Project management. Not the sexiest of concepts. Bulky filing cabinets, the clickety-clacks of typewriters, and heavy smoking in timber-clad offices is the imagery that comes to mind (Mad Men, anyone?).
Okay, I'm exaggerating a little. Things aren't quite like that in the workplace anymore — no more typewriters, no more paper-based filing systems, no more noisy fax machines. It's all smart phones, emails, and "the cloud" today.
But how much has project management itself advanced in the last few decades? Apart from saving on paper and working on smaller tech gear, how much better are our project-management scenarios?
When we scratch beneath the surface and look at the productivity and efficiency — not just the shiny new office equipment — of most localization practices, we might find things haven’t progressed as much as we'd hoped.
Are you a boiling LSP?
Remember the “boiling frog” story? (I know... it turns out the frog wouldn’t just sit there as the water temperature increases, but bear with me for the sake of the analogy.) If you don't know the story, read up on it before continuing.
So, following the logic of the story: unless you’ve just launched your translation business and set everything up for continuous localization right from the start (i.e. unless you’re a frog that has just been dropped into a pot of boiling water and you immediately jump out of it), you’re probably still using the traditional localization approach (i.e. you’re a frog in a pot, you've been there for a while, and everything is fine and dandy).
With a traditional localization setup, projects can take anything from a few days to several weeks, and clients normally send translation requests via email — which inevitably sets off a thread of replies with briefs, questions, files, contracts, and any other documents and exchanges.
The truth is, there’s nothing wrong with this method (i.e. being a frog in a pot). It will work well enough if you have a small clientele that's fairly relaxed about how much time you need to get the translations done and sent back to them (i.e. you’re a frog in a pot and the water is nice and cool).
Unfortunately, this type of client is becoming something of a rarity in today’s get-this-content-out-right-now world (i.e. the water in the pot is not as cool and refreshing anymore). Most likely, you’re struggling to appease your clients' eagerness to have content translated as quickly as possible (and the interpretation of "as quickly as possible" will likely vary depending on which side of the negotiation you're on).
The water is getting hot, perhaps even starting to boil. You’re still in the pot.
It's time to take the leap
Sorry to get dramatic with the analogy but you get the (boiling) point. In a nutshell: the marketplace has changed pace and the traditional project management approach is no longer time efficient or keeping your clients happy.
If you’re shaking your head — “Is there no respect for the translation profession anymore?!” — I get it. But this isn’t about conceding to every ridiculous customer demand (some requests are totally unrealistic and I’m sure you’ve got plenty of stories to share).
No, I'm simply using the frog-in-pot analogy to make a point about the need to move on from the old way of doing things out of mere inertia. It's now more important than ever to do away with unnecessary processes, eliminate wasted time (like emails sitting in inboxes for days), and automate repetitive tasks.
By optimizing your project management, you'll be in a better position to meet your clients’ needs and still provide your linguists with enough time and resources to produce quality translations.
So, back to the boiling frog. It’s time to take the leap and get out of the pot before the water reaches boiling point. Or, as it applies to you: you need to rework your project management processes to ensure you can continue to attract and retain customers in a lightning-speed content-focused world.
But how? Let’s break it down — from translation request to delivery and payment — to see how you can lighten the load and speed things up.
Step 1: Taking translation requests
Taking translation orders is more labor-intensive than people might think. You’ve got to see what is being requested, evaluate your capacity, project costs, and send back a comprehensive quote with a time frame. It could mean having to download files, make documents editable, calculate word counts, and ask for additional information.
That’s a lot of groundwork for what may or may not become a paid project. Let's take a look at how we usually handle this.
Customers typically send you translation requests via email, right? Or maybe through a business communication platform like Slack or Messenger. Email is most people’s tool of choice, but it’s easy to try to be flexible and end up using several channels. The problem is, you're multiplying your work, and you're spending a lot longer than you can afford.
Even if you’re just using email — is that the most efficient way to take translation orders? Well, if you're not happy with how much time you're spending on your overflowing inbox every day, you already know the answer.
Problem: You’re spending too much time taking and responding to translation requests.
Solution? 🐸 Set up a dedicated portal where clients can easily submit translation requests.
With everything centralized in one place, you’ll save time and have fewer communication issues. Plus, if the portal is connected to a comprehensive translation platform — with a translation management system (TMS) and a CAT tool — you can have word counts, costs, and pricing all calculated automatically to make quoting even easier.
Step 2: Setting up the project
Once an order is confirmed, you (or your project manager) have to get the project set up and ready for translation. This includes reviewing all the files and instructions, setting up working files, and setting internal deadlines for each stage of the translation process.
This can be quite laborious and repetitive, especially if your client sends you requests in small chunks of text on a frequent basis, i.e. little and often, which is becoming the industry standard in content production workflows.
Problem: You’re spending too much time manually setting up projects.
Solution? 🐸 Find a CAT tool that allows you to easily configure and reuse project and client-specific settings.
Step 3: Finding and onboarding translators
It’s time to find translators for the project, which involves researching and evaluating linguists’ availability, experience, expertise, and rates, among other factors.
Many project managers say that this is the hardest part. You may have a perfect candidate in mind, but once you contact them, you may find they are not available when you need them, they may not have the exact skill set required, or their rates may have changed considerably.
There’s a lot of time and energy involved in the translator-finding and onboarding process. So much so that many translation companies have dedicated vendor managers, as well as project managers to handle this part.
Once you’ve found the right people, you have to brief them, send them files, assign them the tasks, and answer any questions. If you’re following a traditional approach, there will be many emails going back and forth, which not only takes up your project management time, but eats into the translators’ time that should be spent on doing the actual translations.
Problem: You’re spending too much time looking for and onboarding translators.
Solution? 🐸 Find a strong translation vendor marketplace that easily connects to your TMS and CAT tool.
Using the same platform to source translators and get the translations done saves everyone a lot of time. It also helps with consistency and encourages long-term collaborations with the translators who use the marketplace and translation platform regularly. In fact, even if you have your own in-house translators, it’s worth having everyone on the same platform and working together in sync.
Step 4: Managing translations
As customers become increasingly concerned with speed, it’s likely that they’ll want to check in regularly to see how work is progressing. If you’re following a traditional approach, translators may be using different translation tools, which means there’s no quick and easy way for the project manager to see how everyone is doing and how work is progressing.
They have to contact the translators to find out, and then get back to the client to let them know. More emails back and forth.
Not only is this time-consuming for everyone, but it also makes it difficult for the project manager to keep track of progress and performance.
Problem: You’re spending too much time checking progress and keeping clients informed.
Solution? 🐸 Use a transparent CAT tool that allows clients and project managers to see work in progress.
By using a platform that allows authorized users to see translations being done in real-time, the project manager is freed from having to check in with the translators and constantly update the client. They can also easily catch and fix any issues early on and make sure that translators are on course to meeting their deadlines.
Step 5: Delivering translations
Translation businesses following the traditional route usually send the translations to the customer in an attachment via email. This means the project manager will have previously had to collect all the translated files from all the translators working on the project, put them back together, and make sure everything is correct before sending to the client.
If the translations are for online content (which is often the case), the client will then have to upload them onto their content management system (CMS), e.g. WordPress, and make sure that everything is in context and makes sense. This involves several steps, which take time and allow for human error, especially if they don’t speak the translated language themselves.
Problem: You’re spending too much time delivering translations (or making your clients spend extra time publishing translations online unnecessarily).
Solution? 🐸 Use a translation platform that imports translations directly to your clients’ CMSs and set up a dedicated portal where they can easily download translations.
In other words, adapt to your clients’ needs. If a client wants translations directly imported into their CMS, use a translation platform that easily integrates with their CMS so that translations are imported there directly. If a client wants the translation files, have a dedicated portal on your website that automatically notifies them when the translations are complete and ready for download.
Either way, with a comprehensive translation platform (a TMS plus a CAT tool) the translated files are put back together automatically. The project manager saves time and the client gets the translations quickly and easily.
Step 6: Making and receiving payments
Payments are not technically part of project management, but the project manager is usually involved or has to at least make sure freelancers get paid correctly and on time.
Unless you have an automated payment setup, someone has to work out all the payables, set up each freelancer’s payment method, check each country’s tax regulations, and make sure freelancers are paid the right amounts.
Equally, you have to invoice and get paid by your client, which involves a lot of the same issues as paying your vendors. This all takes up time and energy.
Problem: You’re spending too much time on billing and payments.
Solution? 🐸 Set up a payment system that allows you to pay all suppliers in one go and makes it easy for your clients to pay you.
A comprehensive payment system that’s integrated into your translation platform will automate the calculation of invoicing amounts and allow you to make payments to all translators in one go — you pay once and all vendors automatically get paid their amounts.
The invoicing and payment system should also have the tax information for all countries built-in to save you the bother of having to figure that all out internally.
Little things add up
So, are you still doing things the frog-in-the-pot way? As you can see, there’s nothing wrong with this “tried and tested” approach — as long as it’s working for you and your customers, i.e. as long as you’re monitoring the temperature of the water.
But are you?
Are you aware of how much time you’re spending on extra little things when planning, organizing, and managing at every stage of the localization process?
It all adds up. But we rarely acknowledge or make a record of these “small” inefficiencies. Or we think they are unavoidable parts of the process and just get on with it.
Some may be unavoidable, sure, but others you can cut out entirely or spend a lot less time and energy on. But this means making a change.
It’s easy to just stay put where we are. Just like the frog in a pot. But the world around us keeps on moving, even if we don’t.
The solution is out there
If you want to cut project management time and costs, and keep your clients happy, it’s time to mix things up. Make the necessary changes so that it’s a lot easier for your clients to submit translation requests, receive quotes, upload files, receive translations, communicate with you, and pay you.
Setting up a dedicated space for this is win-win. Not only will it improve the customer experience, it will also streamline your whole project management workflow to save you a lot of time.
But there’s a caveat — the setup has to be simple enough for your clients to use! If you’re making them take too many steps, they won’t even bother. So you need to offer them a solution that is: a) proven to work better than what they are currently using, and b) easy to use — massive learning curves are a no-no!
You can set up a system yourself if you’re tech-savvy and have time on your hands. Or, you can choose a purpose-built solution that’s ready to go.
Smartcat’s Client Portal is a “plug and play” solution that provides translation businesses with a convenient space — usually on their website — for their clients to easily create requests, receive quotes, upload files, download translations, view project progress, and make payments.
The beauty of it is that each click instantly sets the next part of the project in motion. The result is that a lot of the “dead” time (when nothing happens) is eliminated and the project manager is freed from the tedious, repetitive tasks.
So, ready to jump out of the boiling water and make things easier for your project manager, your translation business, and your clients?