Building Your Localization Strategy: Pros and Cons of Outsourcing

Successful localization depends on finding a delicate balance between control, cost, and scalability.

Some companies rely entirely on in-house talent—which offers you the most control and the lowest cost. There’s a lot of strength in building a translation team with linguists you know directly. However, you’ll run into significant difficulty when it comes time to scale up.

Other companies rely on 100% outsourced talent and technology in order to achieve faster, smoother, large-scale localization. With this strategy, what you give up in control and cost you gain in scalability and sustainable long-term success.

Companies localize successfully with both of these strategies, as well as by operating somewhere in the middle between fully outsourced and fully in-house work. To find your perfect balance, take a look at how the pros and cons of localization strategies stack up. By comparing the details of the seven most common solutions, you’ll be prepared to implement a localization process that lets you stay in control, keeps costs low, and empowers your global vision.

Comparing the Top 7 Localization Strategies

We’re comparing strategies based on the following criteria:
Cost
How much you’ll pay in fees, salaries, and administrative overhead. And how much time you’ll end up spending for the payoff.
Agility
How quickly you can shift priorities. And how easily you can scale up.
Quality
How much transparency and oversight you have over translations. And how prepared translators are for success.
Technology
How much effort you need to spend wrangling localization technology. And how comprehensive and robust the technology is in the first place.
Giraffe
 
COST
AGILITY
QUALITY
TECHNOLOGY
$
COST
Zero cost in additional dollars. Big time expense for the employee you’re leveraging.
F
AGILITY
Employees rarely have time for translation when it’s not their primary job.
F
QUALITY
Being a native speaker doesn’t necessarily make you a good translator.
F
TECHNOLOGY
Getting non-professionals into a CAT tool can be a nightmare.
$$$
COST
Despite a low per-word cost, salaries and benefits add up quickly for translators and managers.
C
AGILITY
You may have the luxury of changing priorities up until a point, but it’s very common for in-house teams to get jammed up.
A
QUALITY
Your team really gets your product and produces high-quality results.
C
TECHNOLOGY
Someone will need to do the work of setting up a basic system to begin with. And you’ll be paying for the core technology.
$$
COST
Per-word rates are low, but project management costs are high.
D
AGILITY
Direct management of freelancers is not scalable for big projects.
B
QUALITY
The quality of your freelancers depends on how well you guide them.
D
TECHNOLOGY
You need your own in-house CAT tools and freelancers willing to use this tech.
$$$$
COST
This approach costs extra but keeps your internal team reliably busy.
B
AGILITY
Your team can navigate between a needs and larger projects.
A
QUALITY
You can control transcreation, adaptation, and writing work.
C
TECHNOLOGY
Excellent workflow management is crucial for long-term success.
$$$
COST
More expensive than freelancers but less than a multi-language vendor.
B
AGILITY
Easy to scale for the one language you need but not on a global level.
C
QUALITY
Some SLVs hook you with premium quality that deteriorates later.
D
TECHNOLOGY
The SLV won’t build a localization tech infrastructure for you.
$$$$$
COST
Highest cost option, but you get a lot for your money.
A
AGILITY
This approach takes the headache out of scaling up to global markets.
B
QUALITY
As with SLVs, most enterprise LSPs won’t let you see who is doing the work.
B
TECHNOLOGY
Some LSPs try to trap you, requiring you use their tech. This makes it hard to leave or to adapt
$$$$
COST
This price tag is more competitive than an MLV—with added value.
A
AGILITY
Integrations make content movement extremely agile and scalable.
A
QUALITY
Great platform tools and transparency enhance the quality of your content.
A+
TECHNOLOGY
User-friendly centralized tools and seamless automation are a perfect combo.

The Pros and Cons of Outsourcing Localization

These seven content localization strategies run the gamut between fully in-house and fully outsourced operations. There are obvious pros and cons to each of these options. In most cases, in-house localization appeals to companies that want a high level of control and direct oversight, however, the time and resource burdens quickly pile up and can slow or halt a company’s global growth potential. Outsourcing, on the other hand, gives you the freedom to scale infinitely, but you have to be careful about the level of care and expertise you may get from various outsourced solutions.

Outsourcing
It’s critical to think ahead and consider how varying levels of managed services can benefit your operations and your product’s reach around the world. Before making your decision, take a look at how the pros and cons of each of these strategies play out in real time.

Internal Employee Who Speaks the Language

COST
$
AGILITY
F
QUALITY
F
TECHNOLOGY
F
COST

Many startups begin localizing their content with a bilingual employee who’s already on staff in another department. Hypothetically, this approach costs next to nothing in terms of additional dollars. An employee is likely to be thrilled and honored to use their language proficiency in some capacity—at least, until they realize how much work actually goes into localization.

AGILITY

It soon becomes all too clear that your star employee doesn’t have time to handle translation work on top of their existing responsibilities. They’re always pressed for time. They might grow to resent being pulled into the additional workload as localization progresses. Big projects stall, and pivoting is almost impossible.

QUALITY

Managers will realize quickly that this approach doesn’t produce high-quality content. Though your employees are well-meaning and hard-working, they haven’t gone through the necessary training that qualifies them to be translators. Speaking a language fluently or studying it in school does not provide someone with the technical skills they need to produce quality translations.

TECHNOLOGY
Technology Image

If you decide to risk this approach, be prepared to create or purchase an amazing content localization management system that can keep your deliverables organized and tie in robust computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools. Your employees may not be familiar with any of the localization or translation technology. But don’t lose out on the advantages of translation memory and term bases due to an employee’s inexperience. A centralized system can make these tools accessible even for beginners

You also need to make sure you have the engineering chops to manage the complexity of file formats, segmentation, and content management systems. Unless you do go the route of a comprehensive management platform, you’re basically on your own when it comes to round-trip localization, so you need to be prepared for the challenges.

In-House Translation Team

COST
$$$
AGILITY
C
QUALITY
A
TECHNOLOGY
C
COST
Cost Image

This is the most “Goldilocks” strategy on our list. If you can manage to keep an internal translation team busy, this approach tends to have the lowest per-word fee. But this strategy depends on a very fragile balance. Your company has to be large enough to produce a significant daily localization workload to make in-house translators practical. On the flip side, this strategy tends to break down after you surpass 3 or 4 target languages, which makes it ironically unfit for companies that are too large. Hiring full-time translators in each of those languages quickly becomes cost prohibitive with salaries and benefits. And you’ll need to also have managers enough to play point on the team as your projects scale.

AGILITY

Having a fully in-house team of translators allows you to maintain an agile workflow. You have the luxury of changing priorities at the drop of a hat—up until a point. Too often, though, in-house teams get quickly tied up with certain kinds of content, and the whole system jams up. You also need to be aware that translation work tends to run on a “feast or famine” cycle. If you rely on an in-house team of translators, you need to be prepared to keep everyone productive during the inevitable down time between projects.

QUALITY

By hiring an in-house team, you’re ensuring that your translators really understand your product and produce superior-quality work as a result. You might even have them doing double duty as copy editors and writers, which helps relieve some stress from your internal marketing team. And because these employees are fully invested in to your brand messaging and production goals, they can help find issues in your source content or provide valuable insights for customizing UX.

TECHNOLOGY

As far as technology goes, you’ll need to hire full-time translators who work in standard CAT tools and understand localization platform technology. And you’ll need to have that technology set up and ready for them before they come to work for you.

With this strategy, you may struggle to manage any kinds of content systems integrations. API integrations (and any continuous localization workflows) require real engineering chops. If you are that qualified engineer or localization manager, maybe you have a shot; otherwise, you will likely find yourself behind the times in terms of technology, just using the basics.

External Freelancers Only

COST
$$
AGILITY
D
QUALITY
B
TECHNOLOGY
D
COST

By hiring external freelancers to translate your content, you’re also able to secure a low cost per word. But don’t forget to account for the time your project managers will have to spend chasing after freelancers and keeping track of content. Depending on the size of your company, you could have three salaried employees whose only job is to email freelancers and in-market reviewers and track everything on spreadsheets. That’s not exactly efficient.

AGILITY

It’s incredibly hard to maintain a flexible and scalable team when you’re relying on freelancers. As soon as your lead French translator takes an unexpected leave of absence, you’ll be in a real bind. And when you receive your first huge localization project with a demanding deadline, you’ll realize that this strategy just isn’t scalable without a huge pool of freelance talent.

QUALITY

Freelancers can definitely produce quality translation work. The quality of your content really depends on how involved you are. If you provide plenty of clear guidelines, product specs, brand style guides, and opportunities for Q&A, your team will likely hit the mark and produce high-quality work. But keep in mind that every time you hire a new freelancer, you’ll be starting that process from scratch. You’ll spend a lot of time establishing quality standards and running manual quality control from your desk.

TECHNOLOGY
Technology Image

Managing an army of freelancers also comes with technological difficulties. It’s likely that each person you contract has their own preferred CAT tools and workflows. Getting them all to agree to your centralized approach may be painful, and you might lose some great linguists in the process. But we consider this a necessary evil. The alternative is that you’ll be exporting projects in various formats to fit different tool sets. From a management perspective, you simply don’t have time to wrangle such a heterogenous tech ecosystem. You have to find a way to simplify. Set up smart localization technology and get freelancers to buy into your system from the beginning

In-House Editors with Outsourced Services

COST
$$$$
AGILITY
B
QUALITY
A
TECHNOLOGY
C
COST

Adding in-house editors to your freelance operation introduces an additional level of expense. If you have the funds, this is a great way to approach the issues that arise with freelance localization. You still need to maintain a high volume of localization work to keep everyone busy. But adding in-house experts can help balance the risk of relying on freelancers for your translation work.

AGILITY

Splitting your team between in-house and outsourced talent creates a favorable balance when it comes to flexibility. Your in-house editors can respond to immediate needs with urgency, and you have an army of freelance translators working on large scale work in the background. This makes localization happen much faster overall.

QUALITY
Quality Image

The editors you hire will spend most of their time overseeing outsourced freelancers or language service providers (LSPs), so you can expect them to maintain a higher level of quality across all of your content. Better yet, your in-house team knows enough to be involved in complex transcreation work. They could even help you write compelling marketing copy or adapt your UX in their spare time when they’re not overseeing the primary external work.

TECHNOLOGY

If you choose this strategy, it’s critical that you have a strong quality management system in place alongside tight project workflows. You’ll have a lot of cooks in the kitchen. Automated hand-offs will save your sanity at the end of the day. You also need to make sure you have integrated terminology management tools and dynamic digital style guides in place from the beginning. Your in-house team needs to be able to document standards and linguistic choices so your external partners can benefit from their expertise.

External SLVs

COST
$$$
AGILITY
B
QUALITY
C
TECHNOLOGY
D
COST

Hiring external single-language vendors (SLVs) to handle your translations is more expensive than hiring freelancers but less than a multi-language vendor. The main drawback of this system is that you need to manage a vendor relationship (and a fee) for each of your target languages. These costs add up quickly, and it can be hard to keep track. If your company is planning to go global and target more than a handful of locales, you’d be better off choosing a more efficient and budget-friendly strategy.

AGILITY

Single-language vendors specialize in one language (or a couple regional languages) and have a deep pool of translators to choose from. They may not be able to pivot as fast as a fully internal team, but they have the bandwidth to scale up to large volumes of work for a single language as needed. Ultimately, if you need to be able to add new languages at the drop of a dime, this is not a good approach.

QUALITY
Quality Image

There are hundreds of SLVs, and many are highly respectable. But, in general, SLVs keep their clients behind a thick curtain when it comes to translation work. If you’re thinking about handling localization with this strategy, you need to be ready to deal with a serious lack of transparency and handle the other consequences of their somewhat-sticky reputation. Client complaints paint a very unfavorable picture of this segment of the language industry.
Here’s a common example: Let’s say the leader of the SLV you hire is highly talented and says she’ll be working on your content personally. You receive top quality on your pilot project. You continue to purchase services. But over time, you notice the translation quality deteriorating. Come to find out, many SLVs pass legacy projects on to junior translators in order to turn a better profit. Most claim that every translation is reviewed by senior translators, but that’s clearly not always the case. Make sure you choose an SLV that’s worthy of your trust.

TECHNOLOGY

Technology management becomes almost impossible when you partner with multiple SLVs. Like freelancers, these companies have their preferences for tools and tech. Getting all of your SLVs to work well with your internal system is not easy. And you’ll have to build that localization technology infrastructure yourself—the SLVs aren’t going to build it for you.

Big-Box Language Service Providers (LSPs)

COST
$$$$$
AGILITY
A
QUALITY
B
TECHNOLOGY
B
COST

Hiring a big-box LSP is the highest-cost option on this list, but you do get a lot for your money. In addition to high-level localization consulting, you could receive project management support, translation services, file parsing support, and access to technology. While the tech is usually free, be aware that many big-box LSPs require that you use their localization technology, and it may not be the cutting-edge option. You don’t want to be held hostage with sub-par tech that you have to depend on for the next five years.

AGILITY

This strategy may cost a lot, but it pays well in flexibility and scalability. Partnering with a multi-language vendor (MLV) takes a lot of the headache out of localization. They’ll help you manage complex workflows with ease. And a good MLV can support your company’s growth into as many markets as you can afford. However, if you do get locked into their technology, you may not have the flexibility to make a change down the road.

QUALITY

Like SLVs, many MLVs also tend to operate behind that restrictive translation curtain. They won’t let you see who’s actually doing your translation work—mainly because they hire translators who are six degrees of separation away from you. Who knows what credentials they have? You definitely won’t know unless you ask—and maybe not even then. Often, the largest LSPs don’t even know who is doing the translation! They farm the work out to the SLVs. So, it ends up being a double curtain of obscurity.

TECHNOLOGY
Technology Image

In general, big-box LSPs are larger companies that are well positioned to help you establish a smart approach to localization. But they know that once you’re set up with their platform and translation tools, it’ll be nearly impossible for you to leave. The other downside is that their “free” technology isn’t always cutting-edge or well maintained.

The smartest choice, in this case, would be to use the LSP for scalability, reliability, and consulting, but then go to the marketplace to buy your own localization technology. You’ll rack up a hefty tech expense by purchasing your own translation management system (TMS), and you’ll have to deal with the headache of getting the LSP to work properly with your tools, but you won’t be trapped in their system.

Integrated Platform with Managed Services

COST
$$$$
AGILITY
A
QUALITY
A
TECHNOLOGY
A+
COST

This final strategy comes at a more competitive price than most big-box LSPs. By investing in an integrated continuous localization platform and relying on managed back-end services, you’ll reach new heights of automation at a more reasonable cost. This is one case in which technology actually saves you money.

One caveat: be sure you’ll be getting unlimited use from the platform before you sign on. Some companies make their localization product seem reasonable but then hit you with wild charges in the fine print. Question whether you’ll be charged extra if you go over the volume limits for translation, if you add additional users, or if more people visit your translated webpage.

AGILITY
Agility Image

Automated integrations make content movement extremely agile. Just make sure your new partner has the engineering skill to get your integrations set up properly and in a timely fashion. The platform you choose should also come with tools such as terminology management, quality assurance, and asset review (for media and graphics files) that will greatly enhance the quality of your market-facing materials.

QUALITY

By hiring a localization platform with managed services on the backend, you get the benefit of being able to scale with large pools of translators who are already familiar with the technology. If your partner is willing to be transparent, you also get to enjoy unparalleled visibility of who’s doing your translations. You can actually develop a relationship with your lead translators just as you would if you worked with them in-house. This results in better buy-in and engagement from translators and better translations for you.

From the start, be sure that the translators taking on your content are well vetted. Some platforms are good at technology but new to services. Be sure you have a partner who really knows what it takes to recruit and retain the best translators in the industry. Don’t settle for the next translator in the queue.

TECHNOLOGY
Technology Image

The best platforms can deliver seamless automation of content flows from code repositories and content management systems—while still allowing a digital neophyte to submit projects the old-fashioned way through a simple user interface. These full-service localization companies also have engineers and designers available any time you need support. You’re purchasing an end-to-end continuous localization solution that’s built on the best technology on the market. If your startup or enterprise aims to operate on the cutting edge, this is the strategy for you.

Investing in the Right Localization Partnership

To varying degrees of success, companies are making localization work with every single one of these options.

If we were to invest in our own localization project, we’d go with the last strategy: lean on experts in the localization industry with a centralized and seamless system. In this way, you rely on the cutting-edge technology of an industry-leading localization platform, and you use the back-end services to take the load off your internal team so they can continue to do what they do best. There’s no reason to even consider sacrificing quality. To hack the system even more, you could consider populating the platform with your own team of translators. You get maximum control and infinite scalability at a highly competitive price point.

As long as you’re partnering with the right company, this top localization strategy will give you the radical transparency of a small-scale operation with the scalability of a global enterprise.

Bureau Works offers a turnkey localization package that’s shattering the status quo of the language industry. If you’d rather hire multiple SLVs and accept a total lack of visibility, go ahead. Our platform wouldn’t really work for you. But if you want to invest in technology and services that will balance out the pros and cons of your localization strategy, contact our team. That’s what we do best.

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