If you are going to be managing a Mandarin translation project in the near future, then you will probably need to assign the work to professional Chinese translators. One option is to recruit freelance translators; another option is to hire a Language Service Provider(LSP) to do the work. Which one is better?
As usual, there is no one correct answer. There are pros and cons to each of the options. Using freelancers can be cheaper, since you are cutting out the middleman. On the other hand, unless you are a seasoned buyer of translation services you may end up paying more for freelancers than you would pay an agency. Translation agencies get better rates since they are purchasing in large volumes. They also tend to be experienced buyers and can get better prices than a non-industry buyer. Not to mention that LSPs are intelligent buyers that know what they are doing and can detect a sub-par work. Unless you are an experienced buyer, you may end up buying a Mandarin translation service that stinks. That can end up costing you plenty, both in money and time expenses.
If you are managing a multiple language product, dealing with many mandarin translators at once can be time consuming. Hiring a Chinese translation agency, a one-stop translation provider, will take the hassles away. But even in this type of project you may be able to save money by hiring several LSPs, each specializing in a specific part of the world. For example, there are translation companies that only handle Scandinavian languages (Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, Icelandic, Swedish); those that specialize in Eastern-European languages (like Estonian, Latvian, Slovenian, Slovak, Lithuanian and Croatian); or middle-eastern languages (Arabic, Hebrew, Farsi). Bear in mind that each language pair is a world by itself and if you do not know what you are doing, you can mess things up. Specialized LSPs that only work in specific language pairs will probably turn in a good job, making you in turn look good yourself.
Another thing to consider: how will you pay all of the freelance Chinese translators? If you are only doing 1-2 languages then it is easy, but what if you are managing a 30-40 language project? Paying 30-40 individual Chinese translators can be a major hassle. It can also be expensive if you have to pay wire transfer fees (which can range anywhere from $15 to $60 each). Using Paypal helps since it costs the buyer nothing, but a fee is taken from the Chinese translators end; some translators may complain about this and expect you to pay, or at least share, the wire fees. If you order all languages from one Chinese translation company, then you only need to write one check.
And what about DTP? If your project has artwork which needs to be localized, or is authored in a file format other than MS Word, you may be challenged to find Chinese translators who can handle it. Chinese translation companies tend to have DTP departments which can handle any file format.
Some things to look for when buying Chinese translation services:
Repeat word discounts: Certain projects contain a significant percentage of text repetitions. Ask the vendor to provide you with an analysis of the repeats and ask for a price discount if the number is high. Buyers can usually get a 50% or even a 70% price discount for repeat texts.
Translation memories: Ask your vendor or mandarin translator to provide you with a translation memory (TM) when the project is done. The TM will help you save time and money on future updates and in subsequent Chinese translation projects.
Service level: Make sure to match your expectations with the Chinese translators or vendors prior to commissioning the job. Many Chinese translation companies are now using workflows based around machine translation. This may result in lower quality work. Are you expecting professional, human translation? Don’t be afraid to ask the vendor what they are supplying. LSPs can be asked to deliver TEP (translation, editing and proofreading) work, which means that the translation is 100% ready to go with no extra work required. Freelance translators, on the other hand, may expect you to check their work and will sometimes allow themselves to go easy on the proofreading. Make sure that you know exactly what you are getting before you close the deal.
Payment terms: Some Chinese translators and LSPs will offer price discounts for speedy payment or pre-payment. This may surprise some of you, but I have heard that Microsoft offers to pay its translation vendors after 30 days in return for a 2% discount (standard payment term is 90 days). I know that it sounds mercenary but since MS spends many millions on translation services, the 2% adds up.