Your Complete Step-by-Step Guide to a Successful Translation RFP

Best practices for planning a smooth translation & localization request for proposal, including a template checklist.

Getting an RFP right means a workload that’s easily underestimated, with many factors to consider and stakeholders to be involved – a huge challenge, for any part of business! And when it comes to translation and localization, there are unique essentials on top to be aware of. 

That’s why we wrote this comprehensive ebook. We’ll guide you through your RFP, step by step, to ensure you’ll find your “one and only” – the partner who'll tick all the right boxes for you!

RFP, RFI, RFQ: What's it all about?

Spelling out the acronyms already provides a very high-level overview:

  • RFI: Request for Information 
    -> Identify potential vendors and their solutions

  • RFP: Request for Proposal 
    -> Assess the offers of preselected vendors

  • RFQ: Request for Quote  
    -> Weigh the costs for the different requirements of each vendor.

What is an RFP?

An RFP is a public or invite-only project announcement with which your organization describes a project, seeking for bids from vendors to address the specified needs.

It allows issuers to compare the offerings of preselected vendors, asking them to demonstrate which solutions they’d propose, with the related USPs (unique selling propositions, ideally setting apart the ideal candidate for the role).

Done right, a translation RFP is the best standard procedure to select the right translation provider for your business – the most advantageous overall, for your specific situation.

A well-organized RFP procedure is crucial for any larger expense or commitment of your organization. It’s not only a critical step to improve the outcome and maximize your ROI, but also helps you prevent potential losses!

While ultimately beneficial, running and managing an RFP can be a complex and time-consuming resource investment. Thus, it's important to: 

  • Properly identify the situations that do call for this investment
  • Know how to execute the RFP in the most efficient and beneficial way.

Do you really need a translation RFP?

There are several scenarios where a translation RFP is likely to be the right approach:

  • If you haven't set up a centralized standard translation process yet (even though you may have been dealing with translations for years already) – to optimize quality, efficiency, delivery, and monitorization of translation suppliers. 
  • If you have a large-scale project coming up that requires specific experience and expertise.
  • If you're unhappy with your current translation setup, usually for at least one of the following reasons: 
    • Inadequate translation quality
    • Poor service quality (communication, turnaround times, etc.)
    • Insufficient translation processes and technology
    • Lack of a complete service offering
    • Spiraling translation costs
    • Growing volumes / additional languages.

Leading corporations have seen firsthand that an optimized RFP process doesn't only improve ROI but also provides streamlining and benefits across the organization.

Your RFP becomes real: Planning and setup

How will you manage questions that may come in from the vendors? Do you have a query management system in place, with well-defined responsibilities? Will you handle questions by e-mail? If so, consider setting up a specific e-mail address or folder – and don’t forget to ensure that each RFP team member will have access, with competencies and respective follow-up duties well defined.

It's also crucial to decide beforehand whether your RFP will be invite-only or whether you prefer to open it to any qualified vendors. If so, it makes even more sense to confirm a deadline for all replies.

Last but not least: Just as with any important project, best assign the RFP team well before starting the process. Their standard main responsibilities: 

  • Evaluating the proposals
  • Handling contractual negotiations
  • Being the point of contact between secondary internal stakeholders and potential partners.

Which stakeholders should be on board?

First and foremost, you need to decide who to integrate into the team preparing and handling the Translation RFP. 


Procurement is an obvious bet, but they can’t do it alone. Why? They’re most likely not the department to interact directly with the future Language Service Provider and thus won’t know about the detailed requirements of the colleagues who need a new vendor. And naturally, quality evaluation is much harder for any department which expertise isn’t directly related to the vendor’s business.

Hence, the integration of the affected operational teams is necessary; additionally, managers responsible for the strategic planning of their respective business units need to define the desired workflows, necessary levels of integration, KPIs in terms of quality and quantity, etc. Normally, this includes team leaders and at least one member at a higher management level. 

IT & tech teams

Technical questions, such as necessary system integration options, also play a critical role when it comes to modern language services – which makes the IT department another mandatory partner at the RFP team’s table. 

If you have website content to translate, IT’s role will be crucial, for instance in the automation of translation/ localization processes and all related system requirements. They also need to evaluate and avoid risks, e.g. choosing a translation connector compatible with your website CMS or marketing automation platforms. Depending on your organization, this role may be nested within a digital/development team or even partly under marketing, so you may need to be extra careful to ensure IT’s involvement in the process.

Marketing team

When it comes to content owners to be involved, the marketing team should come to the top of your mind, providing a variety of disciplines – from content marketing to corporate communications and from digital advertising to multichannel campaigns.

Do your localization needs also include social media content, be it sporadic or with complete campaigns? This not only calls for Marketing in general, but also for the designated team in particular. The localization of social media must strictly follow the individual rules for each channel, defined by the designated experts.

Other content owners

It can be trickier, though, not to forget the invitation of other content stakeholders! Marketing surely is the most obvious resource when it comes to content-related questions. But thinking further, there may well be others to be involved, as well: 

Is any of the content to be translated and localized within the responsibility of HR?  Ask leading and operational stakeholders from the department to be part of the RFP team, to ensure their needs will be met – for instance in terms of wording, style, timing, deadlines, and confidentiality. 

Do you also need the event planning team to get on board? Their needs are very specific – in terms of wording, style, but also when it comes to the localization of visuals and short deadlines/ timing etc. If meetings and events are multilingual, they may also have advanced requirements for interpreting services (in person or remotely).

Technical experts

If the project to be localized contains technical content, communications such as product documentation, structured content (XML/DITA) or other documents typical for industries such as manufacturing, involve the manufacturers, developers and/or  tech doc managers! Their language has its own needs in terms of glossaries and translation memory, and it requires very specific subject matter knowledge.

Whatever your business is: Always think of the product managers as stakeholders for localization, too! Their knowledge and communication needs must complement marketing’s expertise in the RFP planning. 

Other stakeholders

This is the general rule: For any translation and localization project, stakeholders of all content owner teams that may possibly contribute in the source language need to be at the table of RFP team, as well – to ensure all necessities and possible restraints will be met.

Make sure you have all the right people involved, to evaluate whether your future partner is able to meet all specific requirements and possible restrictions!

RFP management tools: Alternatives for all budgets

With the right team on board, it’s time for the next crucial decision: How will you publish your RFP and gather responses? There are several options available, each with different pros and cons:

  • RFP Automation Software
    Larger organizations are likely to already have some e-procurement software available to manage RFPs, which eases the setup. However, you need to be aware that reverse auctioning systems can be counter-productive when it comes to evaluating translation services – as they don't take into consideration the variables we detail in the pricing section below.

  •  Cloud-based survey tools 
     Alternatively, you can also publish an RFP with cloud-based survey tools. The advantage: You maintain control over how the questions can be answered, defining fields and indicating mandatory input. You also benefit from reporting functionalities, easy filtering, and response analysis. Please do keep in mind though that with this solution, you should also provide a downloadable copy of the RFP questions for translation service suppliers, so that they can prepare their responses thoroughly offline. 

  • Excel 
    Thanks to their accessibility, spreadsheets are often used to gather responses – for their vast options to filter and compare. But there’s a downside: They're not very user-friendly for the vendors to fill in! It's easy for cells to become corrupt, worksheets to be missed, etc.

  • PDF/ Word 
    Many companies provide RFPs in PDF format, asking translation suppliers to provide their responses in Word. This facilitates open and inventive responses; nevertheless, this method is only feasible when sending your RFP to no more than a handful suppliers – as it's time-consuming to analyze all answers separately and compare the results.

Extra tip

Doing an RFI beforehand will help you to narrow down the list of suppliers to address – we'll still address this point later on.

What's a realistic timeline?

Don’t put potential partners under too much pressure – give them time to answer your questions with diligence! You can consider the below example a minimum requirement timeline for an already well-planned RFP process, using the publication of an RFI as a starting point. (No worries, we'll still explain the RFI in detail!)

  • Week 1: Publication of RFI 
  • Week 2: Deadline for responses 
  • Week 3: Analysis of RFI responses  
  • Week 4: Publication of RFP 
  • Week 5: Deadline for localization vendors to submit questions 
  • Week 6: Answers to submitted questions
  • Week 7: Deadline for submitting proposals  
  • Week 8: Analysis of proposals 
  • Week 9: Invitation for final presentation 
  • Week 10: Final pitches and presentations
  • Week 11: Decision.


Can you skip the RFI?

Some think of an RFI as just an extra step that can easily be skipped, asking for all necessary information in the RFP. While this may be feasible for some smaller projects, translation RFPs tend to be more complex! Cramming all questions into the RFP would end up in a rather unmanageable beast, neither doing good service to you nor for the addressed vendors.  

  • The main advantages of an upstream RFI:
  • Your RFPs will be much more purposeful, on point and concise.
  • You don't have to process irrelevant replies to your RFP.
  • The replies to your RFP will be much more informative and comparable.
  • You facilitate relevant replies from relevant vendors.
  • The desired vendors are much more likely to respond.
  • If desired, the RFI allows you to create a shortlist of translation vendors first.

Think of the RFI as a not yet very targeted browsing, helping you to discover all options. Thus, it should include a few generic, open questions – but don’t go over the top. The aim is to gather information and prequalify potential suppliers for the next round! 

If you ask too many questions, not only may translation suppliers be reluctant to reply, but you'd also end up spending a lot of time sifting through many answers. Also remember to include background information about your situation and your needs. This way, you’re more likely to receive useful input. 

The right RFI provides a general overview of supplier profiles, helping to familiarize with the market and select the right vendors to target with the upcoming RFP.

What to look for in your future translation and localization partner

After the evaluation of the RFI replies, you should be able to define quite accurately what kind of partner you go for – and whether you'd be better off with one, able to serve as a close extension of your business, or whether you also want to consider multiple partnerships. Other essential questions you should be ready to answer by now:

  • Is the vendor's physical location of interest to you? 
  • What are your minimum requirements in terms of success records and proven experience? 
  • Can your translation projects be handled by freelancers? 
  • Would you benefit from single language service providers, specializing in one language? They can be well-versed in a particular language style, terminology and usage. 
  • Does the volume or foreseeable extension rather call for multiple language service providers, handling several languages at once? Usually, these vendors provide experts in a vast variety of languages, handling translations that can vary in size, purpose and focus.
  • Or do you need a global content partner, to go above and beyond your translation requirements? This is the case whenever you need more than just accurate translations and may also require content creation, automated workflows with latest translation technology, digital content optimized for SEO purposes, advisory, and consultancy.

In short: The bigger your projects are in volume/complexity/number of languages, the more likely you’ll need a global content partner with an end-to-end approach.

Expert advice

Why choose a global content partner?

Rather than merely delivering accurate translations, they can tailor a manifold selection of services to meet your individual needs, including:

  • Expert advice and consultancy on translation processes and technology
  • Multilingual creation of the content your business calls for
  • SEO optimization of your digital content
  • Workflow automation with latest content and language technology

The bigger your volume and needs for complete localization is and the higher the complexity of your projects, the more beneficial an experienced and renowned global content partner such as Acolad will be for you. Especially for any project that calls for highest quality and end-to-end service!

What’s the information you need to provide?

What's most important: Provide an overview of the project – and background information about your company. Vendors need to identify fast whether they’re a good fit that justifies bidding. Include detailed information on why you're running the RFP and what your translation needs are. Here's a list of the most crucial points: 

  • Who are you? Provide details about your organization, about your business and why you’re considering translation/ localization.  

  • What does your technological setup look like? 

  • Which APIs/ integrations do you usually work with and what are your preferred up- and download options?  

  • Which language combinations do you need (including any local language variants)? 

  • What's the expected volume and frequency of your translation requests?  

  • What are the overall main project goals? Be as specific as possible about your expectations!

  • What type of service do you require? (Machine translation, human translation, localization, recreation, etc.) 

  • What are subject matter specialization, format (e.g. xml, resx, srt, pdf, indd, docx, rtf, etc.), and type of your content?

  • What exactly do you need translated? Inform your possible future translation partners about the nature of the content, the degree of localization you aim for, etc. 

  • What are your priorities? Provide a list of all requirements and rank them by importance. Differentiate which features are must-haves and which would be nice to have. 

  • Which platforms and channels will be addressed? 

  • Are there standard text length requirements the prospects should be aware of?

  • What are your internal processes and requirements?  

  • What previous translation experience do you have? Sharing your past experiences (good and bad!) reveals what's crucial for a good cooperation with you; this will help the vendors provide a useful response to your RFP. 

  • What's lacking in your existing setup of translation services?  

  • What are the key issues and challenges you're currently facing when it comes to translation?

The more information you share about your requirements, the better the prospects can tailor their proposals to your specific situation! 

Based on some of the information above, certain vendors may even decide not to participate in the RFP, as some of your must-have requirements might not be feasible or simply aren't a part of the services they provide. In this case, you save them and yourself time otherwise spent on the creation and, from your end, evaluation of a futile proposal!

How to ask the right questions in your translation RFP

Although a shortcut may look tempting: An RFP is not only a mean to make your conditions known to potential suppliers! To best match your requirements, you’ll also need to ask for the right information. Again, let's start with the basics: 

Company size and structure

This is of interest for you both in terms of turnover and number of full-time employees, divided by role – as those are strong indicators of the organization's leverage power.  

Extra tip: Ask about the turnover rate of their key employees and partners! As successful partnerships with translation providers are often dependent on personal relations, built over time with key stakeholders, it's useful to know whether you'll be able to count on stable contacts. Not to forget, a low employee turnover indicates a good management, a successful business and a stable organization.

Company location(s) 

The key locations and local offices of a translation supplier can indicate their strengths and weaknesses in terms of language combinations covered. 

Company management and organization chart 

Understanding how the company is organized and run will give you an idea of the corporate culture – and whether it may be a good fit for your organization.

Account management information 

Ask the LSPs what their account management structure will look like to you and who will be your point(s) of contact. Ideally, already request details about the expertise and experience for each foreseeable project member, together with name, job title and contact details.

Customer references and case studies 

One of the best ways to understand a translation provider's experience in your specific business is to request customer references. It’s best to ask them about their top customers in general! First of all, this is a good reference of their quality; additionally, it will give you an idea how you will be seen: Could you rather be too big or too small a customer for them, compared to their current client base?

Allow yourself to be specific in your inquiry: Ask for details regarding the volumes translated, the language combinations, and the content type(s) provided. Do the answers match your needs?

Extra tip: Ask for case studies! They can show you whether and how the potential suppliers have been proactive in implementing innovative solutions to solve their customers' issues when it comes to translations. 


Best practice is to have a template ready that LSPs can easily fill in, structured to ease comparisons afterwards. Ask and sort for the prices of products and services most relevant to you – which, in general, will include all or some of the following:  

  • Standard translation rate per word/per hour (if applicable, for instance, for machine translation post-editing)

  • Possible different rates for different source and target languages 

  • Costs for further processing, such as DTP

  • Possible hidden onboarding costs, e.g. for implementation/migration

  • Possible further subscription costs, e.g. for licenses

  • Any possible discounts (typically for translation memory matches and/or based on project volume), additional fees (e.g. for overnight delivery) and minimum rates.

Extra tip: Ask for a sample quotation, based on a typical project, to get an idea of their overall pricing. 

Translation technology and processes

You may have advanced technology requirements besides machine translation; for best support of the translation process and streamlined workflows, compatible with your technological setup, you may need: 

  • Translation management system (TMS), with clear alignment on hosting environment, responsibility and location

  • Growing libraries, potentially turning each project a base for future translations / localizations

  • Clear review and approval processes of glossary terms 

  • In-context reviews

  • Cloud-based reviewing for multiple users 

  • Repository storage of documents, to be retrieved at any date

  • Customer portal with specified features to be included, according to your needs

  • Options to request translations online and to track projects in real time

  • Optional direct communication with translators

  • Additional language technology tools.


Surely you can expect all translation providers to say they're providing high quality translations! So how do you understand who's actually going to be the right fit for your needs? High quality translations depend on sound processes, generally combining manual and automatic quality assurance checks with excellent vendor management. Thus, the crucial hints are: 

  • Ask specific questions about recognized quality certifications such as ISO 17100 and ISO 18587 (translation services / post-editing of machine translations). 

  • Ask for customer satisfaction survey results. 

  • Ask how non-conformities are being tracked and managed.

IT infrastructure, security and data protection

Translation processes usually involve highly confidential information and content – which means it's crucial that your language service provider ensures the complete protection of your data. Ask your potential partners about their security precautions to safeguard your information!

Capacity and availability 

Last but not least, make sure your future supplier will be able to handle your translation volumes – ask them about their turnaround times for typical projects. Their availability may not match your requirements!

The RFP evaluation – and what an RFQ has to do with it

How will you evaluate the proposals?

By the time the proposals start coming in, it should already be well-defined who in the team will evaluate them – and how. Fundamental questions, such as whether the bigger focus is on quality or on cost savings, need to be discussed beforehand; by now, you should be able to prioritize these requirements clearly, for the best assessment per project. 

Extra tip: You may find that a point-based system takes you a long way to evaluate the proposals. Make sure you'll have already defined a list of the requirements to be best indicators of impressive candidates: Which features are must-haves, which are nice-to-haves? For example, you may not require machine translation (MT) for now, but do prefer to have that option in the future.

Consider carefully what suits you best; different must-haves will still have different significance to you … hence the opportunity of ranking! The teams' feedbacks should come from different stakeholders within your organization, affected directly or indirectly. A joint decision on the individual importance of different criteria will ultimately define the ranking – and with it the understanding of which proposal(s) turn out to be the best fit.

The result should be a shortlist of the most promising candidates. To choose among them, don't overlook the following criteria:

  • Was their proposal accurate and timely? 
  • Do they have translation and content experience in your industry or field? 
  • Are they able to scale their services as your business grows?
  • How long have they been operating already?

For the ultimate evaluation of your future partner(s), also consider to request:

  • References from existing clients whose business needs to match yours.
  • Translations of test content you provide – for better comparison, use identical samples for all eligible future partners!
  • An RFQ.
What exactly is an RFQ (Request for Quotation)?

An RFQ is a document that details pricing options for a highly specific service or product; you ask the vendors to provide price lists for the deliverables proposed in the RFP. It’s thus an additional sourcing tool, concentrating on the financial aspects – RFQs are all about prices and costs.

After a successful RFP, evaluation never stops


Implementation and onboarding 

After all evaluation is done and the decision on your future LSP has been made, it’s time for implementation and onboarding. Discuss with your new Language Service Partner and define beforehand: 

  • Which assets are required from you upfront?  
  • Who will carry out the technological implementation?  
  • What training is required?  
  • How long should you expect processes to take?  
  • How will the LSP select the translators in charge of your project?
Ongoing evaluation

Once everything is formalized and your new language service provider is on board, check the progress regularly. Compare the reports on the LSP’s performance to the key performance indicators (KPIs) you agreed on. To implement an evaluation process every month, quarter or at least semester – depending on the nature of the product and of your collaboration – presents opportunities to share feedback and discuss plans, goals and initiatives for the next period. 
Areas to be checked on: 

  • Translation quality (typically mainly measured by number and severity of complaints)
  • On-time delivery (measured against agreed-upon deadlines)
  • Service quality (customer satisfaction indicators).

Even later in the future, once the project may come to an end, it makes sense to thoroughly assess the overall performance of the partnership! This will help you understand what went well, what could be improved … and ultimately, whether you want to continue partnering with that LSP.


Your ultimate checklist for RFP success

There you have it – your RFP process from start to end, including RFI and RFQ. As this is a lot of information to process and remember, let's wrap it up in a handy RFP checklist:

The key factors for the overall success of your RFP project:

  • Clarity about your reasons to issue an RFP
  • Substantial understanding of what is essential to you in the LSP partner
  • Consensus about the stakeholders you are going to involve
  • A structured, realistic timeline for all RFP processes, from start to end
  • Well-defined evaluation of the proposals 
  • A ranking according to individual importance of the requirements, agreed on among teams
  • Exhaustive provision of any information relevant for prospect LSPs 
  • The right questions to the LSPs
  • Request for LSPs to provide examples of their previous work
  • A price list sample
  • Provision of key requirements for streamlined workflows
  • Sufficient data protection policies of the future LSP
  • Agreements on KPI measurements
  • Constant monitoring of processes, once the new LSP partner is on board.

And don't forget, you can download an easy-to-use template to work alongside this guide.

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