When you’re in the planning stages of a new eLearning project that includes translation, requesting a ballpark quote—or several ballpark quotes—is a good way to get a handle on the costs and timeline for the localization step. But ballpark quotes are built on assumptions and preliminary speculation, which means they run the risk of over- or underestimating the scope of your project. An overestimated ballpark quote might price an otherwise viable vendor out of the competition, and an underestimated one might lead to unrealistic expectations that can’t be met down the road. And, if you’re gathering bids for the translation work, varying ballparks from different vendors that are all based on different assumptions can make the selection process even murkier than usual. Since not all ballparks are created equal, it’s important to think about how you can get the most accurate estimate and get your project on the right path from the start.
What goes into a ballpark quote?
Making a ballpark quote for something like a technical manual isn’t hard. If you know the number of pages, that’s usually enough—but eLearning quotes are different. The same factors that make eLearning content more dynamic and interesting than a technical manual make them more complex to localize, and all those extras have to be considered in the estimate. In the end, the quality and accuracy of a ballpark quote depends on how much information is available. The correlation is pretty clear: the more information you have, the better the quote will be, and the more useful it will be in determining your project scope and selecting a localization partner.
The Thin-Air ballpark quote
You could tell five vendors that you have “a fifteen-minute course in Spanish” and you’d get five different numbers with five different lists of questions and assumptions and caveats, because there’s a lot of information missing there. What program did you use to make this course? Are there subtitles? Videos? Voiceover? Animations that need to be synced up? A 3-D interactive element that we’ll need goggles to even see? Is it for schoolchildren or astronauts? Each one of these variations can make a huge difference in the costs, timing, and project logistics, so before your vendors ask you, it’s useful to ask yourself:
- How long is the course? The seat time can help estimate the word count. The word count x a per word rate is how most localization companies estimate cost.
- Who is the course for? A course for Norwegian doctors will have very different costs from a course for Argentine schoolchildren because the likely difference in complexity will require a more skilled, more costly translation resource.
- What are the extras? If a “baseline” eLearning course is simple slides with bullet points on them, how much more did you do? If there are animations, voiceover, or subtitles, each will be an extra step.
- Do you have subject-matter experts? Instructional designers often rely on subject-matter experts to make sure their content is correct and complete. If these resources exist in the languages for translation, it can add great value to the translations during a client review step.
- How did you—or how will you—create the course? Standard programs like Storyline and Articulate are pretty translation-friendly, while proprietary software might require extra training and time.
The Almost-There ballpark quote
If you’ve already started creating your course, you probably already know all the answers to the questions above for a basic ballpark quote. But you can get an even more accurate quote by providing additional reference material. This is important because it helps define the complexity of the course. Let’s say I ask you how long it would take you to draw a flower. Depending on how you do it, there’s a huge difference in how your flower will look and how long you’ll spend—and the same is true of your eLearning content. Are you creating a pared-down, info-focused presentation, or a fully interactive, animation-heavy masterpiece? Seeing a sample of the content helps estimate the corresponding localization time. Reference material can include:
- Outlines and supporting information: If you’re working with an end client who requested a specific training, you might have an outline of the content or reference materials from them. This type of material is helpful in determining the subject matter and getting an idea of the complexity of the course. The more developed these ideas are, the better.
- Design references: If you have a previous version of the course, a related course, or even the first four slides of the course you’re writing now, it’s hard to beat getting a look at the actual content. The variation in courses among designers results in different engineering needs during localization.
From ballpark to ballgame
Even if you provide all the right information and every reference file you can muster, a ballpark is still a ballpark. But when you can’t wait for the final files to get quotes, it has its value. If you get lots of ballparks for a project, you might have to compare what each vendor assumed and narrow it down based on a lot of mights. The most important thing to look for is that the vendor made those assumptions, and that those assumptions were based on experience with similar projects. As a vendor, it’s easy to just shrug and throw a number out there, hoping it’s lower than what everyone else says, but when it comes time for the project to begin, things will go much more smoothly if your vendor has already considered all the possible variations in the process and is prepared to handle whatever you throw at them. In the end, you can get the most out of the ballpark by providing as much information as possible and acknowledging the limitations of a preliminary estimate.
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