• Gustavo Bernardino

So the core business of a translation agency is NOT translation? Nonsense, it actually is!

There is this talk going around in the market - and it was postulated in the book “The General Theory of Translation”, written by Renato Beninatto and Tucker Johnson - that the core business of a translation company is NOT translation itself, but rather project management, vendor management, and sales. It is really a good introductory book, I'll give you that, although I disagree with this notion that our services are not about translation. It looks like it all comes from a great hype due to the changes in the sector. We tend to think that translation companies are quasi agencies, which is not the case.

A job agency has one singular function: to bridge the employer (the person who wants to hire) with the employee (the person that wants to work). The job agency does not buy the service of a person and then sells it to a buyer afterwards, but instead evaluates the candidates to see if they are fit for the necessities of the employer and then matches both parties. They bridge a communication gap in the market. In this case, it is possible to say that “jobs” are not the core product of the job agency, but that they are actually selling people management.

In reality, a translation company does not merely connects the clients to the translators. When a client contacts a translation company she is not asking for the fittest translators but rather the translation itself. That means that a translation company buys the translation – as if buying a raw material to create a product –, adds value to it and then sells it again. The translation company is not only bridging a gap in communication nor only managing projects and people; it is actually buying and selling translation. Another aspect that proves our point is that some companies hire in-house translators which receive salaries. Well, a job agency does not hire a truck driver that will work for a lot of different companies, it will only match the driver and the company that needs him and then it is done, fair and square. A translation company hires an in-house translator and therefore owns the translation being sold. The translation company is translating! And there was no bridging activity, but direct service sales.

One could argue that a translation company does not sell translation - because it pays the translators only when the project is done - therefore, it is only bridging the communication gap and managing the relationship between translators and clients, as an agency does. This is also a false argument. When the translators agree to take part in a project, they are selling their services, but postponing the settlement of the transaction. The company is buying their service on credit, adding value to it and then selling it again. A travels’ agency simply commits to find the most fitted travel for the client, just as the job agency commits to find the most fitted employee for the employer. We, translation companies, do not commit to find the best possible translator, but to deliver translations.

What causes this confusion is that translation is an entirely demand-oriented sector, and we only buy and sell translation when there is a concrete demand for it. Due to this quickness and on-spot action, we end up perceiving that we are not dealing in translation but just managing offer and demand for a service.

This might look like a petty or irrelevant discussion, but this wrong “taxonomy” might cause confusion in management and therefore needs to be rectified. This wrong premise might lead to the thought that improvement in management is the unique necessity of a LSP, but the truth is that we need improvement in the translation itself. However, we agree that most of the translation agency job is actually adding value through key management services, but many of management functions must be considered as overhead expenditures that must be either cut or lowered since they are not the essential product of the company.

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