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Save money on translations without compromising on the outcome

Feb, 2023

Why cheaper doesn’t always mean spending less – and what really pays off

In the era of machine translation, why would you invest in an expensive, professional translation? Because what may look like a bargain could end up costing much more down the line! Here’s how you can still save without compromising on the outcome.

Most companies know that outstanding product and service quality comes at a certain cost. They happily invest in talent, research, product development and marketing. But when it comes to selling their products and services in foreign-language markets, the same companies are often more reluctant to part with their money. Is it really necessary to pay so much for a translation? Haven’t we all been told about the wonders of machine translation? Or why not at least use one of the cheaper vendors? Didn’t Jenny from marketing used to live in Spain? Surely she can do a quick translation? Sadly, what looks like saving money on paper doesn’t always cost you less. 

The hidden costs of a cheap translation

There can be several reasons why saving money on translations doesn’t actually pay off.

  • Quality

Quality is the main factor leading to hidden costs. You may pay less initially when you opt for machine translation or just any vendor. But will the result actually get you what you want? Without a doubt, machine translation has made great progress in recent years. But human beings still beat machines in many areas – such as cultural know-how and market knowledge, intuition and creativity. What’s more, machine translation often produces factual errors or omits important parts, while cheap vendors may work with inexperienced or unqualified staff and not have proper quality assurance processes in place. This might not matter if all you need is an “FYI translation” that tells you roughly what a text says. But when it comes to product information or marketing materials that will go out to your customers and prospects, surely you want a text that flows, makes sense and does not contain errors. The same goes for the countless “discount vendors” who are all over the internet and translation portals these days. Translations produced this way are not even worth the little money you did pay.

  • Reputational damage

The kind of quality issues described above can cause direct damage: reputational damage. You think no one is going to notice a few typos and not so elegant phrases? Don’t count on it! There are many regions, markets and industries where a lack of linguistic quality will be associated with inferior product and service quality. Even worse, it might even be considered ridiculous or – worst case – insulting. Content errors, for example in a package leaflet for a medication or an installation manual, can cause liability issues that jeopardise your entire business.

  • Direct losses due to a lack of success

A translation that fails to address the target audience properly or doesn’t serve the intended purpose is dangerous for another reason: If the translation is a fail, you won’t sell. While you might be saving money on the translation, you lose money later by simply selling less or not gaining a foothold in your target market. Don’t forget: You only pay for a translation once – but it will be the face of your product or service for years to come. So while you are paying less money in the first place, a badly translated text can cost you again, and again, and again.

The cost-shifting behind a cheap translation

As we’ve seen, machine or non-professional translations have a very direct impact on your sales and your financial success. But there are also indirect consequences, when costs are simply shifted from A to B.

  • Internal capacities and resources

Many companies make do by having translations checked and updated internally. Some even ask their own employees to do the translations, even if they are not qualified for the task. Someone who is a great salesperson or marketing expert is not automatically suited to translate. Here’s the catch: Firstly, paying your internal employees for the time spent on these updates is likely to be more expensive than paying an external service provider.These are running costs. But that doesn’t mean that you’re not paying. Secondly, you’re wasting precious resources. If internal employees are forced to spent a lot of time on translations, they arenot spending on what they’re actually meant to be doing. A sales representative won’t be selling anything during this time. A marketing team member won’t be planning any campaigns etc. 

  • Endless editing

  What is often advertised as “could you just quickly double-check that” regularly amounts to many hours of work. Turning a bad text into a good one takes a great deal of time, skill and concentration. Not only do internal employees frequently lack the linguistic skills that are needed to properly understand the source text. They also lack writing skills. After all, being a native speaker of a language is not the same as having a qualification that enables you to write or translate in a professional capacity. Not every sales rep is a linguistic genius. They went into sales for a reason, this being what they’re good at. If you ask your sales people (or anyone else who is not a qualified linguist) to revise a text, you might end up with an insufficiently “corrected” text.  Again, this costs you time and money.

  • Complex proofreading and quality control

        Correcting a badly translated text is a lot of work. You might end up paying more to have a text edited than a good translation would have cost you in the first place. Whole passages may need to be rewritten or rephrased, unclear passages clarified. In the end, you’ll have saved neither saved time nor money.

How to cut your translation costs without compromising

So what does this mean for you? If you’re aiming to spend less money on translations it’s because of real economic considerations and constraints. So how can you go easy on your purse without compromising on the outcome?

Fortunately, there are several ways to stay mindful of your translation budget. They’re simply not the ones you might have had on your radar.

  • Get everyone on the same page and seek advice

The starting point for getting a good translation is to know what you want to achieve and to let your translation agency know: What do you need the translation for? Who is your target audience? What are you trying to achieve with this text? Are there other documents that relate to this text? Getting everyone on the same page is priceless: Clarifying up front what will save time down the road. You will get exactly the text you need the first time round. Why not ask your translation vendor for advice? What actually makes sense in your target market? What specifics should you be aware of?

  • Check and shorten your documents

Finalising your documents prior to translation makes the translation process as efficient as possible. Make sure your document has been internally approved. Any unclear passages are bound lead to questions during the translation process and may require you to update your final text. Your translation service provider can also help you with preparing your source text, for example by proofreading it prior to the translation. Maybe shortening the text is an option? Do you really need a “translation” of names, sources or product names that stay the same in all languages? Are all of the paragraphs relevant for your target market? Are headlines such as “Here’s the intro” even intended for translation, or were they just meant as guidance? Or you might be able to work with diagrams and get rid of some text altogether. There’s great potential here and your translation service provider can definitely help you find the best way.

  • Consistency and specialisation

  A good translator is going to ask questions and turn your responses into the best possible phrasing. Of course, specialist know-how plays a huge role here. And no one knows your products and services as well as you do. Put that to good advantage by partnering with one translation agency only. They will get to know your company and your products and apply this knowledge in future translations. Any products or processes that you’ve demonstrated or explained once, you be background knowledge for the next text. There are real efficiencies and savings to be tapped into. And why not opt for a service provider who knows all about your specialist area or your type of text in the first place, for example solar technology or marketing?

Not wanting to spend money on translations can be risky and will actually cost you for years to come. That doesn’t mean you don’t have options: Being well prepared and getting the translation process right will really pay off. Let us tell you how.

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