Integrity Languages


Monthly Archives: October 2016

Keep the Lines of Communication Short

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: October 26, 2016

It was, on the face of it, a straightforward event. A brief evening AGM followed by an informative technical conference. Easy. Except for one factor that nearly scuppered the whole thing.


How to Mess up Communication with Interpreters


All the job needed was two interpreters and a bit of equipment called a Tour Guide Interpreting System (or bidule for those in the business). But the agency had quoted low and, to maintain margins, they deleted the second interpreter and the equipment without telling anyone.


Cue a confused client, a single exhausted interpreter and an event that ran on sweat and desperate creativity. The problem here wasn’t the fact that an agency was involved, nor was it budgets, but simply that there were more layers than necessary.


Find the Simplest Interpreting Solution


The more layers between you and your conference interpreters, the more there is potential for information to go missing. For simple jobs with just one additional language, often it is simply easier to hire direct. Conversely, you see the benefits of bringing in an agency precisely when the job needs a calm hand at the wheel of a huge ship.


What happened in that particular job was that information about equipment and requirements simply got lost somewhere along the chain. The addition of an only marginally necessary middleman added unnecessary complexity. Take away the middle and you reduce the muddle.


If the client had hired directly, an experienced interpreter could have guided them through the process and made sure everything was in place for a superb event. In fact, a good consultant interpreter might even have been able to give them advice on seating plans to reduce the amount of sound heard by those not needing interpreting.


But they weren’t and they couldn’t.


The Moral?


As with every events service you can purchase, interpreting thrives when those providing it have the same amount of knowledge about the event as you do. That means right-sizing how you hire interpreters and knowing exactly when to bring in an agency and when to go direct. And there’s a good guide to doing just that.

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.

Do we need client education?

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: October 19, 2016

A couple of days ago, I wrote this post on LinkedIn on the power of interpreting at business events. And, sure enough, some events managers have read it, which is great. The most positive response, however, has come from fellow interpreters.

That prompted me to ask, on two different groups, whether it is actually interpreting clients who need to be educated about the power and potential of our work. How easy do we find it to believe in our own worth and to argue for our professionalism not on the basis of need but on the basis of the benefits we bring to clients?

We can ask the same question about professional websites. How many of our websites clearly and unequivocally tell clients what we can do for them and how we can make a difference to their business? How much of the time do we protest, instead of actually sitting down and listening to the people who are going to be paying us before we try to put together a business proposal?

Protest might help assure rights but it won’t increase respect. If we really want interpreting to be respected and valued, we need to do the hard work of training ourselves to see that value and then working out how to explain that to clients.

That’s not marketing; it’s plain old common sense. If we want to change the world, let’s start by changing ourselves first. So, here’s the challenge, in the comments box below or on whatever group you read this, write a single short sentence that would explain to clients how you can benefit them.

And, if we need to use words like “accurate”, “trained”, “qualified” or “certified”, it might be a sign that we need to think again about why clients buy our services. It’s not easy but once you get it right to the point that you are talking the same language as your clients, you will see more of a difference than you could ever imagine. Try it.

Competition doesn’t always matter

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: October 17, 2016

If you are an events company covering conferences, parties, weddings and product launches, you will always need to be on the alert for new companies coming in. If you are the recognised expert in managing European Works Councils for heavy industry, you won’t care. If you are a conference interpreter covering every field for every kind of client anywhere you can get by plane, you will always need to watch your back. If you get a reputation for handling the assignments that scare the lag out of your colleagues, you will never have to worry.


Market size and competition

The amount of competition in any given market is usually just a measure of how big people think the market itself is. When people think there is a big market, there will likely be tons of competitors and with them, the added complexity of fragmentation. Interpreting is a multi-billion dollar industry but no single player controls anything more than a tiny sliver of it at any one time. Sure, big multinationals might mop up government contracts but that leaves the far larger private markets (and there are several of them in each country) for anyone who can jump in.


The size of the market you need to be in is purely and simply a matter of strategy. If you want to be pulling in tens of millions of any currency a year, you will need to swim in the oceanic markets and deal with the resulting competition. If, however, you just want to master one particular area, you will limit your growth to the size of that market but you can, and just might, achieve your goal with fewer headaches and fear of competition.


Making Interpreting Irreplaceable

Competition only matters to the extent that you have allowed yourself to be seen as replaceable. When you’re the go-to person for that particular client and you got there by delivering results, you don’t need to worry too much about competitors coming in with price cuts, unless the results you were delivering actually weren’t as flashy and unique as they looked.


A smooth conference, rightly or wrongly, will be seen as good, but fairly easy to achieve. A conference that covers six languages, leads to a 500% increase in sales leads and bags the client hundreds of press spots will win you them for life. Accurate interpreting is pretty much a given; interpreting that sorts out a tricky cultural issue and qualifies the client for a multi-million pound deal (true story from my own experience!) will have the client coming back for more.


If you deliver what your clients think anyone else can deliver, prepare for vicious competition. If you can strike gold when everyone else is striking out, the competition just became irrelevant. It’s simply a choice of where you want live.

The Business Value of Space

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: October 14, 2016

Your diary is covered in so many appointments that you wore out three different pens writing them all. You are hustling so much to get clients or prepare for interpreting that you have eaten breakfast on the run every day for the past week. The only time you get to sit down is for five minutes at your latest event, while the clients are having a coffee break.


It sounds like success. Your bank balance might even say it is success but it isn’t. It’s an accident waiting to happen.


How much would it take for you to hit a scheduling disaster? A late train? A storm that cancels the plane you need to be on to catch the bus to meet the guy you will have a meeting with in a taxi going somewhere else?


The busier we are, the more space we need. To give your best to every assignment or project, you need to have spent quiet time, with little rush preparing for it. No one presents well when their pitch was written on the back of a Subway napkin on a bus between two other meetings.


The key to creativity is space. Space to explore. Space to breathe. Space to think about who you are and where you are going.


The key to successful interpreting is space. Space to think. Space to prepare. Space to get into the shoes of your client and walk around a bit.


The secret to great events is space. Space for networking. Space to digest knowledge. Space to relax.


If there is one gift I could give to my fellow Edinburgh conference interpreters, indeed to all conference interpreters, it would be space. Space between assignments to prepare for them, both terminologically and mentally. Space to process each assignment and space to relax in-between.


How do we get that space? That’s for another post.

Edinburgh Airport and the Art of Subtle Marketing

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: October 13, 2016

I fly a lot. In fact, between September and early December, I will have visited Denmark, Belgium, England (London and Milton Keynes twice each), the Netherlands, and Northern Ireland. That means I spend a lot of time in Edinburgh Airport. And I also learn a lot from both its plusses and its flaws.


First, the big plus. When it works (which is usually does), good old EDI has some of the most reliable. longest-lasting and fastest free airport Wi-Fi in the UK. I am one of those people who often needs to work in the departure lounge, this means sitting with a laptop open and connected and a warm beverage in one hand. In fact, I would dare to suggest that since the airport brought in Wi-Fi, their sales of food and drink will have increased.


Work and caffeine seem to go together. Offer free Wi-Fi and people will be able to work. Give people the ability to work and they will buy some liquid sustenance to go with it. Subtle marketing: done. Profits: creeping up.


On the other side of the equation is the airport’s biggest flaw. In their hurry to redesign parts of the terminal, the architects forgot that the main purpose of an airport is to allow people to get to their flights. Now, instead of the old route, which took you from security to the gates within a few steps (and gave you more time to do work and drink hot chocolate), there is a long-winding route which forces you through the oversized Duty Free, with its chicane of perfume profferers, whisky dram holders and people whose only job seems to be to stand and stare at the crowds going by.


From a business point of view, it kind of makes sense. Greater footfall should equal greater sales. And it might well do. From the point of view of passengers, especially those either a) in a hurry or b) travelling with easily distracted children, it is a total pain in the proverbial. Marketing, it is; subtle, it ain’t!


What does this mean for us? Well, the more we force clients who want events management or conference interpreting to wade through a winding route to book us – full of up-selling, cross-selling and flashing new offers – the more we will just annoy them. Sure, they might click a button by accident and sign up for something, but the reputational damage will be done.


If your every blog post aimed at clients ends with a flashing Call to Action and a demand to subscribe to your newsletter, count on your potential clients getting fed-up. If, on the other hand, you give away something for free that acts as subtle marketing, you are onto a winner. Even something as simple as inviting people to contact you if they want to know more on the odd post is better than a stupid banner that won’t go away.


We should absolutely be showing our clients what they can gain by working with us but we need to be doing it in a way that is much subtler than forcing them through the Duty Free. Just as the point of an airport is letting people catch their plane, the point of your business is helping clients fulfil their goals. Get that right and they will be all too happy to help you fulfil yours.

It’s Always Your Issue

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: October 12, 2016

When you have created a fabulous product but the courier messes up and delivers it late, whose issue is it? When the flight is late and your perfect little travel plan is up in smoke, whose issue is it to resolve? When you have created an awe-inspiring event but people speaking other languages don’t understand what is going on, whose issue is it?


When running a business or delivering an event, it is always tempting to shovel the blame elsewhere. The courier was at fault, the airline messed up, the interpreters were poorly briefed. Sorry but that’s not our issue, some say.


In a world where people tend to be long on rights and short on responsibility, voluntarily making an issue yours will make you stand out. If the product will be late, offer to drive to the courier’s local office and deliver it by hand. If the travel plan is dead in the water, shell out for a taxi or another flight. If the interpreters aren’t coping, take the heat and take the initiative to do something about it.


If you are looking for suppliers, check how they take responsibility. How do they cope when things are going wrong? Do they go the extra mile or curse some anonymous person behind a desk somewhere.

Great Interpreters Care

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: October 11, 2016

If you have ten assignments inside a month, it’s easy to let it all wash over you. Preparation for one job washes into another. Terminology from fisheries, nuclear power, product launches coalesces into one big blob.


But fight the urge to swim from one venue to another while being disconnected from any. While for you it could be the fiftieth similar event this year, for the clients it could be the result of three years of preparation and hard work.


Great interpreters care. They care about the Edinburgh conference being everything the organisers hope for. They care about the conference speakers being as convincing in French or German or Spanish as they were in English.


The difference between good and great interpreters is not so much about training (although that is important) or preparation (although that is important too) but their continued ability to treat every job with the same high levels of professionalism and passion. It’s that professionalism and passion that makes sure that every assignment, every meeting, every conference gets the star treatment. And when people are treated like stars, they will always come back.

Why Marketing is Not Enough

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: October 5, 2016

We all get it. Marketing is important. Unless people know what you do, they will never pay you to do it. It also helps if you can find something that makes you unique, or close to unique, in the eyes of someone who might buy your services.


We can take that as read. But what about the other end of the transaction? Once you have attracted people and they are ready to part with cash, how do you handle the situation? How do you not just make sure that you are delivering the right product but doing it in the right way?


Andrew Morris is a bit of a living legend amongst some translators. He argues that, on top of the quality of the final product, the reason why his customers come back to him is the “emotional experience” they have. In fact, he sees quality as 25% of the reason for them coming back. No, he doesn’t make them cry or laugh all the time. He simply makes their life easier and is sensitive to their needs.


That seems simple but it is where many businesses fail. Take today, for example. I was trying to order some custom business cards from a well-known online printer. They made the design stage really easy and even saved my work periodically. Lovely.


Then I came to order. I literally had my debit card on the couch next to me. And then I spotted their delivery options.


I absolutely needed the order to come by Friday morning (because I am off to the NGTV conference in Utrecht on Friday afternoon). None of their options allowed me to do that. No next day delivery. No morning guarantee. I even phoned them.


“Sorry, we don’t offer next day delivery and we can’t tell you when your package will arrive on the day it comes.”


Helpful, indeed. So what did I do?


I went straight to another retailer and placed an even bigger order with them. Sure, they didn’t make design quite as easy or flexible but they had a morning delivery option and so, despite the extra £20 on the price, I took them up on the offer.


The lesson is simple. Delivering great service and understanding the needs of your customers are absolutely irreplaceable skills. You can market all you like but if you can’t deliver the goods or services how and when your clients need them, you might as well give up now.