October 15

“You pay peanuts, you get monkeys” – Escape Low-price Traps when buying Translation Services.

How to escape low-price traps when buying Translation Service?

Have you heard this adage, "You pay peanuts, you get monkeys"?

It simply means that if you are paying a paltry amount, you can only attract incompetent workers. When applied to purchases, it means that if you are only willing to pay a low fee, you can only expect a low-quality product or service.

Many would argue that it is not necessarily true all the time, and we agree with you. It could be your lucky day, or someone might just be feeling charitable that day. But those instances are few and far between.

Just like there are no free lunches in this world, there must be a catch when things come so cheap.

Call it misrepresentation, call it overselling, call it overpromising, call it under-delivery, call it anything you like. If you buy it, you'll have to bear the consequences. Sometimes, the repercussion is so bad; it is irreversible.

The Low-price Trap


Consumers buy based on how they perceive the value of a product or service. The Low-price strategy is a double-edge sword that hurts bottom-line and betrays consumer trust if the perceived value is not being delivered.

From the consumers’ point of view, the huge risk here is getting something that does not meet their requirements.

From the businesses’ viewpoint, low price strategy naturally affects margins and if they are unable to move their price-point higher in subsequent jobs, it will result in a “vicious cycle” that will not be sustainable in the long run for the business.

Now, if we all know this simple rule, why are there many still falling into this trap?

Let's face it. Everyone is looking for a bargain. It is not uncommon to see people wanting to know how far one can stretch a dollar.

Knowing that most consumers are more inclined to purchase if they see a bargain they cannot reject, most will try to entice them with what is initially seen as a low price. But whether is it really a value-buy remains largely to be seen.

Most of the time, if it is too good to be true, it is most likely not true.

Standard Procurement Practice vs Reality

The standard procurement practice of most companies would be to seek out the three most competitive quotations and decide based on these offerings.

Although most would say that there are other considerations apart from the price but let's face it when it comes to pricing, it is way too ridiculous to allow a low-price pass, right?


Unfortunately, low pricing is a marketing tactic used by many businesses to drive sales.

A lower selling price means a lower profit margin. To maintain a decent profit margin, something has got to give. Most of the time, this means using cheaper resources and materials and cutting corners.

In most of these cases, you will be getting what you are paying for.

What are some of the Traps and Tricks?

Low prices appeal to the price sensitive. It also appeals to new buyers of the products and services who are unsure of their price versus quality ratio.

Here, we would like to share with you some selling traps or tricks commonly employed to attract your attention, get you to commit, and then leave you in a lurch after a disastrous outcome. Of course, we will also tell you how you can avoid them.

When you send your inquiry to different translation companies and receive several quotations, did you notice that there will always be this one company that can provide you with a quote that is half or less than half of what most reputable companies can offer?

Is it a case of "The Cheaper, the better"?

Your first reaction would be that you are so lucky to have found such a cheap supplier. Not only can you meet your budget and cost, but you can also impress your boss as you help your company maintain a decent profit margin.

But is it really so?

If you have been doing business for quite some time now, you will know that there are many alternatives for cheaper resources available in the world.

With e-commerce and the internet, the world is your oyster. If you have the patience and good research skills, you will most likely be able to find many alternatives.

But alternatives are but alternatives. Sometimes, they work. Most of the time, they are, at best, good substitutes. But they are never a good replacement.

Isn't it the same for services like Translation?

Quality takes time. Time means money.

It is the case for many things, and definitely, it is the case for Translation.

A good translation must be performed by professional translators with good qualifications or years of subject matter experience. For the latter, this must also be coupled with a strong foundation and a passion for languages.

Good and authentic Translation must be done by native speakers who are most familiar with local slang and the latest terminologies used.

Even with the two criteria above fulfilled, for a translation to be rid of any critical error and fit its purpose, it must be put through an editing phase, followed by a proofreading phase. Ideally, a review must be done, but realistically, this may not be possible due to many reasons, time being a crucial one.

Even with all Quality Assurance process in place, translations are subject to ambiguous expectations and stylistic criticism, making it almost impossible to ascertain the true quality of the translated materials. Of course, that is one whole discussion by itself.

For now, we are discussing how some companies can charge cheaply for translation services.

How does a typical translation company manage their translation workflow?

In Singapore, and we are quite sure it is the same case in many other countries, one of the ways to keep one's translation cost low is to seek the cheapest resource available to handle the Translation.

Logical. Low cost means higher profit. But at what expense? What type of low-cost resources are we talking about here?

We know that keeping a stable of full-time professional translators and editors in-house, especially in Singapore, is not sustainable.

If the company do not have enough work, these internal linguists will be sitting idle. But they must still be paid monthly.

If they have a sudden surge of translation work to do, they are faced with the reality that each linguist can only manage a limited amount of daily output. Once this internal capacity is maxed out, this additional work must be distributed to external parties, thereby pushing up variable costs.

Fixed costs + Variable costs. You do the math.

If the translation company chooses to work only with external professional linguists, they will not have fixed monthly costs to bear, but their variable costs can be extremely high. Working for external parties also means that the company is at the mercy of its freelancers. These freelancers are not obliged to work with the company. They can choose to work on translation jobs that pay them higher rates or allow them a longer turnaround time.

It seems like a no-win situation.

So how do these translation companies manage to sell at such a low price?

When there's a will, there's a way. When there is demand, there will always be suppliers.

The keyword here is CHEAPEST RESOURCES.

For example, the client requested Translation from English into Chinese for the local Singapore market. Instead of getting a local linguist, which will be more expensive, to perform the translation task, this job may be sent to someone in China who is willing to do it at a very low price.

The one performing the Translation can be a freelancer or a local translation company based in China. In some cases, the translation job might even be sent to other lower-cost countries like India.

To offer extremely low costs, these translation suppliers, in turn, are most likely not working with professional translators. This, again, warrants a whole different discussion that will not be dealt with in this session.

To begin with, the qualification of the translation resources is dubious. Coupled with a non-existence Quality Assurance process, even if the Translation is of acceptable quality, it may not be suited for the local market. Local terms, local slang, local language usage would all be missing. It is not fit for its purpose.

Thus, a notoriously famous error of the local Hungry Ghost Festival being translated and the Hungarian Ghost Festival (匈牙利鬼节). What has Hungary got to do with Singapore?

How about our Chinatown being translated as 中国城 instead of 牛车水?

Really? No checking of context?

Still not convinced. Here's another example for you.

This time a document is to be translated from Simplified Chinese into English. Yet again, a cheaper resource either in China or somewhere else is used.

We know how notoriously Chinglish some translated text can get if it is not edited properly. Thus, you end up with a "make-do" translation that would make no sense to native English speakers. A case in point; have you read some of the User Guides for products made in China?

We rest our case.

Lest you think that we are of the opinion that there are no qualified resources available in China or anywhere else, we would like to state for a fact that there are many good and competent resources out there. In fact, we are partners with some of the best in the industry. But they do come with a price.

The moral of the story is that if you are going to be buying Translation and the price offered to you is too good to be true, most likely it is not true.

If the price is so important to you, then you will have to accept the risk that comes with low-cost Translation. You may say that it is fine and can "make-do" with it but do think about the repercussions it will have on your brand, your service, your products, and your company's reputation.

It may not be worth the while.

How to choose a professional translation company?

Before you say yes to accepting a lowly priced quotation, do some homework.

Check on the history of the translation company. How long have they been around? If they can stand the test of time, they are more likely to produce more trustworthy translation work.

Check on their track record. Ask for similar companies they have worked with.

Ask for their processes and the standards they adhered to. Check if they have a recognised global standard like ISO 17100, which is meant to control translation processes.

Ask for references if possible. Due to confidentiality agreement, this information might not be easily obtained.

Check if they have Professional Indemnity Insurance. This is not a mandatory requirement in Singapore but having such insurance coverage shows the professionalism level of the translation company.

Don't be lazy. Make a trip to their offices to see if they are an actual outfit or a one-man operation operating from a home address.

These will help you reduce the chances of getting yourself "tongue-tight".

If you are still not convinced, even Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of Singapore, famously said: "If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys."

 Now, how can he be wrong?

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