Cost of Translation: How To Calculate How Much You'll Spend

December 7, 2021
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How much do translations cost? If your company needs to reach a global audience, the cost of translation is likely at the forefront of your mind.
With the right approach, you can save a lot of money. For example, during a recent quoting process, one company saved 14% of the cost of translation immediately by making just a simple change.
The problem? It can sometimes be hard to get a clear idea of how much you'll spend on translating a piece of content.
Although some translation providers claim to give you an "instant quote," the figure is often vastly inflated or just plain misleading. For this reason, there's often a high level of "buyer's remorse" when companies start to work with a new provider — they soon realize that they weren't given all the information they needed.
How can you get a more accurate view of how much you'll spend on a particular translation?
Here's how you can determine the real cost of translation for your project.

How much do translations cost?

We all like clear prices when we are making a purchasing decision. That is true whether you are choosing between types of washing detergent in the supermarket or whether you are sourcing services to translate your training videos into 6 different languages.
Our craving for clear pricing is why it feels reasonable to ask the question: "How much do translations cost?" We want to reduce the risk of making a bad purchase. Getting a quick quote feels less risky.
While it certainly makes sense to get a clear figure before you finally purchase some translation work, the key is getting that quote at the right time.
Rushing to get a price too early in the quoting process often leads companies to make bad purchasing decisions.
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For example, we've written before about the problem with "instant-quote" translation cost calculators. You often find such calculators on the websites of cheap, low-volume translation providers. These tools are unhelpful because they use overinflated costs and don't help you identify the many ways that you could reduce the cost of the translation by improving efficiency.
There is a better way to approach translation cost calculation…

What we wish everyone knew about translation cost

If you remember just one thing about the quoting process for translation, let it be this — quoting for translation services should feel like a strategic discussion between you and the provider.
When a company gets in contact with us to ask for a quote, we start by asking them some directed questions.
For instance, one company recently submitted a request for us to translate a piece of technical documentation. We asked them questions like…
  • What is the purpose of the documentation?
  • Who will consume the documentation?
  • Is it for a product launch? If so, when does the product go to market?
  • What software was original documentation created in?
  • What aspects need to be localized? Is it just text or are there images, product photos, and other media?
  • What languages and locales do the documentation need to be translated into?
This might seem like a lot of questions for a simple technical document translation. But, they allow us to identify areas where the company might be able to reduce their costs.

How one company saved 14% of the cost in a moment

When you're working with translation, simple changes to the source content can amount to significant cost savings.
The company had provided us with a PDF of the document to be translated. We suggested that they could save both money and significant engineering time on their end if we had access to the original source files.
They sent us the original InDesign file and our content analysts generated a quote.
With this simple change, they saved 14% on the translation cost. By asking more questions, we were able to improve the efficiency of the job further, saving them even more money.
In our experience, most translation providers won't do this. For them, a quote is a quote. They won't work with you to identify the strategic purpose of your content. As a result, you can end up paying too much for translations that won't achieve your goals.
This is why you should view the quoting process as a strategic discussion.

A process to determine the true cost of translation services

What steps should you take to identify how much your translation will really cost?
A lot of factors affect the cost of translation. Before you ask any provider for a quote, you can get a clearer idea of the true translation cost by following this process:
  1. Identify the key questions you need to answer for the type of content you're translating. You can find some of the questions we ask people about specific content types on our service pages.
  2. List which languages and locales the content will be translated into.
  3. List all of the associated engineering costs to handle the translations. Where possible, make an estimate for how long these would take your team to complete and how much they would cost.
  4. Ask your translation provider for a quote. Find out whether this is a "fully-loaded cost" (which includes all engineering work and other associated costs) or just the cost to translate the words.
  5. Finally, calculate your total fully-loaded cost for the translation cost. This will include both the translation cost and associated engineering costs.
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We find that companies often vastly underestimate how much extra engineering it will take for them to handle the translations. By getting a clear understanding of these fully-loaded costs upfront, you can save yourself a lot of trouble and improve the efficiency of your translations overall.

Get a fast, accurate quote for your translation project

Does the above process sound complex? It can be!
Without the right experience and knowledge, it can be hard to know which questions you need to answer about your specific type of content. Also, you might be unsure about what extra engineering steps will be required to integrate your translations.
The quickest, easiest way to get a reliable quote is to ask directly.
Our content strategists will know exactly which questions to ask you to get an accurate quote for your situation. They will also push back on the strategic aspects of your content — where relevant — if they think that your process could be more efficient and you could get more from your translation budget.

How to Find the Right Translation Provider for You

When you start looking for a new translation provider, you are hit by a wall of choices. It’s hard to make an informed decision when the differences between providers are so unclear.