Follow the right process and ask the right questions to choose the most suitable language service provider.

Your first step will usually be to write an RFP – a Request For Proposal – to see which translation agency is a good fit for you and your project. But how do you go about doing it? Is there a set process? Or any industry guidelines you need to follow?

Here we lay out some best practice guidelines for how to write an RFP for translation services:

What’s the difference between a tender, a bid, and a proposal?

Much like any industry, the procurement and business development crowd have their own lingo. This is terminology that you need to understand right from the start if you’re looking to hire a translation company.
Here’s a quick guide:

  • Request for Information (RFI) – usually one of the first stages in the procurement process, an RFI doesn’t involve a ‘bid’- it’s an invitation for the Language Service Providers (LSPs) you’re interested in to tell you how they’ll meet your project requirements. This can include their capabilities, strengths, and services they provide.
  • Request for Proposal (RFP) – the RFP is the part of the process which usually invites a ‘bid’ from a service provider on the work which the buyer wants to get done. The RFP needs to include quite a bit of information (which we’ll look at below) in order to get useful responses from the LSPs you send them to.
  • Bid (used on the provider side) – a bid refers to any approach made to a client by a provider. It can also refer to a specific offer submitted to compete for a specific piece of offered work. Imagine how the word ‘bid’ is used in an auction, and you have a rough understanding of how it’s used here.
  • Tender (used on the buyer side) – confusingly, this is usually the same as a ‘bid’. ‘Tender’ tends to be used by the buyer, with ‘bid’ more often used by the provider.

The translation RFP process – optimal schedule

The Request For Proposal process isn’t something that should be rushed. If you want to make certain that you’re selecting a translation company that will meet all of your requirements, here’s the sort of timetable that you should be following:

STEP 1

Request EOI (Expression of Interest). Contact the long-list of LSPs who you think may be suitable, with a summary of your requirements and allow one to two working weeks for replies.

Include at this stage the timeline indicating deadlines for each step, as well as the target dates for the selection of a successful provider, the signing of contracts and start date for the services.

STEP 2

This is your RFI (Request For Information) phase. Send out a short questionnaire and details of your must-have requirements to the providers who have expressed an interest, allowing one to two weeks for replies. This will help you get an idea of what options are available on the market.

This will save you time as you won’t have to read through so many lengthy proposals, only to find several bidders who inevitably don’t match your requirements. This will also avoid discouraging potential providers from submitting a tender again in future when you have a requirement which better matches their expertise. Keep in mind that some providers will stop responding to RFIs and RFPs from a client who has rejected them a few times, assuming there is no point investing time and energy in future tenders which they seem unlikely to win.
It’s advisable to indicate at this stage your selection criteria and relative weighting. Having this agreed internally from the outset will make it easier for you and your colleagues to make an objective decision while sharing this info with the providers will reassure them that the process is fair and well-organised. It will also encourage unsuitable providers to drop out rather than wasting time (theirs and yours) on a pointless tender.

STEP 3

Narrow down the providers based on their RFI responses then send out your finalized RFP to your long-list of providers (remembering to thank companies which were not selected). ‘Finalised’ means that all necessary information should be included so ideally, no further information needs to be shared with the bidders.

It’s advisable to send providers at this stage the contract or Master Services Agreement you will eventually ask the successful provider to sign, together with any other agreements. This ensures that the proposals and pricing they submit will indeed be valid without further negotiation when the time comes to sign.

STEP 4

Providers should submit questions before a pre-determined deadline – this should be around one to two working weeks after receipt of your RFP, depending on the complexity of the tender. Expect to receive several questions from each provider.

Allow your team a few days to prepare your replies, then send them out to all providers by your pre-determined deadline. Make sure to send each provider the full set of questions and answers, and give an individual answer to every question even when questions from multiple providers overlap.

STEP 5

Providers submit their proposals, ideally two to three working weeks after you send the replies to queries. Again, this depends on the complexity of the tender.  For example, if the project requires each provider to produce a lot of customised information related to its company and services, or if you require translation of test pieces, it’s considerate to allow more time.

STEP 6

Shortlisted providers visit you and present their proposal. This is optional but recommended for long-term, high volume or particularly critical projects.

It is almost always easier to make a decision when you’ve met the people you will be dealing with. Make sure to ask the providers to bring at least one of their production people – the CEO and Sales Director may be impressive, but they may not be your day to day contacts after you award the contract.

You will probably have a list of additional questions in mind after reading the proposals. Send these to the short-listed providers when you invite them to come and present, so they can prepare detailed info in the relevant areas.

Usually, two to four working weeks is a good timeframe for this, especially if providers will be traveling from overseas. Limit this stage to as few providers as possible.

STEP 7

Selection of your agency – ideally no later than three months after the start of the bidding process. Make sure you have the necessary internal approvals to get the agreements signed as soon as you select the provider. In some organisations this may take as long as the RFP process itself, so start as early as possible.

Sample pre-selection questionnaire

The Request For Information part of your RFI can be difficult to get right if you haven’t done it before. The key is to aim to word the questions in such a way that the providers can give short answers.

Here’s an example of the questions you could be asking:
I. Contact details
II. Requirements to be selected as a vendor – these could be ‘mandatory’ or ‘preferred but not essential’ and include:

  • Company status (sole trader, limited, etc.)
  • Year of establishment
  • Office locations
  • Number of in-house employees
  • Office hours, weekend cover
  • Number of years of experience providing the requested service
  • Minimum qualifications and experience requested from linguists
  • Proven experience in the actual language pair/s
  • Proven experience in your industry sector / functional specialism
  • The Quality Assurance process they have in place, and/or certifications such as ISO, EN etc.
  • Professional memberships, awards
  • What technology the provider uses to support their business and services, e.g.:
    • CAT (Computer Assisted Translation) and Translation Terminology Management tools
    • Project management system
  • Information security policy/measures in place to ensure confidentiality and security of your information
  • Financial stability – consider asking for annual revenues for each of the previous three years

III. Executive Summary
Consider asking for an Executive Summary with a maximum word limit – this gives the vendor an opportunity to put its strengths forward while ensuring you don’t receive lengthy responses.

Sample structure of an RFP

This RFP template for translation services will make sure that you cover all your bases when it comes to securing the best bid from a Language Services Provider:

I. Buyer’s Background Information

  • Info about your own organisation – Such as full company name, registration number, website, a brief overview of your organisation and its operations, buying department, contact details of the people who will handle future correspondence.
  • Overview of your interests in this RFP – As the buyer, you should address the five key ‘W&H’ questions:
    • Why do you need a language solution?
    • Who exactly needs it in your organization?
    • What do you need it for/what is your project about?
    • How is this need currently being covered (you should also indicate known weaknesses of the current solution), and How will your new provider be selected (criteria and weighting)?
    • When do you expect the contract to start (you should also indicate for how long, and whether it may be renewed)?
  • Checklist
    • List the ‘must-have’ requirements for the bidder to be considered
    • List all the documents to be submitted by the bidder – indicate form, format(s), date and time of submission

II. Purpose of the RFP

  • Specific Services Needed
    • Describe the translation / localisation services your organization is looking for, as well as the overall objectives of the contract.
    • Indicate the language pair/s: source and target languages (specify targeted countries/regions where possible, since resources and pricing for languages such as Chinese vary by region).
  • Scope of Work
    • Indicate expected volumes. For translation, this should be expressed as numbers of words.
    • Describe the categories of source files – indicating subject matter/field/topic, and format. Provide samples.
    • List the specific responsibilities and duties to be performed by the provider as well as the expected outcomes, including type of files to be delivered.
    • List all deliverables including any reports you may want to receive, and your required turnaround times/delivery schedule.
  • Performance Standard and Quality Assessment
    • Specify your expectations in terms of performance.
    • Indicate your quality assessment process.
    • Mention any penalties that may be applied.
  • Contractual Terms and Conditions
    • Terms of contract – this should include length, start/end dates, and renewal possibilities.
    • Payments, incentives, and penalties – highlight the basis for incentives for superior performance, and penalties for inadequate performance or lack of compliance.
    • Attach standard contracting forms.

III. Requirements for the composition of the proposal

  • Set the timelines for Expression Of Interest, Submission of Questionnaire, Submission of Questions / Replies, Proposal Submission, Proposal Assessment, Presentation Meetings, Notification of Selected Provider, etc.
  • Indicate points of contact on your side, including contact methods.
  • Share the criteria and weighting you will use for evaluating the proposals.
  • Define the structure and format you want the bidder to comply with, as well as any mandatory attachments. Imposing these on potential bidders will make it easier to compare and evaluate the proposals you receive.
  • Sample structure
    •   1. Executive Summary
    •   2. Bidder’s contact details: Point of Contact and Legal Representatives
    •   3. Bidder’s company info, overview, and structure
    •  4. Certificates, certifications, awards
    •  5. Relevant experience:
      • Clients in similar fields
      • Similar projects handled
    •  6. Understanding of the buyer’s requirements
    •  7. Proposed approach
      • End-to-end process, including how to ensure quality
      • Complaint resolution process
      • Team profiles and reporting lines
      • Allocated tasks and responsibilities
      • Selection process for translators and other resources
      • Qualifications/experience of the translators
      • Technology to be used
    •   8. Suggested improvements to the legacy translation/localisation process the buyer already has in place
    •   9. Information security policy and confidentiality measures in place
    • 10. Referees / references
    •  11. Pricing, Terms and Conditions, length of the proposal validity

What to put in your request for proposal

This guide should have covered everything you need to include in your RFP. There’s no substitute for experience though – if in doubt, why not ask a Language Services Provider you can trust what makes for a good RFP?
After all, a translation agency will want your business. If they’ve got the experience they claim, they should know how to make it easy for you to decide to give it to them.

Asian Absolute Knows How to Write an RFP for Translation Services

Asian Absolute receives RFPs regularly from clients in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and the Americas.

Over sixteen years of experience delivering ultra-fast and accurate translation and localisation services to clients of all sizes – from small businesses to multinational Fortune 500 clients – means we know what makes a good Request For Proposal for both buyer and provider.

Get talking to your local Asian Absolute team now if you need advice, or contact us for a free quote on any translation services that you need 24/7.