What do you need to look out for when hiring a translation agency?
Or: how do you find a good agency?
Translation agencies come in all shapes and sizes. From the one-(wo-)man-band to the multi-million-dollar-worldwide-enterprise. As ever, size isn’t everything. While there is no reason a small company cannot provide the same quality service that a large one can, there is no guarantee that the large translation agency will do the job any better than the small one.
However, large companies with big multilingual projects to place should use larger agencies who have the man-power and the translator base needed for complex projects.
What characterises a translation agency as a good agency?
- The management is qualified, experienced and dedicated to deliver first-class translations.
- The quality and diversity of in-house staff and freelance translators are obvious factors. Translators must not only have the ability to ask the right questions, but agency staff must be willing and able to pass on queries quickly and efficiently. A good agency will spot problems early and support their translators all through the translation process. This will assist the team greatly to deliver work on time. Last but not least, there are back-up systems in place (alternative translators on the books, IT support and problem solving).
- A good agency has comprehensive technical capabilities and makes sure that their freelancers have them too. The agency must also keep technology up-to-date and, what is more, staff receive technology training.
- Staff are trained and experienced in project management, so that they can offer a first-class service.
- The agency has membership of professional bodies and associations. While membership doesn’t guarantee the quality of the translation project outcome, it increases the likelihood of a successful, usable result. Becoming a member of a professional body means not only meeting a certain standard in the translation business, it also obliges the company to adhere to an association’s code of conduct: two important stepping-stones on the road to being a good agency.
So, if you are a client with a multilingual translation project, what should you be looking for?
- First, check out a few translation agencies’ websites. What references to past projects can you find? Have a look at them!
- Also check that your chosen agency belongs to at least one professional body.
- Before placing the order, ask if you’ll have a dedicated project manager.
- Enquire into the technical capabilities of the agency. Do they have the software that you prefer to use? Is your software compatible with theirs?
- Ask if the agency has access to translators with qualifications/experience in the subject your translation project covers.
- Discuss envisaged deadlines.
From the point of view of freelance translators looking for work, the characteristics of a good agency vary somewhat. Translators should prefer to work for:
- Agencies which don’t stipulate stressful, unrealistically short deadlines.
- Agencies which proofread translators’ work. In case of client complaints and one-off mistakes, the agency gives translators constructive feedback and the opportunity to refute claims of substandard work, rather than just never hiring them again.
- Companies which deal with translators’ queries happily and efficiently, rather than discouraging queries or other comments about the document in question.
- Agencies which pay a realistic translation rate which fairly reflects the translation skills/time/qualifications needed.
- Agencies which pay in good time.