In the current economic climate, it's quite understandable that companies are trying to save money. However, going for the cheapest translation service could end up being a very costly mistake.
After all, if you were buying clothes, for instance, you wouldn't expect to find Chanel quality at Primark prices, would you? I guess both brands serve different purposes, but I'm sure you know what I mean. Well, translation is the same as fashion or as any other industry, you are simply not going to find excellent quality at rock-bottom prices. If the prices are too low, there is always a reason for that. After all, qualified and reputable translators spend a lot of their time and money investing on training, research and technology, and when you pay for their services you're not only paying for their language skills, which obviously have to be excellent, but also that time spent on continuing professional development, which helps them improve themselves constantly and produce work of the highest quality. Translation is an art, there is no doubt about it.
Fortunately, more and more translation customers are beginning to appreciate that quality and are prepared to pay fair prices for these services. So much so, that translators who are very good at what they do tend to be extremely busy most of the time, so they are not going to accept work from companies which are only willing to pay substandard rates.
That means that translators who accept lower rates are either not very good, and they can't get work from anywhere else, or new to the industry and use the strategy of setting lower rates to enter the market and get some experience. For instance, it's not uncommon for recent graduates to do this, and, as a frequent guest lecturer at different universities, I always discourage them from doing that; firstly because setting your rates too low indicates that you don't value yourself too highly, and secondly because it lowers the market's average rates, which will be detrimental to them in the long-term.
But coming back to the first group of translators I mentioned, if they have been in the industry for a considerable amount of time and still charge very little for their services, chances are that the work they produce is substandard. As I said, most of the time they accept low rates because they can't get enough work, so they sell themselves cheaply in the hope of attracting clients. But working at low rates means that you have to produce a lot of work to earn a living, and therefore they will rush their translations, not paying enough attention to detail. Other times they're simply so bad that any clients which care in the slightest about quality will stop sending them work, so they are desperate and set their rates ridiculously low to get any projects they can.
Who hasn't seen awful translations in the past? Mistakes such as the famously hilarious "You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid" seen in a Japanese hotel or "Drop your trousers here for best results" from a Bangkok dry-cleaners happen all too often. These were obviously translated by a non-native speaker of English or, worse still, a machine translation programme, but I've seen far too many times translations by native speakers full of grammar, spelling and other mistakes. (As I mentioned in my previous post, it takes more than speaking a language to be a translator!). These can be fatal for any company trying to enter new markets; instead of appealing to your target customers, a bad translation can ruin your company's reputation. After all, if you didn't bother to communicate properly with your potential customers, how are they going to trust your products and believe you will provide the service you say you will? These communications are the first impression they get from you, and if you look like a cheapskate you can forget about making it in the market.
So translation shouldn't be seen as an annoying expense, but as an investment instead. And as with all good investments, it makes financial sense to spend a little more to get much better results.