5 components of lights-out project management for translation companies

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Competition in the LSP market is fierce. There are thousands of established language service providers globally, and that’s excluding freelancers. Not only does any LSP face several competitors, but the pace of work has ratcheted up. Continuous localization is becoming the standard, which means LSPs face intense pressure to keep up with the steady stream of content, and also to differentiate themselves while keeping a sharp eye on revenue. Some are positioning themselves as global marketing consultants, promising localization that reflects specialized local knowledge, especially in areas where cross-border e-commerce is a booming business.

But an LSP can also do a lot on the backend to differentiate their services and team.
Simple workflow automation can greatly reduce waste and time to delivery — a core consideration for many customers. This does not mean a robot-run, anonymous experience, only that a human touch is used only where it’s value-adding. At Smartcat, we call it “project management on autopilot.”

A series of technological improvements in how an LSP does project management can help them provide consistent customer support quickly, globally, and around the clock. Here we’ll discuss five areas where costs can be cut at the same time that customer value is increased.

1. Self-service portals for customer requests

Say your goal as an LSP is to shrink the time from when a customer needs to translate something to when you give them a concrete quote and timeline commitment. Some obstacles might get in your way: having communication about a project scattered across multiple communication channels, or a situation wherein you and your customer have no standard way of placing and accepting projects. Missed messages can lead to frustration and worse; in the era of continuous localization, you don’t want to waste anyone’s time managing the disappointment that comes from crossed wires.

A self-service portal that customers can use to create new requests for projects, and to receive and accept quotes, can help. Customers and LSPs can work on projects on the portal, reducing the time spent between multiple communication channels. A self-service portal also allows customers to upload files and view project progress. No more frittering away time sending emails or Slack messages requesting updates.

2. Automated integration

More and more customers today don’t want to submit files for translation manually. They have their own systems for managing content, which are sometimes the same systems they use for code, which happens especially often with software companies. Being able to pull this content via APIs and push it back once it’s ready is a big time-saver and a strong selling point for LSPs.

Over time, we predict that the “old”, file-based content stream will dry up, simply because companies need to shrink their time to market to be able to compete. Meanwhile, traffic in automated integration content will likely increase year after year.

3. Single UX for PM/VM

An LSP’s PM is responsible for selecting linguists who have relevant expertise and positive feedback from previous customers, whose rates fit the project budget, and — last but not least — who happen to be available at the right time. From our internal research, this is the most stressful part of a PM’s job. It’s also where they lose the most hours.

The most common way to contact multiple linguists to see who is available is still email, and getting responses can take hours. Instant messenger services don’t necessarily improve on that. If someone is not available or if a vendor does not respond, the PM has to keep repeating the same sending-and-waiting sequence again and again. Then onboarding a new linguist can create more logistical stress while they are getting up to speed on the LSP’s specific ways of doing things.

To significantly reduce the time and energy a PM spends on this step, the ideal solution is to automate vendor selection using a data-driven process. A vendor management system can provide detailed — and verifiable — information about a linguists’ skills, experience, and historical feedback and also automatically suggest and contact specialists based on the source material in question.

Once a linguist accepts an assignment, there’s still the coordination of background info, project files, and assigning specific translation tasks. Manually divvying out portions to several different linguists can get tedious. But if the vendor management system they’re using is flexible enough to incorporate PM functions as well, an LSP is in a better position. They can automatically track each linguist’s bandwidth based on current workload and past productivity — both of which are easily calculated given that all the work and relevant info is housed in one place.

Having a machine do all the PM math is a great help. No two translators work at the same speed, and not all may live in the same time zone, especially in multilingual projects. Using a single UX to manage the vendor sourcing process not only saves effort but also reinforces consistency and reliability. Whatever your preferred process is — in-house or freelancer-based — the sequence of actions is similar and familiar.

4. Automated payments

The factors fueling the growth of an LSP are its sales & marketing and its production scalability, in which payment automation plays a key role. You can obviously start your LSP business with just a few suppliers, but as you grow, you begin working with dozens and then hundreds of freelancers. You need to calculate accruals for several hundred jobs every month and pay using each supplier’s preferred method. At this point, you will probably need to hire several people to handle the whole billing and payout process.

But it’s now possible to comfortably manage hundreds or thousands of suppliers and customers around the globe, even when dealing with translators who live in countries with less developed financial markets. Imagine signing just one translation services agreement and paying one invoice that includes payments to every supplier that you hired during that period.

Smartcat, for example, has multi-currency bank accounts and local legal entities around the world and thus can offer better prices than typical for standard bank transfers, resulting in cross-border rates of as low as $1 and even less for domestic payouts. Maintaining one agreement can also help you rest assured that you’re fully compliant with never-ending changes in tax laws across different countries.

5. Computer-aided translation

Last but not least are computer-aided translation, or CAT, systems. Most LSPs already use this kind of technology, but some still don’t — this section is for them.

Why is using a CAT tool important? Repetitive content can really hurt an LSP’s bottom line. Manually looking for chunks of text that have been translated before in past projects, or that use the same terminology, may not be something today’s LSP can afford to do. In the era of continuous localization, things and projects move too fast.

A good client-specific CAT tool can save time and money whenever repeated content is translated. Whether the LSP diverts the savings to other aspects of their core business or passes the discount on to their clients, is of course up to them.

Translation memories also keep a customer’s voice coherent throughout projects. For customers that care about brand and style as much as they do about costs, this is significant.

"Pro tip: Check out Smartcat’s free online CAT editor"

Conclusion: Getting ready for the content economy

In a world where content is becoming the lifeblood of every business, automating as many tasks as possible becomes not a nice-to-do, but a necessity. Smartcat’s connected translation framework is one way to address this. Whichever solution you ultimately choose, LSPs have to quickly adapt to do things faster than ever before — or risk losing ground to nimbler competitors.