Language service providers (LSPs) are notorious for being untrustworthy. Every couple of years, a localization manager will outsource localization to another service, hoping this one will be better than the last. Maybe the last LSP charged your company thousands in hidden platform fees. Maybe they presented translations that were on point in the beginning but slowly spiraled into unacceptable territory. Heaven knows you’ve been burned before.
If your history with LSPs reads like a bad breakup, it’s time to take appropriate steps to make sure your next partnership is a good one. You need a long-term relationship that’s based on trust, accountability, and transparency. When you finally have a good language service provider on your side, you’ll realize the joy of interacting with a vendor who actually provides value to you and your company. We want that for you.
Let’s examine how to choose a language service provider. Start looking for that unicorn relationship at the beginning of the sales cycle. You can learn almost everything you need to know about an LSP by examining their pricing structure—which you should absolutely do before signing a contract. By following these four steps, you’ll be able to sidestep the standard LSP’s pricing tricks and home in on partners who are actually worth your time.
4 Steps for How to Choose the Right Language Service Provider
Step 1: Consider the per-word rate
When you’re looking to hire a localization service, the first thing you should consider is their per-word rate. But be warned—this has become one of the most common bait-and-switch mechanisms in our industry. You can expect to see each of the big-box LSPs on your list advertising a low per-word rate.
Sounds great, right?
The problem is, dishonest companies will lure you in with a cheap rate and then tack on extra, unexpected, perhaps hidden fees. Over the course of your engagement, you’ll end up paying more than if you had signed with a competitor with a higher price per word. Start by looking for a middle-of-the-road per-word rate. That way you’ll have a better chance at setting an accurate budget for your total localization costs. And be ready to look beyond this pricing indicator for the whole picture.
Step 2: Sweat the small stuff
Next, take a magnifying glass to the fine print and seek out all of those hidden costs that an LSP might add onto your bill. Look for policies on:
- Translation memory (TM). How much does this company charge for 100% matches? Even though perfect matches sourced from the TM take practically no work from the translator, many LSPs will still take this opportunity to drain a few more cents out of you.
- File downloads. If you’re not working with a localization platform that’s fully integrated with your CMS, how much are they going to charge you for downloading files? Some LSPs will charge anywhere from $2.00 to $5.00 per page for a PDF downloaded from their repository. Yes, this is utterly absurd.
- Voiceovers. Many LSPs challenge their clients to find a lower voiceover price than the one they’re offering—but are they including all the additional fees? Line items like engineering costs, studio time, director fees, and casting calls can add up fast.
Most dishonest LSPs get away with nickeling and diming their clients. Make sure you’re paying attention to the small details before you sign a contract because they could reveal questionable business practices that end up costing you thousands.
Step 3: Don’t fall for tiered platform pricing
Tiered pricing is another gimmick of many localization technology providers. “As long as you stay within X number of words, you’ll receive our lowest rate!” Buyer beware. This is the biggest complaint clients have against some of the major big-box LSPs on the market today. Localization platform technology may seem relatively well priced in the beginning, but as soon as you process more than your allotted total words of translation, the LSP could tack on fees—fees that may be astonishingly high because you’ve reached the next-tier-up cost by using the tech too much.
Don’t listen to their illegitimate justifications of “server space” and “volume of work.” Tiered pricing is designed so that LSPs can leech off of clients who become successful. Look for a partner that lets you pay on a linear scale—or better yet, a partner that charges a flat fee for unlimited use and unlimited users. That way you can grow your enterprise as big as the market allows without being penalized.
Step 4: Ask the hard questions
In the end, it’s not enough to get representative line items from any LSP you’re thinking about hiring. You need to ask detailed questions that force prospective vendors to give an accurate estimate of the total cost of a real project. Put a real-life scenario before each of your vendors by detailing a project (complete with number of files and integrations) and ask what they plan to charge in exact dollar amounts. Then, take some time to consider the internal costs of building a localization strategy around this company. Based on the tech they offer, how much time and effort will your staff have to put into managing localization? Use that estimate and the LSP’s projections to create a total cost number, which you can then use to compare vendors.
This is the only way to know for sure how much localization will cost your company. It’s also the best way to identify which language service providers are doing right by their clients. You should absolutely complete this step before signing a contract of any kind—and if a vendor makes it hard for you to learn exact costs for your project, take your business elsewhere.
At Bureau Works, we believe in tearing down the curtain and revealing hard truths about the language services industry. With so much at stake, it’s really hard to know how to choose a trustworthy language service provider. We built our localization platform on radical transparency, which ultimately helps our clients save money and reach global audiences faster with higher quality content. Contact our team to start localizing with a language service provider you can trust.
Written by Luciana Passos
Luciana is Bureau Works COO. She is known as a gap bridger and a heart follower.