What You Need to Know About Onboarding a Localization Vendor
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What You Need to Know About Onboarding a Localization Vendor

You’ve just chosen a new localization vendor and realized there are a lot of things to consider and set up before you can assign the first project. A successful onboarding process allows both sides to collect important information, define expectations and objectives, understand risks, establish efficient workflows and help all stakeholders get to know one another.

Enough time should be taken to onboard the new vendor and ensure that all facets of the relationship are planned, discussed and agreed upon at the onset. This not only guarantees that everyone understands the ongoing expectations of the partnership, but helps ensure the long-term success of your localization program. Let’s take a look at the components of the onboarding process.

The kickoff

One of the most important steps of a successful onboarding process is a kickoff meeting involving all stakeholders. This meeting should address your organization’s needs and objectives. It is important to be upfront and transparent with the localization vendor so that they can properly set up the program, assign the right professionals and prevent surprises down the road.

Here are some key points that you may wish to discuss in the initial kickoff meeting:

  • The key stakeholders on both teams and their roles and responsibilities;
  • The language pairs that you wish to start with;
  • The different types of content that will be included in your localization program;
  • The amounts of content and wordcount volumes per language;
  • The roles and responsibilities of any other localization vendor or in-house staff;
  • Any prior localization projects and relevant documentation;
  • The estimated timeframe for commencing the first project;
  • Information about your brand, products and/or services and the necessary expertise that translators should possess (i.e. legal or marketing);
  • Whether your organization requires support in multiple time zones; and
  • Any existing assets like translation memories, style guides and terminology databases that should be used.

Infrastructure and technology

Setting up the necessary infrastructure is crucial to both the short and long-term success of your localization program, as technology gaps could negatively impact both quality and speed. Consider your organization’s existing workflows and infrastructure challenges. For instance, if your localization program is large or has many stakeholders, it will be essential to leverage a technical solution like a translation management system (TMS) to improve quality and lower costs. (Most TMS on the market include a translation memory function, terminology management, some workflow tools and language quality checks.) You can rely on your new localization vendor for guidance on implementing new tools and establishing new processes.

Gather and analyze historical documentation

You’ll need to provide the new vendor with relevant documentation, guidelines, requirements and instructions on your brand, messaging, style, voice, terminology and linguistic preferences to guide linguists on how to accurately localize your content. This may include things like linguistic assets (TMs, glossaries, style guides and quality requirements), linguistic quality data, project summary reports and localization metrics. The new localization vendor will analyze and use these materials when establishing their linguistic team, workflows and technology setup, as well as identify what worked well and did not work in the past.

Identify risks

Nearly every project in every industry has risks. Localization is no exception. It is necessary to identify risks at the outset and devise ways to avoid them. Create a risk management plan together with your new vendor that clearly defines each risk as well as its potential solutions and contingency plans. Again, it is important to be transparent with your localization vendor about any challenges you have encountered in the past.

Experienced vendors will involve not only localization project managers in the process, but also program and operations personnel to gain a full understanding of your needs and challenges. These stakeholders can include sales staff, account managers, technology teams, onboarding managers, linguistic services managers, supply chain managers and others.

Rely on your vendor’s expertise and work together to plan for and meet challenges as they arise.

Now that you know how to identify and plan for risks, knowing the challenges that can arise during a typical localization project will be helpful. Each of these potential issues should be addressed and mitigated during the onboarding process.

Translator capacity

Finding highly qualified and specialized translators that are available to work on a project can be challenging. These translators are often in high demand and typically schedule their workload in advance, so project delays could result in them no longer being available when the time comes, or if delays are common, refusing your projects altogether.

Thus, it is important that you work with your vendor to meet logistical challenges, provide heads-up and scope information on projects and ensure that tasks remain on schedule so you can keep the assigned translators. Having to find new translators mid-project can impact the project timeline, not to mention introduce potential quality issues.

Balancing speed and quality

Successful localization programs strike a careful balance between speed and quality. While the two are not mutually exclusive, they tend to have an inverse relationship in that the quality of the content can suffer when an organization prioritizes speed. Be sure to get on the same page with your localization vendor and work together on a realistic schedule for the delivery of high-quality content.

Optimizing program framework

Most localization vendors can kick off a project very quickly and handle ad hoc localization requests, but for long-term success, plan on your vendor requiring three to six months to establish a fully optimized program framework. This includes assigning an experienced production team, qualifying and training linguists, implementing your technology solution and designing both project workflows that meet your requirements and a reporting environment so you can track the health of your program. Localization has a lot of moving parts and logistical challenges.

Discuss your timing needs and expectations with your localization vendor and agree to an onboarding schedule that is mutually beneficial and feasible. If you need to start work right away, be sure to discuss all the risks of this approach so that everyone can go into the first project with eyes wide open.

Volume forecasting and planning

So that your new vendor can plan assignments, implement the right workflows and ensure top quality, forecasting is necessary. For example, if 10,000 words in five languages is planned and then 1 million words come in for 12 languages, your vendor will have to scramble to find enough linguists to handle the work. The reverse situation—when the scope ends up being much less than planned—trained resources are lost.

If possible, establish a budgetary threshold (i.e. you are going to spend $50,000 per month) and collaborate with your vendor to make sure the necessary frameworks are in place to consistently handle that volume.

Onboarding tips when switching vendors

There may come a time in a buyer-seller relationship when things are no longer working and it is best to move on to another supplier. While there is the potential for negative feelings on both sides, it is beneficial to try to involve the outgoing localization vendor in the onboarding process so they can transfer knowledge and help get your new vendor up to speed.

Gather documentation on your vendor’s work processes and procedures. Ask for current linguistic assets, quality reports, status reports and other relevant information and send it all to your new vendor. Ask your new vendor what else they need and whether they want to correspond with the other vendor. Facilitate open communication as much as possible to ensure a successful transition.


The onboarding process is an important step in building a beneficial business relationship with your localization vendor. Spend the necessary time setting expectations and identifying challenges to ensure the long-term success of your localization program.

Thanks to Deirdre Cleere, Senior Onboarding Program Manager, for contributing to this blog post.