What is the most important thing a translation agency does? I think it is the ability to handle complex projects into multiple languages—projects that involve many different translators, editors, DTP specialists, CAT tool gurus, and so on. Clients who need such jobs done cannot rely on freelancers, because working with two or three freelancers is already challenging enough, whereas managing a larger team is even more complicated.
This is definitely not all the added value agencies create. Whereas larger agencies are focused on making it possible for clients to do complex projects, smaller language service providers (LSPs) like us are focused on less global aspects of the process, such as quality. Here are three general roles that a smaller LSP plays:
Finding good translators
For example, as an agency specializing in Russian translations, we are better positioned to pinpoint excellent translators than an agency that provides translation into a hundred languages:
- We know the target language professionally, whereas clients often do not, which allows us to tell a good translator from a bad one easily. With years of translation experience, we can base our judgment on much more than a marketing message. Truth be told, we do fall for engaging marketing messages occasionally, but we are able to figure that out quickly.
- We screen candidates more effectively, since we have the in-house capacity and the process to do it quickly. When clients assess quality, they need either to have another translator do that for them or ask an employee who happens to know the target language. The average client usually does not have an established selection process, resulting in inefficiencies.
- A vendor manager at a larger LSP who deals with many candidates in many language combinations may be spreading herself too thin. Such an LSP either has to hire more vendor managers, resulting in increased costs, or misses good candidates due to lack of time to evaluate everyone. By focusing on just one target language, a smaller agency casts a much wider net, with less risk of missing the best talent.
Building a working relationship with translators
A good working relationship is important, since a happy translator wants to make you happy in return, by higher availability and higher quality.
- A direct client or a larger translation agency that sends jobs to a translator sporadically is generally a less attractive client for a translator than a smaller agency that provides him with a steady flow of work. And people tend to provide better service to loyal client than to occasional ones.
- Larger agencies have a hard time providing translators with the support they need. This ranges from translation memories and glossaries to feedback and human interaction that many freelance translators working from home crave. These agencies, just like direct clients, are usually too busy or focused on the bigger picture to cater to the “little guy,” whereas a smaller agency like ours is better positioned to provide this kind of support, because, among other things, we know it has a positive impact on what translators give back.
- The inability of larger agencies and direct clients to build working relationships with translators results in treating translators like paper towels. This creates a death spiral, destroying the relationship even further.
Making sure each job is well done
Let’s assume that a larger agency found a good translator. The problem is that translation quality is not a constant. It fluctuates due to a variety of factors, especially those typical of human nature. For example, if a translator usually does a good job translating 2,000 words in eight hours, but one day, for some reason, is forced to translate the same 2,000 words in four hours, the quality is not going to be the same. An agency mitigates this risk by having an editor revise each translation. In the ideal world, that is, but not always in the real world. So if one day an agency receives a poor translation, it might end up delivering this translation without getting anyone to check it, assuming unrealistically that a translator has a 100% hit ratio.
As a smaller agency, we always have an editor and a project manager who speak the target language, which dramatically decreases the risk of a bad translation falling through the cracks. Do we get bad translations from translators occasionally? Yes, like everyone else. But we do let those translations reach our clients? No, we stop them right there.
Agencies, both large and small, play an important role in the translation process overall, even though some translators like to believe agencies are unnecessary. I do not agree, because even an agency that does not add an iota of value to the service itself at least does sales and marketing. Moreover, many agencies help create better results for end clients.
For more information about the impact of translation agencies on this industry, read my article about agency-driven deadlines