The idea of going global may be at first daunting to some small businesses. But these days you can launch marketing campaigns in foreign countries, and foreign languages, without breaking a sweat, let alone your bank account. No need to create new content — just translate and localize what you already have, leveraging tools and tricks you can learn in hours, not days. The return on your initial investment by expanding beyond your comfort zone will justify the small efforts and costs of going global.
What does Translation Really Cost?
While it is generally agreed that the cost to produce translated content is a fraction of the expenses involved in creating original content, there are few studies that monetize this price differential. Ofer Tirosh, CEO of professional language service provider Tomedes — which specializes in human translation and supports more than 200 language pairs — offered a rough estimate of the relative costs. “While the best copywriters in Western countries charge from $0.50 to $1.00/word, top-level mother-tongue translators can be had for about one-third that rate or even less. Rates vary from language to language, from country to country, and from project to project, so do your homework and compare rates.”
Marketing translation services, for example, are higher than more structured technical ones. Translating marketing copy requires more creativity, for which you pay a premium, whether it’s for a promotional campaign or email marketing. Localization services – which adapt not just language but metric and currency standards, accounting for cultural sensitivities – tend to be the most expensive of all.
Applying downward pressure on professional language translation prices has been the rise of freelance networks, where independent translators compete directly for work, without being part of the agency. As a rule, freelance rates are less than those offered by agencies, sometimes by a factor of 50% or more. Even less expensive, or free, are online machine language translation services, led by Google Translate and Microsoft Translator. So, given the alternatives, how do you decide which translation route is the best for your job? Let’s take a deep dive into the above options – agencies, freelance translators, and machine translation – to consider the pros, cons and relative costs. This will give you a high-level guide for finding the alternative that best meets your project needs and budget.
Pros and Cons of Working with Translation Agencies
On the pro side of working with agencies is the fact that, well, you’ll be working with pros. They have protocols for getting jobs done: free quotes and clear timetables, explicit terms and conditions, a broad range of subject matter supported and mother-tongue linguists on call. That translates, usually, into faster turnaround and fewer disappointments. Agencies have incentives and pressures to complete projects on time and under budget. They usually have a stable of alternatives for every language pair, so they’ll have the capacity to say yes and deliver the goods with minimal hassle, in days if not hours.
Easing the uncertainty for translation clients, Tomedes’ Tirosh said, is the fact that most agencies offer free quotes, with rates based on the number of words in the original content. “Before beginning any project, you should have a clear understanding of the all-in costs and a detailed timetable for deliverables,” he advised. Many agencies in this field offer guarantees on their work, committing to fix any errors found in their work for a given period, as much as a year after project delivery.
The downside of agencies is the expense. You pay a price premium for their expertise and oversight. In addition, you usually don’t have direct contact with “your” translator –you interact exclusively with an account manager, who mediates between you and the translation team. It’s important to emphasize the team approach — one translator audits the work of another. This has the benefit of putting two or more pairs of eyes on your work, but it can also result in several “voices” contributing to your translation – so you need to ensure that the style is consistent throughout.
Pros and Cons of Freelance Translators
The last decade has seen the rise of freelance networks – the largest and most established being Upwork, along with Freelancer.com and Fiverr – in which translation is one of the service categories most in demand. Here you can find rates lower as a rule than professional agencies, and you have tools for evaluating providers, reviewing profiles, ratings, reviews and portfolios. You can ask questions, and negotiate rates, and there’s no need to pay till you are happy with the translation work.
On the downside, the risk of working with freelancers is relatively higher. If the freelancer gets sick or takes an unexpected trip, you will wait. The client also must deposit an escrow amount equal to a project or a milestone, a sum held by the freelance network until the milestone is reached. Finally, one translator usually is not enough to guarantee project quality. The second pair of eyes from a mother tongue native speaker of the target language is desirable to check the work of your primary translator. Finding that second opinion also is your burden, which adds to the time and money you need to invest.
Do It Yourself with Machine Translation
There is, lastly, the option of relying on Artificial Intelligence for your translation. In the last five years or so, since the introduction of Neural Machine Translation or NMT, the possibility of doing the translating by yourself has become feasible. Established online resources like Google Translate and Microsoft Translator or upstarts like DeepL and Crowdin, let you copy and paste the original content into a web form and receive results after a few seconds. Machine translation, even with deep learning capabilities, still cannot approach the quality of skilled humans for complex or creative texts. Click here to learn more about the pitfalls of AI and deep learning. But despite that, they can do a decent job on more standardized technical documents. And you can’t beat the cost of free.
But with NMT, like most things in life, there’s no truly free lunch. If you want to avoid embarrassing yourself with an important document, there’s no substitute for expert human oversight, whether it comes from a freelance translator or a professional agency. The best you can really expect is that a machine translation can convey the gist of the original content and save some time and money upfront. Still, machine translation is advancing at a rapid rate and one day may challenge even expert linguists.
The Translation Bottom Line
Small business translation options can be summarized succinctly: if you have the budget, rely on professional agencies. If you want to get the best bang for your translation buck and are ready to do more work and assume higher risks, consider freelance translators. And, if you are working with standardized, not too creative documents, consider using a machine and use a freelancer to audit the computer-generated results. With this formula, you can enter foreign markets without fear.