How to find the best translation agency for your next project

Translation is a big business. According to the localization industry research firm CSA, the global market for outsourced translation services in 2017 was US$43.08 Billion.  That’s a lot of money! Nearly every business in the world needs translation services. Whether you are a restaurant owner who needs to translate your menus, an airline that needs to translate it’s in-flight safety videos or a chemical company transporting chemicals to another country-you need professional translation services for your business. Many private individuals will also require translation services at some point. This includes professionals who wish to relocate to another country, hospital patients who were treated abroad and people involved in divorce proceedings.

Once you have realized that you need professional translation services, you can start looking for a suitable translation agency. But there are thousands to choose from. A daunting task no doubt. How should you start? This post will try to help you sift through the noise and find the right translation agency for your needs.

High-End Translation Companies

The biggest companies in the world, like the Fortune 100 companies, will need a high-end translation company. These companies include Transperfect, Lionbridge, Welocalize and SDL. These and other large LSPs (Language Service Providers) have the resources to carry out large scale deployments of product releases, global Internet sites, software releases and social network campaigns.

Tech giants like Microsoft, Apple, Adobe and Facebook maintain a presence in every country in the world. So when they release a new product or update an existing one, they will need to localize and translate the materials in as many as 100 languages at the same time. This requires the deployment of a massive team of hundreds of translators, editors, project managers and software engineers.

Such efforts also require very advanced technological capabilities: such as integration with internally developed Content Management Systems (CMS), use of online translation aids and content sharing by many people at the same time. Only translation companies with significant resources can work at that level. The annual localization and translation services budgets for these companies will run in the millions of dollars.

Industry-Specific Translation Companies

Some types of translation requires advanced specialization and in-depth capabilities in not only the translation work itself, but in other aspects of the work in general.  This includes translation companies that specialize in patent application filing, in medical device translation, aerospace industry and automotive industry translations. So if you work for an auto company (like GM), there are companies that specialize in translation of the car owner manuals, assembly instructions, parts maintenance and such.

In today’s translation industry there is a consolidation of companies, and  many of the industry-focused companies have been acquired by the big LSPs. For example, Transperfect acquired a company named Crimson Life Sciences in 2005, integrated its activity into its own operations and re-branded it to Transperfect Medical Device Solutions.

If you are working for one of the leading companies in one of these areas (e.g. Boeing, Medtronic, Pfizer, Ford Motor company), chances are that you will be in touch with one or more of the large LSPs mentioned previously. Here too the budgets will run in the hundreds of thousands or even millions annually. If your budget is less than that, your best bet is to find a small of medium sized LSP with relevant industry-experience. That should narrow down the field considerably.

Language-Specific Translation Companies

Single language vendors (SLVs) are companies that focus on one language, or the languages of a specific geographic region. For example, Sandberg Translation Partners specializes in the Nordic languages like Swedish and Danish. Or Middle East Localization, a translation company that specializes in Middle-Eastern languages like Arabic and Farsi.

These companies tend to market their services in the relevant countries in which these languages are used most; or to other LSPs that lack the resources in that specific set of languages. If you are running a multiple language translation project, chances are that one or more SLVs are being used without you even knowing it.

Local Translation Companies

These companies are throwbacks to the translation agencies that were dominant 40 years ago. Before the age of the Internet, translation companies would advertise in the Yellow Pages and the local newspapers to local businesses. They would provide a full range of translation services from restaurant menus, to immigration papers, legal court documents and other business documents. In large cities like New York and Chicago, the local translation companies sold their services to the large companies located in that city. Because email and the Internet did not exist, much of the work was physically delivered in hard copy. Obviously being local gave you a big advantage.

Even today with email and everything, being close to your customers can be of significant importance. Some customers, like private individuals, want to visit the shop in person. Some papers still need to be notarized and delivered in hard copy; and even though Fedex can get to any location in the USA within 24 hours, being local gives some customers that warm, fuzzy feeling that they need to do business. One of the biggest translation-related terms in Google search is “Translation Services near me.”

Interpretation Companies

Some language providers specialize in on-site interpretation, simultaneous interpretation and phone interpretation services. LanguageLine Solutions provides interpretation services over-the-phone (OPI) when needed by hospitals, courts or in video conferences. CyraCom International, Inc. is an company that provides over the phone and video interpretation services. Some companies provide simultaneous interpretation to venues like the UN where a speakers words are translated in real time and delivered on headphones. These interpretation companies will have a large staff of interpreters as well as the equipment needed for this kind of work.

Website Translation Companies

Publishing a website in multiple languages requires both language expertise and technological capabilities. Many companies offer website translation services. But there are companies that specialize in translation of websites and that have made this their predominant line of business. Examples include MotionPoint and Smartling. (owned by Transperfect) is one of the leaders, if not the biggest, in this area. Here too, the Fortune 100 companies are going to be using one of the large LSPs or one of the large website translation companies.

If your budget for website translation services is not in the hundreds of thousands at least, you will need to find a small or medium size translation company. Try to find a company with relevant experience, a company that has IT people that can oversee the integration of the translated content in the CMS that your company is using.

Online Translation Companies

These companies are the best option for when you need quick delivery of documents like a contract, a technical manual, a consent form, web content or a marketing brochure.  These companies provide an instant online price quote, online payment and fast online delivery. The prices will be considerably lower than those offered by the medium to large LSPs. And there is no minimum budget required to work with these companies.  Some of the online translation companies include OneHourTranslation, Gengo,, Straker and GTS Translation.

What are the benefits of using a professional translation company

If you need to translate a document or text into another language, there are several options available:

1. Use free translation software
2. Hire a professional translator
3. Hire a professional translation company

Using free Machine Translation (MT) software

Almost everyone has used Google Translate at one point in their life. There are also a number of other free online translation platforms: Bing Microsoft Translator, DeepL Translator, PROMT, and SDL Free Translator are some of the other applications.

Free translation software is a good option for translation of text that you need for internal use. Like if you received an email in a different language from a colleague; or basic instructions for a cellphone app. MT is not perfect but it will deliver the job in a basic way. Since the translation is for internal purposes, slight inaccuracies will not be that damaging to the business at hand. Free translation can be an excellent option if you yourself (or someone in your organization) are fluent in the target language. So you can run the text through an online translator, edit the outcome and fix any inaccuracies yourself.

Hiring a professional translator

Go straight to the source. This is a good option indeed. Finding freelance translators online is easy. Here are some of the leading websites for finding a freelance translator: Proz, TranslatorsCafe and TranslatorsBase. You can also find translators on the websites of the various translation guilds like the American Translators Association and the Japan Association of Translation.

The advantages of working with a freelance translator are obvious. You will save money since you are cutting out the middleman. What are the disadvantages?

Lack of quality control. Unless you are fluent in the target language, you will not be certain that the translation is of good quality. Even the best translator can have an off day; or be uncomfortable with the text you have assigned to her/him; or be unaware of the correct subject-specific terminology to use; or be in a rush to complete the translation and assume that it will be reviewed prior to delivery.

Inconsistency of service. Let’s say that you found a good translator and are happy with the work that she/he turned in. But since that translator does not work for you on a full-time basis, there is a good chance that the translator will be unavailable for the next project. Sick, vacation, other work, etc. There are a 100 reasons why the freelance translator you hired may not be available for the next project.

Form of payment. The majority of translators in any given language tend to live in the country where the language is spoken. The translators you want to work with may live in Russia, Thailand, France, Egypt or any other country on the planet. So how will they get paid? Check in the mail? Not feasible and most translators will not be interested. Credit card? You will find that most freelance translators are not set up for  credit card payment. Wire transfer (ACH)? This is a good option but (a) international wires are costly ($30-$40 for each bank wire) and (b) can be a hassle if you are not setup to execute this form of payment. Online payment platforms like Paypal and Skrill are good but may also require some time-consuming configuration on your part.

Multi-language projects. If you require a translation into several languages, you will need to negotiate with multiple translators. This will be a time consuming effort.

Lack of buying experience. If you are first time buyer, you may not be aware of the price levels and can overspend on your project. Unless you are a translation industry professional, getting to know the prices requires a time investment on your part. So the money you save on translators costs may be offset by the time that you spend doing the due diligence. As an inexperienced buyer, you may be missing some price discounts that an experienced buyer would take advantage of.

Hiring a Professional Translation Company

Hiring a professional translation company will definitely cost more than using free machine translation, and will probably cost more than hiring freelance translators. The advantages of working with a professional translation company are the reverse of the disadvantages listed previously for working with freelance translators:

Guaranteed Quality Control. A good translation company will always deliver work which was reviewed by a second linguist. Additionally, a seasoned translation company Project Manager will know which translators to assign the work to based on the type of text and availability of resources. Most good translation companies have a Quality Management System (QMS) in place which is designed to deliver consistently good quality. And a good translation company will have a proven team of translators who will consistently deliver high quality.

Consistency in service. Professional translation companies will have the resources you need to deliver your translations on time and at the desired level of quality.

No-hassle payment. Translation companies are usually set up for all forms of payment and will be happy to accommodate your preferred method of payment. This includes payment after delivery.

Buying experience. Translation companies have professional buyers who know the business. They will know how to get you the best prices for reviewed, high quality translation. Some of these buyers purchase thousands of dollars of translations a day, which means that they get better prices than you would get from a freelance translator.

Translation Certification. Some translations, like immigration documents, medical device instructions and clinical trials documents, need to be certified. A professional translation company will have the experience and backend required to get you the necessary translation certification papers.

Top Sites for Translation Company Reviews

Customer reviews are an integral part of the due diligence people perform before buying a product or service online. For example, before going to a hotel I will usually check the online reviews. If a hundred people are saying that the hotel stinks, it is probably a good idea to stay away.

Last year I reserved several nights at the Boston Harbor Hotel. The reviews for this hotel were incredible (and indeed the hotel was amazing). But one week before we went to the hotel, I found out from reading the online reviews that the hotel’s indoor pool was closed due to maintenance. Now I myself am a swimmer and booked the Boston Harbor hotel with the knowledge that I would be able to perform my daily swim routine.  Had I read the online reviews more carefully, I may have booked a different hotel. As it happened, and since I was unwilling to forgo my exercise, I found a public pool nearby the hotel called the Mirabella pool. Since I enjoyed the outdoor, Olympic-size Mirabella pool the story had a happy ending.

Before buying professional translation services online, there are a number of review sites you can check.

GTS Translation Google Reviews

Google My Business. To check user reviews on any business, including translation service agencies, just do a Google search on the business name and the address of the business. For example, do a Google search for “GTSTranslation, 4747 Collins Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33140, USA.” Then click the reviews link to read the customer reviews.

Clutch – B2B Ratings and Reviews is an online review platform. You can find translation company reviews on this website.

Pickwriters is an excellent resource for translation agency reviews. It has numerous lists categorized by industry (e.g., top legal translation companies, top medical translation companies, etc.).

ConsumerAffairs is a well-established reviews website that has been in existence for 20 years. ConsumerAffairs offers custom partnerships that start with proactive review collection by phone or email. This allows them to gather authentic, useful feedback from verified customers. The problem with this website, from a user perspective, is that translation companies that are listed on ConsumerAffairs must pay thousands of dollars a year to get listed on the website. So this review board may be skewed in the sense that 98% of the translation agencies are not mentioned here.

Goodfirms has a list of translation companies and collects reviews for each one.

Trustpilot is a company that collects online reviews for its customers and places the rankings on its own website as well on major search engines.

Yelp is the modern, online version of the Yellow Pages. This is a ‘catchall’ reviews platform with no specific industry focus, certainly not for the translation industry. Yelp seems more suitable for local retail businesses and not so much for B2B segment.

G2 provides fair listings of companies ranked in order of their review quality/quantity. Categories like G2 document translation reviews receive thousands of visitors hoping to research a market unbiased from a third party. Individuals can request to contact said organizations through G2. They provide both free and paid options (the paid option provides review generation campaigns using by-hand techniques and/or automated software outreach.

Click to read online reviews for GTS Translation on Google My Business.