Nothing can be more fascinating about a translation agency than watching how the translation of a single sentence or a single word is translated into 25 different languages or more within a short period of time. Due to an infrastructure consisting of, at times, many thousands of translators, this can be done within a relatively short period of time if required. At the same time, this can be very costly to the customer if they continually only require little translations because minimum fees can apply. To save money on this and avoid getting charged minimum fees, it is important to understand why these fees have been put into place.
Several time times a day, agencies and individual translators get requests like, “I just need the translation of one word / one sentence. Do you think you could give it to me free of charge?” Most of the time, the end customer does not understand how much effort that actually is. For 25 languages, for example, 25 translators have to be contacted and, if the agency also has native translators check the quality of their translations, 25 additional proofreaders would also have to be contacted. That is a total of 50 people. Every translation has to be organized into a file, proofread and sent for delivery. Then, on top of that, in the case of a single word or sentence, context has to be explained to the translators which generally results in a lot of questions resulting in a ton of e-mails, phone calls, translator portal messages, etc. That is a lot of communication which is very time consuming.
Unfortunately, for the general majority of end clients, the following often applies: Give them an inch and they will take a mile. Even though, it must be said, that this is certainly not intentional. The truth is, if a really good customer needs a single word for their project, it would be possible to get the translation quite quickly, although many customers over the long term need this type of service on a daily basis. If an agency has 700 clients or more, could you imagine how much time it would take to constantly be searching for the translation of words or sentences for free? Their entire workforce of project managers would be so busy trying to get free translations that there would be no time left to work on the projects that are being paid for.
So, why are minimum fees so high? Why can they be in some cases 50 or 100 dollars for a single word? There are also reasons for this:
- As a deterrent. Agencies would prefer their customers to build up their requests so that they do not have to deal with small translation requests continuously.
- To cover project management costs: A well-established agency works according to specific processes to ensure the quality of their translations. No matter how small or large a translation is, the same processes apply. This can be seen as almost a waste of time in the case if mini projects consisting of a single word and very time consuming. Therefore, even for the smallest translations, the minimum fee includes the time that the translation manager requires to execute these various processes, thus ensuring the quality of your translations. Remember, even the smallest of words can, at times, be detrimental to a company if they are translated flat wrong.
- Translators also have their minimum fees. For some language combinations, especially if rare ones, it can cost translation agencies sometimes 40 to 50 dollars for the translation of a single word.
- To cover accounting efforts. If a company invoices a lanugage project for 5 dollars a language, not only does the mini invoice have to go through accounting, be booked, tracked, collected for payment, but the translators have to be paid as well. This causes a lot of accounting effort and time.
So the question remains: How do I get a single word / sentence from my language service provider? The answer to that depends on how good your relationship with your agency is. You could try being really nice and asking and it might work a few times, but in most cases, if you often require the translation of smaller sentences and tiny translations, ask your languages service provider about concluding a framework agreement. This guarantees an agency certain monthly translation volumes and incurs regular costs on your part, but in many cases, it also offers more flexibility and in the long term ends up saving the customer costs. For more information about framework agreements, please see the related blog post.
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