Buying translations

Signed, sealed, delivered: agreements with translation agencies

Agreements with LSPs

Sensible, well-thought-out framework agreements make working with a translation agency every day much clearer and simpler. The more you plan ahead, the less frustration you’ll have to deal with later. Here’s some advice and top tips from our experience to help you create framework agreements that actually give you added value, rather than documents that simply lie forgotten gathering dust in a filing cabinet.*

When the time comes to create a new framework agreement with a translation service provider, it’s usually only the lawyers rubbing their hands with glee – many people find it a real challenge to get their heads round all the issues involved in legal agreements for translation services. But it’s important to have clearly defined rules and procedures written down to avoid problems with delivery of translation services down the line.

An agreement that covers everything

The best case scenario is an agreement which covers all requirements and eventualities. So it’s a good idea to think things through carefully, so that you have a clear idea in your mind of what exactly you want, need and expect. Issues like the following should all be in the agreement:

  • Loss or damage: Is the translation agency insured, and if so what is it insured up to, and what does the insurance cover?
  • Errors: What is considered an error? Who decides? And what happens then?
  • Privacy and confidentiality obligations: How are they met?
  • Commitment: Duration of agreement, automatic extension – yes or no?
  • Property rights: Who owns the translation memories and term bases? (Top tip: make sure you own the rights to them)
  • Subcontractors (i.e. the freelance translators): Establish the terms for assigning projects to freelance translators. Key issues include confidentiality requirements, the selection criteria, and whether their names need to be known. A non-solicitation clause may be a good idea.
  • Right of withdrawal and cancellation conditions: How should changes in ongoing projects be handled? What happens if the agency doesn’t deliver on time?
  • Adherence to instructions: What happens if specific instructions for a project are not followed?
  • Framework agreement vs. single order: What takes precedence: the single order or the framework agreement? The former gives you more flexibility.
  • Review period: Should there be a review period, in order to make adjustments to the agreement if required?

The more precisely the clauses in the contract are laid out, the easier it is to exercise your rights when push comes to shove.

Prices and discounts

Another key aspect of the framework agreement is the pricing, which should always be specified according to clearly defined service levels (what exactly is included in the price). This varies from agency to agency, which means comparing quotes can be difficult.

  • How prices are calculated: Price per word vs. price by line, source text vs. target text
  • Flat rates: What is included in the price per word/line, and are additional rates charged for other services, e.g. project management fees, minimum rates for small projects, express supplements, extra charges for complex files etc.?
  • Other services: Does the agency offer services other than just translation, and how do they charge for them?
  • CAT grids: A separate CAT grid should be created for each service (human translation, review, machine translation with full post-editing etc.)
  • Bulk discounts: Are there any, and are they specified in detail?
  • File preparation: Who is responsible for preparing files for translation? Which file formats will need to be processed?
  • Review: Are reviews required, and if so will the whole text be checked or just random sections?
  • Quality assurance: What does this entail?
  • Post-translation procedures: Is desktop publishing required? Who is responsible for maintaining resources? Are stylistic changes included?

Machine translation – yes or no?

Machine translation (MT) is playing a bigger and bigger role in translation services, so whether MT should be used for your texts is another issue that needs to be established in the framework agreement. This applies regardless of whether your company has decided that MT must not be used (if so, how will the agency ensure it isn’t used, and what are the consequences if it is?) or whether you’re interested in exploiting the potential of this technology. If you wish to use MT, then the conditions need to be specified, including the possible languages, the software used, the pricing, the level of post-editing (full or light) and the types of texts. This matters, because not all types of texts and languages are suitable for MT – in these cases you should formally agree that a human translation is required in order to produce high-quality translations. If you then also stipulate that the agency must always justify these decisions, your in-house documentation staff can learn how to make your texts suitable for MT in future.

Discuss it as a team

For many companies, framework agreements are handled by the purchasing department. But that team usually doesn’t have much expertise when it comes to the needs of their colleagues in the technical documentation or in-house translation departments, so it’s understandable that they might find it difficult to factor in everything that should be in the agreement. When drawing up a framework agreement, everyone responsible for producing translations should be involved – they know best what they need and which agreements will benefit the company. And don’t be shy about asking the translation agency for their advice on what the right options are for both parties and which services would involve no additional costs. This will give you maximum bang for your buck and help you avoid paying for things you don’t really need.

The time factor

Ideally, these discussions will take place before you begin working with a translation agency. It can take up to three months, and in some cases even longer, to wrap up a framework agreement – the better you know what you need, the quicker the process will be.

But even if you’ve been working with a translation partner for many years, it’s worth having these discussions: they can make things much clearer for both parties and make everyone’s work easier. Clarifying the situation, making sure everyone knows what the other party is expecting, and agreeing on the procedures to follow will go a long way towards ensuring a satisfactory and successful working relationship for everyone involved.

So get your framework agreement back out of the (digital) drawer and check whether it meets your current requirements. If so, great! If not, it’s worth rewriting. You can use our straightforward checklist to determine whether you’ve thought of everything.

CTA Checklist agreements with LSPs

Main image: © Storyblocks

*This article has not been written by or for legal experts and does not claim to be comprehensive. It has been written based on practical experience to help companies with their everyday translation needs.