How can a translation buyer distinguish between two similar offerings with different price tags?
This is a good question, which does not have a simple answer, since the cost of translation depends on multiple factors. The most important ones include quality and size of an agency commission. This post explains the basics of these two cost factors.
What is an agency commission?
Like an agency in any other industry, a translation agency is an individual or group of individuals that take care of all the hassle involved in buying translation for you. An agency charges a fee for these services that is at least 20%.
The easiest way for you to make up your mind about whether you want to work with an individual translator or an agency is to consider this 20% commission. If you are not comfortable paying it, then find, and work with, a translator yourself. After all, translation is not as difficult to manage yourself as, say, buying real estate on your own.
On the other hand, you may want to pay the commission for three basic reasons:
- Using an agency can save you time and money, since your time might be better spent on things that have a higher return than translation management.
- Using professionals, who’ve “been there and done that,” provides better results than doing it yourself by trial and error.
- An agency will free you from the stress that inevitably comes with managing anything.
Let’s discuss these considerations in greater detail.
No one can guarantee you the quality of a particular translation, since there is always a human factor involved. Surprised? Well, no one can guarantee you the quality of a particular car, and the car-manufacturing process is less prone to human error than the translation process, which completely relies on humans. Even if you buy a translation from a big, renowned New-York-based agency with Fortune 500 clients, this does not mean you will not receive a bad translation. You just cannot control quality. All you can control as a buyer is the probability of errors.
There is at least one major way for you to influence the probability of errors, and that is to make sure that you buy not just translation by a single individual, but translation + revision by a second linguist. Recognizing that translation is prone to human error, the EN 15038 standard requires that each translation be revised by a second translator. Revision dramatically diminishes the risk of errors. How likely are you to receive this kind of translation + revision service from a single freelance translator? Not likely at all. You are more likely to receive it from an agency. This is the primary role of an agency—to line up an effective team of professionals for you—which increases the likelihood of high quality.
Do not forget to confirm with an agency whether they actually provide translation + revision.
An agency makes it easier for a client to buy translation, because it takes care of all management tasks. Most importantly, it assembles the right translation team for you. Instead of looking for a translator yourself and surmounting the challenge of choosing among multiple translators who look the same to you, you can delegate this to professionals. An agency is usually in a better position to pick the right translators, because it has more experience than you and can tell a good translator from a bad one. It has a pool of trusted vendors, too.
Your translation project might also involve tasks that an average freelance translator cannot do. For example, if you want to have an InDesign file translated, not every translator will be able to handle this file format.
If you have a single language to translate into, such a project is relatively easy to manage, even if you do so yourself. But in case of multiple languages, the management burden increases exponentially. You might be better off delegating it.
An average freelance translator cannot provide translation + revision, which is essential for high quality. An agency is in a better position to provide this combined service and, therefore, to deliver higher quality. An agency also does all the management for a client. For this work, agency charges a price higher than a freelance translator. Do not forget to confirm what it is exactly that you are buying with your translation vendor—whether it is a freelance translator or an agency.
Here is another article about the benefits of ordering translation with editing from a translation agency.