What Makes a Translation Agency Great?

Finding a good translation agency can be surprisingly difficult if you have some at least slightly strict requirements. Translation services provided in a professional context are usually held to a higher standard than those for regular consumers, making it more important to ensure that you’ve found a reliable partner. Here are some factors to look out for if you want to maximize your chances.

Past Experience and Performance

Start by checking the agency’s client portfolio, if they have one available. A long working history with different companies and other professionals is a good sign that you’re working with someone who knows exactly what’s expected of them. Lacking a portfolio isn’t necessarily a bad sign. It’s possible that the company is under an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) for most of its projects. In this case, a personal conversation can help clear the air.

Investigating an agency’s working history is especially important in cases where you need specialized translation services related to a specific industry. More on that below.


Translation services are something you should never cheap out on. There are plenty of companies offering attractively low rates on the market, but working with them is often more trouble than it’s worth. Raising your budget even just a little bit can often go a long way towards expanding your range of options and providing you with a great selection of companies. This type of partnership is often a long-term investment and it makes sense to have a good budget for it.

Price negotiations are only appropriate for very large orders. Even then, you shouldn’t bring up anything like that in your discussions if it’s clear that the company has a rigid pricing structure for such volumes.

Industry-specific Knowledge

Good command of related languages is obviously a must. But a good translation agency should go beyond that. It should have qualified specialists with in-depth knowledge of specific industries. This can allow you to communicate with confidence in environments that frequently rely on heavy jargon.

Some examples include:

  • Healthcare
  • Legal
  • Corporate
  • IT

This becomes even more important when you have to account for issues specific to a sector. For example, translators specializing in healthcare should be familiar with privacy regulations like HIPAA. IT specialists commonly need to take GDPR and other data-related legal frameworks into account when customer data is involved. The list goes on – the point is that no matter how good an agency’s translators may be, lacking specific knowledge of the industry you’re interested in is going to be a major disqualifying factor.


Working with an experienced translation agency that’s been on the market for a while means that you can expect a professional attitude toward your situation. This includes everything from the way your order is accepted and entered into the system, to quotes and other estimates.

If you’ve worked with professional service providers for a long time, you’ll probably recognize the signs immediately. Lack of professionalism is excusable for younger agencies, but bear in mind that it can get you in trouble if they fail to meet your expectations on some level.

Proper Organization

You’re not just working with translators. You’re hiring an entire company, which should ideally be structured in a way that reflects that. The presence of account and project managers is a good sign that you’re in the right hands. They should be heavily involved in the process from start to finish, while leaving the actual translation work to their qualified experts.

This means that if something goes wrong, there will be various people available to address the situation without letting it escalate further.

Of course, a management structure with a heavy-handed approach also brings its own problems and is something that should be avoided. If it looks like managers and other leaders are interfering with translation work itself too much, that’s probably not a good sign. Excessive micromanagement can bring down the overall service quality.


Your translation needs may or may not be consistent. Translation agencies without enough experience may find it difficult to adapt to fluctuations over time. This is especially true in cases where you start out ordering a small number of translations and ramp up your orders greatly over a short period of time. The opposite is also true – smaller translation agencies will often commit a lot of resources to a large order, only to end up in in disarray once you cut down on the overall volume.

With that in mind, you should always check how well an agency would be able to handle frequent changes in your volume requirements. Even if you don’t anticipate that this will happen, it’s good to know that the company will be prepared to handle those situations properly.

Workload Capacity

On a related note, investigate how much work the agency can take on in general. Every company has its limits, but good translation agencies should be much more flexible in this regard. In some cases they might have access to freelancers and other talent that can be brought in on short notice to bridge any unexpected gaps.

Knowing that you’re working with a translation agency that fits the bill in this regard is good in case you anticipate an increase in your order volume in the future. But even if you don’t, it’s still a positive sign about the overall service quality you can expect from the agency. Larger agencies with a lot of experience won’t even bat an eye at the suggestion that you’ll overload them.

Final Thoughts

It can take a while until you’ve found an agency that can meet all your requirements. This is even more valid for cases where you need specialized services, like translators with experience in a certain field. Make sure to dig into each relevant factor in as much detail as possible to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each agency you evaluate.

Don’t be afraid to ask uncomfortable questions either. True professionals won’t be intimidated by them. In fact, they would jump at the opportunity to reassure you in a lot of detail about how they are the best for the job.

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