Top 5 barriers to good vendor management in the translation business

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Translators are the blood in the veins of any translation business. But for any organism to be healthy, you need not only enough of blood, but also a proper system of vessels to deliver it quickly where it is needed. Similarly, for a translation business to succeed you need proper vendor management.

By vendor management we mean the sourcing, assigning, and maintenance of relationships with the people doing the actual work in your translation business — translators, editors, proofreaders, DTP specialists, and so on.

As with any complex system, translation vendor management is prone to inefficiencies and unexpected hiccups. In this whitepaper, we pin down the biggest barriers most LSPs face in vendor management and share some clues on where to look to overcome them.

1. Translators have no experience in your specific field

Even when you have a large and reliable database of freelancers, you will always have projects requiring an additional layer of reliability. If your text is highly specific, or if you need to maintain a consistent voice despite hiring many freelancers, you want to be sure that the freelancers translate well and in the same style. Otherwise, you can end up with a document that is a mess as a whole regardless of how good its constituent parts are.

Running a high-scale translator testing campaign is a headache. You need to post across multiple job boards and/or forums, then you have to send out tons of emails, and get tons more back. All the while, you receive the same questions and have the same discussions over and over again, spending far too long just to keep the process going.

Your options are either to build an efficient process yourself or to outsource the Vendor Management service. In the latter case, you can forget about the administrative worries. You will just send the document that you want to use for assessment to the VM provider, and they will use a rigorous and proven process to run the testing for you. Ideally, you need to be able to review the tests conveniently in one single location and quickly add every freelancer whose test you have vetted to your TMS tool so you can quickly invite them to your future projects.

2. You cannot reliably assess the quality

Even if you manage to send out the tests and get enough responses, how will you know exactly which ones are good? If you are a native speaker of the target language, that’s one thing — but what if you aren’t? You need to hire native reviewers in that — in every, for that matter, — language pair. But how do you know if your reviewers are good either?

To get out of this vicious circle, you need to have experience working with many test reviewers and select the best ones. This is difficult to achieve unless you’re running translation tests all the time, every day. Again, having an external VM provider allows you to be sure that the candidates’ tests will be handled by competent reviewers.

3. Translators either overcharge or underperform

In any business, customers want to pay less and vendors always want to earn more. The ideal solution is to have them meet in the middle where the customer pays what they can afford and the vendor earns what they deserve. Unfortunately, when it comes to translation, the outcome is usually an imperfect solution: The customer pays less, and the translator just about manages to keep their hourly rate high enough by working much faster than what is required to deliver acceptable quality. This can include not self-reviewing their own work, producing a verbatim translation that doesn’t sound natural, or plainly entering slightly edited machine translation output instead of doing a proper translation.

Worst of all, unlike, for example, a taxi service where you can promptly tell if the driver is careless, you will not know that a translation is bad until it’s too late — for the reasons already mentioned in the previous chapter.

To get the best possible guarantee against overcharging or underperforming translators, either you or your VM provider need to:

  • Keep up to date with average prices in each language pair and specialization.

  • Avoid hiring anyone whose price is way above the market standard unless there is a compelling reason to do so.

  • Use automated tools that help detect machine translation when a human translation is expected.

4. Translators’ details or circumstances are out of date

An all too common mistake of “young” LSPs is to run a huge testing campaign without any concrete hiring plans — or worse, with falsely assured hiring plans that never happen. They build a database of “good” translators to keep and use for times to come.

But this just won’t fly:

  • Translators don’t like agencies who put them through laborious tests and then disappear. It doesn’t mean they’ll turn down your offer a year later, but the relationship will already be tainted by then.

  • Translators, especially those who go for unpaid tests, are highly volatile in their availability. In a year, you may find that half of your “recruits” no longer work as translators.

  • Others will have increased their rates — which is a natural progression for a translator — so your initial budget estimates will be wrong.

So you have to keep translators constantly busy, so they respond quickly to new project requests from you. Again, this might be easier with an external VM provider. Whether you are looking for a dozen translators for a huge project or one translator in a rare language pair or subject matter, you’ll likely find them faster this way than you would on your own.

5. You’re drowning in paperwork and tax compliance issues

Finally, in most jurisdictions, you cannot just hire someone — e.g. a translator — and pay them. You need “documentary evidence”: certificates of acceptance, invoices, reports, and so on. The worst part is that these vary from country to country, and — guess what — you’ll be bound to work with people from different countries if you run an LSP, at least a multilingual one. And then taxes — each country has their own. Not taking those beasts into account may result in an unexpected loss of profits or worse, fines.

Although this is not a widespread service, some Vendor Management service providers can take on the paperwork part too, so you don’t have to bother with paperwork or taxes at all. In his case, you’ll just be paying an aggregate invoice monthly — or as otherwise agreed — saving dozens of hours every month.

Overcome the barriers

You risk losing momentum and quality when managing your translation projects. To stay abreast of the market and keep your translation business airplane in the air, you have two options:

  1. Hire dedicated vendor managers. This might be the preferred option if you are big and can afford additional non-productive staff. But if you’re small and growing, you might want to spend the cost of a whole FTE unit — or several — on something more effective, such as business development, sales or marketing.

  2. Use an external vendor management provider. By outsourcing the VM function, you not only save the additional administrative costs associated with having a full-time employee, but also rid yourself of the related organizational and managerial headaches. Besides, the economy of scale means that the provider’s team, which deals with vendor management in much larger volumes than you — or most LSPs, — will cost considerably less even in direct costs.

Each option has its own pros and cons, and hopefully, this whitepaper will help you make your weighed decision.