How to choose a translation company: 8 top tips

The translation industry is booming, and why wouldn’t it be? In the online world, content is king, and content needs translating. So how do you choose which translation company to use? How do you know who to trust with your precious copy?

In this handy guide, founder of LEaF Translations, Lucy Pembayun, explains how you can reduce the risk of choosing the wrong translation service.

8 top tips for choosing a translation company

Before we get to the nub of the issue, let’s get our head around the different options available. Broadly speaking, translation service providers can be split into four groups:

  • Free machine translation tools – e.g. Google Translate
  • International translation agencies
  • Small, specialist translation companies
  • Freelance translators

Each of these options has its advantages and disadvantages, so how do you choose? Here are our top tips for choosing a translation company.

#1 – Language combination

The first requirement is that the translation company covers your language combination. The Native Speaker Principle states that translators should always translate into their native language. As such, one of the best ways to guarantee quality is to find a translation company based in a country speaking your target language. So, for example, if you are looking for a German to English translation, a company based in the UK specialising in German translations would be a good place to start.

When searching for a translation service provider, you are likely to come across numerous agencies offering translations from almost any conceivable language into almost any other. They are able to offer these services because these agencies work on an outsourcing model. In other words, they have a network of freelance translators on their books who are based all over the world. This model has the obvious advantage of covering all options – these translation agencies are able to offer a solution for almost any translation request. This also means that if you are looking for a translation into multiple languages, a large agency should be able to deliver this. The clear disadvantage, however, lies in the fact that as the translation is outsourced, you have no idea who is doing the translation and what their level of expertise is.

Here at LEaF Translations, we offer translations from English into a number of European languages and vice versa. Unlike large translation agencies, we don’t work with a massive network of freelancers across the globe – instead, we work with a select pool of highly qualified and experienced native-speaker translators. And, most importantly, we tell each and every client who is translating their document or website, so they can judge the expertise of the translator in question for themselves.

#2 – The purpose of the translation

There are many different types of translation and they are all of varying importance for your business. For example, translating the copy on your website is vital for your business. Your website is your shop window and a poor translation will send potential customers packing. Alternatively, a high-quality translation of your copy could make a massive difference to your conversion rates.

Similarly, the translation of your sales catalogues and other marketing materials are of extreme importance to how effectively you can get your message across to your customers and clients. It is worth investing in a high-quality translation, rather than seeking to cut corners by using automated translation services or the cheapest translation quote you can find.

Before you decide which translation company to go for, consider the importance of the text you want translating. Will it influence how my customers and clients see my company? Will it have a direct impact on my business? If the answer is yes, make sure you choose the translation service based on quality not price.

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#3 – The size of the translation & the type of technology required

Translations range from single page documents, such as letters and press releases, to 200-page books and sales catalogues packed with thousands of product descriptions. If you are looking to source a very large translation in a short period of time, you may have to opt for a company that can split the text up between translators. This is likely to limit you to the larger translation agencies. However, some smaller translation companies are able to take on jobs like this too – it is always worth asking.

The other thing to consider regarding large jobs, is whether the translation will involve editing graphics and working with the formatting of the files, or whether you are just looking for a qualified translator to translate the text itself. If you require assistance with the graphics and other technical, non-translation tasks, you may find a large translation agency with a dedicated graphics department a better fit than a small translation company.

#4 – Your budget

The translation industry is no different from everything else: generally speaking, you get what you pay for. Of course, there are certain agencies who will seek to charge high and then outsource the work to freelancers earning a fraction of the final sum. But equally you should be wary of companies charging what seems like a very low price. A good quality translation takes time to craft and the price will be reflected in this.

If your budget is really limited, you could opt for the free machine translation option. These tools rely on a large database of text and automatically produce the translation based on the source text that you input. Sadly, although the speed and number of languages covered is impressive, the quality of the results is still less than satisfactory. A Google Translate translation stands out like a sore thumb, and whilst it can be tempting to install the free Google Translate tool onto your website to automatically translate it into any language you desire, you have to consider the effect that a sub-standard translation will have on your brand. LEaF Translation’s Google Translate does Song Lyrics game highlights the fun that you can have with free machine translation tools, and also suggests they are not a great option for serious translation jobs.

LEaF Translations

#5 – The time frame

When it comes to translations, it is best to enquire as early as possible. If you leave sourcing your translation to the last minute you will be more limited in which companies have availability and you may be charged a “rush charge”, thus making the translation more expensive.

If your translation is very large and your deadline short, you may have to work with a company that will split the source text into several documents and distribute them amongst a number of translators to meet the deadline. This has the obvious disadvantage of there being possible discrepancies between the various parts of the translation. On the other hand, it is a good way of translating lots of content within a short period of time. At the end of the day, it comes down to speed versus quality. If it is a large job with a very short deadline, you may have to lower your quality expectations and accept that the final translation may contain inconsistencies.

The best way to ensure a quality translation is to enquire as early as possible and give the translation company as much time as you can to complete the translation. This will result in a higher quality translation and will prevent the translation being split up amongst different freelancers.

#6 – Accountability

Freelance translators, specialist translation companies and large translation agencies all have different business models and these models have a big impact on accountability. When you work with a large agency, your point of contact will be the project manager. You will have no idea who is actually tasked with completing your translation – their name, their level of expertise, their country of residence.

On the other hand, small, bespoke translation companies are often more transparent. LEaF Translations, for example, sends clients a profile of the translator who will be working on their project. This profile details the translator’s level of experience and areas of expertise, so the client knows precisely who they are dealing with.

When it comes to ensuring a high-quality translation, accountability is key, and it really helps to know who is doing the translation. An impressive list of clients means nothing if your translation is subcontracted to a rookie freelancer with whom you have no line of contact.

#7 – Area of expertise

Different translators and translation companies have different areas of expertise, based on their experience, previous occupations and interests, and whilst large translation agencies often claim to cover all areas of expertise, it is a good idea to look for a company specialising in the relevant area for your translation.

Translations vary in their level of technicality. Particularly technical translations take longer to complete and thus tend to cost more. Common technical sectors include medical translations, contracts and financial translations. A website for a manufacturing company may, however, be equally technical and contain terms specific to the industry in question. In these circumstances, it is a good idea to ask the translator if they have any experience in the industry and to provide the translator with a glossary of terms if you have one.

If you feel like your text is especially technical it is a good idea to discuss this with the translation company or translator before you begin work so you know that you are on the same page.

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#8 – Testimonials & social media presence

Once you have found a translation company that ticks all the boxes, it is a good idea to see if they have any testimonials on their website. Try not to fall into the trap of being wowed by large agencies with dozens of famous brand logos on their websites – if they use a network of freelancers there is no guarantee that the person translating your documents will have worked on these projects.

You can also check the company’s social media presence. A look at their Facebook page or Instagram account will show how quick they are to respond to queries, how much they engage with their customers and how present they are, generally. If you choose to work with a translation company with a good social media presence, you know that if something goes wrong, you will be able to hold them to account and they won’t just disappear back into the ether.

In short, once you have narrowed down your options based on source & target language, the purpose of the translation, the amount of text and your time frame, you can get a feel for the companies in question by checking out their websites, working out how accountable they are and how easy they are to reach, and reading any testimonials they provide.

There are a lot of translation service providers out there – it is all about going with the one that feels right for you.

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About LEaF

LEaF Translations is a small, bespoke translation company based in York offering carbon-neutral translations from English into the main European languages, as well as from German, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and Russian into English. We specialise in website localisation, marketing translations and translations for the tourist industry.

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Lucy LEaF blog 2020

About the Author


Lucy Pembayun is the founder of LEaF Translations and a qualified German to English translator. Specialising in marketing, website and SEO translations, Lucy spent over a decade working as a freelance translator before launching LEaF Translations back in 2017. A passionate advocate for ethical business and sustainability, Lucy recently spoke on the topic of Net Zero for Businesses at the annual Business Summit for the York and North Yorkshire region. Outside of work, Lucy enjoys exploring new places and cultures, playing and watching football, and spending time with her family and friends.