The scene opens on you, a newly hired localization manager at a major enterprise. You inherit a fairly extensive localization setup: established CMS software, a CAT tool, and a couple of translation vendors. If you’re really lucky, your welcome package also comes with a fully integrated localization platform. If not, at least you’ve got the basic technology you need to start localizing with some level of efficiency.
Now, the drama begins.
One of the biggest challenges of the localization industry is finding the right vendors—right for your content, at the right time, at a good price. The perfect localization partnership is something of a unicorn in today’s market, which is flooded with localization vendors claiming to be the best in the industry. Most localization managers endure a seemingly endless soap opera of hiring, firing, and rehiring vendors in hopes of solving their localization problems.
The good news is that there’s a way out of this vicious cycle of vendors. With the right strategy in hand, you can avoid all of the drama depicted in the following scenes:
Scene 1: Burn It All Down
Julie came on board as a localization manager for an up-and-coming fashion brand that was expanding into the German market. On her first day on the job, she announced to the team that she’d chosen to fire all of their existing vendors and start completely fresh. She wanted to make a big impact on her new company—and she did. The team struggled for months to get localization back up and running after her Targaryen-style approach.
“Julie” wasn’t the first localization manager to make this particular move. It’s unfortunately common in the industry for new professionals to enter a localization ecosystem and try to reinvent everything that’s already been done. Maybe you’ve even felt the longing yourself to scrap everything and start over. Now is the time to pause and consider your localization strategy.
Maybe you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. And if you’re in a new position, it would be wise to consider that you don’t know what to change yet because you don’t know the organization well enough. Take time to carefully evaluate what’s working and what’s not working before you decide what changes your company needs.
This thoughtfulness puts you in a really great position as a localization manager. You’re perfectly set up to ask for what you want and to work with existing vendors to modify their approach. In most cases, you’ll receive higher-quality localization results more quickly with this strategy than by starting from scratch.
Scene 2: Suspicion and Accusation
Craig just opened the worst email of his entire career. The Japan office’s marketing manager fired off a major complaint against recent translation quality and blamed him for the poor results: “This translation is awful. We absolutely cannot publish any of the content we paid for. We’re going to lose business over this.” After thinking through his options, Craig decided to fire the translation vendor outright. He had no idea whether they were actually doing poor work (he didn’t speak Japanese, after all) but at least it would look like he’d done something to fix the problem.
In the face of localization disaster, it’s always tempting to throw up your hands and blame the vendor. That would be easy. The challenge would be in considering how much of the fault lies with the vendor versus how much lies with the localization manager. It’s possible that Craig could have made a smarter decision if he had started with the man in the mirror.
If you’re facing a problem with translation quality, consider the following questions:
- Did you provide your vendor with a comprehensive style guide to work from? If not, did your vendor ask for one?
- Do you have a proven process for getting style guide approval from your in-market reviewers? Are you holding everyone accountable for these decisions, including yourself?
- Has your vendor developed a glossary that they’re working from for your account? Have you seen this glossary with your own eyes?
If you answered “NO” to any of these questions, therein lies your problem. You and your vendors must work together to front-load your localization system with appropriate resources and set clear expectations for quality. If you don’t, you could be firing a genuinely great translation vendor due to your own oversight.
Scene 3: The Ultimate Betrayal
Alex and his entire localization team were having a bad month, and it was about to get worse. He recently fired two rounds of translation vendors for not delivering on quality and feared that his job was on the line because of it. When Alex decided to take his chances with a high-powered localization firm instead, he was shocked to discover that their results weren’t any better.After further investigation, the new partner provided Alex with a verdict. The poor-quality translations came directly from the translation memory (TM) that he had insisted they “borrow” from previous vendors in order to save a few bucks. It was poorly maintained and apparently full of errors. This one mistake resulted in months of wasted work and thousands of wasted dollars.
If your TMs suck, your entire localization engine might as well be on fire. This is the biggest and most expensive mistake you could possibly make. Regardless of what vendor you’re working with, a bad TM instantly creates a “garbage in, garbage out” scenario. There’s no quick and easy way to save yourself.
Before blaming a vendor for poor translation quality, do your own due diligence to ensure that your TMs and other assets are accurate and up to date. Demand clarity from your vendors on how they’re maintaining these assets. And tighten up your own internal process for who gets to make and approve future changes to the TM. A more disciplined approach can prevent many localization mistakes down the line, saving your budget and your job all at the same time.
Ending the Cycle of Constantly-Changing Localization Vendors
Ultimately, it all comes down to one simple truth: to escape the localization vendors soap opera, you need to take a more nuanced look at your localization problems. These things aren’t always the vendor’s fault. In starting fresh with a new team, you could create a domino effect of missed deadlines and diminished budgets for no benefit whatsoever. More importantly, firing and hiring doesn’t always solve the root cause of your problems.
Instead of constantly firing your localization vendors, take a look at your own internal processes. Admit where you’ve gone astray. Hold your existing vendors to a higher standard, and provide them with the tools they need to meet your expectations. With a more holistic approach to localization management and a stronger partnership with your vendors, you won’t need to resort to massive system overhauls. Instead, you’ll make slight shifts that compound over time to create a more efficient and effective localization process.
At Bureau Works, we’re busting myths about the language industry, including those surrounding localization vendors. As a result, we created a fully-automated localization platform and a suite of back-end services based on the premise of radical transparency. If you’re on the hunt for a new localization vendor, we’d like to be the partnership that lasts. Contact our team today.
Written by Luciana Passos
Luciana is Bureau Work’s COO. She is known as a gap bridger and a heart follower.