11 Mistakes to Avoid When Hiring a Translation Agency

Written by The Geo Group Staff.


The Geo Group is dedicated to helping you understand what can go wrong and how you can protect yourself and your business when hiring a translation agency. At first glance, some of these things may seem like common sense, but it pays to be aware of and understand the problems and situations you might encounter. The following list details eleven of the most common mistakes made by companies who are new to buying translation services.

Mistake # 1

Many new buyers of translation services underestimate the amount of detail involved in hiring the right translation agency. Often, these companies do not have a detailed Request for Proposal (RFP) that clearly describes all of their needs.

If you are looking for translation services, you should think about what exactly needs to be translated. Is it text only? Is it images with embedded text? Is it tables or charts? Will you be translating into multiple languages or just one? What is your timetable? Lack of detail in the RFP can lead to an inaccurate quote, an extended timeline, and even unacceptable translations. Make sure you ask the right questions and make sure the translation agency has detailed forms to fill out that will help get all the details of the project right the first time.

Mistake # 2

Neglecting to ask for references is a mistake that can easily be avoided. It is easy enough to find a “professional” translation agency, but it is always best to look beyond their glossy literature and fancy website. By asking for references, you will see how fast the agency is likely to respond to your requests, if at all. This can give you immediate insight into the agency’s abilities.

Remember to follow through and call the references. The references should have given their permission to be called, so you won’t be imposing. Here’s a short list of questions you can use as a starting point, but feel free to modify it to better suit your needs.

  1. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your overall experience with your translation agency?
  2. If they aren’t a 10, why is that? What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses?
  3. Are they responsive? Did they stick to the agreed-upon timelines?
  4. Were you happy with the quality of the work?
  5. Were there any hidden charges? Were their rates competitive?

Mistake # 3

Most companies don’t realize that there are usually many other types of costs associated with a translation project besides the actual translation.

Does your project require desktop publishing? Will there be image editing? Does the text need to be formatted? Keep in mind that different translation agencies will have different rates for each of these services. In order to minimize cost, compare the rates to the services offered for all services you are likely to use.

Mistake # 4

Very few translation projects these days are completed without a written contract. Many translation service buyers don’t protect themselves by getting three key items in writing. Those three items are:

  1. A detailed description of the translation services to be provided.
  2. A hard delivery date.
  3. A price range (including maximum price that will not change).

Without a detailed RFP and/or contract, you may end up getting results you don’t want, waiting weeks for your project to be finished, and suffering through endless delays by the translation agency. For example, some translation agencies provide an initial quote, but when the project is done, they bill their clients an extra 10% because the project was more intensive than expected. Avoid this “invoice creep” by getting a maximum price in writing.

Mistake # 5

Some translation buyers fail to ask if the agency they have chosen has experience translating the languages requested.

You can ask an agency if they can translate from English into Language X and they will likely give you an emphatic “Yes!” However, if you ask them if they have translated into that language before, you might be in for a surprise. Don’t take any chances. Make sure the agency has experience working with the languages you are requesting.

Mistake # 6

Similarly, some translation buyers fail to find out if the agency they have chosen has experience translating in a specific field, such as medical, legal, marketing, biotech, or consumer material.

In other words, if you’re in the medical industry, don’t hire a translation company unless they have done medical translations in the past. This is true for any industry because the basic terminology in each industry is different. Technical and slang terms require a thorough knowledge of the specific field that a general translator might not be familiar with. The translator needs to have experience in a specific field in order to produce accurate translations. Always verify that the agency has experience translating for your industry.

Mistake # 7

Many companies that are looking for translation services end up making their decision based solely on price. Remember the old saying, “You get what you pay for.”  If a translation agency’s price is low, the quality of translation is most likely going to match its price.

Always ask your translation agency how they verify the qualifications of their translators. Do they have them submit samples? Are their translators certified? How are they certified? What requirements do they have in place to ensure you get the highest quality translation possible?  Do they have a Quality Assurance process at all? Making sure you know all of these things before you decide to hire a translation agency could save you large sums of money in the long run, especially if the quality of the translation is so bad that the project has to be redone.

Mistake # 8

Many clients who have never worked on a translation project before have no way to ensure they’re getting a high quality translation on their own. This is can lead to blindly accepting a translation from an agency, not knowing whether or not it contains major errors. Uncertainty can lead to unnecessary stress.

You should always ask what processes a translation agency has in place to ensure quality. If there are none, you are likely dealing with amateurs. You’ll want to know a few particular things: Do they have multiple steps and stages to catch errors and minimize confusion? Do their processes include answering all translator questions at the start, translation reviews by other qualified translators, and proofreading through all stages by the original translators? The answers to these questions should go a long way toward easing your concerns regarding quality. If you are not satisfied with their processes, keep looking until you find an agency that does satisfy your needs.

Mistake # 9

A typical mistake for newcomers to the world of translation is not knowing know how the translation agency will handle customer contracts, proposals, and price quotes.

Don’t allow yourself to be surprised. Always find out exactly what you want to know about these important aspects of a translation project before you hire an agency. If you don’t have a clear description of where to go if you need something, how to refer back to the terms and conditions of your contract, or simply how to ask questions, do not hire the agency.

Mistake # 10

Companies in need of translation sometimes blindly enter into contracts with a translation agency without understanding exactly how the agency handles client reviews and proofreading.

Why does this matter? By the time the agency hands over your final translated document, you realize too late that you had very little to no input on review and terminology. You may also find that the agency’s client review and proofreading processes are inconvenient for you, if they have any in place at all. Make sure you know how the agency handles client reviews and proofreading up front and make sure you’re happy with their process.

Mistake # 11

When starting a translation project, most companies don’t think to ask what processes are in place for when something goes wrong.

When you consider all the different steps that encompass the translation process, you begin to see the potential for errors to occur. As a rule, you should always ask the translation agency how they handle customer complaints because a good agency will have a process in place, should something go wrong. How the agency answers that question may indicate your future direction with them. Business runs a lot smoother when issues get addressed and resolved in a fair and timely manner.

If you avoid the eleven mistakes listed above, you should have a pleasant translation-buying experience. The Geo Group would like to help you take the first step by providing you with a list of questions to ask the translation agencies you are interviewing.

  1. Can you respond to a detailed RFP and do you have detailed project order forms?
  2. Do you have client references available for us to contact that have similar translation needs? (languages, industry, document type, etc.)
  3. What are your rates for each of the services you offer?
  4. Can you agree to a hard delivery date in writing?
  5. Can you provide a maximum price quote that will not change?
  6. Do you have experience with the language combinations I’m requesting?
  7. Do you have industry-specific experience related to my project? (marketing, advertising, medical, legal, engineering, manufacturing, etc.)
  8. Will your contract contain a detailed explanation of the translation services to be provided, along with price breakdowns?
  9. How do you verify the qualifications of your translators?
  10. What is your Quality Assurance Process?
  11. How do you handle customer contracts, proposals, and price quotes?
  12. How do you handle client reviews and proofreading?
  13. How do you handle customer complaints?

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