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3 things to know before outsourcing translation

Updated: Jul 17, 2020

So many translation agencies keep repeating that to succeed in a foreign market you should outsource translation to professionals.

As a translation professional who has worked both in and with agencies and managed all kinds of translation work for over 50 global brands, I can assure you that outsourcing translation even to the most experienced professionals out there can be a waste of money and time if you do not build the foundation for translation management within your organisation.

Without translation-friendly management practices translation fails.

Before you introduce translation into your business, no matter who is going to manage it, these are the three most important things you should know about translation:

  • Translation is not a translator's job but a process of value co-creation

  • Translation outcome is only as good as the process to achieve it

  • Translation only brings results if translation managers share the right information with translators

# 1. Translation is not a translator's job but a process of value co-creation

Translation that helps translate strategy into revenue, no matter how you call it—localisation, marketing translation, transcreation, cultural and linguistic adaptation or anything else—is not a translator's job or responsibility. It is also not a service that satisfies specific business needs which can be simply ordered and received.

Translation is first and foremost a process through which value is created for customers and other stakeholders, and everyone involved in this process contributes to (or hinders) its success. Therefore, a company's ability to integrate the translation process within its operations, as well as the ability to control it, determines the quality of translation outcome and the value it would generate.

When you outsource translation, you will not always know who your translation stakeholders are, what they know about your brand, what experience they have and how their work impacts the quality of translation you will be receiving. As a client, you can (and should) ask your translation agency to provide you with any details about who is going to be involved in the process and how they will ensure that your objectives will be achieved.

Before starting a long-term collaboration, it is a good practice to host a brand induction session with all external translation stakeholders (account and project managers as well as translators) to ensure everyone shares the same understanding of your objectives and expectations.

# 2. Translation outcome is only as good as the process to achieve it

When translation supports marketing efforts, its success largely depends on the organisation's ability to translate its marketing objectives into translation briefs, translation-friendly processes and effective multilingual content production practices. Without them translation fails, no matter how skilled the translators may be.

One of my clients has spent a month of its marketing team's efforts in attempts to make its most important yearly campaign achieve its growth targets across multiple international markets. The team was pestering thousands of people around the world with irrelevant content in different languages as it kept tweaking its marketing content and strategy without seeing the desired improvement in conversion rates. Why?

The campaign's objectives and intent were never communicated to those who were impacting its outcome. The brief the translation team received was "Can we get this translated?" with no further details whatsoever.

Too often this is how those who outsource translation approach the process—because they know too little about translation, have too little time or do not consider the impact inappropriate translation can have on the business. As a result, translators have to guess what is expected of translation, whereas marketing managers get surprised when they do not see the results they hoped for.

If "Can we get this translated?" were an effective way to produce translation that serves the intended purpose of the content being translated, "Can we get those people buy our product?" would have been an equally effective marketing strategy. ​Make sure that those who help you achieve what you need have everything they need to do it. Do not guess what that could be, ask them.

# 3. Translation only brings results if translation managers share the right information with translators

Poor translation and poor performance of translated content are first of all the result of decisions and actions made by those who organise and manage translation work. Ensuring that translation brings results (whatever they may be) is not a translator's job but the responsibility of a translation manager who provides direction to translators. In an agency, that would normally be a project manager who might not be the person you talk to.

The information they receive is not always (very rarely in my experience) enough to understand what direction the translation should take so that it leads to the outcome that both you as a client and your customers will like to see.

Questions about what content is supposed to mean or achieve arise virtually on every translation project. However, those questions are rarely answered correctly, because translation managers continuously make assumptions about the intent of content being translated. The less information they are provided with, the higher the risk they mislead the translators.

It happens that translation managers, regardless of whether they manage projects or the client relationship, would not ask for important information because "it is not nice to ask the client too many questions" as an account manager I worked with used to say.

In one of the agencies where I managed translation projects, I was not allowed to ask my clients any questions because that was the account managers' job. It took me a very long time to convince my manager that it was important that I asked questions directly, not through an account manager. The response to the very first question I was allowed to ask contained an answer I could not have guessed and a message: "I am so glad that you asked this. Our previous agency never asked questions."

Ask your translation agency to introduce you to the team who is actually going to manage translation for you to understand how they work and make decisions. Do it before you sign a contract with them.


Developing an understanding of translation as a process within your organisation will prevent you from introducing dysfunctional practices that can cost your business more than you can imagine. You can learn more about what can go wrong in this article featuring three case studies.

If you or your team want to learn the do's and don'ts and the ins and outs of outsourcing translation, I will be happy to host a presentation or a workshop for you. Schedule a 20-minute discovery call or drop me an email.

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