Hiring your first localization vendor

A friend of mine recently asked on Facebook if anyone could recommend a localization company. We exchanged a couple of messages, and I ended up writing a rather long email to her because I simply could not stop 🙂 (How often do you get to preach to your clients, with their undivided attention?) My friend wrote that it was “incredibly helpful” – so I slightly changed that email and turned it into a blog post, with a hope that it could help other people and companies who are just getting started with localization.

Here is a brief list of things to keep in mind when you are looking for a localization vendor/language service provider:

  1. Samples: send as much actual/sample content as you can. Describing the content (“a newsletter for our premium customers”, “SaaS for travel industry”, etc.) does not give a potential vendor the full picture – they need to actually see the content in order to determine how much code there is (in the software), how specialized it is, and what the subject matter is. If you don’t have the actual content, send drafts or the closest similar thing that you have. You don’t have to share all of it, but make sure that whatever you share is representative. Also, if you already have some translations into that language, or sample target content, share it.
  2. Word counts: a vendor will typically quote based on the number of translatable words. (Since 25 pages can mean 2,500 words or 25,000 words, it makes a big difference for them.) So try to include at least approximate word counts (both for the first release and subsequent updates).
  3. Turnaround times: a lot of clients new to localization tend to underestimate how much time it takes to turn a job around. With time, when you work things out with the vendor, you will certainly gain some efficiencies, but try to get an estimate from the vendor before you commit anything to the management. Also, it is always a good idea to have a buffer in your schedule (the due date you tell the vendor + couple of days = the date you promise to your product manager) – it allows for any contingencies, such as an issue on the vendor side, or resolving any questions or concerns on your side.
For a relatively simple project (for example, twenty HTML files to be translated into two or three languages), a one-page request for a quote might be enough. Something along the lines of (customize the template as suits your need):

We are selecting a localization provider and looking for quotes for web content localization from English into Canadian French and (in the future) Mexican Spanish, with subsequent updates. Please return your proposal within 10 days.

Sample source and target content is attached (or can be downloaded from our FTP server).

Word count: 15,000 (translatable) words
Files: 25 files
File format: HTML/JavaScript/etc
Subject: travel industry

Project update cycle: every 2 weeks, starting in March after the main product has been localized (planning for 18 updates in 2010). In a typical update, about 20% of the content will be updated and 10% will be new. Envisioned update process:

Day 1: files are handed off to vendor
Day 8: updated localized files are returned
Day 11: review comments made/translation sign-off
Day 14: final files are delivered from the vendor and put into product release

Review process: our in-country sales will review and sign off on all localized content.

As for picking the provider, you will need to consider the price (nobody’s budget is limitless) but perhaps more importantly, the professionalism and customer service – if the vendor is responsive to your needs, questions, and concerns. With many translations possibly involved with every account (and every project), a large portion of the success will be based on the strength of company processes, rather than on an individual translator’s skills.

I am not covering TM basics, glossaries, style guides, etc, to keep things simple, but a good vendor would bring them up. Also, a large part of localization success depends on the client (you) – how well you can get your needs across and how well you set the boundaries. A typical mistake of clients who are new to localization is to endlessly change the translation, put people in charge of approving translation who are not native speakers/not target audience/try to re-create the content (change the original English meaning). In short, think ahead about who will be responsible for evaluating translation quality and answering questions (good translators usually ask questions), and talk it through with the vendor before you start localization.

Of course, the above is a very simplified overview.  There is a lot more to the art and science of localization! There are some ideas to get started:

I would love to have your feedback on this. Do you agree or disagree? Any topics that you would like to hear more about? Comment away, ask me on twitter (I am @jenialaszlo) or send me an email to jenia.laszlo@gmail.com.

2 thoughts on “Hiring your first localization vendor

  1. Hi Jenia, That is a great post. I am always very impressed when I encounter a savvy project manager that has the keen ability to extract the complete project brief from frantic clients. Clients are often under extreme pressure and might not have the time or specific knowledge to sit down and document a thorough brief. You outlined just about everything a good project brief should contain.

  2. Jenia Laszlo says:

    Brenda, thank you for the kind words… In the end, clients’ priorities and interests can be on “getting things done quickly”, and it’s the project manager’s job to meet them where they are, and to provide the best service, even if the information and depth of detail is not there. But from the project manager’s perspective, I’ve always gone an extra mile for a client who pays attention to the vendor’s recommendations – and I’m guessing it’s true for many other PMs.

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