How to Get Cheap Translation Services

cheap translation services

Lots of people are searching the Internet for cheap translation services. But can cheap document translation services also be good quality?

Debunking the ‘cheap is not good’ argument

Many of you have heard of the project management triangle. In any given project, you can pick two out of the three following things: fast, good and cheap. If you want it good and you need it fast, you won’t get it cheap. If you want it cheap and need it fast, it won’t be good.  If you want it good and cheap, it won’t be fast.

Does the project management triangle hold true for professional translation services? Well sometimes it does, but there are a lot of caveats to it and I would like to use this post to explain.

The cheapest translation is the one you will never buy

Ever since I was a child, I remember the TV commercials that told you how much money you can save by buying this and that. And even as a kid I knew that this was a load of rubbish. How can you save money when you are spending money?  If you REALLY want to save money-don’t buy anything. The same holds true for translation services. Do you really need the translation? If the answer is no then skip the purchase. If you are required by law to furnish a translation (like in a court proceeding or when distributing medical or chemical products in a foreign country)-then buy it. Shop around for the best deal and wisely make your purchase.

Cheap languages vs. expensive languages

Some languages are cheaper than others. It’s all about supply and demand. Spanish translation is relatively cheap because of a glut in the market. Spanish is spoken in a few dozen countries and there are many thousands of very good professional Spanish translators that need to make a living. On the other side of the cost spectrum, Danish is an expensive language. Danish is only used in Denmark and there are about 6 million people living in Denmark. Here is a table that shows expensive vs. inexpensive languages.

Translation Prices

(around 10 cents/word at GTS)
(around 15 cents/word at GTS)
(over 20 cents/word at GTS)

Of course, this is not to say that a Spanish translation will be of lower quality than a Danish translation. If you order either of these languages from a reputable translation company, both will be excellent quality. But if you want cheap translations, better to target your efforts in Latin-America or in China than in the Scandinavian countries. The cost of translation will be much higher in the Scandinavian countries.

Cut out the middleman and go straight to the source

One way of lowering your translation costs is going straight to the source while cutting out the middleman. If you can find a professional translator to work for you directly, you will save money. There are numerous job boards where you can find professional translators. Here too, there are expensive and cheaper options. Some of the higher end boards are Proz and Translators Cafe. At the lower end you can find boards like Fiverr and Upwork. It is recommended that you use caution when selecting translators in this manner because there are some dishonest people out there who will rip you off if given the opportunity. Here is website that lists thousands of scammers that pose as professional translators. These people will take your money and deliver worthless translations.

Use in-house staff

Before I mention this option, I must say that it is not always recommended. First of all, even if you have a native language speaker on your staff it does not mean that they can do a good job in translation. Secondly, their time costs money too and it is not always worthwhile to have this person spend time on translation. Your VP Engineering who is a native Korean and makes $275,000 a year will not be good choice for your in-house Korean translation tasks. And if you have a lower level staffer, they may not have the in-depth language skills to do a good job. Still, many companies are tempted to use this option.

Use Machine Translation (MT)

MT is not just cheap, it is free! I am talking about programs like Google Translate and Bing Translator. MT can be good for certain types of translation, when the text is controlled and uses short sentences. But as most people know, MT can yield results which are ridiculously funny and stupid. So MT should be used with great care.

Perhaps consider using MT and have the in-house staff we mentioned previously edit the result. Maybe you will come out ahead. Most language translation companies won’t take on post-editing MT work. But some companies offer this as a low-cost option with the caveat that the quality won’t be as good as human translation. This includes Stepes and Translated.

Start to plan well in advance

In the first paragraph of this post we mention the project management triangle in which one of the triangle axes is ‘fast.’ So don’t leave your translation purchase to the last second and start shopping around ASAP. Give your translators or translation agency a long lead time and that may get you a cheaper price.

Compare apples to apples

When you get quotes, ask each of the bidders for the identical specifications. This includes the lead time, the service level and the translator credentials. If you send out the same spec to each bidder, and if you make sure that each bidder is capable of providing your requirement, then it will be easy to select the cheapest price out of all the bids.

Find cheap online translation

Online translation agencies like GTS tend to be the best option for cheap document translation services. Online translation companies automate some project management tasks and can therefore provide a better price point than a full-service translation company. It is also very easy to shop online and get instant price quotes for translation services.

Cheap certified translation services

When you need to cheap translate an official document, like a birth certificate or a high school diploma, the requirements are pretty simple. The body you are submitting the translation to, such as a state immigration office, will need a translation and proof that the translation is accurate and authentic. When this is the case, determine the level of certification required and choose the cheapest offer you can get. Translating these simple documents is very straightforward and any decent company or translator will deliver a good quality job.

Related Post from the GTS Blog:

How to get the best deals on translation services

The new paradigm of selling online

At GTS Translation, we made a strategic shift about three years ago and started to sell document translation services online. It is a simple concept which is used by several other companies like gengo, onehourtranslation and translated. The customer only needs to upload her/his documents and select the source and target languages. They get the translation price quote online within seconds and can then complete the order and payment online. Delivery and approval of the job are also done online. Many customers prefer this method of buying over the traditional method of yesteryear, when they had to call up the translation company by phone, sent files by courier or email, etc.

We also prefer the new way of selling. We can deliver faster and at better prices. Overhead is reduced which means cost savings and happier customers.

The key difference between serious and non-serious online buyers

We noticed something interesting in our transition to selling online. Many non-serious buyers ask questions instead of placing an order. Serious customers that want to buy online just do it (like it says in those Nike ads). Non-serious customers engage our chat lines, send emails or call on the phone to ask questions. We usually make the effort to respond to these questions, but in analyzing hundreds of such queries, we have concluded that over 90% of these inquisitive customers end up not buying.  Which is really not fair, if that word can even be used in a business buying situation. These customers are not only wasting their own time, but sadly they are wasting the time of other people who can be doing better things than responding to questions which can easily be answered by checking the company website.

The buying signals

Anyone who has read books about selling will recall one or more chapters about how to interpret buying signals. Questions like “does the product come in black or brown?,” “how long is the warranty,” and “can you deliver it next week?” were considered to be buying signals. I also recall reading in some of those sales books that a lack of questions usually indicated a lack of interest on the part of the buyer and a lost sale.

That may have been true then, but when selling online it appears to be mostly the opposite. Not that questions always result in no sale-some customers are serious about buying and can’t find the information they are looking for online. So they call up or send an email. Some of those customers convert and do end up buying. But they are a minority in the world of online sales. If you have a company that is selling online, I would not recommend that you invest too much effort in responding to these queries and learn to weed out the non-serious buyers.

Typical sales queries

Here are some of the queries and questions that we tend to encounter frequently.

1. Customers who are shopping for general price information, especially for a future project. Even worse, customers who are preparing a large bid in which translation services is just one of the components. There is ZERO percent chance of getting any business out of these inquiries. Don’t put any effort at all into these scenarios, unless it is a customer who has bought from your company in the past.

Automate your query response system

AT GTS we rolled out a translation cost calculator tool that allows customers to select languages and enter a number of words to get an instant price estimate. If you are selling translation services online, either develop a similar tool or feature a website page with general translation price information. Then when the non-serious buyers call you can send them the link and put your time to better use.

2. The files are not ready yet, the final version is not ready, the files are confidential.

These statements tend to come from non-serious buyers. If the files that the customer needs to translate are not ready, how can the customer be a serious buyer? In 99.99% of these scenarios, the customer will get the information and then disappear. The files are confidential you say? We’ll be happy to sign an NDA should be your response. If they disappear on you then you will know that they are not serious.

3. The project is scheduled to launch in Q3 of next year.

If a customer is asking for a price quote for a project that is in the distant future, the chances of getting a sale are very slim.

4. Are the translations done by humans? Are they certified?

On the GTS website, we have this information spelled out in great detail. In fact, our home page slogan is “Best Translation Quality Humanly Possible.” We also have several pages on our website that describe what kind of translation certification we provide.  Yet we receive many chats, phone calls and emails asking these questions. Most of these queries are from non-buyers.

5. We want free translation samples

This is a classic. People who ask for free translation samples will take the sample and disappear 99% of the time. Serious buyers have better ways of doing due diligence like calling customer references and checking online reviews.  My recommendation: don’t waste time on these requests. Imagine the response you will receive if you walk into a McDonalds and ask for a free Big Mac as a sample.

6. What are the translator credentials? or We want to see the translator CVs

Again, these questions usually indicate that the buyer is not serious. As I wrote in the last paragraph, there are  better ways of doing due diligence.

7. Can I get a price discount if I give you a longer lead time? My document has a lot of numbers, can I get a discount for this?

These types of questions are not as bad as some of the previously mentioned ones. But still, most of them indicate a non-serious buyer on the other end.

8. Request for Proposal (RFP/RFQ)

As a translation company with a high online profile, you probably get a lot of RFPs. Some of them are very serious and potentially very lucrative. But they are sent out to several companies and the competition is usually fierce.

Additionally, some corporate buyers have already decided who they will order from. They just want competitive quotes to better their leverage with the supplier. And from experience, some of these RFPs can take hours or even days to prepare. As a translation company sales manager, you need to decide which RFPs to accept and which to decline. And if you accept, be prepared to get rejected which means time spent for nothing.

9. Can we pay against a PO after delivery? Can we pay 50% in advance and 50% after delivery?

These are actually good questions and very often result in a sale. Check out the customer and make a decision. If Apple or Microsoft are asking for you to front them translation services against a PO- Go for it! If a customer is negotiating a 5 or 6 figure purchase and has a good credit rating, 50% in advance is a great deal.

10. My credit card is being declined. The word count I received in the quote does not match the my own records. Can I get the translation sooner? 

These are serious questions. The low-hanging fruit in online selling. Answer these queries quickly and with alacrity.

Summary of the online selling paradigm

If your website is layered correctly with a clear sales funnel; with content targeted to each stage of the buying decision and process; and an easy process for ordering online. Then the majority of the questions you will receive are from non-serious buyers. Treat them accordingly.

Search for patterns in the inquiries you receive and make your own conclusions on what are the buying signals.

How to get the best deals on translation services

Great translation service deals

Buying professional translation services isn’t rocket science. But it is more complicated than buying gasoline for your car. Or bread and milk at the supermarket. First of all you are not dealing with a commodity but with a personalized, custom-made service. You can give the same text to five professional translators and get five different results. There are other variables involved in the purchase including the target languages, file formats, service level and time of delivery. All of these, as well as other factors, need to be considered when purchasing the translation service. And these and other factors may impact the price you will pay for the service. This post will try and provide you with some guidelines which will help you make an intelligent buying decision.

Get a few quotes.  This is a no-brainer which is common practice when purchasing any big ticket item. Get a few price quotes.

Write up a bid spec. If your project budget is in the thousands of dollars and up, consider writing up a basic bid spec which you will send to prospective suppliers. That way you will be comparing apples to apples. Here is an example of an RFP that we received from one of our clients:

From its hub in Dubai, flydubai strives to remove barriers to travel and enhance connectivity between different cultures across its ever-expanding network. Since launching its operations in 2009, flydubai has created a network of more than 90 destinations across 35 countries and operates on average more than 1,500 flights a week. The airline currently has a fleet of 47 new Boeing 737-800 aircraft and has more than 100 Boeing aircraft on order. flydubai has also enhanced Dubai’s economic development, in line with the Government of Dubai’s vision, by creating trade and tourism flows in previously underserved markets. flydubai launched its cargo operations three years ago building on the growth, expansion and success of the airline. operational efficiencies and offering the passenger more choice.

The Client is seeking an experienced, translations service provider to support their Marketing, legal and Public relation department by providing quality translation services.

Agreement and service level will be shared with the shortlisted suppliers.

Ask for a translation sample. Before getting into this point, I should add that at GTS Translation we do not provide free samples under any circumstance. But we encourage our clients to order a short, test sample before committing to a large purchase. And many other translation companies will provide a free sample if they are interested in your business.

As I wrote at the start of this post, human translation services are subject to stylistic and cultural preferences. You say tomato, I say tomahto. Getting a translation sample is only recommended if you have someone that can review and evaluate the sample. Like a distributor or agent in the target country. If you get a sample from each of the prospective vendors, you and your language people can determine which one is best for your company.

What is the service level? Another important point to consider is the service level you will be receiving. Is the translation purely human or does the company deliver edited machine translation. Is the text reviewed by a second linguist? What are the qualification of the translators? Are they certified by an recognized accreditation body? If you don’t need a high level of certification or industry specialization then maybe you can negotiate a better price from your supplier.

What is the price per word? Try and find out the per word rate you are being charged. This is very easy if you are ordering translation services online. But even if you are not ordering online, the person you are ordering from will provide you with this information. Once you know the per-word price, try and get a frame of reference on it and see if you can negotiate a better per-word price.

Can you get a discount for late delivery? When ordering from a translation agency, this point will usually not get you any price discount. Yet many customers ask anyway. Even though it may not get you a discount, try and bring it up as part of the negotiation process and when weighed in with other factors, it may get you something.

DTP/Page Layout considerations.

Does the document you are translating contain graphics, charts, diagrams? Do you need to have them translated? Are they editable? Some graphics, like in a technical manual, may not be editable or the source graphics files may not be available. In that case the translation company may need to recreate the graphics which will increase the price. Make sure that you know this in advance and if you need to translate the graphics, factor this in the price. Are there files that you need to translate that are in an exotic file format like Framemaker or Corel Draw? This too can jack up the price and you should factor this work into the price as well. Does the customer expect the translation vendor to deliver print-ready Powerpoint and MS Word files? Text can expand in translation and require touching up the final files. Will the vendor do it or will you have to edit the work yourself?

Other file considerations. Translation of website content and software applications can require working with special file formats like XML and RESX. Verify that the files will arrive in the formats you need and make this part of the agreement.

Will you be getting a repeat text or TM discount? If you are submitting multiple files for translation, there may be some text repetition across the files. This should convert into a price discount for the job. Do you have legacy translations. Consider giving these to the translation company and asking for a TM discount. Don’t be shy, these are your hard earned dollars and if you can get a discount then why not?