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Monthly Archives: January 2018

Lessons from Ten Years in Business

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: January 30, 2018

This month, I have the honour of celebrating 10 years in business. It has been a fun, frustrating, incredible, disappointing, worrying, and inspiring journey and so I thought it would be a great opportunity to pass on some of the big lessons I have learned.

  • The path less-taken is the one where the fun is.

This lesson could also be entitled “ignore the platforms” or “never take the first option.” You see, for my first three or so years in business, I followed the crowd in my industry and thought that I would concentrate my marketing on a small number of big, established platforms.

Of course, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with those platforms and I did win one or two long-term clients from there but it is no accident that, as I learned more about business and understood more about my potential clients, I weaned myself off using those platforms for marketing.

No matter how much traffic comes to fiverr or translatorscafe, the fact is that your image on those platforms is largely outside of your control. If they redesign the interface, you have no choice but to go along with it. If they prioritise members who buy super-amazing-annual-gold-star-plus membership, you will lose out if you don’t pay them money all the time.

Conversely, if you choose to get off your butt and try other ways of winning clients, while the results will take longer to come, they will eventually be better. In 2017, I found myself parting on good terms with the very last client I had who had come from platforms and celebrating amazing growth in my client list from other forms of marketing.

  • Get off your butt.

There is a very persistent myth that you can create a super-rich business without leaving your house, purely on social media and online bidding.

While social media is now a vital part of my own marketing, it took me too long to learn that very few clients will pay excellent money to someone they only know from a twitter thread about Boris Johnson’s hair.

The longer I am in business, the more vital it becomes to leave the house: going to tradeshows, networking, meeting decision-makers, doing in-person CPD and even more besides. The stronger the relationship you have with someone, the more of their hard-earned cash they will be willing to spend.

It’s no surprise that my social media strategist and all of my closest business advisors are people I know from in-person events.

  • Leave the echo chamber

Yes, it’s always nice to spend time online and offline with colleagues and yes, referrals are important but all business-people need to spend as much time in the world of their potential clients as they do with people who share their opinions, loves, and obsession with the Oxford comma.

One of the biggest trends I am seeing in my own profession is that the good professionals are becoming less tolerant of online whinging and are instead promoting the view that we should be trying to learn more about our clients. That is a very good thing. The more we learn about our clients, the more we can help them achieve what they want to achieve.

  • Not everyone needs to love you

The corollary to the point above is that it is too easy to get wrapped-up in “reputation management” and “engagement” and try to be all things to all people. Oddly, it was only when I tried to target a niche and actually have opinions that my business really got off the ground. For as long as I was using the same, safe terminology and tactics and saying the same things as everyone else, getting sales was like pulling teeth.

Obviously, you shouldn’t act like a moron or spout derogatory remarks. But you should do your homework and have some kind of opinion. Have something interesting to say and back it up with the way you deliver your services.

Some people won’t like what you do. Some people won’t get it. Some people will tell you to pack in your dreams and get a “proper job”. As long as you are being sensible and not trying to launch a business selling rain to Scotland or selling tulips to Dutch people, and as long as you are willing to learn and adjust, you will be fine.

  •  Never stop learning

I can truly say that I have learned more in the year and a half since I graduated with my PhD than I did during it.

Doing a PhD is incredible but, as much as anything else, you learn how to be critical, generate and analyse data, think and express yourself. Take those skills into the business world and suddenly you have the keys to learn incredibly practical subjects such as business development, market segmentation, funnel creation and networking.

Wherever you are in your career, never stop learning from people in your field and people who can’t even spell your job title! Often you will learn more from “outsiders” than you will from experts in your own area.

 

All these things might sound very general … and they are. Yes, I have learned all sorts of technical and business skills in the past ten years and I still shake my head at the naivety I had at the start. But I wouldn’t have managed to learn all those skills without learning the lessons of taking a different path, getting off my butt to leave the echo chamber, understanding that I don’t need to please everyone and always learning more.

For now, I am excited to see what the next ten years will bring!

 

5 Big Questions to Ask Your Interpreting Agency

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: January 17, 2018

If you are buying interpreting, you will spend significant amount of cash on a service that can go wonderfully right … or dreadfully wrong. How can you tell in advance that things will work the way you need them too? While you can’t guarantee that the event will go perfectly, you can ask key questions that can give you a strong indication of what is likely to happen, especially if you are working with an interpreting agency.

As a consultant interpreter and freelance interpreter working for both direct clients and agencies, I thought it was time to give you five key questions that you can use to ensure that you get the best deal possible from your interpreting agency. Here they are:

  1. When will I know the names of the interpreters you have picked?

A bad interpreting agency will do its best to obfuscate any details of the interpreting team. While giving you direct contact with the team might be justified by saying something about secrecy (whose exactly?) or competition, you should seriously consider asking for the names of the interpreters and the city they are based in. Why?

With the names and cities of the interpreters in hand, you can spend five minutes looking them up to check that they have all the qualifications and experience that the agencies say they have. If the agency aren’t going to tell you the team until they arrive at the venue, you have to ask questions about their hiring process and the criteria they are using.

Another reason for knowing the team in advance is that you may need to book hotel rooms for them or check for dietary requirements. While some might argue that you should trust the agency to send you a good team, they really have nothing to hide and you have everything to gain by knowing the team in advance.

  1. What criteria do you use to select interpreters?

The answer to this should be really simple: experience (including their previous working relationship and feedback from clients), referrals from their trusted team of existing interpreters, association membership, qualifications, and availability are the big five.

The reality is that good agencies will default to something like those five. For a bad interpreting agency, it will all come down to who is the cheapest and who they can drag out of bed. In interpreting, cheapest is rarely, if ever, best.

  1. Are you a member of a trade association?

You can safely ignore any wooly reply that includes the letters “ISO”. What you are looking for is membership of a trade body in the languages services industry with a solid set of codes of conduct, not proof that the agency have consistent procedures is. Having great procedures means nothing if the team they send is rubbish!

ITI and ATC are the associations to watch for in the UK; ATA are the go-to in the US and there are similar bodies all over the world. Most countries will have some kind of association that allows interpreting agencies to be members. Don’t be shy about cross-checking their claims with the association itself. All of the big ones have online directories that allow you to check who their members are.

  1. Could you send me the link to your ProZ BlueBoard entry?

This is often country-dependent but many, if not most reputable interpreting agencies will be listed on the ProZ.com Blue Board. This lists what freelancers think of that particular company. A score of 5 indicates that freelancers are happy with them. If they score below 3 or their profile has been disabled or blocked, run away.

Why should you worry about what interpreters think of the agency you have chosen? Agencies with a good reputation tend attract excellent interpreters, who produce great results for you. Agencies with a bad reputation end up with the kinds of “interpreters” who might appear on TV as “fake interpreters”.

It is also worth looking for them on websites that discuss their payment practices and even ones that gather views from former employees. The more you know about the kind of company you are dealing with, the better. Companies with a bad payment history will usually deliver poor results.

  1. Can we arrange a quick Skype chat?

This might seem like an oddball but, in an age where there is a need for a website dedicated to listing people trying to scam, it is important that interpreting buyers take a similar precaution. One simple skype call to check that the agency is who they say they are and to gauge their level of helpfulness and accessibility can mean the difference between a great event and being caught in a scam.

The Million Pound Reason You Should Still Choose Human Interpreters

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: January 3, 2018

Imagine the scene:

 

It has been a long negotiation. The British company are keen to widen their client base and have managed to secure a meeting with an unbelievably big French buyer. The French buyer wants to secure a more robust supply chain and he knows that this company will deliver.

 

Both companies want a good result. Right now you wouldn’t know that.

 

Right now, they are locked in a corridor-stomping, wall-pointing, chart-explaining disagreement. And it’s not even over something complex. They have already sorted out packaging and delivery, size and spec. But right now they are arguing over quality statistics.

 

And right now, you are about to witness the turning point of the whole meeting, One interpreter, one word, one sudden realisation of what the real issue is.

 

“The interpreter believes there has been a misunderstanding.”

 

Those weren’t the exact words I used but the meaning is the same. Within less than five minutes, the disagreement was resolved (you will have to wait for my next book to read exactly how). Within less than two hours, clearance was given for a test order, which would be the last hurdle between the British company and a contract worth several million pounds.

 

The truth is, the success of most meetings depends on more than accurate interpreting. For meetings to work, you need interpreters who are sensitive to context, able to spot and resolve cultural miscues and shifts in nuance and professionals who are brave enough to make intelligent decisions.

 

One day, we might have apps that can deliver perfectly accurate interpreting. Between some languages and in some subjects, machine translation is already delivering acceptable results for written texts using controlled language. But what stands between you and the sale is rarely “accurate interpreting.” What you need to succeed is excellent interpreting.

 

And, for the foreseeable future you will need humans for that.

 

If your company is heading for a conference or meeting that just has to be right, I can build you an interpreting team that delivers when it matters most. Drop me an email to set up a free, no obligation skype meeting.