A Closer Look at the Outsourcing Model

A typical translation workflow involves a sales person, a project manager, and several linguists providing translation and proofreading services. Each of these professionals plays an important role in ensuring that a translation project is performed according to the client’s needs, that applicable quality standards are applied, and that the translation product is delivered on time and under budget. LSPs typically employ in-house project managers and salespeople but outsource the actual translation tasks to freelance translators.

LSPs benefit from outsourcing by maintaining independent contractor relationships with their linguists rather than costlier employment contracts. In turn, freelance translators benefit from outsourcing by receiving a steady flow of work without the need to allocate precious time to sales and customer service tasks, allowing them to specialize in the actual translation work. This outsourcing model is a vital component of today’s translation and localization industry because it allows translation buyers to access an enormous pool of talented professionals in virtually any language combination while keeping the costs of human translation services accessible. However, there are cases in which independent translators become dissatisfied with the terms offered by their outsourcers.

clients expect LSPs to reduce costs without sacrificing quality
In light of recent advancements in translation technologies, and the extremely competitive nature of the global marketplace, translation buyers expect LSPs to reduce costs without sacrificing quality. While this can be done by implementing new technologies and increasing the efficiency of working procedures, it is necessary to strike a balance between reducing costs and increasing translator dissatisfaction with the terms that an LSP offers. In many cases, cost-savings measures that are attractive in the abstract can end up being unfair or even unethical in practice, such as the improper use of Computer Assisted Translation (CAT) tools, the abuse of repetition discounts, the misuse and/or misrepresentation of Machine Translation (MT), unfair placement strategies such as using cut-rate linguists for the more lucrative translation phase only to assign experienced translators to perform “disaster control” during the less lucrative proofreading phase, hiring inexperienced, improperly trained, overworked, or inadequately compensated Project Managers, or even delaying payments in order to earn interest on funds allocated to pay outsourcers. In the face of such unfair cost-saving measures, a translator might feel that he or she is not receiving a fair share of the rate paid by the end client for the translation service and that he or she would be better off serving that client directly.

Alt TextThe translation and localization industry is made up of countless Language Service Providers (LSP) of every size offering different specializations, levels of service, and rates to suit the needs and budgets of translation buyers. The nature of the industry is such that the barrier to entry is very low because LSPs needn’t make large infrastructure investments and most translation work is outsourced to off-site professionals. Considering that a translation buyer is free to choose any LSP that suits its needs from the competitive global marketplace, many freelance translators could opt to shift some of their attention to advertising, sales, and customer service tasks in order to offer their services directly to translation buyers.

The appearance of new “boutique” translation agencies run by entrepreneuring linguists would inject new innovations and expertise into the marketplace while placing established LSPs under even greater pressure to reduce rates in order to remain competitive. However, quality standards could suffer as linguists adapt to changing roles and larger LSPs struggle to compete with their lower operating costs. It naturally follows that an increase in the number of providers competing for the same clients would have a negative effect on the translation and localization industry as a whole.

Translators should work with their LSPs, but must protect themselves from unfair or unethical practices
The traditional translation workflow calls for a team of individual professionals to specialize in the task that they are best suited for in order to increase efficiency and the quality of the end product. Sales people are best suited to customer service, project managers are best suited to administering project workflows, and translators are best suited to translation and proofreading tasks. While some entrepreneuring linguists may able to perform all of these roles successfully, many will fall short in one or more of these areas, and the industry is better served when translators and LSPs work together through the outsourcing model to provide the best quality product at the most competitive price possible. Translators should not seek to cut out LSPs by serving translation buyers directly, though they should be prepared to abandon those LSPs which implement unfair or unethical practices disguised as cost-saving measures.

First image courtesy of jscreationzs and second image courtesy of 1shots at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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