I originally intended to call this article “Why you should not trust translation agencies”, but the more I thought about the topic, the more I found such wording unfair and too general to be accurate. It’s not that translation agencies want to cheat you, overpromising what they are able to deliver, it’s much more about you (the buyer of translation services) being unaware of how translations are “produced” and what makes a translation “good”. You intuitively know what you’re expecting from a translation, but have you made sure the agency understands your expectations equally well?

Every translation agency promises high quality translations, fast delivery, and competitive prices. Really – each and every one of them. But it’s you who needs to specify what these qualitative phrases mean for your business. Unless you do so, you’re very likely going to be unsatisfied with selected translation service.

It’s relatively simple when it comes to defining the speed and price points in your contract – just remember about time zones around the globe as “24-hour translation” may equally mean two days for your business if you’re requesting translation into Mexican Spanish, German and Chinese. And prices tend to bloat with additional project management fees, proofreading fees, and minimal charge fees, so make sure you understand your final price per word.

What is more tricky is defining “high quality translations”. And believe me, the scale does not matter – I have seen the largest language service providers and one-man translation agencies fail because their client did not provide enough information on what they really expected in terms of quality. Is it smooth-reading marketing texts or sensitive policy documents? Do you need your translations to sound casual or more formal? Do you have a preference how key terminology used in your product is rendered in German/Chinese/Spanish/…? Do you want translators to stick to the original text or be more creative and adapt translation to target culture? What is the intended purpose of your text? Answering such questions will help you define what a “good translation” really means to you, and avoid frustration later on when you’ve received negative feedback from your international clients, claiming poor quality of your localized product.

Defining your expectations towards translation quality, speed of delivery, and final price per unit for every language is just the first step to minimize the risk of disillusionment with a translation agency. What’s equally important is putting the right Quality Assurance checks on your side within the localization workflow. Assuming you’re going to request translations frequently (e.g. for each weekly release), it’s just common sense to control the output and provide continuous feedback to your agency about their work. Sounds obvious? Yet, majority of tech companies don’t implement this step until they hear from their angry international customers! At that point you’ve already lost some of your business opportunity and money on poor translation. As a minimum, you need “a source of truth” for each market you’re offering your product to. It could be a native-speaker colleague who can proofread samples of delivered translations, a trusted client who is willing to provide feedback about the language used in your localized product, community of power users in a forum, a contracted linguist, or even a third-party agency that can spot-check your translations. Selected model would greatly depend on your scale and business type, but make sure to always put some checkpoints in the localization workflow. And never trust translation agencies blindly – “trust is good, but control is better” goes the mantra in this industry…