Scaling your business internationally is hard at the best of times. Translation, and more importantly localisation, is at the core of this complexity, and yet making the right choices cannot only ensure everything goes smoothly but provide enormous additional opportunities for brands.
A recent exchange with an entrepreneur really brought to light a lack of satisfactory literature on the options businesses have to tackle this in the best way for them, and so here we are.
First things first
When talking about translation you expect to add brand value in key markets, we are not talking about dumping your content in to Google Translate or similar and hoping for the best.
Good translation is really localisation which amounts to making sure the nuance of the language, colloquialisms and turns of phrase, not to mention technical language, are catered for by a native speaker and not a tool.
Like everything if it is worth doing, it is worth doing well and taking shortcuts will result in confused customers at best and a damaged, underperforming brand at worst. Given that scaling internationally is always going to involve significant investment both on and offline, the stakes are too high to skimp on quality.
So, what are we trying to achieve?
From our “organic” corner of the universe a translation project needs to serve three purposes to your brand:
- Represent and uphold your brand voice
- Convert people that arrive at your site, regardless of channel
- Rank in organic search
To achieve this seamlessly the obvious place to look is in-house but the reality is that the likelihood of having a member of staff who specialises in both the job they do as well as professional translation is low.
Who should translate your website?
If we avoid using a translation tool, and indeed don’t have the resource in-house then we have three options to choose from – the pros and cons of which I will cover in this article:
- Hire a freelance translator
- Hire an in-house translator
- Hire a third-party translation company (or Language Service Provider, LSP)
When looking to hire any of these, you’ll need to ensure they have a substantial portfolio of work that embodies the content niche you’re translating within.
While all of them have their pros and cons, the biggest deciding factor here is the amount of content required and how often new/updated translations are needed. Other important things to consider:
- Type of content (for example, T&Cs and marketing texts require different translation skills)
- Quality control
- Speed of the delivery
- Reliability of service
- Technical capabilities
- Talent pool/experience
- Time zones
- Management time
Choosing the correct supplier to translate your website
With these three options in mind, let’s consider the pros and cons of each in terms of the best decision for your organisation and circumstance.
- Cost: sourcing the freelancer yourself means you cut out the middle man and go straight to the source, which is cheaper.
- Uniformity: if you work well together you could end up hiring this freelancer again, which will keep the tone and style of the copy consistent.
- Sourcing overseas: you can search for native remote workers in the country that speaks the language you’re translating into.
- Technology: freelancers could use different translation software, which might cause compatibility issues.
- Sourcing time: hiring a freelancer means vetting their ability and availability. If you’ve never hired one before, this will take time to both research and hire. It’s also best to hire a freelance proofreader, to avoid any risk of human error.
- Management: if you have one target language and minimal content, management should be straightforward, but if you have 100k words in nine target languages with a three-month deadline, you will need multiple translators and proofreaders, all working independently, which requires a high level of organisation.
- Reliability: freelance translators tend to work remotely, removing the cushion of regular face-to-face interaction and putting all of your eggs in one basket, which could become a problem if that individual can’t complete the work for personal reasons, like sickness.
- Speed of delivery: a solo freelancer can’t be expected to translate more than 2,200-2,500 words per day if you’re after high quality. Keep this in mind if you have a tight deadline and lots of content to be translated.
Those with a smaller, one-off translation project or little budget. If you have knowledge of how to manage multilingual content and can give necessary management time to the project, this option is for you.
- Communication and control: having an individual or team on the premises that you can check up on daily ensures greater control over the project and allows for a better level of communication than the other options.
- Dedication: the individuals or team of in-house linguists have been hired solely to complete this project full time.
- Management time: the communication advantage, as well as having the employees working to your working according to your processes, shortens management time drastically.
- Uniformity: having the individuals or team following the same style guide within close proximity will allow for better consistency.
- Hiring: multiple languages will need a linguist for each one as well as proofreaders and potentially one dedicated manager to oversee the team.
- Price: hiring full-timers means distributing monthly pay cheques, which can be expensive.
- Technology: if your linguists aren’t trained in the software that you use, this will need to be considered, as will the costs needed to run the software for multiple linguists. However, the choice of software in this case is in your own hands.
- Availability: finding employees who speak the language to come in-house could be tricky.
I would suggest this approach for websites that have large-scale, long-term, continuous translations needed.
Translation company (LSP)
Contrary to popular belief, translation agencies don’t usually have in-house linguists and the ones they do have only know the most popular language combinations.
- Management time: this is minimal compared to other options. While you’ll still need to provide glossaries, keyword research and translation briefs on style and tone, you won’t have to manage the process or the people. One translation project manager (or your account manager) will be your single point of contact and the LSP will guide you through the process in real-time.
- Quality control: translation is an LSP’s business, so it’s in their best interest to deliver top-quality work.
- Availability: translation companies have a pool of pre-vetted, readily available and qualified linguists. They can dig into that list and find the translator(s) that suit your requirements. They also have linguists for every language combination there is. In the rare occurrence that they do not, they will find and vet new linguists for your project.
- Reliability: if your preferred linguist isn’t available, the LSP will give the work to another member of their vetted community.
- Hassle-free: having a third-party taking care of translations in the background for you means this option is by far the least stressful.
- Fast delivery: while tight deadlines cost extra, an agency will be able to distribute large-scale work to multiple linguists and proofreaders. 10k words in three days? No problem.
- Price: paying for such a streamlined service comes at a price. You could be paying up to 30-80% more to work with an agency than a freelancer. Is it worth it? Considering the number of pros compared to the other options, yes.
You will have to pay extra for proofreading. However, they may offer either an “in-house” or “same linguist” proofreader – avoid this. Request a third-party proofreader for your project as it will result in the best quality available.
If you’re worried about the quality you’ll be receiving, ask for the linguists’ CVs or a small bit of sample text before you begin work.
All kinds of translation projects would benefit from the experience that translation project managers at an LSP bring.
Finding an LSP
After weighing up the options, you might have reached the conclusion that a translation company is your best bet. If it is, the next step is to choose one to work with. Here are some things to consider when sourcing an LSP:
- Shop around: always compare at least three to five agencies to get an idea of price and then choose the fairest one.
- Reputation: all good agency websites should have a dedicated page relaying their past work and clients. Pick the most reputable or the client list that reflects your project the most.
- Response time: pay attention to how quickly the agency replies to a quote request as this will indicate how responsive they are.
- Size: larger agencies will have a larger pool of linguists, but smaller agencies will show a greater interest in your project.
- Point of contact: find an account manager who you work well with. This will not only make working with them more pleasurable, but it may result in some discounts.
Whatever option you land on, it’s best to prioritise the choice that keeps your time, stress levels and expenses balanced.