At InterNation, we believe in “truth in estimates.”  Our goal is to have the final project costs come in on or under budget.  Certainly, almost any service business makes the same pledge time and time again. However, in the translation industry, as in many others, intense competition leads agencies to put their best feet forward by making a given estimate as appealing as possible to the prospective client.

Unfortunately, this make-a-good-first-impression approach often has the effect of disguising significant costs that come back to bite the client when payment is due. These hidden costs are particularly evident in translation and voice-over recording estimates.  The following questions will help you to ferret them out—so you do not end up comparing apples to pineapples.

For translations…

Translation does not always mean the same thing to everyone.  To some, it will mean the work of a single linguist.  Other will expect a second linguist other than the initial translator to edit and review the work in a process of independent validation.  Others will expect a third person, the proofreader, to carefully scrutinize the translator and editor and create a consensus of opinion between all three.

Clearly, different levels of service come with different price tags.

Some other questions to ask or think about:

Does the vendor’s estimated word count for translation match those of the other vendors and/or your own word count?

Perhaps the estimate was quoted on the basis of the source language word count, but will final billing be on the basis of the target language word count?  Many languages “inflate” and can be substantially longer than their English source text.

Has the vendor included at least one round of client review at no extra charge? If not, what are the charges on an hourly basis?

What is the turnaround time cited in the bid/estimate?  At what point do rush charges apply?

For voice-overs…

Has the vendor seen the video and reviewed the transcripts?

Are the foreign language voice talent proffered by the vendor all native speakers of their respective languages?

Is the vendor offering talent at a flat, fixed rate?  Hourly billing for talent can put the incentives in the wrong place.

Is the vendor quoting a home studio or a professional recording studio?

Does the estimate include a bilingual supervisor who will listen to the recording session in order to assure quality?

Does the estimate include or exclude a real time listen back at the time of the recording?

In general…

Has the vendor provided a line item breakdown of and the unit costs associated with the each of the services to be provided?  This is particularly important if the project exceeds the assumed parameters and additional charges must be accounted for.  Without a line item breakdown and unit costs, figures for additional work can be pulled out of thin air.

The bottom line:  We understand that the translation market can be a tough place and that it is usually easier to win over clients on the basis of price rather than promises of high quality.  We also understand that using the lowest cost vendor can be a client mandate, but I’m sure you, too, have experienced that cheaper does not imply or guarantee the same quality, reliability or level of customer service.

It all reminds me of what John Glenn said when he was asked if he was nervous while waiting for the launch of his Mercury spacecraft:  “Well, imagine you are sitting on top of an incredible complex piece of machinery consisting of a few million parts and every single one was produced by the lowest bidder on a government contract…”

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