When and how should you start your localization program?

If your business is new to localization, you’ll get far better results if you take ownership of the process and create a strong internal framework to support it. That’s the difference between having a localization program, and simply handing content over to your translation provider and hoping for the best.

So when does your business need to start building a localization program, and what components should you put in place from the start?

Your Timing May Vary—But Sooner Is Better Than Later

Your localization program is the organizational structure that guides all your efforts. This structure puts you in control, so you can take whatever steps are needed to achieve your goals.  Without it, your investment in localization will deliver less value for your business.

What’s more, it’s a huge advantage to get started early on. If you lay the right foundation from the beginning, you’ll avoid many problems that could come back to haunt you as your needs for localization grow.

In other words, it’s never too early to start constructing your localization program. As soon as your business begins to translate content, it’s time to start growing your company’s internal capabilities with careful planning and strategic decision making.

By all means, make judicious use of outsourcing where it makes sense. But it’s risky to be totally dependent on others, especially when it comes to making the vital choices that affect your localization goals.

What Do You Need, and When Do You Need It? 

Your resources may be limited early on. But you don’t need to create a fully developed localization program overnight. It’s fine (and even advisable) to take an incremental approach, assembling a few key pieces and building on them over time.

Let’s look at what it takes to get your program off the ground, step by step.

  1. Designate a localization program manager: Every localization program needs a leader who sets the program’s direction and keeps the process of localization on track. This person is the linchpin of your entire program—so it’s in your best interest to fill the role as early as possible.

The program manager leads all strategy and planning, whether you’re using in-house translators or a third-party localization provider. In addition, the program manager is responsible for tracking the results of localization and understanding whether the program is meeting its goals.

  1. Create your strategy: The next step is to create a documented strategy for localization. Your localization program manager will spearhead this effort.

At a minimum, your initial strategy should define:

  • The potential reach of your product or service
  • Your company’s goals for localization
  • Which language regions to prioritize, and in what order
  • What resources to invest in your priority regions (for example, by hiring in-country teams or experts)

By prioritizing languages by tier, you can develop a scalable program that will easily adapt to expansion. As you see successful results with your first-tier languages, you can replicate the same process and optimize it for other languages and markets.

  1. Start building your team: As your program expands, you’ll need to distribute responsibilities, so your program manager isn’t shouldering the burden alone.

First and foremost, appoint a language lead as soon as you begin content production or translation in a new language. The language lead is in charge of setting and enforcing linguistic guidelines for the target language. A single language may even have multiple leads, if your team is working with diverse subject matters or types of content.

Your language leads may be in-house staff members, or you could outsource the job to independent contractors. Regardless, they should always report directly to the program manager, not a third-party provider (even if the provider’s team is actually translating the content).

Once you have leads for your initial target languages, when should you consider expanding your team to fill other roles? That depends on the volume of translation and your budget, among other factors. Your program manager will lead the way in defining the thresholds for team expansion.

  1. Define the process: As soon as possible, your program manager should map out a standard process to guide localization from beginning to end. Treat this as a preliminary blueprint that you can improve and optimize over time.

Even the most basic localization process should define guidelines and procedures for:

  • Content creation: Specify who will produce the source content, which audiences you are targeting, and whether the content is intended for general use or aimed at certain cultures and languages. Decide whether the content will be adapted for a specific translation process (for example, raw MT or post-editing).
  • Translation: Determine the process for translating the content into the target language or languages. This includes who will do the translation (in-house linguists or external vendors) and what techniques will be used (human translators, machine translation, or some mix of both). The translation process may also include an editing or proofreading phase, prior to quality review.
  • Quality review and assessment: Even a fledgling localization program needs a consistent process to weed out errors and ensure high-quality translation. From the start, decide who will perform language quality reviews, what steps they will include (for example, arbitration and rebuttal), how feedback will be provided to translators, and what metrics you will use to assess linguistic quality. As your needs grow, consider hiring a third-party language quality management provider to handle the process for you.

To support high-quality translation, your language leads should develop guidelines for each target language—including a style guide, glossaries, do-not-translate lists, and brand voice, tone, and audience guidelines. Even if you start out with simple versions of these materials, you’ll have the opportunity to improve them as time goes on.

Every Localization Program Is Different

To recap, every localization program begins with a manager who runs the show. Next, you’ll create your strategy, designate your language leads, and create initial processes for content creation, translation, and quality assessment. If you have all of these basics in place, you’re off to a promising start.

Beyond these general guidelines, the details are largely up to you. Every organization has a different journey and will arrive at a different structure for its program over time. The key is to make purposeful decisions about what your program needs—and to claim leadership of your own localization efforts from the start.