Category Archives: Selection of language providers

A reputational story


Companies are concerned about their image, their brand, their standing. It’s nothing new. Old problems with new words. What was described as affecting the reputation and the good name of a company is not adjectivized as reputational.

If a company enjoys a place of high esteem among its peers and in the community, domestically and internationally, then that good name becomes valuable and acquires a monetary value. It is then used as currency to extend its influence, increase its market share and cement its reputation.

Translators and translation agencies have depended on name dropping (“IBM is one of our customers”) and certifications (“Member of ASETRAD” or “ATA-certified translator”) to preestablish their status and foster trust. Testimonials started to appear in the late 90s on company websites as well as on individual translator’s webpages. The problem I always saw with those testimonials was their anonymized nature. Here’s a current example:

Straker translations testimonials

First names, or initials, with no company affiliation. Hm, does that approach foster trust? Some fabricated reviews at websites such as Amazon created a bit of an uproar a few years back, what we would call escandalete in Spanish or furore in British English (or Italian). Compare this with an exemplary use of testimonials below:

Advanced language translations testimonials

The company Advanced Language Translations is using testimonials the way I think they should be used: who said what about your company. The downside? Testimonials may have a short shelf life because project managers, localization managers, purchasing staff and others in similar positions come and go. The main advantage of a testimonial is its focus when it is properly written. Keen eyes may have also noticed that none of the testimonials refer to competitive pricing or low rates but to “reasonable cost” and “on budget.” As a translator myself, I would love to work on one of their projects!

Reputation and references

Speaking of working for a company as a translator, I recently had a telephone interview with a headhunting agency for an 8-week project involving technical writing and Spanish translation (two of my specialty activities). I was required to provide two professional references, as the best practice in these interviews go. I keep a list of at least six, so I provided two of them within minutes. I was promised to get a call back that afternoon.

The phone rang as anticipated and the interviewer thanked me for the references, but made some comments about one of them, saying that they couldn’t use it because my reference wouldn’t divulge what kind of projects I had taken part in. Then, I offered other references, which I emailed immediately. Coincidentally, the person who turned out not to be an adequate reference for this job called me to tell me about his experience. This is a personal friend and a long-time client, mind you. His reason for not giving particulars to the interviewer? He considered the details of his projects to be confidential and he left the impression that he was a competitor of the interviewer’s company.

Although he gave the interviewer very positive comments on my professionalism and dependability, his earnest and strict approach to giving detailes as requested by the interviewer backfired. I did not get the job. The moral of the story for me: be selective about which references to offer for a particular job. Did my reputation suffer? I think not, since the headhunting agency was working for the actual customer and is contractually bound to find the most adept candidate for the project, not for themselves.

Branding the profession

Translators and translation agencies earn and lose customers by word of mouth, directly and indirectly, all the time. This does not necessarily mean that a particular translator or agency is incompetent or a poor provider, but that their fees or rates are outside the budgetary boundaries of a customer, or that the customer used other economic or social criteria to choose a different vendor (“Our new translator is easier to work with”). Due to the globalizing nature of the Internet and its tools, market encroachment, client poaching and the downward pressure on services fees have given reputation a sometimes undesirable fluidity.

This impermanent state of affairs has taken some old hands by surprise: accustomed to decent pre-Internet translation rates, they complain and lament the way clients come and go looking for the most competitive rates. And this is happening regardless of the translation provider’s solid reputation. What a translation company or a translator has invested decades in developing, their good name and good professional standing no longer seems to hold the same reputational value. Seasoned translators in developed countries such as Great Britain, France and the United States have groaned in hushed whispers, then in loud complaints, about the influx of so-called cheap providers from developing countries, as if there is some conspiracy behind them to undercut their market share and, of course, their reputation. If a customer prefers a Spanish translator living in China over another living in Spain, what’s the point in cultivating your good name?

Among the answers given to this dilemma by translation associations and so-called language consultants, I have seen an increase in presentations, webinars, brochures and similar vehicles to help translators and similar providers with marketing their services better and, lately in the first years of the 21st century, with branding their services. As an example, the American Translators Association’s conferences have held an increasing number of marketing sessions. Based on a visual assessment of ATA’s past conferences, we have the following:

ATA sessions for indep contractors over 14 years

In the span of 14 years, we see a dramatic increase in sessions targeting independent contractors (individual translators and interpreters) to educate them on the use of sales, marketing, branding and business techniques and tools. This development shows two things in my mind: a) an increased preoccupation on better ways to sell translation services and b) the transformation of ATA conferences from an educational event to a marketing one.

Of course, I agree that translators should cultivate a good professional name in order to optimize their word-of-mouth approach to finding and retaining customers. In my experience, customers worth retaining prefer a reliable service, a personal touch and negotiation skills to find a reasonable price worth paying. In the field of professional reliability, I’ve been intrigued by other online tools that might be of service to a translator or translation company.

The branding aspect works best with companies than with individuals. A brand is usually tied to a logo, a slogan and a single word to convey a positive image. Take IBM’s Think, for example. An individual translator or interpreter (or similar professional) would do better in creating and maintaining a good name or good reputation, however, as the branding approach is kind of silly and oversized. A translator who is too concerned about her brand risks projecting an unfocused view, a pretentiously sized corporate image that isn’t really there, just as the “We” statements in individual websites.

Separate but successful business endeavors

During the summer of 2015, when work volume was low, I started to sell items on eBay: electronics, audio equipment and other second-hand items, such as vinyl records. Selling successfully on eBay is mostly a matter of personal image: how fast you ship and how accurate is your description of the item being offered for auction or sale; in short, what good your word of honor is. Consequently, good eBay sellers take very good care of their reputation by fostering a climate of trust that will engender good reviews and addressing any problems with the customer as they arise.

I started to think about the reputational and economic value of my eBay reviews when I read the following from a recent buyer:eBay positive review

This positive feedback surely feeds one’s ego, but there are many potential buyers who read these reviews in order to guide their purchasing decisions. Would then it be appropriate to route potential translation customers to my eBay feedback page? From a business standpoint, I don’t see why not.


For individual translators, professional and personal references are still being used, along with a CV or resumé and sometimes a cover letter, to assess a candidate for a job or project. Although websites and directories are being consulted to find competent translators, they are just a couple of several components in an effective business strategy to find and retain customers by word of mouth and good reputation. Branding and marketing listicles are gimmicks that only benefit the consultant who offers them. Not all social media are amenable to foster trust or a good name, but try them you must in order to find for yourself —not by others’ opinions— whether these are tools worth using. In my long experience as a translator, a good reputation is built every time a project is delivered to specs or beyond expectations, every time I exchange polite and on-point communications, every single time I telephone a customer who is frustrated or who needs to discuss a delicate aspect of a project. No fancy website and no extensive blog nor Facebook posting can do that.



Filed under Brand awareness, Branding, Customer relationship, Customers, Marketing, Negotiations, Reputation, Selection of language providers, The business of translation

Cut through the maze: Tips on hiring a translation provider

As your company expands locally and overseas, hiring is not limited to bringing new employees on board —outsourcing to small translation businesses when needed can be a lifesaver if done right. Contracting a language services company for the first time can be a daunting experience when you don’t know anyone in the industry. Who do you turn to for referrals? How can you screen? Who vets the professionals who say they can translate your marketing collaterals, your website, your tradeshow signage?

Hiring an independent translation provider is not much different than hiring a new electrician or an interior decorator. Surely you don’t just crack your yellow pages book open and start dialing AAA Translations on a whim, right? The following paragraphs should be helpful in guiding you through the maze of options and help you to weed out the marketing hyperbole to know exactly who you are hiring and what you are getting in return.

Train your hiring eye on a provider from several angles

Let me start with a personal story. Two years ago, I was looking for a floor installer to set a new floor in my recently purchased condo. I did my due diligence: scanned prices for materials and called 3-4 different floor installers out of a list provided by a local retailer, who didn’t offer to endorse any in the list. During my calls, I asked for particulars and a quote. Three of them visited my place and offered a written quote. Finally, I chose the lowest quote, the installer came and installed the floor as promised. But he was very slow on follow-ups, I had to hold payment temporarily due to his ordering the wrong materials and arguing with the retailer over it. Did I get the floor installation I wanted? In a way, yes, but the customer service experience left a bittersweet taste. Would I do business with this provider? Definitely not.

What was my problem? What did I not foresee? After all, I researched prices for flooring and looked up a handful of installers…but I focused a bit too much on price. Being fairly new in the area, I had no one to ask for recommendations. What would I do differently? I would focus more on (a) getting recommendations and (b) asking information about satisfied customers served by the installer and worry less on getting the lowest bid.

When faced with a need to translate brochures, websites, manuals and the like, many businesses intuitively reach out to other businesses for recommendations. Unlike services such as roof repair, tax preparation and office remodeling, language services such as translation are invisible to the buyer because the product, the language the translation is written in, is usually an unknown variable. A client of mine serves the language needs of a clinic in central Indiana. This clinic serves English speakers as well as Spanish and Burmese speakers. Except for Burmese-reading patients, nor the clinic staff or my client read any Burmese. So, for my client to know that the product —the Burmese translations— are any good is to rely on the reaction from Burmese patients.

So, many buyers of translation services go in blind, depending on promises of high quality translations from translation vendors. Is there a way to leverage this situation in your favor? Even if you don’t speak or read the foreign language, you can still control the screening of language providers and get the best bang for your buck…and happy customers who come to rely on your company literature in multiple languages.

I have compiled a short list of recommendations to help you out in your search for the best candidate for your translation job. The objective is to gain a clearer picture of the language services industry and keep you on the driver’s seat.

Call a professional association first. Professional translators and reputable translation companies are usually members of a professional association and have to abide by a code of ethics. The American Translators Association is the entity representing language professionals that have passed a certification exam, have university degrees or have undergone special training. Its members have provided language services for a number of years and are generally qualified to write documentation at a college or business level. ATA has regional affiliate offices called chapters and provide free access to a comprehensive directory of translators, interpreters and language service companies. In NE Ohio, visit for a list of local language service providers.

Call your local chamber of commerce. Many translators and translation companies are members of a local chamber of commerce and are involved in their activities. Take advantage of this resource by getting in touch with your local chamber of commerce.

Call a competitor. Maybe one of your competitors has a webpage in a foreign language. Call him up and find out what he did about screening and selecting their language service provider. When requesting a referral, ask what priorities they applied in the selection, how they measured the provider’s performance and whether their customers were happy with the final product (the translation).

Ask for references. If you already have a language services provider in mind, via referral, recommendation or previous experience, ask for solid references of past work. Specifically, make sure to ask how they handled errors, mistranslations or complaints by customers, how responsive and sensitive to your customer’s needs they are, and how willing they are to learn about your company.

Look beyond bilingual. Many language service providers promise translations of any type of document in any known language. Since translation involves writing, ask for verifiable samples of translations. By verifiable I mean original translations that haven’t been lifted or scraped off of websites, original translations from real-life satisfied customers, and translation copy that responded to the business needs of the customer. Translation is a specialized writing skill not entirely dependent on bilingualism. Respectable professional translators are excellent writers. Be wary of interpreting companies or full-time interpreters who offer translations, as well as bilingual professionals with no previous successful writing experience of a professional (i.e., published) level.

Look for a matching skill set. Even in the world of professional translators, not every translator or translation company is well suited for all types of documents or websites. Look for providers with proven experience in your industry or in a sister industry. Avoid jacks and jills of all trades in this respect. If you are a hospital that performs clinical trials, for example, look for a provider with expertise in that kind of medical documentation.

Last but not least, here’s a step you can take to be in control of who you hire as your translator even if you don’t know the foreign language: ask for a written sample. Not a translation, but a short piece of original writing in English about your business or industry. For example, if you are a manufacturer, ask the translator or language services provider to send you a 200-word composition about the kind of products you make. How does this help you? First, it is in English and you can gauge how good the writing is. Second, it shows how familiar and comfortable the provider is in writing about your industry or product. Third, it tells you the level of interest the provider has in working for a company like yours.

As with many other hiring scenarios, you will want to make sure that your language services provider is someone who provides good service, who will be loyal to your customers and who will solve a particular problem in your organization, not create one. Even if you don’t speak or read a foreign language that your company needs, you can still maintain control over the screening and hiring process of a language specialist that will hopefully become a long-time associate and, like any other good employee, will mirror your hard-earned good reputation and business image for years to come.

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Filed under English writing test, Selection of language providers, Vendor management