In many companies, a localization or translation coordinator is selected from among the ranks of existing personnel, such as a documentation manager, a trainer or a software developer. Often, this newly-appointed coordinator is not only unfamiliar with the business of localization, but she or he is also surprised (if not dismayed) by the unexpected appointment.
Here are some tips intended to assist the new coordinator in the qualification of localization service providers (LSPs) and how to get the most value from the relationship with the selected LSP or LSPs. While the smoothest localization projects always begin with fully-internationalized products and content, we will focus on the actions and decisions most under the control of the localization coordinator. Internationalization is a topic for another day.
When you look for LSPs, have your top criteria in writing ready to reference. Probably, you will include price near the top of your list of priorities. For basic translation projects, you will pay a price per word. These prices should be similar across all LSPs, or within an acceptable range. For example, the price to translate an English word to a French word should be in the range of $0.19 to $0.22. More important than the price per new words is what “comes with” that new word. Find out if the price includes translation, or if it includes translation, editing and proofreading (TEP). You want it to include TEP, or your results may be of poor quality. Correcting the poor quality later will cost more money than including it in the first place. Interview each LSP representative or team in your qualification process about TEP. You also want the price per word to come with one “free” editing pass. That is, if the LSP provides you with a mistranslation and catches it, the LSP should fix the error without charging you extra money.
Ask each LSP to show you an example of a breakdown (analysis and quote) for a typical translation project. Look at the price per word, the price per engineering hours and the price of project management. The cost of project management should be a fixed hourly rate or, more typically, between 5% and 10% of the cost of the translations plus the cost of localization engineering hours. The hourly rate for engineering will vary depending on where the engineers are physically located, or depending on if the LSP provides a “blended” cost per hour in the case of engineers who reside all over the world. Expect to see an hourly rate of between $15 and $85. However, on a typical software or documentation translation project, the number of engineering hours required is usually low. Allocation of one to two hours per language is common. Figure 1 is an example of a well-constructed analysis and quote.
Study the analysis/quote you receive. Does it include translation, engineering and project management prices? If not, something is missing and you are not seeing a true price picture. Also notice if words for translation are categorized according to the type of match it produces. In a new project, you may see between zero and only several repetitions. In other words, you may see very few matches. However, the fact that the information is displayed for you to see, line by line, means that no pricing is being hidden from you, even unintentionally. In our example, the word counts (Qty, or Quantities) are exactly the same for each language. As you conduct more and more translations, the LSP will build up a translation memory (TM) for you against which to leverage future translations and thus, in effect, lower your costs. The reason is that fuzzy matches (those word categories you see between Translation – Repetition, and Translation – 75-84% Match in our example) cost less money than do words with no matches in the TM or with no clear match (<75% Match & New).
Interview and evaluate at least three reputable LSPs. Compare not just their prices, but the completeness of the analysis/quote document and what they commit to relative to TEP and how long the prices they give you now will stay in effect. Full disclosure early on will save you from experiencing unexpected fees and unhappy surprises later on.
In many buyer-supplier relationships, you can get what you pay for. With an LSP, you can get more than you paid for. As the producer and customer, you are in a position to set the tone for the relationship you will have with your selected LSP. You can establish a strict buyer-supplier relationship. Or you can create a relationship that encourages shared goals, recognizes and uses expertise, and encourages mutual success. The former approach may work well if you are buying a quantity of pencils from a bulk supplier. The latter approach is recommended if you are employing the talents and related services of an LSP.
Let’s look at an example of a situation in which the producer did not partner with the LSP before making a decision to merge files. The client company’s documentation team did a “favor” to help the localization process by combining several documentation files into one file. During the merge process, writers were apparently tempted to do some content editing as well. If the LSP had been engaged before this, the company would have saved about $40,000. The reason is that after the file was combined, all of the segments (sentences, mainly), went out of alignment. Without getting into too much detail, the problem was that previously translated words and phrases could no longer be reused (leveraged) during the next translation project. The words that would have been free or inexpensive on that next project were instead priced at the higher, new-word price. The lesson is to check in with the LSP before you reformat files. You may still elect to reformat the files, but you will do so with an understanding of the cost to the localization budget and schedule.
When you select an LSP, what are you really doing? You are engaging multiple human talents from around the world. These talents might include project managers, translators, linguists, engineers, subject matter experts, graphic artists, systems specialists, actors, creative copywriters and internationalization consultants. You are also hiring tools, technology and processes, many of which you may be unfamiliar with. You may not know which talents to select, or how many. You may not know which tools and workflows will work best for your project and save you the most money. Maybe you do not even know how or when to start your project. That’s OK, if you choose your LSP wisely and if you establish a partnership relationship right from the start. When you establish a partnership, you create an atmosphere of give and take, mutual respect and generosity of spirit.
We hear a lot of rhetoric about partnership in the localization business. What does it mean? It means developing a mutually respectful relationship, most notably through the primary contacts of project and account managers, which results in the LSP teams behaving and performing like extensions of your own, direct team. And unless your translation work is not very important to your business and customers, this is the outcome you want. What are the less obvious, cost-saving benefits of a partnership-like relationship? To identify just a few, they include freely-shared knowledge about the best tools and processes for your project; an explanation of how to protect your assets; free internationalization advice; early identification of potential costly pitfalls (so they can be avoided); at-cost special engineering services; and regular, repeated selection of the absolutely best talents to work on your team. Simply put, partners are invested in your success the way mere suppliers are not. Partners collaborate. They assist one another without question. Partners do not let partners fail.
Possibly the most important thing you can do to assist your LSP partners and help guarantee your success and theirs is to establish and deliver a great localization kit to the LSP. What is a localization kit? Think of it as a container or collection of objects and information needed by the entire, extended team that together ensures that project goals, deliverables and timelines are well defined, well known, mutually agreed upon and mutually accepted. The good news is that, because you’ve established a partnership relationship, your LSP project managers will help you define the key contents of the collection. Nothing major will be left out. The kit contains everything you and the LSP need to know and use, including files or content, security needs, terminology and your requirements.
Typically, the localization kit is a collection of separate but related items. A basic kit includes the content to be translated and otherwise customized (localized) or links to that content; a glossary of terms; instructions about what to translate; instructions about what not to translate or change (the company name, logos, HTML tags, names of files); existing TMs or links to same; and even access to running products, in the case of software. The kit may include training about your product and how customers use it. It may contain workflow instructions and other process-related requirements. Your description of the deliverables should be detailed. For example, if you are providing a .DOC source file to the LSP, tell the LSP what languages you want and for which countries (French for France or French for Canada); and specify what format you want for the translated work (.DOC or .PDF or both). Ideally, prior to the start of the project, you wrote a project plan and schedule that your LSP reviewed, commented on and bought into. You may also have formalized a contract in the form of a master agreement and a statement of work. If not, the localization kit may also include timeline requirements, an explanation of terms and so on.
Providing a good kit is to localization what providing good tools, prepared ground and solid architectural plans is to a home builder. If you want to get the right results at the expected cost, use the right tools. Without these basic instruments of success, you and the builder may have very different ideas of what will be delivered. For example, a common instruction in a localization kit is “Do not translate any copyright statements.” If you provide a file to the LSP that contains copyright statements, and you provide no instructions, you are likely to receive translated statements. ©Copyright of XYZ Company 2013 thus becomes ©Copyright de la Société XYZ 2013 and ©Авторские права на компанию XYZ 2013.
It may be the case that translated copyright statements will not be honored in an international court of law. The lesson here, in addition to checking with your legal advisor, is to ensure that the kit contains all of your “do not translate” instructions.
In many buyer-supplier relationships, you can get what you pay for. With an LSP, you can get more than you paid for.
You may find it easy to conclude that the best way to save money on translations is to hound LSPs on a regular basis to lower their prices. Resist the urge! Are you really sure you’re going to get more with less money?
Before you start the project, secure a pricing sheet from the LSP that covers all of the services you expect to employ. Get it in writing as to how long these prices will be in effect. Depending on the amount of business you expect to do with the LSP, the prices may not change for a year or for several years. If during this project or a subsequent one you wish to employ additional services, such as closed-captions or voice talent, ask the LSP to update the price sheet and once again, sign off on the prices and their longevity. Treat the LSPs the way you want to be treated: a pricing deal is something for both parties to stand by.
If you do learn that an equally high-quality LSP is offering a much better price, one that is well under the expected range, let your LSPs know so they can respond to you. Before you are tempted to switch LSPs based on the lure of very low price alone, be sure to research the reasons for those low prices. They may be legitimate — the LSP has a huge production site in a country where costs are very low but the quality is still very high. Or they may be bad news for you — the talent is not the best, the timelines are going to be missed, the quality is not assured or the LSP does not really understand your requirements. In our experience, and just recently, our primary LSP actually lowered some pricing for us. We didn’t even ask for it. It was done in appreciation for our long-standing and ongoing business. Do we have a great partnership or what?