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Vendor Selection and Management

By Judy A. Abrahams,
Project Management for Translation,
New York University

ladyjann2001 at hotmail com
judy_abrahams at cwjamaica com

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Judy A. Abrahams photo"Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure." Confucius (Chinese teacher, philosopher, and political theorist, 551-479 BC)

Anyone who undertakes a project, regardless of its size or nature (personal or secular), does so with the hope that, at its completion, the project is overall successful.

As indicated by the wise words of Confucius, such success depends on preparation. The same rings true for translation projects. Proper preparation and planning are essential.

Interestingly, Project Managers would readily agree that, regardless of the field, a principal part of preparation involves these basic steps:

  • Define the project
  • Plan the project
  • Manage the work
  • Close the project

Generally speaking, therefore, for any project to be successful, it is imperative that the Project Manager be able to efficiently manage the key components of the project, namely, 1) the scope (size, goals); 2) the resources (in this case the vendors); 3) time; and 4) oney.

In the translation business, a Project Manager coordinates projects for clients, from start to finish. This means that the Project Manager, although not directly involved in the actual translation, must establish the necessary steps and procedures to ensure an efficient, accurate and timely translation process. This includes, among other things, contracting and overseeing team members and vendors until the project is completed and delivered to the client.

In light of the foregoing, it is understandable why one of the critical components of a Project Manager’s duties is vendor selection and management. Hence, when selecting vendors, it is very important to make sure that the right people with the right skills are contracted. A clear advantage of selecting the best qualified, most experienced and skilled vendor is that the Project Manager can often compensate for too little time, money or other constraints.


Who are classified as translation vendors? A vendor is the:

Translator: translates from the written source text provided by the client to the target language, ensuring that the translated text is as faithful to the source text and format as possible.

Interpreter: listens to spoken words in the source language and repeats the same message/meaning in the target language. This may be done either as consecutive or simultaneous interpreting.

Editor: edits the translation, confirms that is complete, and verifies the consistency of terms and adherence to references or glossaries provided.

Proofreader: ensures that all the text is faithfully reproduced, including proper nouns, dates, addresses, and other aspects.

Typesetter: is responsible for laying out the approved translation in the client-supplied source layout file.

Clearly vendors are an important element of any project. Since they are valuable resources, they should be treasured and treated with utmost respect.

Given the importance of their role, it is instructive to consider a few factors relating to the selection of appropriate vendors. Following are a few skills to consider when contracting vendors:

Translators and Editors:

  • Should be native speakers
  • Should have subject area expertise
  • Should have the ability to analyze the source document and adapt the text for

the target language

  • Should be current on technology
  • Should be willing to do basic research that may be required for the project
  • Should produce accurate and complete translations, while adhering to deadlines
  • Should deliver on time and report any potential delays as soon as they become aware of them


  • Should be able to focus on details
  • Should have knowledge of the target language


  • Should have good knowledge of typesetting in foreign languages
  • Should have the appropriate software application


  • Should be good public speakers
  • Should have the ability to analyze meaning quickly and flawlessly convert the same message/meaning into the target language

Finding the Right Vendor

No one specific place exists to find good translators. Therefore, in selecting vendors, it is helpful to bear in mind these factors:

  • Several institutions offer degrees and certificates in translation. Note, however, that although academic training is essential in developing a translator’s basic skills, real life experience is invaluable.
  • Several translation organizations based in the United States and overseas, such as the American Translators Association (ATA), the Chartered Institute of Linguistics (IOL), the Association of Translators, Interpreters of Ontario (ATIO), among others, are good places to network.
  • Many of these translation organizations have established certification programs to enable translators to demonstrate that they meet professional standards. Passing a certification or accreditation examination serves as evidence of a translator’s professional competence.
  • In other words, besides formal education in translation, years of experience, a well developed knowledge of one or more specialized fields, and good writing style, certification from a recognized organization such as the ATA, although not mandatory, is a plus.

Most translation agencies maintain databases with vital information on vendors, keeping records on those who have participated in previous projects. Hence, it is very important for Vendor Managers to ensure that vendor information is current.

One effective way for an agency to increase vendors in the database is by seeking references from existing translators.

In addition, when résumés are received from new vendors, they may be added to the database. It is advisable, however, to do an evaluation or test to confirm the new vendor’s competence. If possible, the vendor may be tested on a small project.

As expected, verifying the qualifications of vendors is crucial.

Vendor Management

In any relationship, communication is the lifeline. Therefore, it is important to provide vendors with all the relevant project instructions and details, putting them in writing and sending them via email.

Vendors should be provided with a concise description of the project with the word count and the exact task that they should perform, since some vendors may offer multiple services, especially with regard to translation and editing.

Be sure to include the language pair (source language into target language) since some vendors work with different language pairs.

Most importantly, vendors must be informed of the deadline, that is, the day, date and hour with the relevant time zone so as to avoid confusion.

Written communication should be sent to the vendor outlining the aforementioned points once the vendor has confirmed his or her availability for the job. At this point, the vendor should be provided with the source file(s), project specifications, any reference materials or glossaries and the corresponding Purchase Order.

Having selected the vendors for the project, it is important to remember that each vendor has his or her own rates. Therefore, it would be helpful to keep standard rates on file to make it easier to reduce the time spent on negotiating rates.

Generally, rates can be negotiated and vary depending on the service required. For instance, a vendor may lower his or her rate on certain projects. If there is a rush job or one that is particularly complex, then the vendor may charge a higher rate.

The foregoing notwithstanding, the Project Manager should clarify any change of rates at the beginning of the project and issue the relevant Purchase Order at the rate agreed.

In order to protect the confidentiality of information, agencies should require all vendors to sign a Confidentiality or Non-Disclosure Agreement.

All vendors are also required to complete the relevant tax forms which are necessary for payment to be issued. Therefore, all paperwork should be completed prior to sending a job to a vendor.

Famous American inventor, journalist, diplomat and statesman Benjamin Franklin once said "Remember that time is money." In an industry driven by deadlines, time is most precious. Therefore, it is vital to save time by selecting the right vendors with the right skills to get the job completed accurately and on time.

In conclusion, it should be emphasized that vendor selection and management is just as critical to the success of the project as is risk management or controlling costs.


Author’s notes - Project Management for Translation, New York University

This article was originally published at TCD of the American Translation Association

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