This week we feature an article from Miguel Sepúlveda discussing how a startup can take its first steps into localization. This post serves as a handy guide for those starting to explore localization, and can be consulted time and time again no matter which stage of global development your company is currently in. 

Startups aren’t known for dreaming small. World domination is in their DNA, and global domination means localization. It’s critical for startups to think about languages, markets, and expansion strategies from day one. However, the majority of startups usually face the same problems: either they don’t have enough money to design a solid globalization plan, or they don’t have the role of globalization/localization specialist(s) in their teams (or both at the same time, ouch!). Definitely not a promising start to conquering the world, but indeed a very common situation for startups that want to grow internationally.

Traditionally, cost, risk, and outsourcing challenges have discouraged startups from selling to international customers from day one. However, this is now changing. The world of digital business is nowadays a world without borders. Your startup can be in the south of Spain and you might be selling your products in Vietnam, if you took the time to design a localization strategy to penetrate that particular market!

So, what can a startup do to get into the world of localization and reach millions of users? Localization is not just for large corporations with big budgets. If you want a piece of the global market in which we are immersed, your products have to speak the local languages and engage locally with your potential clients.

Below I have prepared a list of techniques to help you think about how a startup can initiate its global journey.

Localization 101 for Startups: Going global with a low budget

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Let’s start by covering the most typical case:

What can you do if you don’t have money to invest in localization?

  • Looking for a solution in-house. Many startups have people from different countries, therefore inevitably they end up doing translations in Excel files, in spreadsheets, or in internal channels of the company Slack, HipChat, etc. However, don’t forget that being a native of a language is not the same as being a translator. Translators are trained language experts, and you surely did not hire your in-house developers and app designers to do translations. Translating is not their strength, you hired them because they possessed other skills, so keep in mind that having your Lyon programmer translating into French can be a rather tricky situation. Think about the opportunity cost! Still, in-house translation is one of the few viable options when the localization budget is $0.
  • Crowdsourcing. There are communities of translators and volunteers who can translate your software for free. You may not find free translators for all your languages, but the most common FIGS shouldn’t be a problem. Check out this article if you want to know more about this option.
  • Machine translation. If you don’t really have money, there is always Google Translate. MT has improved a lot, and it’s producing good results quite often, but the risk you are taking here is very high. However, it’s a real possibility if your localization budget is very low! Please keep in mind though, that machine translation is a complex matter and it requires a lot of research and preparation to be used at its full potential. If you want to know more, check out this article from our archives. 
  • Do proper internationalization. Remind your developers about the importance of preparing the code to receive future translations. Internationalization is all about global code readiness. Repeat 100 times if necessary that they should avoid having text in image files or having hard-coded text in the code, and preach internationalization best practices. Proper internationalization reduces the cost of localization significantly as it will minimize enormously the amount of LQA bugs and linguistic issues found in general. If you want to know more about how to internationalize the code correctly you can consult this article.
  • Select your languages wisely. You do not have to translate into 25 languages if you do not have the capacity or the budget. Simply translating to Chinese, Arabic, FIGS, and Portuguese you will cover a very broad market (don’t trust us? check this out!). If you are ambitious and want to reach 80% of the world population, according to this study you can do it by translating to just 14 languages.
  • Prioritize the content to be translated. All content does not have the same visibility. See what content is the most important of your app/website and start by localizing high visibility content first.
  • Write simple and localization-friendly, copy. If you want to make localization as easy and fast as possible for your startup, try to keep your content concise so it’s easily digestible for your global audience. This will result in fewer questions from translators and will make the localization process quite smooth.
  • Provide context. Always provide your translators or translation partners with some background and reference material. If they don’t have enough context, translators will often produce wrong translations that will need to be fixed once they are already in-game, or will ask tons of questions, with both cases resulting in extra stress and loss of time on the developer’s side. 

There is, however, a less frequent and more organized case we want to tackle:

What can you do if you have some money to invest in localization?

  • Get a copywriter. A good copywriter reviews the content and style of your text which is essential. Quality begins with having the perfect English copy. If the English copy is bad, the translations will be bad.
  • Contact freelance translators (and pay them a decent rate), they will provide you a good enough quality that can help your app to go global.
  • Contact a language service provider (LSP). Managing freelancers yourself can be a very time-consuming task. If you are translating into 12 languages the admin work to coordinate 12 freelancers can be quite high. The best recommendation if you can afford it is to engage with a professional LSP. They will provide you the project management and the translators you need
  • Buy a Translation Management System (TMS). A TMS automates the translation process, makes it more controllable, and eliminates repetitive tasks. If you want to know more, check this more specific article about this topic.
  • Invest in Localization Quality Assurance (LQA). Localization QA focuses on any linguistic, visual, and stylistic issues in localized games. Primarily, it focuses on linguistic testing and translation quality review but also covers UI/UX aspects such as text truncation, misplaced buttons, missing images, etc. You will find more information about LQA here.


The Takeaway

If you should find yourself responsible for localization in a startup company, these are some tactics that you can execute to bring your company to a global level. Today, no matter where a business is located, expanding sales and operations to international markets is often one of the best engines for driving growth. That inevitably means that you have to globalize your product in one way or another, so you can grow your business beyond its own borders and embrace the global marketplace.

About the Author
Miguel Sepúlveda
Miguel Sepúlveda
Global Localization Manager at King | Website