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  • Writer's pictureJaney Wong

Building Strong Relationships Between Startups and Translation Agencies


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Developing a technology startup is difficult enough without having to worry about localizing your products for international audiences. However, expanding globally is essential for growth, and only some startups have the in-house language skills to handle translation and localization independently. 


That's why forging strong relationships with specialized translation and localization agencies can give startups a key competitive advantage. When treated as true partners rather than just vendors, these agencies become invaluable in launching your offerings internationally.


We'll draw on the insights of Francesca Sorrentino, a localization expert with 14 years of dedication to the field. Currently steering the localization program at Phrase, Francesca's rich background, starting from her roots in video game translation to her evolution into program management, provides a unique lens through which we examine the synergy between startups and translation agencies. 


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Her comprehensive understanding of both the technical and collaborative aspects of localization, coupled with her experience in translating and localizing a product integral to the industry itself, offers startups a treasure trove of knowledge on how to navigate these crucial partnerships for global success. What you will learn…



Choosing the Right Translation Agency Partner


With thousands of translation agencies around the world, deciding on the right partner can be daunting. Here are some key factors to consider:


  • Assess Your Needs: Determine what languages you need, and the volume and type of content requiring translation (e.g. software, marketing materials, legal docs). This will dictate what agency size makes the most sense.


  • Match Mindsets: Look for an agency aligned with your startup’s culture and attitude. A small, nimble team might suit a lean startup better than a large corporate agency.


  • Vet Technical Abilities: Ensure the agency has expertise in your industry and understands your challenges. Checking references is invaluable here.


The goal is to find a partner invested in your success and able to scale their efforts aligned to your growth. Avoid overkill with huge teams unless you have the volume to justify it.


 "Look at yourself first and understand what it is that you need and what kind of help you need from an external partner...find a partner that matches you in terms of mindset and size," says Francesca Sorrentino, Localization Director at Phrase.


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Helping Agencies Understand Your Product and Audience 


Even the best translators struggle without context and background about what they're working on. That's why startups should openly share a variety of collateral with their agency partners:  


  • Internal Documentation: Don't be afraid to provide access to wikis, FAQs, training materials, and other documentation that might not normally see the light of day. These give invaluable insight into products.


  • Design Assets: Including screenshots, wireframes, prototypes, etc. when submitting content for translation ensures key elements like UI text are clear for translators.  


  • Market Research: Share any user research, personas, and insights you have into target markets and audiences around the world. This helps translators grasp cultural nuances.


While it might feel uncomfortable revealing company secrets initially, think of your localization partner as an extension of your team. Their work quality is dramatically improved by having this context.


"Don’t be afraid to share documentation...Your partner is going to be signing a non-disclosure agreement...it's going to be super helpful," says Francesca Sorrentino, Localization Director at Phrase.



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Establishing Clear Communication Channels


With outsourced teams, unclear expectations and inconsistent communication can easily lead to misalignment. From the very start, lock down operating norms between both parties:  


  • Response Times: Set agreed-upon timelines for queries and review cycles. Be clear on what constitutes an emergency vs everyday request.


  • Tools and Formats: Standardize channels (email, chat tools, project management platforms, etc), file formats, naming conventions, and terminology management systems upfront. 


  • Payment Terms: Discuss budget, resource allocation, and payment processes early on so this doesn't become an issue later. Be open to constraints but also don't nickel-and-dime agencies.


Also, consider involving agency staff in relevant meetings like daily standups or weekly syncs. Treat them as an extension of your own team.


"You need to establish clear communication channels from day one...it helps to set up rules at the beginning in terms of communication and expectations," says Francesca Sorrentino, Localization Director at Phrase.



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Common Pitfalls to Avoid with Translation Agencies


While outsourcing translation gives startups the desperately needed breathing room, most underestimate the level of effort still required on their end. Steer clear of these common blunders when working with agencies:


  • Treating them as completely separate entities and "throwing content over the wall" without context. This severely affects quality.


  • Failing to provide access and visibility as products evolve rapidly. Without proper resources and information, agencies often struggle to keep documentation and translations updated.


  • Over-relying on internal bilingual staff to validate translations vs leaning on the agency's professional translators and QA process.


The key is to integrate agencies into development cycles rather than using them as an afterthought down the line. Maintaining open communication channels is critical here.


"Localization needs to be part of the development cycle...It needs to be treated in the same way as you treat the rest of the teams," says Francesca Sorrentino, Localization Director at Phrase.



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Maintaining Quality and Consistency in Localization


With software and content constantly changing and new languages being added, effectively maintaining quality and consistency is critical - and difficult. Here are some tips:


  • Test Extensively: Rigorously validate localized deliverables rather than just reviewing the source language content. User testing in all target languages is invaluable.  


  • Leverage Existing Assets: Encourage translators to reuse previous work via translation memories and termbases to preserve consistency over time.


  • Create Style Guides: Build out shared style guides covering target language preferences, specialized terminology, and product naming conventions.


Also, conduct periodic business reviews together - say quarterly - to assess progress, discuss process improvements, and head off any issues through open dialog.  


"Quality is something that is more important for localization people...You want to test your localized product...after the translations have been integrated," says Francesca Sorrentino, Localization Director at Phrase.



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Dealing with Disagreements 


With multiple stakeholders, tight deadlines, and lost-in-translation issues, disagreements between startups and localization partners are inevitable. Tackling them effectively requires:


  • Root Cause Analysis: Dig into the origin of problems through open discussion rather than pointing fingers. Often it arises from mismatched expectations or inadequate context.


  • Timely Resolution: Set clear timelines for resolving conflicts, rather than letting them linger and turn toxic. Be willing to compromise.


  • Regular Checkpoints: Don't wait for things to blow up! Schedule regular reviews to get ahead of any friction through transparency, not finger-pointing.


Above all, treat your agency partners with empathy and respect. Build a shared culture of trust where problems are addressed collaboratively, not combatively with threats. You’re in this together for the long haul!


"Take some time to do a little root cause analysis...it's a good idea to establish quarterly business reviews upfront," says Francesca Sorrentino, Localization Director at Phrase.


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Key Takeaways


Here are the core principles for startups aiming to build successful long-term relationships with translation partners:


Treat agencies as integral partners, not replaceable vendors. Involve them closely in development and decision cycles.  


Keep communication extremely open despite the outsourced nature of localization. Make partners feel like part of the team.


Build shared trust and understanding, through transparency regarding goals, audience insights, and any issues that crop up.  


The companies that will win on the global stage are those that overcome language barriers not through transactions, but collaboration. Invest wholeheartedly in that partnership!


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Embarking on Your Global Journey with Undertow


At Undertow, we're here to enhance your journey in building strong, lasting relationships with translation agencies. Embodying values of clarity, approachability, trust, transparency, expertise, and creativity, we pride ourselves on being more than just a service provider; we're your partner in navigating the complex waters of localization. 


Our boutique approach means we tailor our services to your unique needs, ensuring your global expansion is not just a goal, but a reality. Let Undertow be the bridge to your international success, where every challenge is met with a straightforward, reliable, and innovative solution. 


Get in touch today and let’s embark on your global journey together.





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