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Planning a Translation Project: An Insider’s Guide to Getting Started

Planning a translation project. Insider advice.

Are you ready to translate your website, product, corporate or product marketing materials into another language? Whether it’s your first time or you’ve done it before, starting the process can seem like a lot of work.

But with the right partner, the process gets a whole lot easier. We’ve asked Venga’s leadership team to share their deep domain expertise to help you get the most out of your project, and collected their advice on planning a translation project below.

Where do I start?

Before you choose a language services provider (LSP, also sometimes referred to as language solutions provider) start by writing up a project scope document. You’ll use this with your LSP to create a timeline and budget for the project.

Taking some time to write a scope document will help you get solid proposals from potential LSPs, since they’ll be able to respond to your clearly defined project objectives, needs, and goals. At the same time, you give yourself a good tool for evaluating potential LSPs, since you have consistent guidelines for what you want. And an LSP who responds in detail to your scope document demonstrates they’re on your wavelength, giving you a sense of your working relationship in the future.

Once you’ve started the project, the scope document will still be useful. It will help eliminate eleventh-hour surprises, since mapping your project in detail helps you really think the process through, what you will need, and what your priorities are. Within your company, a project scope document can improve internal buy-in. Your scope document requires input from several different stakeholders, giving them the opportunity to identify critical elements from their areas of expertise. Integrating cross-department feedback into your project plan helps build support for the project that will make later processes go smoothly.

Writing a project scope document

Think of the project scope document is a combination of a wishlist and a project plan that you work on with your LSP. Start by answering these questions internally, ideally using a tool that makes it easy for other stakeholders to review the information and add their ideas. Then, you can take the answers to your LSP to work out any issues:

What is the scope and short description of your project?

What will you localize? Who are the end readers or users? Are you localizing an application or software code? Is the content static or ever-changing?

Identify and prioritize your target language markets.

Which markets are priorities? Where do you plan to launch in for this project? Remember that your launch location goes deeper than nationality. The “same” language may be spoken in several regions yet there can be regional variations that require special consideration. For example, Spanish for the U.S. market is different from Spanish for Spain. If you need Portuguese, is it for Brazil or Portugal? Be sure you’re taking into account regional differences such as the handling of numbers, dates and currency. Then, ask your LSP to review your list. They may be able to spot missed opportunities for concurrent localization or other possible cost or time savings

When do you need the current project completed?

What upcoming projects can you forecast on the horizon? What is their estimated scope and when do they need to be complete? Sharing this information with your LSP can help define a project approach that will be the most efficient, cost effective, and will take into account any special requirements you may have. For example, you may need a project plan that builds in extra quality assurance measures to meet industry standards, adds local independent review, or incorporates a brand localization initiative.

What kind of source files will you be providing and where are they stored?

Describe the source content format and how you plan to deliver it to your LSP. Will some of your content be image graphic or image files that include copy? If so, you’ll want to provide an editable version of the file to your LSP, which enables them to insert translated text into an image. Do you have a content management system (CMS)? It’s also important to ask how you want the localized content delivered to you once it’s finished. Request any final PDFs or other file formats up front and early in the process.

How do different content objects relate to each other?

Does this project include an application, website, or user guide? Does one of your documents rely on content from another content resource? Incorporate content from another object? Describe the relationships between your content and which ones are high-priority. For instance, does your online help or documentation rely on your software content being finalized first?

What is your estimated word count and budget?

A total word count estimate will help you and the LSP calculate ball park costs. When setting your localization budget, use ranges including the fewest possible words, greatest number of possible words, probable word count.

Will you want independent and/or subject matter expert (SME) review?

Using an independent reviewer can be a great way to assure quality and cultural context. Using an in-country SME may be helpful depending on your topic matter. For example, if you’re localizing technical developer content, you probably need a domain expert review. A SME may or may not be a linguist but may work in a vocation that qualifies them to review the localized content for accuracy and in-context word choice. Your LSP should be able to help you find and vet local domain experts and independent reviewers.

What engagement level or access will stakeholders need to the localization project?

For example, do they need constant access to the localization project while it is in process? Checks at certain scheduled points? Independent domain expert review?(These are things your LSP should be able to offer.) Make the wish list now so you can design a process that works for you.

Project planning dos and don’ts

  • DO provide as much information as you can. More really is better–this includes content samples, budget constraints, and your localization preferences on dates, numbers, data formats, product names, acronyms, measurements, and many other culturally different elements. If you’re not sure and want someone to walk you through how best to proceed, call your LSP for a planning session.


  • DO be clear and honest about your timeline, no matter how ambitious it is. If it creates issues or expense, quality LSPs will tell you that. Prioritizing your projects, elements, and target markets early in the process will go a long way toward giving you a clear idea of timeline.


  • DO ask your LSP to help you cut costs. A good provider can spot opportunities for reducing immediate and ongoing costs. Examples include content optimization, controlled authoring, workflow modifications, and more. If you want to know price differentials between rush jobs and business as usual, ask!


  • DON’T consign initial projects to procurement or a rigid request for proposal (RFP) process. While your procurement team offers expertise in purchasing services and negotiations, localization projects are generally so strategic that they will need hands-on guidance, at least in the initial stages. Standards that are typically important to a procurement department might not help you find the best language solutions partner. Engage your procurement team when your process and standards are clearly defined.


  • DON’T be afraid to ask about process changes. Your LSP has a carefully calibrated process but you may need something tailored to your business goals. An LSP that can’t or won’t tweak process to meet your needs may be signaling that your project won’t really be getting personalized attention. The right LSP will be willing to take you step-by-step through their plans for your project, and be ready to modify it as needed.


  • DO ask about services that may be right for your project but aren’t part of your basic project plan. This may lead you to opportunities to speed development, or cut costs. For example, it may be that your LSP can enter bugs right into your bug database instead of creating a report your team must process.


  • DO get the quote in writing. Obvious, right? But not always automatic. LSPs with quality structures and process are happy to put everything in writing.


  • DON’T settle for less. If you’re looking at multiple quotes and there’s a large price disparity, probe deeply. Knowing the proposed workflow helps you understand what you are being charged for. It may be that a bargain quote won’t be providing all the services you require, or you may not be getting the quality standard you require. Reliable vendors will be happy to walk you through their proposal elements and planned workflow.


  • DO ask for a dedicated project manager. As your project develops, your team will want to have one project manager to rely on for questions, troubleshooting, brainstorming and more. Smart localization requires a human touch, professionalism and commitment.


  • DO use automation to your advantage. Check to be sure your LSP has a translation management system (TMS). Centralizing translation memories and glossaries, and automating file transfers can offer significant project benefits. For example, such a system can enable the 2nd and 3rd stages of the translation process to happen concurrently with the primary translation. This can reduce project turnarounds by more than 25%.


  • DO choose an LSP who can offer you 24×7 access through a client portal. Quality LSPs can offer you a portal so you can access your translation memories (TMs), glossaries, quotes and invoices. With this tool, your team can track your project in all of its stages. This is particularly helpful when you’re localizing content for multiple target markets, working with geographically distributed teams, or localizing complex products such as enterprise software.

We have helped clients plan thousands of localization projects and helped launch hundreds of businesses into more than 100 languages. Explore our suite of services and find out how Venga can help you get started by contacting us or requesting a free quote.