Selecting a translation provider is no easy feat. A translation RFP (Request for Proposal) is the best standard procedure to select the right global content partner or LSP (Language Service Provider), easily turning into a complex and time-consuming resource investment. But worry not: Our guide leads you through it, step by step!
Let's start at the very beginning, and with the most fundamental question of all:
What is a translation RFP all about?
An RFP is a public or invite-only project announcement with which you describe a project, seeking for bids from vendors to address their specified needs. It allows you to compare the offerings of preselected vendors, asking them to demonstrate which solutions they’d propose, with the related USPs (unique selling propositions), ideally setting apart the best candidate for the role.
Done right and organized well, the RFP procedure is crucial for any larger expense or commitment of your organization. It’s not only a critical step to improve the outcome and maximize your ROI, but also helps you prevent potential losses!
But to be worth the time and resources, it's important to:
- Properly identify the situations that do call for this investment
- Know how to execute the RFP in the most efficient and beneficial way.
Do you really need a translation RFP?
A translation RFP is likely to be the right approach:
- If you haven't set up a centralized standard translation process yet (even though you may be dealing with translations for years already), to optimize quality, efficiency, delivery, and monitorization of translation suppliers.
- If you have a large-scale project coming up that requires specific experience and expertise.
- If you're unhappy with your current translation setup, usually for at least one of the following reasons:
- Inadequate translation quality
- Poor service quality (communication, turnaround times, etc.)
- Insufficient translation processes and technology
- Lack of a complete service offering
- Spiraling translation costs
- Growing volumes / additional languages.
Before going right into it: May you need an RFI (Request for Information) first?
Wait – another step?! Some think of an RFI as something that can easily be skipped. While this may be ok for some smaller projects, translation RFPs tend to be more complex! Cramming all questions into the RFP would end up in a rather unmanageable beast, neither doing good service to you nor to the addressed vendors.
These are the main advantages of implementing an upstream RFI first:
- Your RFPs will be much more purposeful, on point and concise.
- You don't have to process irrelevant replies to your RFP.
- The replies to your RFP will be much more informative and comparable.
- You facilitate relevant replies from relevant vendors.
- The desired vendors are much more likely to respond.
- If desired, the RFI allows you to create a shortlist of translation vendors first.
Think of the RFI as a not very targeted browsing, helping you to discover all options. Therefore, it should include a few generic, open questions – but don’t go over the top.
The aim is to gather information and prequalify potential suppliers for the next round! The right RFI provides a general overview of supplier profiles, helping you get familiar with the market and select the right vendors to target with the upcoming RFP.
What to look for in your future translation and localization partner
After the evaluation of the RFI replies, you should be able to define quite accurately what kind of partner you go for.
Essential questions you should be ready to answer by now:
- Is the vendor's physical location of interest to you?
- What are your minimum requirements in terms of success records and proven experience?
- Can your translation projects be handled by freelancers?
- Would you benefit from single-language service providers, specializing in one language? They can be well-versed in a particular language style, terminology and usage.
- Does the volume or foreseeable extension call for multiple language service providers, handling several languages at once? Usually, these vendors provide experts in a wide variety of languages, handling translations that can vary in size, purpose and focus.
- Or do you need a global content partner, to go above and beyond your translation requirements?
This is the case whenever you need more than just accurate translations and may also require content creation, automated workflows with the latest translation technology, and digital content optimized for SEO purposes, advisory, and consultancy.
For a few more pointers on choosing the right translation partner, check our blog for a summary of five key considerations to have in mind.
In short: The bigger your projects are in volume, complexity or number of languages, the more likely you’ll need a global content partner with an end-to-end approach.
Your RFP becomes real
First things first: It's crucial to decide beforehand whether your RFP will be invite-only or if you prefer to open it to any qualified vendors. If so, it makes even more sense to confirm a deadline for all replies.
And just as with any important project, best assign the RFP team well before starting the process. Their standard main responsibilities are to:
- Evaluate the proposals
- Handle contractual negotiations
- Be the point of contact between secondary internal stakeholders and potential partners.
This evokes the next big question:
Which stakeholders should be on board?
Some stakeholders are more obvious than others. Make sure you don't miss out on any important part of the puzzle:
- Procurement is an obvious bet, but they can’t do it alone, as they usually don't interact directly with providers.
- Therefore, you also need to include the affected operational teams; managers responsible for the strategic planning of their respective business units need to define the desired workflows, necessary levels of integration, KPIs in terms of quality and quantity, etc.
- IT & tech teams also play a critical role when it comes to modern Language Service Provision, e.g., for necessary system integration options. IT’s role will be crucial in the automation of translation/localization processes and all related system requirements. They also need to evaluate and avoid risks.
- The marketing team, from content marketing to corporate communications, and from digital advertising to multichannel campaigns: you need the marketing team at the table for many reasons. Do your localization needs also include social media content, be it sporadic or with complete campaigns? This not only calls for Marketing in general, but also for the designated team in particular.
- Product managers are stakeholders for localization, too! Their knowledge and communication needs must complement marketing’s expertise in RFP planning.
- Other content owners can be trickier not to forget about. For example: is any of the content to be translated and localized within the responsibility of HR? They must also be included in the RFP team to ensure their needs will be met in terms of wording, style, timing, deadlines and confidentiality.
- The event planning team's needs are very specific, in terms of wording and style, but also when it comes to the localization of visuals and short deadlines/timing, etc. If meetings and events are multilingual, they may also have advanced requirements for interpreting services (in person or remotely).
- Technical experts are a must if the project to be localized contains technical content, communications such as product documentation, structured content (XML/DITA) or other documents typical for industries such as manufacturing. In these cases, be sure to involve the manufacturers, developers and/or tech doc managers. Their language has its own needs in terms of glossaries and translation memory, and it requires very specific subject matter knowledge.
- Other stakeholders can be anybody who may possibly contribute in the source language – to ensure all necessities and possible restraints will be met.
Make sure you have all the right people involved, to assess whether your future partner is able to meet all specific requirements and possible restrictions!
What information should you provide?
Very important: provide an overview of the project and background information about your company:
- Who are you? Details about your organization and how translation/localization align with your business goals.
- What's lacking in your existing setup of translation and localization processes? What are the key issues and challenges you're currently facing when it comes to translation?
- What previous translation experience do you have? Sharing your past experiences (good and bad!) reveals what's crucial for a successful partnership.
- What are the overall main project goals? Be as specific as possible about your expectations. What type of content is involved? Which platforms and channels will be addressed?
- What do your internal localization processes look like now?
- What does your technological setup look like? For example your website CMS or other content management system and connectors or integrations in place.
- Which language combinations do you need (including any local language variants)?
- What's the expected volume and frequency of your translation needs?
- What would be the main subject matter specialization areas and content formats, including compliance requirements?
The more information you share about your requirements, the better prospective partners can tailor their proposals to your specific situation.
What to ask for in your translation RFP
Company size and structure
This is of interest to you both in terms of turnover and number of full-time employees, divided by role, as those are strong indicators of the organization's leverage power. Extra tip: Ask about the turnover rate of their key employees and partners! A low employee turnover indicates good management, a successful business, and a stable organization.
The key locations and local offices of a translation supplier can indicate their strengths and weaknesses in terms of language combinations covered.
Company management and organization chart
Understanding how the company is organized and run will give you an idea of the corporate culture, and whether it may be a good fit for your organization.
Account management information
Ask about what the account management structure will look like to you, who will be your point(s) of contact and what kind of client interfaces will be in place.
Customer references and case studies
Not only is this a good reference for their quality, but it will also give you an idea of how you will be seen: could you rather be too big or too small a customer for them, compared to their current client base?
Ask for details regarding the volumes translated, the language combinations, and the content type(s) provided.
Extra tip: Case studies can show you whether and how potential suppliers have been proactive in implementing innovative solutions to solve their customers' translation issues.
Have a template structured to ease comparisons afterward. Sort by what's most relevant to you, which, in general, will include all or some of the following:
- Standard translation rate per word / per hour - if applicable, for instance for MT (machine translation) post-editing
- Possible different rates for different source and target languages
- Costs for further processing, such as DTP
- Possible hidden onboarding costs, e.g. for implementation/migration
- Possible further subscription costs, e.g. for licenses
- Any possible discounts (typically for translation memory matches and/or based on project volume), additional fees (e.g. for overnight delivery), and minimum rates.
Extra tip: Ask for a sample quotation, based on a typical project, to get an idea of their overall pricing!
Translation technology and processes
You may have already identified advanced technology requirements or you can also take the opportunity to ask for an assessment from your potential partners. Depending on your current workflows and technological setup, you may need:
- Translation management system (TMS), with clear alignment on hosting environment, responsibility, and location
- Growing libraries, potentially turning each project into a base for future translation projects
- Clear review and approval processes of glossary terms
- In-context reviews
- Cloud-based reviewing for multiple users
- Repository storage of documents, to be retrieved at any date
- Customizable customer portal to manage and track translation projects in real time
- Optional direct communication with translators
- Additional language technology tools.
High-quality translations depend on sound processes, generally combining manual and automatic quality assurance checks with excellent vendor management. Thus, the crucial hints are:
- Ask specific questions about recognized quality certifications such as ISO 17100 and ISO 18587 (translation services/post-editing of machine translations)
- Ask for customer satisfaction survey results
- Ask how non-conformities are being tracked and managed.
IT infrastructure, security and data protection
Translation processes usually involve highly confidential information and content – which means it's crucial that your language service provider ensures the complete protection of your data. Ask your potential partners about their security precautions to safeguard your information!
Capacity and availability
Make sure your future supplier will be able to handle your translation volumes – ask them about turnaround times for typical projects, working hours and office closures.
Have proposals started coming in? Time for evaluation and targeted RFQs
Fundamental questions, such as who in the team will evaluate the incoming proposals and where the bigger focus will be, should already be well-defined when the proposals start coming in.
You may find that a point-based system takes you a long way when evaluating proposals. Define a list of the must-haves and nice-to-haves. For example, you may not require a custom-built terminology glossary for now, but do prefer to have that option in the future - hence the opportunity of ranking.
Consider carefully what suits you best – now and in the future. The result should be a shortlist of the most promising candidates. To choose among them, don't overlook the following criteria:
- Was their proposal accurate and timely?
- Do they have translation and content experience in your industry or field?
- Are they able to scale their services as your business grows?
- How long have they been operating already?
For the ultimate evaluation of your future partner(s) also consider requesting:
- References from existing clients whose business needs to match yours
- Translations of test content you provide – for better comparison, use identical samples for all eligible future partners
- An RFQ: a document that details pricing options for a particular service or product; you ask the vendors to provide price lists for the deliverables proposed in the RFP.
An RFQ is an additional sourcing tool that concentrates on the financial aspects.
Head to a great start: Onboarding your new global content provider
Once you've decided on your language and content provider, there are issues that should be defined beforehand, if they were not addressed during the RFP:
- Which assets are required from you upfront?
- Who will carry out the technological implementation?
- What training is required?
- How long should you expect processes to take?
- How will translators be selected to work on your project?
Once you kick off your new translation partnership, plan for regular checkups and monitor KPIs, such as translation quality, on time delivery, and service quality.
It's also good to scout the market on a regular basis, as a good opportunity to evaluate your current services, how they compare to potentially more innovative offerings or partners that better align with your growth strategy.