Selecting the most suitable translation agency for your needs can be a job in and of itself. But if you’re trying to figure out how to pick the right translation company, there are certain simple steps you can take to check you won’t be wasting your time or money.

There are several warning signs you should watch out for too…

1) Check their testimonials

Navigate your way around the company’s website and read what their previous clients have had to say. Consider asking for a referee or independent opinion.

Why do it?

This is most people’s first stop when they’re trying to choose the right Language Service Provider (LSP). Most agencies – indeed almost any company you find online these days – will prominently display positive feedback from their recent customers. This makes it something that’s quick and easy to check.

If a translation company is prepared to display what a particular client has said about using them on their website, they’ll probably have asked that client for permission to do so first. This means you shouldn’t be afraid to actually contact the specific client who’s been quoted. You’ll be taking thirty seconds of their time, so it’s unlikely they’ll be upset.

You can often tell a lot about a company by looking at their past clientele. Most won’t be shy about showing off the big names they’ve worked with!

What should I watch out for?

Though it’s uncommon in the industry, if you’re researching a newly established provider and you’re struggling to contact the clients they’ve quoted, or in fact to find any evidence of their existence in general, it can be worth reconsidering your choice of provider.

You should also bear in mind that no company will ever display negative testimonials, so you’re probably getting a view that’s at least partially skewed towards the positive.

2) Check their reviews on other websites

Consult third party websites and review sites to get feedback about the agency you’re considering hiring.

Why do it?

The sheer number of translation agency reviews online makes it easy to get some idea of the quality and user experience you can expect when using a certain LSP. A few clicks can quickly lead you to a lot of feedback from – hopefully – people who’ve genuinely used a certain company and who have reported accurately on their experiences.

You can then use this to inform your own judgement.

What should I watch out for?

There are certain downsides of the online review process, however, which should be considered when using this as an avenue of investigation. The following factors can be exacerbated or reduced depending on which sites you choose to source your reviews:

  • A tendency to be unfairly influenced by single inaccurate reviews – if you have any experience of online reviews left regarding your own company, you’ll know that a single bad apple can easily ruin your day. One bad experience, or a customer with highly unrealistic expectations, can lead to a prominent bad review which won’t be representative.
  • Fake reviews, both positive and negative – these can be relatively easy to spot, tending to be outliers to the general trend of review scores. But competition in many industries can lead to malicious posting of fake reviews. Or on the flip side, the posting of false good reviews to promote a company which hasn’t gathered them naturally.
  • A tendency towards the positive overall – on the flip side, a recent survey by researchers from two American Universities showed that a service provider didn’t actually need to improve the quality of service they delivered over time in order to get better reviews.

In short, online reviews can offer some useful information regarding which are the best translation agencies to use. They should however, not always be relied upon for 100% accuracy.

3) Look out for approval by respected organisations

Get some independent verification that you can trust the quality of service your potential provider puts out. Which bodies are they accredited by?

Why do it?

Just like in many sectors, there are several independent organisations which give their approval to reliable names within the translation industry. When choosing the right translation company, you might want to keep an eye out to see if they have accreditation or approval from:

  • ATC, the Association of Translation Companies – this organisation lays out ethical and quality standards and more for companies in the UK, Europe, and across the world.
  • ELIA, the European Language Industry Association – this group are the leading not-for-profit trade association of language service providers in Europe.
  • ATA, the American Translators Association – is one of the industry’s largest and most respected bodies.
  • Charities, and other impartial bodies – approval from charities and other organisations is always going to be a positive when it comes to the reputation and reliability of a provider.
What should I watch out for?

Conversely, translation agencies who don’t follow the industry approved standards should probably be avoided. Currently the standards to look out for are ISO 9001 and ISO 17100, put forth by the International Organisation for Standardization. In order to get certified to these standards, companies are examined multiple times, and have to prove they meet certain criteria.

That’s the sort of independent verification you’re looking for.

4) Have they won any awards?

Has the translation industry as a whole or any other groups recognised your potential provider? This could be a very good sign…

Why do it?

It’s likely that if your LSP has won an award (hint hint!), they’ll be keen to point it out to you. This is another easy way to spot an agency which has some experience and a reputation for reliability and accuracy behind it.

What should I watch out for?

Check out the details of the award itself. The best recommendations, as always, come from impartial or independent industry bodies, charities, and the like.

5) Consider writing an RFI and RFP

Finally, you might want to consider sending out an RFI (Request For Information), and then talking to some of the more promising offers you get in response. It’s not always suitable for every project, but for larger jobs where you’ll be investing more money, more time, and have more riding on the outcome, it’s well worth doing things properly.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Start by requesting an EOI (Expression Of Interest) from a long-list of potential LSPs.
  2. Send out an RFI to those providers which send you a reasonable reply. This should detail the “who, why, what, when, and how” of your project and include a questionnaire – which should be designed to encourage your prospective LSPs to give you short answers.
  3. Select a short-list of the most promising responders to send a full RFP (Request For Proposal) to.
Why do it?

For larger projects, the RFP process gives you all the information you should need about a certain company, and the way in which they should perform if you hire them.

What should I watch out for?

Companies which are incredibly slow to respond at the RFP phase should be considered very carefully. That might indicate that they’re generally slow to respond to all inquiries. That said, it could also mean they’re very popular! You should be able to use the other methods listed above to see whether they’re the right choice for you.

Again, sending out RFPs won’t be a necessary step for every project. But they can be a very useful tool in the right circumstances.

6) Bonus tip – sensible questions to ask yourself, and your provider!

Here are some other things to consider when picking the translation company that will be right for you:

Does your translation company provide proper Quality Assurance?

In addition to the ISO 9001 standard mentioned above, check the QA model your provider uses. This could be LISA, MQM, TAUS, SAE J2450, or several others depending on the type of translation services they offer. The point is, proper Quality Assurance is a key part of delivering effective language services, and your provider should show you they understand that.

Do they provide the kind of service you want?

Different Language Service Providers deliver different services, so make sure you’re getting what you think you’re getting. Some only provide translation and proofreading, instead of the full translation, editing, and proofreading, for example.

Do you need translation or transcreation?

This can be a big question when you’re thinking about which translation company to use. Accurate translation is all well and good, but if you want to speak to a specific market in the way that makes sense to them, it can be effective transcreation that you really need. Not all LSPs provide it, so make sure that yours does.

Do they have the expert knowledge that you need?

If you work in a field that has a specialised terminology, will your provider be able to deal with it? Many of the best translation companies will match your project to an expert in your industry or subject.

If you think you might need this, it’s better to check. In fact, this is a good rule of thumb throughout.

As long as you know what you want, and know that’s a service that your Language Service Provider offers, they’ll almost certainly be glad to hear from you. So send them a brief, informative RFI. If you’re confident in what you’ve heard from the above sources, send an RFP.

Choosing the right translation agency is only difficult if you let it be.

What do you look for when you are picking translators for your projects? Share your thoughts and experience with our readers in the comments section below.