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The Intellectual Dishonesty of “Only”

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: December 7, 2016

Content Marketing is not the only kind of marketing left. Only £10 per month is still £120 per year. There is not “only” one way to work with interpreters.

Whenever someone wants to minimise a downside or blind you to alternatives, they will use “only”. The truth is, there are always many options and many routes. Nothing is ever as simple as it looks.

There are several ways to organise events and all of them will give different results. There are several ways to hire interpreters – each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Anyone who tries to tell you that their way is the only way that works is not telling the full story.

Instead of looking for the only way or the price that is only the same as a cappuccino, strip off the qualifiers and read again. The truth is often uncomfortable but it should never be ignored.

Think off-centre

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: December 2, 2016

What is the biggest problem your business faces right now? Do you need more new clients? Do you need to improve your market position or reduce costs?

Most business problems have typical solutions. Buy in temporary expertise, pay for advertising, create a campaign.

But sometimes the very fact that everyone is trying the same things reduces your chances of success. If everyone pushing for a slice of the agency market or the wedding pie, making your mark will be a hard slog.

Yet, when we really think hard and process our experiences, new and untested strategies can appear. Where are your competitors not marketing that might still offer a lucrative source of work for you? What communities are you part of where your skills may be in demand? What additional products or services can you offer that are unique to you?

Thinking off-centre means deliberately looking for creative strategies and revealing questions that will open new doors for your business. If you are in the middle of a competitive market and there is pressure to squeeze margins or suppliers, it might just be what your business needs.

Why Community Counts

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: November 9, 2016

Millions of people are waking up to election results they did not expect and did not want. Others are waking bleary-eyed in disbelief that the result they wanted but seemed out of reach is here. No matter where you are on the political spectrum, there is change in the air and it will take courage and creativity to navigate it. But it will also take community.

 

Beyond “Community” as a Buzzword

 

For the past few years, social media has turned the word “community” into a buzzword. We have gaming communities, interpreting communities, communities of practice, the events community and more besides. In the face of technology that could lead to us living in individual shacks, communicating with nothing but smartphones and Wi-Fi, there is a desperate cry for meaningful, in-person relationships.

 

That is why community is such a hot topic right now. In the face of isolation, xenophobia, breakdowns in understanding and mistrust, there is something refreshing about being in the same room as a fellow human being. When we get to the point that we can be real and communicate without soundbites or tweets, we begin to realise that we are all still humans, from the newest president to the poorest worker.

 

The Price of Community is Vulnerability

 

But the price of community is vulnerability and vulnerability is not something our technologies are built to handle. Steven Furtick reminds us that we can often compare our real-life to the highlight reels that people project onto social media. Online, there is always a message to get across. In-person, there is just us.

 

The kinds of communities we need cut across the traditional racial or class or political barriers. Perhaps the reason why recent political decisions in the UK and US alike have come as such a surprise is that our technologies and platforms, from Twitter and Facebook to LinkedIn and Snapchat, encourage us to congregate in groups of the like-minded. In that environment, we only really hear the voices of people like us. In these echo chambers, we become convince that the whole world thinks like us. And then we get a short, sharp shock when it doesn’t work that way.

 

Diversity in Community

 

Some of the most valuable communities are those where people come from different walks of life, hold different political and ideological views but still choose to walk together.  I have been on boards of directors where there were disagreements but strong decisions were made. I have been in churches where people who originated from different countries and continents broke bread and laughed together.

 

If you have got this far and wonder why this is on a business blog, I have a simple answer. If we want our meetings to succeed, we need to build communities not just teams. If we want conferences to have a lasting impact, they need to help kick-start or maintain diverse communities. What if you managed to create an event that knocked-down the echo chambers, the class distinctions and the political fear and brought people together to learn from those who speak a wide variety of languages?

MyOpportunity and the Death of Mass Selling

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: October 25, 2016

If you are a regular LinkedIn user, you might have noticed an invite to connect your account to myOpportunity. The basic idea of this is that you can cut straight to the chase and contact prospective clients directly and, since they can see your LinkedIn profile right away, this should make it easy for them to size you up and do business with you. Sounds like a recipe for lots of qualified leads and more sales, right?

 

Well, it would be, if people didn’t default to old methods. In today’s world, where big data and personalisation are the new normal, old-style “mass mailings” just don’t work. They work even less on a platform that gives you access to everything you need to know about a prospect in a single click.

 

Instead of taking five minutes to craft a personalised pitch, the vast majority of the messages I get through opportunity are like this one (name removed to protect the guilty):

 

Hey, How are you?

Without leads you can’t close sales, and without closing sales you can’t win new customers. If your business needs warm sales leads, we can definitely help you out. Let me know your best contact. 

Best Regards,

 

Random Guy, Random Company

 

In the early days of emailing, this kind of approach would work fine but now, it simply puts people off. The writer obviously did zero research on the services I offer or the kinds of leads I would want. How does he even know he can generate leads in my target markets?

 

But this is more than a rant about MyOpportunity unexpectedly leading to another growth phase in business spam. As I have written before, I am learning marketing from everywhere right now, even airports. And MyOpportunity, or rather how some people misuse it, has taught me a simple lesson.

 

If you want to win new business, personalise.

 

Oh sure, I hear you say, I have the time to research every one of hundreds of potential clients. You might not but I am sure you can find the time to spend ten minutes researching high-value ones. If you knew a client would add 25% to your income, wouldn’t you put in the legwork to get to know them a bit first?

 

I am no marketing expert. I am a conference interpreter working in Edinburgh. But I can tell you from personal experience that the people who personalise their approach will get a better response from me and from their potential clients than those who just revert to blind mass mailing. So, the next time you are trying to land new business, pick a smaller number of potential clients and craft a personalised approach to each of them.

 

What do they seem to need right now? What benefits can you bring them? Why would they use your services? What have they done recently that you think is worth praising?

 

Start doing that little bit of research and you will have a far better chance of landing the work.

Could you boost your skills with the 30/3 Challenge?

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: August 26, 2016

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Imagine how good you could become as an interpreter or events professional if you dedicated time to developing your craft, even when you aren’t working. Could just a little time each week lead to dramatic improvements?

 

If that interests you, keep reading.

 

This week, I had a very special project. It was as high-level as you can get and my entire shift was my work webcast live. No room for mistakes. No do overs. To add to the pressure, another booth of interpreters was taking relay from me too!

 

In preparation, I had spent some quality time listening to the speaker and practising interpreting. I had found that, because of his comparatively slow speed and detailed thinking, my output was a little choppy for my taste. So, following the thinking of the great Elisabet Tiselius and her ideas on deliberate practice, I decided to target improvement on just the delivery aspect of my interpreting. Specifically, I wanted to sound smoother and pause less.

 

After just one targeted session, I noticed a marked improvement, which lasted right through the job itself. Just one quick session with a known target improvement my performance markedly.

 

Now, having seen the results for myself, I am completely committed to deliberate practice. But what does that mean anyway?

 

Deliberate practice happens when you practise a skill outside of work, with a specific target or area that you want to improve, preferably with a coach or mentor. For me this week, my target was to improve the smoothness of my output when dealing with slow speakers and I recorded myself to check my progress.

 

For an events professional it might be people management or improving the clarity of your emails. For an interpreter, it might be your consecutive note taking or your summarising skills or your intonation.

 

The trick is to have a target and to hold yourself accountable. It’s even better when you work with someone else who can monitor you. But for now, I want to set the bar deliberately low, just to get us started.

 

Here is where your part comes in. I would like to challenge all interpreters and events professionals to join me in the 30/3 challenge – for a minimum of 3 days per week do a minimum of 30 minutes deliberate practice on a skill that is core to your job. So, no working on marketing or networking or the skills that get you clients. Concentrate on the skills that you are paid to deliver.

 

Focus on just one area of one skill at a time. So, don’t just say “I will work on my delivery skills” say “I want to have a smoother output with more natural intonation.” Don’t just say, “I want to manage people better”, say “I want to manage a project with volunteers to improve my motivation skills.”

 

To add that all-important accountability, I want you to drop a comment to say that you are in. If you are an interpreter and you are on Facebook, join the Community of Practice group and add your current target to the thread.

 

Together, we can all improve our performance. Who’s with me?

The Problem with Productivity

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: August 22, 2016

What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for? (Matthew 16:16 TM)

It’s 6.30am and I have just gotten two of my children out of bed and I look at my phone to check the time. Already, about ten of my local colleagues are apparently up, coffeed and have set to work setting the world to rights. How do they do it? Then there is the other colleague who travels the world, works on every single form of transport and has written more guides than you can shake a stick it.

 

We are all very productive. But apparently that isn’t enough.

 

Recently, there has been an arms race to be even more productive. People have told us 10 things that mega-successful people do before 6am (apparently sleep isn’t one of them). Twitter is full of time-saving ideas and tools. We download apps, buy fancy 4G internet dongles so we can work halfway up a Chilean mountain and even send emails from the bathroom.

 

We are producing a lot but what kind of people are we producing? Actually, let’s be more honest, what kind of people are we becoming?

 

As part of the Being a Successful Interpreter courses, I run an interactive session on Your Career and Your Life. One of the main messages of that session is that the two things are not the same. Your career is not your life.

 

But ask any interpreter or events professional and they might have difficulty telling the two apart. Ask them about their hobbies and they will tell you something career-related. “I read Conference News” or “I learn more languages” or “I blog on [something career-related].”

 

Since we all love the daily stresses of our jobs, we can often mistake doing professional stuff that we enjoy for actually relaxing. As much as I love blogging and writing, for the sake of my own mental health (not to mention my family), I have to class them as “work”. As much as I love learning about new fields, that is not the same as giving my brain some downtime.

 

There is a reason why every major religion in the world mandates that people take one day a week and stop anything that could be classed as work. Our bodies were not built to be running at 100% effort, 7 days a week. And, that is all the more true when you have jobs that are as stressful as ours.

 

The secret of achieving is not in how much you produce but in how sustainably you work. One of the most powerful questions I ask in my courses is this: “Being honest with yourself, how sustainable is your current rhythm and volume of work?”

 

How would you answer?

 

Sure, for some people, there is a need to ramp up. If you do one job a month worth £50, you won’t be able to pay your bills after a while. But most events professionals and interpreters I have met live on the other end. They are like me, when I eventually dragged myself to the physio with dodgy knees.

 

“Mr Downie,” he said. “Your problem is your job.”

 

I had been spending too long at my desk, too long stressing and fretting and not enough time exercising, enjoying the company of my friends and family and breathing outdoors.

 

There really is no point in producing like a wild thing for a year, only to land up in hospital by Christmas. Amidst all the voices pushing us to do more and create more, we need to listen to the voices calling us to think more and rest more.

 

Perhaps the hardest challenge for us all is not to get up earlier or douse ourselves in ice water but to rest. How about we all take on the Sabbath challenge? For one whole day every week, do no work at all. Rest, read good books, go for a walk, meet friends, watch a sunset, play with children, do anything that is nothing to do with work and doesn’t require an internet connection. Try it and see just how much better you perform.

The Danger of Single Example Learning

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: August 17, 2016

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At most events I have been to, I have observed the same pattern. The speakers who get the best reaction from the audience are the ones who speak from their own experience and tell great stories. As a professional speaker myself, I know that this is completely normal and there is a lot to be said for this approach. As a researcher and events professional, however, part of me wonders whether we might be setting ourselves up for a fall.

 

To understand the danger of learning from the experience of one person, we need to understand a very basic research concept. If you want to research a phenomenon, there are two broad approaches. The first is to look really deeply into one particular example.

 

The advantage of this approach is that you can draw a wealth of information and can uncover insights that would simply not be visible any other way. A really good example is that of a researcher friend of mine, Jiqing Dong, who looked at communication inside a single interpreting agency. The depth of her analysis is incredible and it offers some amazing food for thought.

 

The disadvantage of going deep is that you can never be sure that you have found something that is valid in any other situation. Sure, you might discover the secrets behind this single event drawing crowds of thousands but how do you know that those same secrets will work for you or anyone else?

 

An alternative approach is to look at several examples on a more superficial level. The classic example of this is a survey. Hardly a day goes by when someone doesn’t want ten minutes of your time to get responses on your social media habits, political affiliation, response to a website redesign or something else.

 

The advantage of going wide is precisely that, if you have done your work properly, your results will tell you something about general trends and principles that apply to a large number of cases. Researchers can and do generalise on the basis of representative surveys, which allows us to know things like the fact that the whole discussion over “what Millenials want” is a load of nonsense, as any generational differences we perceive are simply continuations of existing trends.

 

The disadvantage is, of course, that in drawing from many examples, you have to limit the amount of information you get about any one example and often, you also have to limit the range of responses. You might learn, for example, that your twitter posts get more clicks if they go out between 6 and 7pm but you won’t know what people were doing at that point or their emotional reaction to the post.

 

All this is a rather long way of saying that, if we fixate on the insights of one person and on their experience, we can fall into the trap of trying to extrapolate from their experience to our situation when the two are not at all linked. Sure, there might be a corporate conference company turning over £150 million per year but their techniques might not apply to a sole trader wedding planner.

 

Stories of “how I did it” are fun to hear and read but they might not actually give you anything more relevant to your work than a case of the warm fuzzies. Much better to gather a number of case studies of people in similar context from you and learn from a multitude of counsel. While no two examples are the same, the more we look for patterns and trends, the more we gain relevant insights into our own work

Scheduled Social Media Posting and Marketing Your Business

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: August 11, 2016

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As a trained researcher, I am a big fan of experiments. So, nowadays, whenever I go on holiday, I queue up a whole bunch of posts using a MavSocial campaign and watch my website stats. What do you think happens?

 

Before I get to the results, I want to explain something for those who are social media newbies. One of the biggest decisions you will ever make when doing social media marketing is deciding what to measure.

 

You can measure the increase in sales but then, given the complexity of most sales funnels, it can be difficult to unpick what might have caused any change. This is made even harder by the fact that any smart business should be marketing through several channels.

 

For example, I use social media, writing in professional magazines for my target market, guest blogging, in-person networking, and attendance at tradeshows. None of these on their own is going to increase my sales but using them together, alongside good old client retention strategies, just might.

 

At the other end of the scale, you can measure how many people see your posts. The problem with this is that it’s far better to have 5 potential buyers see your stuff than 10,000 people who will never be interested in what you offer. A qualified lead in the hand is worth 5,000 likes on Twitter, as the phrase should go nowadays.

 

Because of that, I measure something in the middle. All of my holiday posts have links in them and I measure how often those links are clicked. The deal is that, if I can just get people to my website, I can increase the likelihood that they will buy from me. At the very least, I will have raised their awareness of my services, which is a good step to take in marketing while you are sunning yourself on the beach.

 

Here is the rub, whenever I post new content to my website, traffic surges and I get lots of new interactions. But, obviously, when I am on holiday, no new posts will appear. So what about when I setup automated posting of content that is already there?

 

The first thing I have learned is that scheduled posting of existing content will not get you the same peaks as brand new stuff. Scheduled posting simple raises the default amount of traffic. What happens is that the boost from the latest piece of new content lasts longer, with traffic not returning back to normal until the schedule runs out of posts. Visit rates sit at between two and five times their default levels right up to the end of the schedule.

 

Strangely, both social and direct traffic numbers increase markedly during scheduled posting. It may be that scheduled posting encourages people to bookmark articles, which they come back to later.

 

In short, while having a schedule for reposting existing articles won’t give you the same pleasing peaks as regularly creating new and exciting content, it will encourage more background traffic to your site.

Why Value-Based Pricing is Good for Business

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: July 26, 2016

We all know the feeling: we are talking to a client and its gets to that magic moment when they ask for a price. In a split-second, there are several questions going round your head:

 

  • Do I give them my standard price or offer a discount or even take the opportunity to raise my rates?
  • Do I charge hourly or daily or by some other measure?
  • What should I include?
  • Will someone underbid me?
  • How quickly should I send the quote?
  • How much room for negotiation should I leave?

 

Unless we have become too experienced or blasé that each individual assignment means little to us, that vital quoting stage can become a site of real mental effort. But there is another way.

 

It’s a way I first heard about in Warsaw at TLC 2015 when Alessandra Martelli of MTM Translations talked about negotiation. Rather than sending a price straightaway, she makes sure that she knows exactly what the client wants and then sends a price that details exactly how it will fulfil their needs.

 

She told us that making that one change meant that she now wins 80% of the projects she bids for. That is pretty amazing given what many of us in interpreting or the events sector might experience. That one figure alone got me thinking about how I relate to clients.

 

The next step in the journey was finishing writing my first book, Being a Successful Interpreter: Adding Value and Delivering Excellence. The key message of the whole book is that interpreters need to concentrate on the value they add to clients, over any other measure. The logical outcome is that we need to stop using “market rates” and a start pricing interpreting according to the value it has for each client.

 

Then today, the last piece of the puzzle fell into place. There was a discussion about pricing models in a Facebook group for professional speakers that I am a part of. Alan Stevens, an experienced speaker and media trainer in his own right, mentioned that instead of pricing according to hours spent or service, he talks to the client about what they want to gain from his work and prices accordingly!

 

Bingo!

 

While “market rates” seem to take away any need to make pricing decisions, they actually take away a vital point of connection with clients. Instead of finding out exactly what they need, we just slap a price on each day and waddle off.

 

Value-based pricing forces us to really think about how our clients are benefiting from our services and encourages us to be more transparent with the difference that we can make for their business. So the next time you are asked for a quote, take the opportunity to slow things down a little. Email (or even phone!) the client and talk to them about the value of the event for them. Start a dialogue about what success looks like for them and how much they stand to make from it.

 

Armed with that information, send them a custom-made quote that shows that you really understand what they are trying to achieve. Show clearly how you will deliver the service that your client needs and wants and price accordingly.

 

And, if you need an experienced French to English and English to French interpreter to help you deliver the goods, drop me a line.

Brexit and the Future of Interpreting Part I

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: June 27, 2016

 

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No client, no matter how powerful, can force interpreting into recession. No agreement, no matter how unfair, can spell the end of our profession. The people responsible for the future of interpreting are professional interpreters, and it will always be that way.

Being a Successful Interpreter: Adding Value and Delivering Excellence, p. 101

 

When I wrote those words a few months ago, I had no idea how prescient they would become. Within less than a week, my home country has gone from a relatively stable, peaceful set of islands to being a Divided Kingdom, riven by generational enmity, regional rivalries and political upheavel. A simple question “Remain in the EU or Leave the EU” has turned into a Gordian knot. And interpreting is caught in it.

 

To say that interpreters have benefitted from the existence of the EU is to  state a truism. Freedom of movement of people and capital has created conferences, press events, and policy fora, as well as increasing the need for medical interpreters, court interpreters and interpreters in business negotiations, lobbying meetings and European Works Councils. And, for the most part, despite the often negative press, this has brought incredible economic benefit to the UK. We have literally created jobs, helped deals get done and reduced the cost for medical treatment by decreasing the likelihood of mistakes.

 

But Brexit is challenging that. Over the past few days, I have read more worried messages about the future of our industry than ever before. Yes, some of us got riled by the rise of technology but I have never seen so many people contemplating leaving the country – an idea that makes even more sense in the light of the increase in racist incidents against nationals of other EU countries.

 

It’s isn’t pretty but it’s here. Actually, that could basically sum up a lot of changes in the history of interpreting. As my expert colleague Alexander Drechsel wrote not too long ago, interpreting has always seen disruption. From the introduction of simultaneous interpreting to the rise of the tablet, interpreting has found a way to adjust, reinvent itself and somehow come out stronger. Disruption? It’s just history repeating, he says.

 

He is right. A divided world needs experts in communicating across cultures, nations and tribes. A worried world where people feel like they need to retreat into their own little bubbles needs people who are adept at offering people wider vistas. A world that is threatened by xenophobes and racists needs walking, breathing examples of acceptance of people whatever their background.

 

I know few other professions as needed today as interpreters. Yes, the sheer complexity of international politics can be and is a boon for conference interpreters. There is no international negotiating table in today’s world without a rack of chattering interpreting booths around it. Few meaningful deals can get done nowadays without an interpreter or four making sure that communication actually works.

 

Sure, things will be uncomfortable. Absolutely, the old ways (and perhaps places) of doing business are looking pretty bleak but we are mostly small business so we can be nimble decisions that the big players simply can’t. In a matter of months, we can change country. In a matter of weeks, we can get new clients. In a couple of years, we can have a new specialism. We can adapt. Even if adapting hurts.

 

What choice do we have? Anger is understandable. Fear is almost inevitable but interpreting is a business that can and does survive crises. We already have!

 

So, while turmoil grips nations, while companies need to negotiate contract changes, while people with different native languages check into GPs, courts, hospitals and police stations, the need for these three professions will remain: loving pastors, wise leaders, and expert interpreters. And the one that helps the other two work across the boundaries of nation, language, and state is interpreting.

To be continued…