The Savvy Client’s Guide to Translation Agencies

John Yunker’s The Savvy Client’s Guide to Translation Agencies, now in its fourth edition, is a fine book. Well written and in a straight-to-the point, jargon-free style, it is a very useful orientation and reference for individuals and small or medium-sized client operations new to the often stressful task of choosing a translation agency for their content. Approaching such a task by typing “Translation Agency” into Google is definitely not the way to go here (Figure 1); obtaining a copy of Yunker’s book is.

The guide begins by explaining some of the lingo that abounds in the industry, such as the differences between translation and localization, as well as terms such as internationalization, transcreation, translation memory and BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China).

The nature of the translation industry itself is explained, from the different sizes of agencies — dominantly small mom and pop operations — machine translation (MT), cloud operations, basic overview of tools and so on. Interviews with a translator (Jost Zetzsche) and two different translation agencies (Lionbridge and Glyph) are included, giving an insight into operations and trends.

Over 40 agencies are listed in the book. It seems reasonably comprehensive, and although obviously not everybody is included, it’s a very good start. Naturally, I was disappointed that Irish operations such as VistaTEC and Iota Localisation Services were not included, but perhaps they will be in the future.

Each company listed includes information on which clients it provides services to, its specializations (by project and industry), translation tools supported, MT or cloud-based operations, unique capabilities and selling propositions, as well as advice to buyers or insights into trends.

The essence of helping readers make the right decision about an agency can be found in chapters called “Ten Things You Should Know About Translation Agencies” and “Ten Questions to Ask Your Prospective Translation Agency.” Key points about costs and reading that all-important translation quote are included. Thankfully, the book does not recommend turning up at a localization conference and running the intimidating gauntlet of the lobby’s red light district of services on offer.

However, I was surprised that more was not made of prospective buyers doing financial and business due diligence about a prospective agency before signing up. Is it a cash-based business? Am I their biggest client? Are these guys going to disappear with my money? Can the agency grow as my business grows? What are their plans? I would also ask how my data is protected, visit the premises if possible and be cautious about references. I have often found the same references given by different agencies. I would also ask about what that project management fee I am paying for actually does, moving files around or adding actual value. A big question remains, too, about how you might decide among agencies. Perhaps some kind of decision checklist or matrix would be a very valuable addition for the next revision.

The included information about web or blog globalization that is already available elsewhere doesn’t add that much to the agency decision process. I would have preferred to see some attention given to the investments that clients need to make in the decision process, not only the due diligence already mentioned but also some consideration about how a client might manage and review his or her decision. We all love to blame agencies for our own lack of preparation once we sign an agreement. These are relatively minor observations, perhaps more suitable for the experienced buyers or large-scale operators. Anyway, why take the fun out of learning about these things from experience?

The book closes with additional resources such as a globalization checklist, glossary of terms, list of blogs, Twitterers (myself included), other resources to look up, details on country and language codes and so on. All in all, I found this an interesting and well thought-out book. Easy to read, with solid advice based on experience, it is yet another valuable contribution by Yunker, a very respected practitioner dedicated to helping others make sense of an increasingly confusing industry.

The book is available in paper and Kindle format from and in PDF form from