2 min readJun 21, 2020


Imagine you went to the dentist’s with a toothache, expecting immediate relief, and they asked you: “Are you sure it’s really that bad? All I can offer you is more pain and a hefty bill.”

Clients often have certain expectations of what they need and why they need it. As service providers, we need to manage these expectations instead of just “drilling and billing.” Otherwise we risk taking the blame if our service doesn’t yield the expected return.

The return on translation, like all writing services, is notoriously hard to measure. But the trouble starts with clients being misinformed about how much they really cost.

I like to start prospecting calls with the tough questions: “What do you expect to get out of it and how much do you expect to spend?”

It often turns out the buyer hasn’t done the math and they’re just ordering the translation because a higher-up told them to, or because their organization believes having their app, website or 100-page whitepaper “localized” into as many languages as possible will raise their international profile. But business is not academia — it’s all about finding the right words.

I ask the same questions to private clients who want personal documents translated: “Are you sure you need all ten pages of your college degree translated to get a visa? Have you talked to anyone at the consular office what they actually want?”

Translators should know that their clients’ goal is not to spend money on their services, but to reach an audience or complete a transaction at reasonable cost.

So the best way to save money on translation is to reduce the workload. If you don’t manage to sort out the content in-house, you need a translation vendor you can trust.

Most translation providers take the opposite approach: they promise low word rates thanks to automation. What they don’t tell you is that 1 million unnecessary words translated into 10 languages easily adds up to a fortune gone down the drain. Project scoping is standard practice in software development, but in localization few vendors ever take the time to maximize the work not done.

It might be a general weakness of automation — machines create the illusion of efficiency, but once they start running, they burn money and are rarely kept in check.

Have you noticed similar patterns in your translation spending? I’d love to hear more!




Translation, localization, multilingual content, technical communication