How to choose a language service provider?

Best Practices


The translation needs of companies vary between industries and individual companies. However, in all cases there is the need to keep both cost-effectiveness and quality as high as possible. Because of this, choosing a language service provider through competitive tendering is very smart.

By comparing proposals from different suppliers and centralizing orders, a company can ideally save 30–50% in the overall cost of translations. Centralizing also makes it easier to track the overall cost. Centralizing makes ordering translations easier, for instance, with the help of a customer portal or system integration. Ordering becomes not only easier but also faster. The company’s internal process also becomes smoother when translation orders no longer need to be circulated through different parties within the organization.

This way, organizing a tendering process and centralizing orders not only bring cost savings in the translations themselves, but also save time.

Why is it worth comparing language service providers?

There are many reasons for comparing language service providers and requesting their proposals for services. For instance, if your current arrangement entails using several freelance translators and translation service providers, clarifying the process is an obvious goal. Another quite concrete reason are companies’ changing translation needs: the current providers may not be able to offer the language pairs that the company’s new operating languages require. Of course, quality may also be a reason if the translations do not meet the quality expectations. On the other hand, quality can also be too high if machine translation quality would be enough for the company, but it cannot be ordered from the current suppliers. The need for comparing alternatives may also arise when a company operates globally and needs to be able to place translation orders around the clock.

Another common reason is the need to improve cost-effectiveness. Centralizing improves cost-effectiveness through clarification of the ordering process and more efficient use of translation technologies. This applies in particular to the translation memory, which is the most common technology used to obtain cost savings.

Read our blog post "How to reduce translation costs"

How does the RFP process proceed?

To find the most suitable translation partner, a request for proposal (RFP) process can be initiated. The method of implementing this depends largely on the company’s way to manage tendering processes. In some cases, a comprehensive request for proposal is sent to potential language service providers to advance the matter. Large companies may manage the RFP process through their purchasing system or a cloud service suited for the purpose. The idea is to collect the candidates’ figures, strengths and potential weaknesses on one platform where analysis and comparison are as easy as possible.

Often, a preliminary screening stage, called request for information (RFI), is arranged. The purpose of the request for information process is to exclude from the tendering any language service providers that would not be able to compete in the actual tendering process.

When a sufficient number of proposals, or tenders, have been received, it is time for analysis and screening. If the company’s translation needs were not clearly emphasized in the RFP stage already, now is the time for that. The needs may be related to speed, quality, delivery capability or technical requirements, such as integration and translation technologies.

If translation quality is high among the selection criteria, it is a good idea to request a test translation after screening. This allows verifying that any dedicated translators are able to produce translations that meet the company’s quality requirements.

After the test translations, a comprehensive picture of the competing language service providers should be available. At this point, refining discussions may be arranged with the potential suppliers. After that, it is time to make the decisions and to agree on a purchase agreement with the chosen supplier.

Screening a suitable translation partner is not a quick process. It is not unusual that the tendering process may take several months even. Naturally, the more suppliers are participating and the larger the translation needs are, the longer the process will take. However, taking the trouble will pay off when the benefits of centralization begin to realize. Cost savings are achieved, and the time saved in organizing and ordering translations is freed for essential work.

Which criteria to use for choosing a language service provider?

Every company has their individual translation needs. The need for different language pairs and special expertise varies between companies. Because of this, emphasis in the tendering process may also vary a lot.

We have assembled a list of three factors that should be considered in the process.

Translation quality and quality assurance

Depending on translation needs, quality is often one of the most important indicators. However, quality can refer to many other things in addition to the quality of the translation itself. There is a complicated mechanism working behind translation with the task of maintaining high quality in the long run. When requesting proposals, it is a good idea to ask for more detailed information on how potential quality issues will be addressed and how the translation quality will be improved based on feedback.

For instance, issued quality certificates are a demonstration of taking quality into account at all stages of the translation process.

Quality assurance also includes the management of complaints. Details of the complaint process and follow-up should be included in the request for proposal. This provides good information on how to act when problems appear and how they can be avoided in the future.

Quality should be elevated to the most important criterion when the translations will be used in the company’s external communication. It is important that manuals, software or, for instance, the company’s annual reports intended for customers and stakeholders are free of errors.


Available technologies

The significance of different technologies increases when striving to make processes more efficient. Technologies also play a major role in the search for cost-effectiveness.

Integration makes it possible to enhance the speed and flexibility of the order and delivery process for translations. For instance, integrating a product information system or a content management system with the translation management system of the language service provider is a great way to make the process more efficient. The most important thing is that the systems of the different parties can communicate with each other. You can read more about the benefits of CMS integration in this blog.

If integration is not possible due to incompatibility of the systems, it should be ensured that the supplier has a customer portal or some other centralized system for making translation orders. It is a good idea to ask about the functions of the portal and the possibility to make changes to it if, for instance, the company has the need to customize the portal so that it better meets its needs.

The translation memory is the best-known translation technology, utilized in practice by all language service providers. For translation memories, it is good to verify the details of ownership and maintenance of the translation memory.

Machine translation, on the other hand, is not quite as common yet. If the translation volumes of the company are considerably high, but the translations are used internally in the company and the quality does not need to be of professional level, it is worth adding machine translation to the list of requirements.

The most important benefit of machine translation is cost savings in translations.  At the same time, it should be remembered that machine translation cannot initially produce high-quality translations. In time, the quality of machine translations will improve when they are ordered always from the same supplier so that the machine translation engine learns the company’s text types and terminology.

It is worth investigating the possibility of using machine translation when the translation need exceeds a million words per month.

Translation delivery reliability

Attention should be paid to the capacity of the language service provider when the translation needs are continuous and global. A good idea of the capacity can be obtained, for instance, by looking at the candidate’s financial figures. The scope of the translator network also provides a good picture of how well translation needs can be met. When operating on a global scale, it is important to verify the response time to orders and the active office hours. If the company arranging the tendering is operating on several continents and its translation needs can be quite sudden, it is good to know how quickly the translation can be provided.

If delivery reliability is placed high among the criteria, it can be tested to some extent with a test translation: is the process smooth and is the test translation returned by the promised deadline?

Emphasizing delivery reliability is often linked with quality. A wide network of translators and the ability to deliver translations even on a short notice are needs that are emphasized for global enterprises, as their translation needs may arise quite suddenly.

From RFPs to a translation partner

Requesting and comparing proposals for services is a challenging process, but its purpose is always to improve the company’s capability to meet its customers’ needs. The company may be looking for cost savings, better quality or a more efficient process. A carefully implemented RFP process enables achieving all of these benefits. When initiating the process, it is important to chart all of the company's translation needs, as only in this way can the savings be realized in full and the translation needs be addressed in the manner promised.

Are you planning to find a language service provider through requests for proposal? Please contact us!

If you want to know more about tendering for language services, you can also download the linked template, which can be used for organizing the tendering process or defining the parameters for tendering.

Download a free RFP template