Cheap, Fast or Good—How to Pick the Two That Are Best for You

By Matt Baird

Matt Baird-fast or good

Would you expect someone to give you all the time in the world to deliver an average product, while letting you charge as much as you want for it? Sounds absurd, right? This scenario is just as pie in the sky as getting something cheap, fast and good. Rarely, if ever, do you get all three

The Trilemma

Known by many names, such as “the triple constraint” or “the business triangle,” the general rule is that you can have it cheap, fast or good, but you can’t have all three. Yet picking only two is a choice most don’t want to make.

Here’s a simple example: Adam wanted to buy an ultra—HD TV in time for the Super Bowl. He didn’t need top—of—the—line, but was determined to go big and wanted the best bang for his buck. Unfortunately, he waited until two weeks before the big game and found that the great deal he’d been eyeing was on back order. He couldn’t get it in time and was left with three choices:

To get it reasonably cheap, fast and good, you’ll need to decide how much of each you’re willing to give up. Click To Tweet
  1. Order an in—stock, lower quality TV (fast and cheap)
  2. Order a comparable in—stock TV that wasn’t on sale (fast and good)
  3. Wait for his dream TV to be available (good and cheap)

Although purchasing a TV is worlds apart from running a marketing campaign, designing a website, or buying a service, the trilemma is still the same. And whether you’re a Fortune 500 company, a tech—savvy startup, or a local mom—and—pop store, the cheap, fast or good rule holds true for everyone.

So how do you pick the right two? Adam had to choose what was most important to him—what he valued most: price, quality or speed. Here are some things to consider to help you make the right choices.

Do Your Homework

If price is a priority, then preparation is key. By planning as far ahead as possible and building in a lot of lead time, you’ll be in a better position to bargain with vendors. Early preparation also allows you to develop a clear picture of your goals and communicate them. The better they understand what you want, the better they’ll be able to deliver.

Say, for example, you’re building a new website to coincide with a product launch. You want to go live simultaneously in English and Spanish, but you spent all your energy on the English site and didn’t leave sufficient time for the translation. This often leads to one of two outcomes: high cost or low quality.

Doing your homework also means understanding each step in the process. Make sure you’re working with professionals who are experts in their field. The last thing you want is to find out that the vendor tasked with translating your website is outsourcing to an inexperienced translator.

Don’t DIY

The internet is full of people proclaiming that you can have your cake and eat it too, that you can get it cheap, fast and good . . . if you just do it yourself. In the end, you’ll often find that the time you spent trying to be something you’re not could have been devoted to developing your core business.

Others offer tempting yet misleading ways to get services for free. Sticking with the website scenario, automated translation apps and plug—ins are a perfect example. You might think you can simply plug in your copy and translate your website in minutes. And you can. But will it be good? Machine translation is far from cracking the code of human language and all of its nuances. The Spanish speakers who land on your website won’t be impressed, let alone stick around very long.

Bend The Triangle

The trilemma isn’t always a zero—sum game. You can bend the business triangle, but only within reason. Being smart in one area can often pay dividends in others. If you’ve planned very carefully in advance, you can save your vendor time and get what you need while keeping costs down. Also, less expensive doesn’t automatically equal cheap. Perhaps you can find a quality product with fewer bells and whistles—less good, so to speak, than more expensive counterparts.

The caveat here is “within reason.” To get it reasonably cheap, fast and good, you’ll need to decide how much of each you’re willing to give up.

It’s About Value

You’ve likely heard the old saying: “You get what you pay for.” But that only tells half the story. The trick is not to think in terms of price but instead in terms of value. Ask yourself: Is it mission critical or simply nice to have? Will fast and cheap end up doing more damage than good? Most of the time, you are going to sacrifice quality unless you come to the table with a lot of time or a lot of money. But maybe that’s okay—maybe you’ll still end up with the added value you need.

You really can’t have it all. But if you treat the trilemma as question of value, you’ll be able to focus on the two aspects of it that are right for you.

Matt Baird is a professional German—to—English translator and copywriter specializing in marketing and communications. He also serves as a speaker for the American Translators Association, which represents over 10,000 translators and interpreters across 100 countries. Along with advancing the translation and interpreting professions, ATA promotes the education and development of language services providers and consumers alike. For more information on ATA or translation and interpreting professionals, please visit www.atanet.org