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How to Write an Effective Request for Proposal for Your Translation or Localization Project

This article, written by Acclaro, was originally posted on the industry newsletter GALAxy in June, 2009. Although focusing on insider tips for not-for-profit organizations and their localization RFP needs, the article is also relevant to for-profits.

Many not-for-profit organizations (NPOs) walk a financial tightrope between desire and reality when considering a translation project. Here are a few key insider tips (many of which are also applicable to for-profits) to help organize your project and write an effective Request for Proposal (RFP) or Request for Information (RFI) — while keeping an eye on your priorities.

Getting started

Before you start writing your RFP, analyze your project and ask yourself:

A note about translation agencies

Translation agencies vary in size and service offerings. A multi-language vendor (MLV) should be able to handle a variety of project-related tasks, like desktop publishing, web formatting and software testing. A single-language vendor (SLV), who specializes only in one language and perhaps a narrower set of services, may be a better fit for some projects. Although human translators are preferred by most agencies, an automated, “machine translation” solution may be a low-cost consideration for projects where professional quality is not needed. In some cases, your existing community of users may also be able to contribute to the first translation pass, and a professional agency can then edit for consistency rather than translating from scratch. Consider shopping around to compare what services different companies can provide.

Your involvement in the project

Think about how much you do (or don’t) want to be involved in the process. Your translation partner will essentially be recreating your content for a specific audience and will want to get your input on tone, style and terminology for accuracy’s sake. Sometimes that’s a good thing. But, sometimes you may wish to leave it their hands. Being able to communicate these details to your translation agency will help them design a solution that meets your overall needs and requirements.

Writing your RFP

As you write your RFP, translation agencies will be interested in knowing the following:

  • Who Are You? Give details about who you are, what you do and why you are considering translation.
  • What previous translation experience do you have? Have you ever worked with translation? If yes, how did you do it and were you pleased with the results? If you weren’t happy with your previous translations, what went wrong? Knowing your experiences (good and bad) will help an agency provide a useful response to your RFP.
  • What exactly do you need translated? Your translation partner will think in terms of project volume (specifically: words, pages and file types). Detailing exactly what you need translated will help your potential agency understand your plans from a volume perspective, and will help set accurate budgets and schedules up front.
  • What are your priorities for budget versus timeline? A turnaround time and a budgetary figure, even if fuzzy, are valuable pieces of information during the planning stages. However, these elements may not yet be clarified when you set out to write your RFP/RFI, or you may want to let your potential agency provide them to you. One tip to help set parameters is to prioritize the components that you want translated, and to rank your languages in order of importance. For example: “We would like to translate our website first in anticipation of a launch in six months, and then follow with our print brochures and press releases a few weeks later. Japanese and Spanish are the most important languages but we would also like pricing for French and German.”

A word about discounts and pro-bono work: Many translation providers are willing to consider supporting an NPO-worthy cause by reducing rates or contributing time. However, this usually means a net reduction in the agency’s own profit margin. Each translation provider approaches this differently, but having a good idea of your overall project details, timeline and available budget are key factors in deciding what the translation costs will be and what kind of savings can be offered. The more project details you provide in the RFP, the more effectively an agency can gauge its ability to participate.

Useful considerations submitted by NPOs in RFPs

At Acclaro, we have received many RFPs for NPOs, and have a good sense of what works, and what does not work. These points allow a translation agency to learn what is important to your organization and determine how to best address your specific needs.

Translation agencies and NPOs share one very important thing: a passion for a purpose. While translation providers serve a wide variety of clients, an interest in disseminating information and ideas across languages and cultures is a common trait. With the above guidelines, NPOs can create RFPs and find translation partners with confidence.

An insider’s perspective

Acclaro spoke with several NPO contacts who helped formulate this article, including AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition (AVAC), the Guggenheim Museum, Kiva and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Below are some specific points these organizations feel should be addressed in RFPs and used to select a translation vendor:

Acclaro invites you to explore our localization services and to contact us to discuss your unique localization needs. Or, simply request a quote to get started.


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