Top 100 Language Service Providers 2012. Have you worked for them?

— 26 Comments

Playing in the major league of the translation business may require that you be part of a major league team. Common Sense Advisory, a US-based research company, published earlier this summer its annual report on the global translation market, that includes a ranking of the top businesses in the language service industry.

Here’s what I would like to know: have you partnered with some of them? Would you like to help the translators’ community understand what it feels and looks like to work with a major industry player? That could help some of your peers make an informed decision when trying to approach a top-level company. Please drop a comment if you would like to contribute.

So let’s get started by taking a look at the companies that made it in the top 25, based on their revenue. Don’t forget to comment.

(*For the complete top 100 list click here)

Company HQ Country 2011  Revenue  in US$M Employees Offices Status
1 Mission Essential Personnel US $725.50 8,300 20 Private
2 Lionbridge Technologies US $427.86 4,500 45 Public
3 HP ACG FR $418.00 4,200 15 Public
4 TransPerfect / Translations.com US $300.60 1,763 74 Private
5 SDL UK $282.85 2,700 70 Public
6 STAR Group CH $148.00 890 43 Private
7 euroscript International S.A. LU $133.71 1,400 27 Private
8 ManpowerGroup US $113.00 350 11 Public
9 RWS Holdings PLC UK $105.06 529 10 Public
10 Welocalize, Inc. US $82.20 615 12 Private
11 CLS Communication CH $81.52 550 19 Private
12 Honyaku Center Inc. JP $70.14 254 5 Public
13 thebigword Group UK $65.12 440 9 Private
14 Yamagata Intech Corporation JP $60.42 800 15 Private
15 Semantix SE $56.46 240 13 Private
16 Logos Group IT $51.75 200 7 Private
17 Moravia Worldwide CZ $44.30 469 8 Private
18 Cyracom International, Inc. US $43.74 692 4 Private
19 hiSoft Technology International Ltd. CN $40.80 1,020 21 Public
20 ONCALL Language Services Pty Ltd AU $36.39 92 5 Private
21 Hogarth Worldwide UK $36.10 350 7 Private
22 Pacific Interpreters US $35.15 400 5 Private
23 Crestec, Inc. JP $33.62 2,000 26 Private
24 Merrill Brink International US $32.00 100 4 Private
25 AAC Global FI $30.40 432 13 Public

Source: Common Sense Advisory

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Cristian Sălăjan

I am a freelance translator and blogger from multicultural Transylvania. Father of one, two three, husband of one, friend to few. Privately, I've also been interested in/fascinated by topics like web design, theology, probability theory, Christian apologetics, cosmology, quantum mechanics, entrepreneurship and parenting.

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26 responses to Top 100 Language Service Providers 2012. Have you worked for them?

  1. Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Hi Cristian!

    This report is very interesting. I have not worked for one of these agencies yet (I guess, because some have very similar names; for instance, I worked for an agency called Global, located in North America).

    Do you know how they compile the data? Which are the basis to get to this result? Do they take into account their clients, the quantity, the quality, their offices worldwide, the number of translators who work for them, or other factors?

    Regards!
    Melisa

    • Cristian Sălăjan August 14, 2012 at 12:18 pm

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      Hi Melisa, and thanks for dropping by! As pointed out in the article, this ranking is based on revenue. Apparently, as one can notice from their data, they also collect information regarding number of clients, offices and so on. However, the information available publicly, for free, is limited, and the complete report is, well… a bit expensive. Maybe there’s somebody else out there who can answer your question?

  2. Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

    Dear Cristian,

    I have never worked for them, and would certainly never work for most of them as they are very well known in the industry for the miserable rates they pay. I would say that most of them belong to the League of Bad Payers, which is not something to be praised.

    Kind regards,

    Au

    • Cristian Sălăjan August 16, 2012 at 11:48 am

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      This makes me think about the suggestion somebody had to have a website where translators can anonymously rank agencies according to the rates they pay.

  3. Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

    Hi Cristian,

    Interesting subject, but we must be careful to remember that ‘biggest’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘best’. It is often the smaller agencies that have the best reputation among translators and are the most satisfying to work for.

    Best regards,
    Oliver

    • Cristian Sălăjan August 16, 2012 at 10:16 am

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      Oliver, I generally agree with your comments. I think smaller agencies have a better reputation among translators for the reasons you mentioned. However I wonder how bigger clients feel about working with big agencies. Do you think they are likely to prefer working with a large agency that goes through painstaking bureaucracy to ensure quality?

      • Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

        A reason that larger organisations have more bureaucracy is to control the complexities inherent in their size. I don’t see that larger LSPs necessarily provide better quality (partly because, indeed, many of the best translators choose not to work for them).

        What a large LSP can offer a big client is the ability to translate into multiple languages; clearly, the convenience of a one-stop shop can be attractive.

  4. Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    In my experience, the top players are the worst payers. In the UK, The Bigword (no. 13) is a well-known peanut payer.

  5. Ioannis (Yanni) I. Zervoudakis August 17, 2012 at 3:41 pm

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    Where is Proz.com? Does it go by another name, too? I do have some comments to make about them and, till now, I was under the (false?) impression that they were the largest/biggest?

    And what about TransPerfect? They were having blacklist issues with the former. They rank 4 but are they reliable? because I had some issues with them, mainly attitude ones.

    Finally, the big one. This ranking was based on just revenues, employees and no. of offices. It should have definitely included GOOD STANDING among professional translators as no. 1 criterion.

    • Cristian Sălăjan August 17, 2012 at 4:39 pm

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      Hello Ioannis. For Proz.com, please read this article carefully.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ProZ.com

      The ranking must take into account available, measurable data. We are all waiting for a ranking that will take into account both supplier (translators) satisfaction and customer satisfaction.

      Note: All comments must be first approved in order to avoid spam and off-topic comments.

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      ProZ is a translation marketplace/community; it’s not a language service provider or a translation company.

    • Soizic CiFuentes August 9, 2013 at 7:38 pm

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      Proz is not an agency at all. It is a large community of translators.

  6. Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

    One of the reasons why (some) of these companies are at the top of the list by revenue is that they make a huge profit by paying traslators low rates.

  7. Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

    First, the good:

    CLS Communications: I have done more than 17K in sales for CLS. They pay good rates on time, and are professional. Judging from the settlement amounts of legal cases I translate, they attract customers who can pay for quality.

    Languagerwire: I have done a few jobs for Languagewire; they are well-organized, but I haven’t done enough work to make an assessment.

    Language Services Associates: Focuses on large interpreting contracts. I worked telephone interpreting for them a number of years ago, but stopped for three reasons; I was only paid for the exact time used, resulting in a check for $11.12, for example; the calls were very disruptive to my other business; and the conditions (rooms with high ceilings producing echoes, mumbling respondents trying to avoid deportation) made it difficult to provide a quality service. I have recently performed some face-to-face interpreting and their payment practice has been excellent.

    Languageworks: They try to push for a lower rate, but were willing to come to me when the quality of their first choice, a native Arabic speaker for Arabic-English translation, fell short . . far short. Rachel is very easy to work with and responsive on payment issues.

    HL TRAD: Decent rates, pay on time, professional PMs, nice to work with.

    The Bad:

    Transperfect: Aside from the encyclopedia of bad responses on TCR, etc. My experience at the 2011 ATA Conference is telling. A former Transperfect PM was giving a presentation on the translation work process, and had the standard tone to get new translators “in line.” When she stated that they first agree on a quote with the customer, then line up translators, I asked why don’t they first establish a rate with the translator, then determine their cut, then give a quote . . . When it was made obvious that the “not in our budget tactic” was to force translators to take their low rate without negotiation, I responded “So what you are really saying is that a translator who knows their worth should “move on” from Transperfect?” She admitted that some translators “graduate” from working with Transperfect. So if you are new to the industry and will take whatever rate they give in order to get work, or you are a poor translator and you know it, so you can’t negotiate, then Transperfect is perfect.

    Applied Language Solutions: I did a test to get a UN contract for ALS a number of years ago. They were subsequently listed as a UN vendor, but never came back to me for the actual work. My assessment is they found translators with “more appropriate” rates. They posted my invoice to the test to their website, but reduced the word count to make it appear that they paid .23USD per word, when the true rate was considerably lower. From other blogs, ALS won a big government interpreting contract in the UK, then proceeded to slash the rates for their interpreters. If you are a Yank, ALS is trash; if you’re a Brit, they’re rubbish. Either way, they need to be hauled away on a truck. Do not work for ALS.

    Adhesion Contracts: These are agencies that force freelancers to sign adhesion contracts, See http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/contract+of+adhesion. As applied to the translation industry, adhesion contacts are take-it-or-leave-it forms that contain some or all of the following:
    Gross restrictions on the freelancer’s ability to engage in free trade by prohibiting contact with direct clients. While some protection is reasonable to prevent the freelancer from cutting the agency out in the context of a particular assignment, these contracts prevent any contact with any direct client, either for unreasonable periods or indefinitely. In effect, the agency eliminates you as a competitor and gains all the advantages of having an employee without having to guarantee income.
    Indemnification. The agency wants you to bear all the risks of error, even though they had control of the translation between your delivery to them and their delivery to the client. Part of their cut is taking the risk and exercising due diligence in selecting you for the translation.
    CAT discounts. The agency wants to reap all the benefits of using CAT tools, even though they didn’t pay for the software or your time in learning to operate it and time spent dealing with all the inevitable technical challenges that come up.
    Jurisdiction. You have to go to Timbuktu if they shaft you.
    No-interference clause. In other words, the agency is in a perfect position to fabricate as they please, and the freelancer has no way to verify the agency’s suspect statements. This is an absolute red flag for me. Personal experience speaking here.
    (Help me out if there are more!)

    I make a habit of crossing out or amending offensive clauses, then give the agency the opportunity to respond. Some either adjust, or we go our separate ways. You would be surprised to know how many will adjust IF YOU HOLD YOUR GROUND.

    Of the agencies on the list, I had to sever my relationship with:
    Global Language Solutions
    thebigword Group

    after they initiated adhesion contracts, and any relationship with Merrill Brink was aborted for the same reason.

    The bottom line: being a big player is not an absolute guarantee of being a bad player. However, big players are more likely to treat you like a serf regarding the translator’s contract. If all quality translators hold their ground on signing adhesion contracts, either the agencies will adjust or direct clients will realize the only way to get a quality job is through a freelancer.

    • Cristian Sălăjan August 20, 2012 at 8:47 am

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      A warm welcome, Bill. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this great comment. For a moment there I thought we would have to conclude that translators are generally dissatisfied with working for top agencies. While it’s true that this article has attracted quite a lot of criticisms towards some of the larger agencies, I do feel your input is bringing some balance to the discussion. After listening to dozens of experiences over the past week, my feeling is that bad experiences tend to stay with us for longer, and we may take some good experiences for granted, as we consider them to be the norm (rightly so). Since I have almost no experience working for the top 100, I found your comment very useful, and I’m sure anyone else reading it will agree.

  8. Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

    There are good large agencies as there are bad smaller agencies. I think that reducing the discussion to generalized conclusion is inaccurate. However, from my experience, I agree that the impression that larger agencies are more often than not characterized by the traits that are described above is founded. While the rates issue could be argued because different professionals charge differently, the other issues are more objective and indisputable.
    From my experience, agencies (larger and smaller) that are characterized by such behavior don’t care about quality. They are, more or less, looking for independent translators with “slave mentality” (with lack of better term; or those with low personal or professional self-esteem) those who accept every term and condition, let other dictate their rates, deadlines and work conditions, and will, in general, get in line and not cause any “problems”.
    I strongly advise not to work for such agencies, regardless of their size.

    From conversations with some potential and existing direct client, many of them are discontent from the service they get from some agencies. These clients do value quality and are looking to get quality (although their definition of it is a bit different). It seems to them as if no matter how much money they pay to a “well respected” agency, they get the same low to mediocre product in return. They do value quality and willing to pay for it, but somewhere down the supply chain it seems as is someone is ignoring their needs and requirements. I think that we, as translators should stress the aspect of value, professionalism and quality that we bring to the table. This is not about cutting out the middleman (although in many cases the middleman doesn’t offer the client with much professional value), we ourselves sometimes depend on the middleman, it is about presenting the importance of our profession, the complexity of it and choosing to work only with those client (direct or agencies) who respect us. When dealing with agencies it is even more important. While direct clients don’t know much are not not expected to know much about our profession and need some education before it could be determined if there is some potential working with them, agencies are part of the industry, and a good advice I once got is “never work with someone who doesn’t respect themselves, their own line or work or profession”.
    In times of financial turmoil, people are more aware to value. They look to get as much value as they can from every investment they make. I think that by not collaborating with agencies with questionable practices and stirring the conversation towards value we can start a small shift into more of personal service. People in the world are slowly starting to resent huge corporations and their generic products and services. For example, big-box stores, you can find a lot of items there, and usually on the cheap (and even more usually, you get what you paid for), but whenever you need a professional advice you have better change going to your local hardware store or professional even if it costs a little more. Slowly, people are starting to realize that everything comes with a price, and in the business environment professionalism, knowledge, and personal relationships with a professional service provider are sometimes invaluable. Therefore I think that we need to talk more about cost-effectiveness – putting the subject of rates, which is always an issue, in a professional context – showing the client that comparing translation services just on the basis of rates is ignoring some important merits sich as the service quality, experience, knowledge and professionalism of the service provider which significantly impact the value. Therefore the clients are better of searching for the best value (as they define it) rather then the cheapest (out of the assumption that translation is a commodity), most expensive (because some confuse most expensive with the best, as if paying a lot is some kind of guarantee of quality) or the “biggest” service provider.

  9. Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Interesting article and comments; it was a pleasure reading them. What would also be interesting I think is to make a poll or study on the agencies selling prices on one hand and the percentage freelancers get from the agencies selling prices on the other hand.

  10. Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

    I’ve been working for the SDL (#5) and thebigword (#13) for years and have been fairly happy with them. While it is true that they ask for discounts and try to negotiate lower rates (so you would almost always get a better rate from a direct client), there are still a few benefits working for such big players:
    – large end clients (government organisations, various international corporations) tend to prefer working with big translation agencies on their multi-lingual localisation projects; so you get a peak at what’s currently happening in the world of technology, pharmaceuticals, etc. and keep up-to-date for your private projects in the future;
    – easy payment arrangements; since these agencies have dedicated accounting departments (and they often have their own online systems allowing you to track your purchase orders and invoices online) I’ve never had to chase them for payments, and submitting invoices is a quick and straight-forward process. Payments are always processed in a timely manner and you often know exactly when to expect the next payment, which makes budgeting for your business expenses easy;
    – I disagree with the statement that large agencies don’t care about the quality. In my experience, they almost always employ proofreaders/editors for extra quality assurance (I’ve been both a translator and a proofreader for both agencies), which creates more work for language professionals. The hourly rate for proofreading and linguistic checks can work out to be even better than a translation rate;
    – I find that the deadlines I’m given by large agencies are normally much more reasonable than the ones requested by small agencies and online (‘rapid translation’) services. It lets me work at my own pace and plan for days/weeks ahead;
    – I’ve been lucky to work with considerate and very polite project managers, who respond quickly to resolve any issues;
    – finally, I like a sense of stability that working for a big agency provides. Of course, you aren’t guaranteed any specific amount of work in any single month, but overall I find that big projects come my way often enough, and I’m not sure I would be able to secure them that often from direct clients, especially when I was just starting out in the translation business. I would definitely recommend the beginners to try and get on the big agencies’ databases, as it could give a very valuable experience and introduce them to good professional standards of translation business.
    Kristian, I hope my experience has helped you to get a slightly more balanced view on the subject! :)

    • Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      Implementing my proofreading practice, I haste to correct my own typo, Cristian! :) My only excuse for making one in the first place is that it’s past midnight and I’m a bit tired after a long working day…

    • Cristian Sălăjan August 23, 2012 at 7:09 am

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      Thanks for weighing in, Violet. Indeed, your experience shed some more light on the topic. It’s always good to hear comments from people who’ve had relevant experience. Your contribution to the topic certainly has helped me, and I think there are loads of other readers who will find it useful. I’m thinking of finding a way to add comment rating functionality to my blog. So come back soon. :)

  11. Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    Hello all, great blog by the way! After having managed a translation agency for 4 years and now successfully running one for almost 2 years…the overwhelming consensus from LSPs we have worked with, whether other agencies or freelancers, is that they will take orders from smaller to mid-size agencies any day over the ‘bigger’ agencies (unless they are midway through a project of course).
    The typical dynamic we observe is that LSPs fill in their lulls in work with ‘big’ agency orders, but are painfully relieved when those ‘big’ agency orders are complete…sometime they even become ill from the stress imposed upon them.
    I can only speak for TransGlocal.org, but we realize humans are human and merit respect and good treatment independent of the circumstances. All of us have feelings, families, etc and our work should be valued, rather than trashed. We have in-house teams set up to proof and fix errors, which true, affects our margin, but keeps the process fluid and people happy, instead of teams that are dedicated to being sticklers pretending to own languages and the usage of written communications.
    If errors can be pointed out, they can obviously be fixed during that same process, but often times these reviews are simply motivated to pay the LSP less rather than empowering a team to deliver a better product (team building). When a translator sees that the same efforts that can be made to trash their work (in some cases it seems as though big agencies want mistakes and want to wear you down, or even claim mistakes that truly aren’t) are used to improve their translation skills, it relieves and makes them feel professional again, to where they see they are helping build rather than be broken down.
    For all of you hard workers out there who conduct your business ethically, please don’t allow some of the bad practices that have burnt you make you adopt them or change your view of the industry, or even throw in the towel. There are many GREAT people in the industry and are being discovered slowly but surely!!!!!!! PROMISE

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