Translation Management System? Don’t need one! My Excel table is enough

Translation Management System? Don’t need one! My Excel table is enough

Before people from big corporations want to see my head on the stick, let me tell you: I love Excel. Seriously. It's a great piece of software, and you can really do amazing things with it. 

It is a mature product, that also has initiated a hoard of lookalike, wannabees and similar products. All of which are good (or at least okay-ish) in some way. All of which do the same thing, in some way.

And yes, if you are tracking your own private finance for example, it's a great piece of software where you can put your income, expenses, and see how you will come out at the end of the month. 

My problem is not with Excel itself (nor any other spreadsheet software). 

My problem is with people who think it is suitable for The Translation Industry


Because it's not. Maybe it was a Translation Management System replacement back in 1989 or even 1999 but today? Sorry. It just won't work like that. 

So in the first post in our "WTF" series, I'll try to go and understand people who say that it's enough for their company. 

What is really scary, is that these people are not 80 years old "bring back the typewriter for translations" type. It's not the technophobes who hate CAT, who don't use MT, and often even mix those two. No! It's the Gen X or even Millennials - read - still the majority of the powerful working force in their 30s-40s and early 50s...

People who come to me and say: "I can do fine with my excel. I just hate that I have to spend 3 days every month with finance, invoicing clients, checking for errors in vendor invoices... " but when I present them with my MiniTPMS card, they continue: nonono, I don't need TMS or TPMS (call it like you want) because we're a small company and there is no use for it. 

Now if you don't value your time enough to try and save those 3 days each and every month and spend it on your kung-fu lessons, or with your kids, or with your partner I'm not the one to tell you there is a problem in the Universe. 

Even if we step outside my - probably too American - way of valuing my time too much - sorry, I really like to play with Lego more than group tasks and write invoices. That is the simple truth! And the thing is, I LIKE writing invoices! It's the best time of the month. But there are things better than that. Like binge-watching The Punisher or something - so even if we say that you are extremely organized and even more disciplined... 

The List of SpreadSheet Disadvantages is Just too Long


Maybe it's enough if you just go and put the one row in your spreadsheet every time a new task comes, and at the end of the month combine them somehow, and make invoices... maybe.

What if you have more clients? 

You need to filter your clients, then make a little table for each of them separately, with all the good numbers and dates and prices and wordcounts or whatever units you are working on... 

Which reminds me, how will you put the different units, prices, dates, all in one spreadsheet row, especially if it was a huge job and you had to outsource it to more colleagues, and what if the unit you get from your customer is A, and the one you pay your outsourced vendors is B (for example: words / characters, words / pages, etc. as every country, vendor and client has their own liking). What then? 

filtering vendors requires good TMS

Try to filter vendors the right way in a spreadsheet

Even if you have all that sorted out by some magical tricks... tricks that only you and nobody else in the universe understand, there is still a ton of things we need to address.

What Spreadsheets are
NOT good for

  • Workflows - there is no way to create a normal Workflow in a spreadsheet, and if you have a two step translation, you are doomed.
  • No way of invoicing to your clients - even if it's just a "fake" (pro-forma) invoice, because you need to create a new one from your accounting program, it's much easier to copy the end sum to your official invoice and write a note on it that says: "Based on pro-forma invoice No: XY" than to enter 400 rows of tasks in one.
  • No way of creating Purchase Orders for your External Colleagues, Vendors, etc. You can filter the tasks in your spreadsheet by date, and copy and paste and whatever, but it will never be so cool as it is from a TMS system.
  • No way of having combined data to see which tasks are on which Client Invoices, and same goes for Vendor Purchase Orders. 
  • Very limited possibility to filter the colleagues to find the best one that suits your project based on several criteria. 
  • You have no way of showing your clients or your vendors just the data you WANT to show, unless, again, you create yet another 10 copies of your spreadsheet and distribute them well.
  • Vendor portal where they can see their data, invoicies, tasks they worked on, working on, etc. What? In spreadsheets. Yeah, when Blue Monkeys will be Flying Jets to the Moon. 
  • Your Client's StyleGuide upload so that in every new project at every moment you know this is what you need to use (I hope I don't have to convince you how great that feature is)
  • Scaling of your company is on par with Science Fiction. If you have more than 10 clients and more than 20 external colleagues, you are already doomed

Heck, you need a separate spreadsheet for each and every task. Maybe even multiple ones for each task. And when sending them to different people you really need to pay attention not to do more harm than good. And Sharing is a myth. (Okay, to be fair this is possible in some versions of spreadsheet software - but it is still very very far from ideal) 

spreadsheets in translation agency

We don't need to go so far as: 

  • automatic e-mail notifications,
  • requesting Vendor feedback,
  • requesting Client feedback
  • SFTP or some eve more sophisticated way of secure data transfer (in spreadsheets? what?), 
  • colleagues assessment based on done tasks (or a list of those), 
  • "normal" commenting possibilities for you and your colleagues on projects, tasks, 
  • etc. 

This list is just too long.

So what is the solution? 


I deeply believe it's a mindset thing. Not having a TMS. It's just in your head, because you think it's useless, it's expensive, and it will complicate your life. 

But what if it isn't? What if it helped? 

The solution is to embrace technology and not fear it. To accept that our work has become harder, faster and cheaper, and we need more sophisticated tools if we still want to be able to kick in the ball in the translation game. 

When you are a PM or an owner of a translation company that has 7 Project Managers and deals with hudreds of thousands words a year the price of ours will be less than your phone bill.

When you look deep into your soul, then the only thing you will say is: 

"I don't need a TMS. But I want one!"

If you want one, click on the link above. Or, there is another opportunity: 

Contact me directly if you want a special price (subject to some really harsh cowboy sheriff criteria)

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