When it comes to localization and translation services, there is no need to go at it alone. There is a great variety of vendors to fill every need, match any project size and requirement, and accommodate the languages needed. The trick is picking the right one. How do you choose the one that is right for the project, the product, and the company? It can be challenging to figure it out, but it pays off (both directly in dollar value and indirectly in terms of sanity and stress levels).

It is very helpful to do some homework prior to starting a search for a Language Service Provider (LSP), knowing as much as possible about the needs of the project, the capabilities of one’s company, its internal resources, and its outlook on the goals are going to guide the selection process and ensure the right vendor lands the work.

BEFORE choosing a vendor for a localization project, DO the following:

Project Scope

Every company needs to identify the target audience and decide on the languages to be used for a localization project. Identifying near-term and long-term components in project planning can help show thoroughness on the client’s part and help to ensure that the chosen vendor can sustain the growth of the project. Changing vendors mid-stream during a project can be avoided if the bigger picture is revealed at the start. That requires client-side planning.

Project Cost Estimate

Localization project costs rely on multiple factors and can vary from one project to another, not to mention from vendor to vendor. There are some basic numbers to keep in mind when thinking of a budget.

With very few exceptions, most localization projects involve some level of translation. Those costs can be the basis of a project’s budget, as translation costs in a localization project account for roughly 80 percent of the cost. A company ready to dive into a localization project can set its expectations on the right track by running some numbers.

  1. Run a word count of existing content to be translated. For a website, a site map is a useful tool to ensure that all pages are accounted for. If any marketing materials, user guides, or product descriptions are involved, all of that content needs to be summed by a total word count in the source language.
  2. Estimate word counts for new content. This would include anything that gets a periodic update, such as promotions, press releases, product updates, etc. – those pieces of content that would require translation in the future.
  3. Do some math to account for 80 percent of project costs. While translation costs vary from language to language, it is reasonable to estimate roughly $0.20 per source word, in most cases. Even if that cost is on the higher end of the range for a particular language pair, that amount would help to establish a baseline estimation to manage expectations and help to mitigate the “surprise factor” when it comes time to receive formal quotes from potential vendors. The rest of the costs would come from any localization engineering, project management, QA and other components.

Project Timeline

The triad of project management (cost, time, quality) is always fluid. Deciding on what is most important for a project (doing it fast, doing it cheap, or doing it well) helps bring to bear the necessary resources from the get-go so as to ensure that the project does not stall, fall apart, or get derailed. As always, allowing for a certain degree of wiggle room and being generous with estimating how long a task will take to complete is a plus. Being transparent and clear with the vendor on the company’s goals and capabilities will allow for the relationship and the project to proceed smoothly.

Assessing the Right Fit

No two localization projects are alike. A project’s scope can change midstream (not a recommended strategy, but it has been known to happen) and a company’s needs may change. It is helpful to think about requirements in concrete categories to match them up with vendor capabilities. Would there be a need to help think things through and create a strategy, or would a company benefit from cultural consulting before diving into a localization project? Would there be a need for expertise in a low-density (rare) language or regional dialect? Would localization engineering tasks be involved in the project (those are usually necessary for software localization to ensure that all the translated components are integrated correctly into the localized version and provide the feel of a local product)? Is the project large in scope, but has a tight deadline? Does a project involve dealing with highly regulated industries (like aviation, medical, etc.) or targeted towards countries that have a very distinct policies on electronics or Internet use? All of these and other questions help to define the profile of the correct vendor for a project.

Choosing the Right Localization Partner

When embarking on the localization path, it is helpful to have a solid partner to help guide the way. Choosing the right one helps to ensure the client-vendor relationship is truly a partnership that is able to achieve mutual goals.

LSPs vary in size, capabilities and specializations. Main types of localization vendors are freelance localizers on one side and large, multilingual vendors on the other. There are pros and cons to each of these types of vendors. Whether a client prefers a more personal feel or a more robust corporate relationship would affect the type of vendor is chosen. Other factors also include cost, feel of control over a project, a company’s ability to dedicate internal project management resources, and the range of services required.

There is rarely going to be a “one-size-fits-all solution” for clients and localization projects. As a client’s needs vary, so would the requirements for the type of vendor. Whether a company is just getting into the localization realm or is a recurrent beneficiary of everything localization has to offer, assessing a company’s localization needs, company culture and resources are going to be key to selecting the appropriate localization provider for the company’s project(s).