Time to market for new content in different languages? Translation spend, savings? Spend by language? By quarter or month? Spend by product group? By business function?
Do you need real-time status reporting of translation progress?
7. How frequent will you have content for translation and how fast do you need it back?
Business today is always on; if you are engaging your customers online then you operate 24/7/365. Do you need a translation supplier that also operates 24/7/365? Is your content changing regularly but incremental changes are small? Do you need a supplier that can manage frequent (hourly, daily, weekly) updates but doesn’t impose minimum charge fees?
8. What is your content publishing workflow?
What kind of content do you have for translation? Do you need App translation support? Do you need a supplier that can integrate with Github? Integrate into your Drupal/Adobe Experience Management/Sitecore/SDL Tridion/Wordpress content management system? Do you have content authored in InDesign or Framemaker? Or is it all in Word or Excel? Do you need a partner that can advise on best content strategy for optimising multilingual strategy? Need input on selecting a CMS solution to optimise for your multilingual content? Or how to optimise a localization workflow for your existing technology stack?
9. What languages do you need?
Is your business exploring opportunities in new markets and you need help proposing a language strategy for these new markets? Do you need help to build an ROI case for entering a new market? Do you need a competitor analysis on what languages/markets your competitors are targeting? Do you expect to be adding new languages in the future and need to build a repeatable/extendable process so that onboarding new languages is already part of your language strategy? The average number of languages supported by the world’s leading brands today is 33.
10. Do you need desktop publishing services? Subtitling or Dubbing?
Do you need to create publishable layouts in different languages for online or print? Do you have graphics/infographics that have to be converted into other languages? Do you have audio/video content that will need dubbing or subtitling? 85% of people watch videos with the sound off when looking at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn. We strongly recommend subtitles on all marketing videos.
11. Do I need to buy technology? Is the supplier tech savvy?
If you are looking for a managed translation solution then you do not need translation technology. You should expect your supplier to have an in-depth technical knowledge of available solutions and how these solutions can automate, increase productivity and turnaround time, improve quality and consistency. Your supplier should be able to propose what technical solutions can optimise achieving your business goals. Your translation partner should be capable of implementing these as a managed solution. Ideally, it should be part of a managed service fee.
12. Should we/can we use machine translation?
Machine translation is a controversial subject: many companies have a strict policy against using machine translation. This is mistaken. Machine translation is useful for some types of content. It can reduce cost and increase time to market. Combined with a human editing service, the quality can be as good as a human translation for some languages. A translation partner should be able to advise on best practise, which tools are best for which language, which of your content could be suitable. But the decision should be with you on whether to use machine translation or not.
13. Should I qualify translation vendors using a translation test
Ideally, no. Here are our reasons for this:
- Most companies doing a test will have a test translation process which will be different from your standard translation process. They will invest to ensure you get a perfect translation. It will have little bearing on the quality of the translation you get on an ongoing basis.
- Translation is subjective. Who will be doing the review? What are their expectations from the translation e.g. many marketers have a particular style they expect. Without discussion, it is hard for a translator to achieve this from the beginning; it will come from engagement on the first couple of translation projects.
If you do plan to do a translation test, then you should have clear criteria that is objective and measurable.
An industry secret: most translation agencies buy translation from the same pool of translators. Quality comes from having all the factors we are discussing here aligned.
14. Should the supplier have in-house translators?
It may seem counter-intuitive, but our view is that this is unimportant. The best translators are independent contractors, freelance translators. Freelance translators specialize. They are native speakers of the language they are translating into. Good ones specialize in a particular subject so they become subject matter experts. This is why best practise is not to have in-house translators. In-house translators are generalists, it is better to work with translators who are experts in the domain being translated. A good translation management company will have a database of translators by subject by language.
15. How do I define service level? Ensure you have a Service Level Agreement.
Setting clear goals and measures is the key to a successful service relationship. Your translation supplier should be able to propose a standard service level agreement customized based on discussion. This document is more important than any master services agreement. Be sure you have this and be sure that it meets your business goals.
16. How important is experience?
Experience is probably the most important criteria. But the experience that matters is the experience of the people you work with. How many years’ experience does your project manager have? Many companies have been around for decades but if the project manager you are working with has only a few months or a couple of years’ experience, that is the level of experience you are getting. The critical question you need to ask is the experience of your account management team not of the business itself.
17. How important is information security for you?
Information security is critical for most companies. Best practise in the translation industry today is to use cloud-based translation environments. Files are not handed off directly to translators. Translators log into a secure cloud environment and translate there. Content is secure in the cloud and cannot be downloaded. Our view is that this should be standard translation policy. It should be offered as a basic part of the translation solution.
18. How is communication managed – working hours covered, response time?
For any company that has customers in multiple languages, your translation supplier is offering a business critical function. If your translation supplier is part of your customer support solution, you should expect a 24/7 capability: at least matching the SLA you have with your customers. If you are an online business with content that changes frequently, you should expect a translation supplier to be able to meet this demand. 24/7/365 1-hour response is the gold standard.
19. Do you need a supplier that can add strategic value to your global plans? Are you looking for a trusted advisor?
Translation is essential for any global company to be successful. It touches almost all business functions. But it is not a core part of any business. If you a part of a growing business that expects to expand into new markets, a strategic translation partner should be able to assist with new market entry planning.
20. Do you have access to the operational team?
During the sales process are you engaging with the operational team or only the sales team? After sales pass your relationship management to the operational contact will the experience be similar?
Are you dealing with someone who will be responsible for the success of the business relationship or someone who will disappear once the contract is signed? Be sure that you have access to your operational team before making a decision.
21. How transparent is pricing?
Be wary of the hidden extras. Translation is usually priced per word. Be careful of word prices pitched low with hidden costs. Be clear what is included in a per word rate and what is not. Best practice: send a sample project and ask for a quote. Will you be charged minimum fees – our view, don’t agree to minimum pricing. Is project management charged extra or included? Do they charge for translation memory management?
22. Do they guarantee their translation? How long does it last?
I haven’t talked about process or quality here. Most translation suppliers will have a similar process and will commit to quality. Most will deliver good quality – the differentiators are technical competence, turnaround time, service level and consultancy capability. But you should look for a quality commitment with a guarantee. If you discover problems with a translation six months later, will it be fixed free of charge?
23. Do I need a translation supplier or a Translation Management as a Service (TMaaS)?
You need TMaaS. The vast majority of companies should look at translation like a company looks at their internet connection or their electricity supplier. You need a partner who takes care of it all so it happens seamlessly. The translation industry today is too transactional, too relationship driven. This will change. We want to drive this change forward.