18 May 2012

From small fish consultant to big fish customers

My post of 8 May leads directly to a bigger question, namely:
How should a large organisation seeking to buy in high quality translation services proceed?
My experience being confined to western Europe and technology-based industries, my advice suffers the same limitations. 
  1. Avoid the "big likes big" syndrome.
  2. Be wary of large organisations offering services spanning copywriting, translation, graphic design and more. What sounds like a quick easy solution often falls short on delivery and ends up costing a great deal. As explained on 8 May, if a 'Big 4' consultancy can show total ignorance of an entire area of expertise (in this case website localisation), the scope for under-performance and over-charging is unlimited.
  3. Be aware, on the other hand, that some projects require genuine project management skills that, with few exceptions, only large organisations can provide. (Some projects are best managed by selecting a large service supplier for project management while requiring that it work with designated copywriters and translators with long-term relationships with the end customer.)
  4. For copywriting and translation, my experience and that of many colleagues over several decades suggest that there is no match in terms of quality of service and consistent performance for small dedicated teams with long-term relationships with a small number of customers. Over time, teams like this get to know their customers and their customers' products and services.
  5. If you really want to understand a proposed outsourcing arrangement ask for the names of the contributors at all levels and a breakdown of who earns what. Can you really expect top-flight work from intellectuals workers if the envisaged arrangement does not ensure that they will make enough to want to work with your company again?
  6. Consider using your prime contacts for language services as both service providers and consultants. They will often prove an excellent source of reliable advice on who can do what. Highly specialised tasks like catalogue compilation and translation demand quite different skills from B2B or B2C copywriting and translation.
  7. All of the above hinges on the level of in-house awareness of how these services are provided. A purchasing team is unlikely to have the skills or time to thoroughly understand what it is purchasing and how to get value for money. This small fish suggests that a more judicious approach to purchasing intellectual services lies in selecting a small in-house team (perhaps just one or two people) to invest time in understanding what they are buying, then giving them a broad purchasing brief.
  8. If you try this approach and find that it works, make sure that a key person in the purchasing chain of command also has the authority to ensure that trusted suppliers are paid on time or, as mark of special appreciation for dedication, ahead of time. I wonder how many supplier resources management (SRM) software suites and the like accommodate this level of tailoring?

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