How to write a translation RFP: these questions will help you assess providers

There are lots of ways to find a suitable translation agency, and a public request for proposal (RFP) is just one of them. But when is this worthwhile and what criteria should be included to make assessing the contenders easier?

An RFP (or invitation to tender) is much like a job ad or a dating ad. You describe exactly what you’re looking for, receive various offers from interested parties and choose the one that suits you best – in the above example, this would be an employee or a romantic partner. But how does this work when it comes to translation agencies, and which questions will help you find the right provider?

We’ll start off by mentioning that a large-scale tender isn’t always worthwhile. Whether you should advertise your language needs will depend on the size of the project and whether you require translations on a regular basis. It also often depends on internal regulations. If you’re currently still unsure of your exact requirements, it’s worth proactively submitting a request for information (RFI) to providers. Specialists will then assist you with figuring out your translation needs.

Either way, it always makes sense to write down a few questions and work through them, as this will help give you a rough indication of whether an agency meets your requirements. Most companies publish tenders in PDF format on procurement platforms for services, but some also use automation software or survey tools. No matter how you go about it, you will be able to evaluate providers more quickly and easily by taking a few points into account.

Tender right around the corner and not enough time to read through everything in detail? Our checklist has got you covered.

About you

First of all, you need to include the following information:

Objective – why are you looking for a (new) translation agency?

This is where you need to be transparent about your situation and the reasons behind the tender. Is there a specific project in the pipeline? Do you want to standardize your translation processes? Are you looking to reduce the number of suppliers? Do you need to adhere to specific security requirements or procedures? Or are you on the hunt for a new language service provider to optimize costs or quality? The more specific you are in describing your needs, the more likely it is that your future translation agency will be able to help you meet them.

Requirements – what are your needs in terms of content?

Next, you need to provide some information about your language service requirements. It’s a good idea to create a brief outline that covers the following points:

  • The field in which your company operates
  • Your desired languages/language combinations (and any local variations)
  • The formats and channels you usually use for communication, and whether the project involves internal and/or external publications
  • The services you require as a result (specialist translation, machine translation, transcreation, etc.)
  • The expected volume and frequency of texts
  • The internal processes and technological setups you currently work with, and which of these you would like to keep

Scheduling and planning the process – how is the evaluation carried out?

Creating a schedule will give the various providers (and yourself) an overview of how to proceed:

  • Up until what point can providers ask questions?
  • When is the deadline for submitting an offer?
  • How and in what format should the offer be submitted?
  • How long will the evaluation take?
  • When will the winner of the tender be published?
  • Who is the contact person for any queries?

The time between the invitation to tender and awarding the contract varies and depends on the requirements. However, 6–10 weeks is a good indication of how long it usually takes.

About the translation agency

Enough about you. After all, you want to get to know the potential providers. The more you learn about how a company works, the more likely you are to figure out whether it’s a good fit for you. Here, various factors need to be taken into consideration. At the very least, you should request the following information:

Company size

How much revenue does the translation agency generate? Where are its offices? How big is its staff, and how long has it been in the industry?

Fields of activity and specializations

Which fields does the language service provider specialize in? Is it an all-rounder or does it specialize in certain sectors and/or services, e.g. creative translations, video localization or copywriting?

Internal organization

What functions and roles are there? Are internal project management and language review systems in place? Are there specific responsibilities for specializations? Does the agency work exclusively with freelancers or does it have in-house language experts?

Security and quality control processes

How are freelancers assessed for quality? Are defined security and data protection procedures in place? Can the company provide evidence of certifications, e.g. ISO 17100 and ISO 9001 for its quality management system, ISO 18587 for post-editing of machine translations or ISO 27001 for information security management?

Use of systems and technology

Does the agency have a flexible translation platform for collaboration? Which CAT tools does it use? How are translation memories and termbases managed? Are machine translation solutions and integrations into existing systems (e.g. CMS, PIM, TMS) provided or can they be developed? What is the company doing in terms of innovation and technology?

Workflows and deadlines

What does the standard workflow of a project involve? How quickly can translations be delivered? Does the agency offer express and on-call services if required?

Pricing of the required services

How are the prices determined, and which services are included? Does the company offer discounts, e.g. if you order over a particular volume, or for the use of technology such as machine translation and CAT tools? How high are the surcharges for express orders and additional services such as DTP?

Client references or case studies

Which companies has the translation agency already collaborated with? Has it worked on similar projects in the past? How did the provider handle the relevant volume and the desired content formats? Did the agency act in an advisory capacity, and did it proactively provide innovative solutions?

Test translations

Test translations are often required as part of a tender, and this option certainly makes sense if you’re in contact with individual freelancers. After all, you want to see if they can really do what they say they can. For agencies that work with a pool of language professionals, it makes more sense to hold a translator casting – this enables you to pick the best linguistic match for you after you’ve successfully assessed the processes. For the test or casting, we recommend choosing short texts that are similar to the kinds of translations you’ll potentially be ordering. Make sure to clearly communicate your assessment criteria for this.

All of this gives insight into the culture, strengths and availability of the service provider and helps you assess whether it will meet your scope of work and requirements. Collecting more suitable offers will allow you to speed up the evaluation, as you can make a direct comparison between the various providers and only need to determine how you’re going to weight the individual factors.

To speed things up for the next evaluation, we’ve summarized everything in a checklist. And if you have any questions, we’re always happy to help.

Cover image via Pexels

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