Are You a Translation Agency or a Language Service Provider? [You Might be Surprised]

Are You a Translation Agency or a Language Service Provider? [You Might be Surprised]

Recently our localization industry hero Renato Beninatto (I already wrote about him here), with a help from his buddy Tucker Johnson has written a book called "The General Theory of the Translation Company".

Finally, someone who knows and understands this sh..t is writing about it, I thought.

And You won't be disappointed.

This is not a review of the whole book. If you need the complete wisdom go and buy the book, it's sold here. Well worth reading. (No, I don't get anything by promoting it. I wish I did, but I don't. It's just worth it, seriously). 

And the book - because we share a lot of the same values - is the reason for this post. 

The part I particularly want to talk about, well, actually two parts... so, anyway... the one thing I want to talk about, is the one that has been annoying me the most in the last 10 years. Namely: every translation agency, company, or God forbid LSP presents itself like a leading provider.

You know what I think? Double-facepalm. That's what. But it's a huge topic and I'll write a different post on this.

The second one is about the mindset, or mind-shift between a Translation Agency and Language Service Provider. This post is about the Agency vs LSP thing.

And why is it important to know which one you are.

Or which one you want to become down the line. 

What is a Translation Agency 

(and what is the reason freelancers hate them, "outsider" companies hate them, and even the people running them are not really sure why they should be happy about them)

I know, sometimes its hard not to think of yourself as a cool Translation Agency because it has been hard-wired into our minds. In the mind of people in the translation industry, the word Translation Agency means something beautiful and nice. Something really cool. Like a Creative Agency, which generally is this great hipster company that comes up with slogans for Uber or AirBnb, or makes great commercials explaining every tv ad is actually a tide ad:

Awesome right?

Well, no.

Unfortunately, people who are at the two other ends of the translation cycle: clients - and here I mean end-clients, and freelance translators alike, think that Translation Agencies are the representation of everything that is evil and wrong in this industry. 

From (some) clients standpoint, Translation Agencies are: 

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    Not worth the money (either Expensive, or we don't "get them": what do you mean you want to be paid for numbers in translation? aren't you just copying them?)
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    Slow (what do you mean 20,000 words on scanned PDF of highly technical text without refrence material by tomorrow is impossible?)
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    Too complicated (what do you mean you don't like translating our software strings taken with no purpose out of the code and randomly put into something we call translatable Excel?)
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    Too demanding (what do you mean you want to be paid in 30 days? Our standard procedure is 90 days after seven layers of approval. I don't care that you finished your job 6 months ago)

Sounds familiar? Thought so. But there is the other part too.

From freelancer's standpoint, Translation Agencies are: 

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    slave driving machines (do you really want me to translate 3,000 words a day for such a low fee?
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    unnecessary and evil middlemen (why aren't you answering my ambiguous questions at 11:10PM, I need to work, the deadline is tomorrow! I wish you were a client, they would understand my questions immediately
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    who charge 3x the fee to their clients while paying peanuts to freelancers (you get so much money for nothing, and expect me to have no typos in the text? What is your editor being paid for? You should work a little too! )
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    don't pay on time (what do you mean I don't get my money immediately? I don't care that you are being paid 90 days after the invoice has been approved)

Some of this holds ground, and yes I can imagine there are agencies who really are just unnecessary middlemen who's only work is sending files and questions between clients and translators. But on a long enough time scale, those who work like that are not really good at the "survival" game. The market has it's way to filter out bad apples. If that is even a thing.

I want to think there are more of these: normal companies with good staff, good people, and a genuine mission of helping their clients while treating their colleagues right

If you are here, deep down in your soul you know you are not one of those bad agencies, not just a simple agency. Not an agency by default.

So why is Translation Agency a Bad Thing?

Again, it's not the "nomen est omen" sh..t. It's the thing that we the people who work in this industry, think of translation agencies like the next coolest things after mp3, but to the outsiders, we're more like a bad Travel Agency. 

And that is not the picture we want to present about ourselves. Not to our clients. Not to our freelance or in-house colleagues. 

Because what do (bad) Travel Agencies do? Well... nothing. They are the typical unknowin' middlemen with underpaid and undereducated stuff, acting as an intermediary between buyers and sellers, for a hefty fee. There is no added vallue whatsoever. They connect big hotels (or something) with people who need vacation and best case scenario, they also help you with your airplane ticket. For 30% more money than you'd pay if you'd just do it on your own.

Now, before the wrath of Travel Agency people come and slaps me in the face, it's not the best travel agencies I am talking about. The best ones are getting you a better deal, giving you a representative at your destination, make your trip easier, make your insurance active and working, talk to you, give you directions, and treat you like a queen (or king, you know).

What I'm trying to say is, there's several ways of looking at this, and unfortunately, there's too many active players in both tourism and translation, where - unless you are very prepared - you can easily chose a bad one to work with, and, lo and behold. You get burned. 

This kind of attitude and business model could be rare. Nevertheless it's still present. 

And that is why it is super-important to have a pro-active attitude, to rise above the noise as they say. To be the best among the good ones, and it also doesn't hurt if you do a little branding, and go the extra mile (or couple of them) for your clients. Finally, they will feel that you don't act like a wise-ass with your clients but rather do what they ask you to do.

Which is the whole point of the Servicing industry. Hence providing the language services, and not only translation. Yes, translation is important and we can think about it as the most important one, but it's always a question: to whom? To the client? To you? To the translator?

There are many more steps in the LSPs life each and every day, and we need to understand that each step is important. 

Okay then, what's a Language Service Provider?

Many freelance translators will argue that the difference is non existent, that we (LSPs and their owners and PMs) are ruthless slave-drivers and that we should all vanish into oblivion and leave all the work to them. I'm in several Facebook groups that have more people with this mindset, than there are stars in the sky on a bright Midsummer's night.

Well. Ok. Freelancers preach their own thing because they want all the job for themselves. But what jobs? Translation only, of course!  

Except, that there is no way they can do all the tasks themselves. Someone has to get those files "into motion". Someone has to pick them up from the software that is to be translated, or from the webpage. Someone has to prepare the terminology, the check the usability of a previous memory, to not forget translation is not only translation but at least TEP (*), and very often much more than that. To attach the right Style Guide to the reference materials in TMS, to create queries for clients, to know who to contact with what questions, and hey, to organise a team of people who will make all this happen. (*) If you're not sure what TEP is you might be reading a wrong blog 🙂

We didn't even start talking about clients who need translation done fast, into 26 languages, with a single point of contact. Because no, usually clients don't have huge corporate translation departments (well, some of them do), and they don't want to be bothered with it. With every small question if this dot goes there or over there. If the file they sent is really the final file, or it's just some draft that was already rewritten twenty five times.

Good clients know what they don't know. And that gives them huge advantage. They can outsource the translation process headache to professionals.

This is where a good LSP steps in. Language Services Provider companies are those who are here to utilise the best Translation Project Mangers or teams of PMs, to make the work smooth even if it has 15 steps along the way, even if it is for 17 languages and not just for one, and with a tight deadline. All that in order to make their customers happy, and hopefully a world a better place.

Within budget 😉  

tight budget for lsp work

Enter the World of Small Translation Agencies, or LSPs or better yet, Single Language LSPs

Personally, saying that you're a "small agency dealing with Balkan languages" (which is, for example what you do) has no negative meaning in my mind. 

It's all relative. Maybe you are trying to pinpoint the fact that you don't have 40 people on staff, only 7. But in this industry, having 7 employees is not a small company (most of the translation companies have only 1 or 2 people employed, the rest are freelancers or partner companies). Maybe you feel fine with dealing with only a handful of languages, and you don't want to grow to be the new Lionbridge or God forbid, to the magnitude of Mexican Soap Opera Queen Company (with a name that has Perfect in it, but is probably far from perfect)

However, there is no need to call yourself small. Because it stops you - in your mind - from growing beyond your wildest dreams.

The negativity of the word "small" is all in our minds of course. Note to self: there might be a need to re-think the main messsage of miniTPMS. I mean, being the sexiest translation management system for small agencies is a pretty accurate explanation of what we are creating. Because generally, any agency with up to 10 people on staff could be considered small. On the other hand an agency of that size could process millions o words and make millions of USD in revenue.

So the real problem is, nobody wants to be small, or they don't want to look small when talking with potential clients. Just like guys at their first date, right? (even if size doesn't really matter... or they say it doesn't, anyway, that's another topic again)

Being small doesn't necessarily mean you are not good enough, don't sell enough, but it is true that it gives your whole company a little of a mental obstacle. It's like driving a Porsche but having your foot on the break the whole time. 

It's not what you are.  It's what you think you are. Because, let's face it, with a help of a little software like miniTPMS you could just as easily run projects for 15 languages as you do for one. 

What's the bottom line? "Which one is you"?

Sometimes we need to reinvent our own companies, and recreate the good images in the eyes of our clients. If it means we'll stop calling our companies Translation Agencies and move on to the Language Service Provider nomenclature, so be it. Your core values and your working style doesn't have to change.

It doesn't have to, but it might, once you realize there is much room for growth. 

Instead of being "just an agency" you can become the cool LSP. A professional machinery in the Translation Industry. A single point of contact to several large end-clients, with technology and Project Management in place to serve their needs, with contacts with other LSPs - mostly Single Language Service Providers - and other freelance experts, and now you really can be on the way to become the next Lionbridge. 

Well, once you employ a smaller army of sales personnel, but that's a story for another time...


(and if you are still here, and alive, thank you for reading, now please share, tweet, comment and print this blogpost out and give it to everyone in the world.)

Almost forgot: 

Do you have a TMS? "Mini" is being created especially for companies who employ 2-10 people, who work for big LSPs and End Clients alike. Making project tracking a child's game, invoicing easy and tracking beautiful. Sounds good? Here's what you need to do:

Click here now and join other colleagues who are reading my tipsFind our deepest secrets on the idustry, and get a special discount on minitpm.

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