In the beginning, many providers of language services relied on simple spreadsheets to track projects and manage their business, including such tasks as writing invoices and tracking revenues and taxes due. For many, the complexity of managing linked Excel pages and workbooks eventually led to the search for more flexible solutions with standard software. If accounting was a problem area, accounting tools such as Quickbooks
often became part of the solution. But ultimately, the needs for integrated project management adapted to the specific needs of language service businesses led to the development of the first generation of business management software tailored to our activities. Early desktop-based tools familiar to many translators include the LTC Organiser
(no longer available), Translation Office 3000
from AIT and the FileMaker-based Translation Office Manager
(TOM). These offered a huge productivity boost to many freelancers and small agencies, with integrated scheduling, some CRM features, quotation, invoicing, revenue tracking, basic reporting and more. I began using these solutions myself after two years in the business, and doing so was one of the wisest decisions I've made for my translation practice.
Eventually, however, with the basic needs of accurate calculation and templates for invoicing and a few other critical points covered, it became apparent that more was needed to save time and frustration as well as ward off technical trouble that could lead to the loss of clients or even greater financial catastrophes.
The symptoms of trouble began early, but it took a while for me to make the connection to the need for a better management solution. These included:
- getting stuck with all the administrative work in a busy partnership, because the desktop software solution was installed on my working computer;
- failed client deliveries when e-mail disappeared into a black hole on the Internet;
- inability to access important project data from other locations;
- occasionally faulty communication and coordination if project requests were received while I was out of the office;
- loss of billing information when files became corrupted or hard drives crashed;
- frequent fear of the consequences of theft or equipment failure;
- a lack of understanding on the part of other participants in my business that backups are a necessary thing worth doing often;
- a lack of understanding on the part of some solution providers for the legal requirements of invoicing and other processes in my country of residence.
Other people surely have a different tribulations list, and this is only a small part of mine. An obvious solution to the problem of "burden sharing" in my partnership at the time was to go for a networked solution. There are a number of options available; the now-discontinued LTC Organiser
I used in the beginning offered a network option, AIT had released its Projetex
intended for agencies, TOM
had expanded its scope and included networkable team and agency options, and I even discovered an Open Source option (Project ]open[ Translation
). LTC also eventually released its new tool, LTC Worx
, which is available in various forms from its subsidiary Agile Web Solutions.
Most of the networked options had one great disadvantage for me: they required that I purchase and operate a server or pay to have that done and hosted elsewhere. Aside from the not-insignificant costs involved, I had to consider the ongoing problem of maintenance and upgrades as well as backups. This was really more than I cared to swallow for a small business, as it was not clear to me that I would really be saving time in the end.
In the meantime, a number of my long-term agency clients struggled with similar issues but on a larger scale. Many of these chose to develop their own online portal solutions, some of which were excellent, others less so, but all were rather costly. Costs quoted when I asked were generally enough to buy a nice piece of land or even a small house in places I like. Even standardized enterprise solutions like Plunet
aren't affordable for many.
I noted with interest the entry of ProZ in these solutions. The online invoicing features, project records and various communication features for working with clients are a recognition that these areas are vitally important to many users of the portal. These features also raised my awareness that, for many reasons, the SaaS (Software as a Service) approach was the right one for my business and probably for many others as well.
SaaS means that
- I have no costs or effort for hardware and software installation;
- backups are automated and frequent with a good service;
- I have years of productive use before I approach the costs of other solutions;
- if my computer fails or is stolen, I'm back in business as quickly as I can log on to the Internet;
- someone else deals with maintenance and upgrades, which saves me time;
- the solution is easily scalable as my business grows.
A good SaaS solution (as well as any other well-designed online solution) can also provide secure, encrypted transmission of files for quotation requests and customer deliveries (much safer than e-mail!!!). This aspect is very important to me personally when dealing with confidential contracts and patents.
Providers of SaaS solutions for language service businesses include Agile Web Solutions (LTC Worx
), LSP.net (the Online Translation Manager – OTM
) and others; SDL and Lionbridge also offer various subscription options.
Finding the right option for your needs can be tricky. Many providers are not very transparent about their pricing or other policies or even features. It literally took me years to sort things out until I found a solution (OTM) with which I was satisfied.
Because of the scope of these solutions and the often complex balance of individual needs to consider, it's a good idea to develop a checklist of features or considerations that are important to you for a language services business management solution of any kind. Make the list, the research the options you find one-by-one and score them on your checklist. This will help to avoid getting distracted and making a choice which might not meet your most critical needs.
Client records management
Integrated client rate lists for costing
Contract, NDA & document management
Resource records management
Integrated resource rate lists for costing
Profit margin control
Secure data transmission
Location-independent access, multi-site
Multi-user PM and admin access
Multilingual, customizable communications
Project e-mail integration
Project document version control
Data export/migration functions
Annual upgrade costs
Transparent, predictable total costs
First year investment
Legal compliance & best practice
Software as a service