Integrity Languages


Tag Archives: Business

#ScotExport and the missing language sector

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: November 13, 2018

This time last week, I attended the excellent ScotExport 2018 event, run by Scottish Enterprise. Among the useful sessions on building your international network, exporting for the first time and (oh yes!) Brexit, there was cautious optimism in the air that Scottish companies can still find ways to thrive, no matter the economic and political weather.

We heard from immigration lawyers, tax experts, experienced exporters, and even a government minister. We heard about legislation, customs procedures, cultural awareness and even the value of Scottish kitsch (apparently kilts and whiskies still pull in clients).

But there was a topic that was mentioned but had no actual experts speaking. While many of the speakers mentioned the dreaded “Language Barrier” and offered helpful tips about circumventing it (mostly involving alcohol and karaoke), there were precisely zero actual language industry people on-stage. This was a giant elephant in the room.

There are two reasons why that is a problem:

  1. Without the language industry, most exporting and importing stops. From translating manuals and contracts to enabling businesses to negotiate deals by supplying expert interpreting, languages make exporting work. Low visibility for the sector at key events like that one not only does the sector a disservice but risks selling the myth that the UK sucks at languages. Yes, we have a very low rate of second language learning but we have a strong and vigorous language services sector, manned by those rare Brits who took the time to learn other languages and by thousands of nationals of other countries who have made the UK home.
  1. An event on exporting with no space for language experts can lead to businesses getting bad or limited advice. While, for the most part, the export experts said all the right things, some of the strategies mentioned were a bit on the risky side. Yes, you can find an interpreter once you arrive in a country but unless you know where to find the good ones, you are as likely to get a keen amateur as an actual professional. To save their blushes, and their bank balance, it is vital that businesses get the right advice on how to find the right interpreters and translators when it matters most.

Whether you are a business keen to export or a language professional wondering when export shows will feature translators and interpreters, the message is the same:

There’s no such thing as a language barrier; just opportunities to win new markets. When exporting businesses work with with expert translators and interpreters, there are no limits to what can happen next.



And if you are looking for advice on how to best use translation and interpreting as part of your export strategy, it’s time we had a chat. Drop me an email to find out more.

Avoid these 3 Mistakes When Running International Events

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: May 17, 2017

If you are new to managing international events, they can often be daunting. Imagine taking all the work you do for a national conference or company team building event and trebling it … and then adding in international flights, wide differences in expectations, and invisible cultural norms that you might not be aware of.

With all that complexity before you even start, it can be tempting to look for any shortcuts you can find, especially when it comes to the relatively easy-looking job of selecting suppliers. Yet this is often where things go horribly wrong. Here are my top three mistakes that event managers can make when managing an international event for the first time.

  1. Pushing price or location over quality

We all know the story: the client has a strict budget and wants to reduce “frivolous” expenses like travel costs so they pressure you into hiring local and cheap.

Now, to be fair, I have already written here that, in some cities, there is a real virtue in hiring local. If your event happens to be in a graphic design hub or if your conference is being hosted in a boom town for hospitality staff, by all means stay local. But none of this can ever come at the cost of quality.

On one project, I decided against using my preferred specialist AV supplier and instead worked with the end client to get quotes from two local suppliers. I would soon regret that when I saw the equipment they provided! I would regret it even more when the interpreters and audience had to fight through two days of sound quality issues.

It is never worth sacrificing quality for cost. Excellent quality might cost more upfront but cheap costs more to fix when it inevitably goes wrong.

  1. Only Designing for One Audience

Of course, every event includes different groups with their own requirements and needs but when it comes to international events, complexity increases dramatically. Let’s contrast a couple of examples to see how this plays out.

For an internal company briefing, professional conference organisers need to take into account the company’s personality and style and the types of venues and food that attendees are used to. It is very likely that most of the attendees will have been at a similar event before and will be able to guess a lot of the agenda before they even receive it. As an event manager, your job is simply to make sure that the event works for a single audience: those who already understand internal norms and procedures and are familiar with how the company works.

Run the same event but invite delegates from seven countries, speaking three languages and the situation changes dramatically. They will come with different expectations as to how the meeting will run and may  wish to have information in their language before they arrive. Unless you have a plan to manage that or an expert on hand, the event could turn sour very quickly.

When you manage an international event, you have to make sure it works for every audience in the room.

  1. Doing it all yourself

I have found that each stage of my business growth has meant finding another set of experts to learn from. The same is true when you move from arranging monolingual, national events to managing international events.

Your new best friends will be country experts and consultant interpreters. Country experts are an invaluable source of knowledge of cultural norms and expectations; consultant interpreters build teams and make informed decisions to ensure that communication works no matter which language someone speaks. And, if you ask them nicely, some consultant interpreters will do the same for written communications like brochures and email campaigns.

Wherever you are on your event management journey, working with specialists such as consultant interpreters will help you create events that deliver more value for your clients.

Choose quality over price, design for every audience and work with specialists: three choices with one outcome: incredible international events.

The Difficult Second Album

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: December 16, 2016

Everyone gets excited about the start of something new and the first job for a new client is always a good one. But what happens after that?

Once you have set the bar and delivered for the first time, where do you go next? Of course, consistency is key and everyone likes to get excellent service every time but what happens when your work is so good, it is taken for granted?

To become the “go to” person or to go from being great to getting referrals, you have to learn how to go from great delivery to stand out performer. Just as no band can make their entire career out of a single album, no provider can truly build a business on just delivering one way for a single client.

You are going to need to grow and create and innovate. The same tools what landed you job #1 will need to be refined and even rethought to land job #2. Seasons and fashions change and it takes skill to keep growing through them all.

Here’s a very concrete example. I soon realised that doing one good job for a specific agency client is no guarantee that you will ever be called again. If you want to get another assignment, you will need to follow up and make sure you are still as visible as you were before. It’s hard work but the results are always worth it.

So where has complacency set in in your business? Which of your clients have lost their passion for what you are selling? Maybe it’s time to try something new.

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.

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.

When You Should Ignore Marketing Experts

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: September 8, 2016

We all know that, in general, language professionals are behind the curve when it comes to marketing. CRM is an entirely new concept for most translators and interpreters and the most popular CPD courses are those that aim to enhance business and sales skills. It makes sense that we should learn from professionals whose lives are spent marketing and selling. But are there times when their ideas should be ignored?


There is one place when that is definitely the case.


Marketing Tactics Translators and Interpreters Should Not Use

Marketing gurus will commonly tell you that you need to grow your list of client contacts. That much is absolutely true. Few people will go straight from website visitor to client. Having periodic emails to keep your name and email fresh in people’s memory is a great idea if you want people to book you.


While gathering email contacts is important, some of the tactics used to gather those emails are definitely not to be recommended. Go to the website of any leading marketer and you will likely be confronted with a pop-over window asking you to sign-up for updates. The most annoying part is that often you can’t actually read anything on their page unless you manage to locate that pesky close button.


While that tactic has always been sneaky and downright annoying, it will soon be an SEO nightmare as google are going to actively punish sites that use those tactics.


Let Users See Content Quickly

From a user standpoint, those changes are long overdue. Personally, I have started to simply leave any website that asks for my email before it has given me a reason to stay. Let me see the content first and then, if the content looks good, I might sign up.


Of course, if you are giving away something substantial like an entire book, then things are different. It makes sense, in that case, to give a sample for free and then swap details for the full thing. Even here, however, you are better to create a specialist landing page than have an ugly floating pop-up. For single blog posts, let people read first and subscribe later.


Google’s changes are even good from a marketing perspective. Do we really want email addresses from people who are only typing them to get rid of a stupid window?


So, the next time you refresh your website, remember to let people get to content as quickly as possible. The more directly we communicate with clients, the more likely that are to want to work with us.

Why Every Interpreter Needs a USP

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: July 27, 2016

A few days ago, I received an email from someone starting up a new translation platform. In the time-honoured tradition, they seek to build a large, publicly searchable database of translators and (presumably) interpreters so clients can find us more easily. Yet even the briefest squint at the industry will tell us that there are already lots of companies trying to do exactly the same thing, with little to choose between them. How could a new player have a hope of standing out?


For freelancers, the competition is even fiercer. If you define your competitors as everyone with the same job title and languages, you are up against it from the start. If the only thing going for me is that I am a French to English and English to French interpreter, I don’t stand a chance.


Even if you specialise, the difficulties only ease off slightly. If someone wanted to find a French to English legal translator, the ITI directory would offer them twenty. If they wanted to find a translator between Spanish and French with experience in tourism, a quick search on any major platform would give them more than they could handle.


That reality is probably the main reason why people don’t attempt the value-based pricing strategies I talked about in yesterday’s post. To put it bluntly, too many of us see ourselves as ultimately replaceable, clones who could all do the job more or less equally well.


But that isn’t true. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Take me, for instance, I can rock any speech that aims to persuade, inspire or teach but I am not the best at finance talks. That’s why I am glad that my regular boothmate is a finance wizard who can deal with turnover trends and widening margins as easily as I can enthuse people about demolition techniques or theatre as a tool for peace.


My USP then is that I am a speaker in my own right and someone with proven skills in understanding what clients want and making sure that’s what gets delivered, whether interpreting is needed into one language or ten. Saying that is not a sales ploy, it’s a very simply example. Every interpreter has (or should have) that little bit of something extra that makes them stand out.


I have one German-speaking colleague who can interpret sales pitches so slickly that customers fall over themselves to buy. I have an Arabic-speaking colleague who can deal with the highest echelons of politics that you can imagine. I know exactly what kinds of assignments would suit them and which ones are better for someone else.


So what’s your interpreter USP? Once you get to know it, your marketing will never be the same.

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!




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.

The Power of Custom-Builds

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: July 14, 2016


After a clean run of a few years, my trusty laptop is beginning to show its age. While the machine itself is still holding up well enough, I have started pricing up its successor and I am beginning to be attracted by the lure of custom-builds.


We all know the deal. With a custom-build, you only pay for what you actually need and, if you have the right expertise, you can make sure that you get exactly what you want, at a price you can afford. It works well for computers and it works even better in events management and interpreting.


Work on planning a wedding and you will know that off-the-shelf doesn’t work. Who wants a package with exactly the same dress, flowers, cake and ceremony as someone else? Of course, each wedding has to be planned from scratch, even if some common features will be there.


What about a conference? Here, there is always more temptation to go for an off-the-shelf solution. We all know the drill. You’re going to have: at least one PowerPoint malfunction, a President’s address that mentions local cuisine (hooray for haggis and whisky!), someone proclaiming that the future is bright for those who dare to dream, and a few presentations that become a cure for insomnia.


Yet, even with common features, each conference exists for a slightly different reason and needs a different approach. One conference might be all about sharing best practice, while another might be simply about pushing sales. One might be about coming to consensus on key decisions, while another might prioritise networking.


The difference in purpose between one conference and another leads to the need for event managers to approach each differently. Gathering client requirements is more than just a tick-box exercise; it’s about getting under the skin of the event and really understanding what would make it a success. (Protip: reducing the number of boring presenters is a great place to start!)


That same need for customised service applies to interpreting too. Since no two conferences are the same, it makes sense that we never treat any two assignments the same. Our approach to preparation, delivery and follow-up needs to be modified to fit the needs of each individual client and each event. Basic changes such as spending slightly less time on terminology and more on the style of each speaker, researching press quotations to see what sticks and asking the right follow-up questions, instead of broad nonsense like “was the interpreting good?” will all go a long way.


Today, when competition is fierce and budgets can often be tight, it makes sense to show that you have a better handle on your client’s needs than your competitors. The best way to do that is by offering custom solutions.

Learning from the Translation and Localization Conference 2016

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: March 14, 2016

(c) Translation and Localization conference. Used with permission. (c) Translation and Localization conference. Used with permission.

All events organisers know that the world is full of conferences. If you want people to attend, it takes more than a slick social media campaign, interesting speakers and a good location. All of them are ten a penny.

So what makes an event stand out? How about a keynote address from the world’s leading (and only!) professional language creator? How about rival software vendors strutting their stuff?

No, that’s not enough, either! Well, what about talks that deal with practical professional challenges and send you home with brand new skills? How about one of the most responsive and interactive crowds in Europe and an organising team that includes a world-leading expert in the business end of the industry?

Now we are getting somewhere. As a second-time TLCer (as I think we should christen people who go to the Translation and Localisation conference), I knew what to expect: the understated musical comfort of the Sound Garden Hotel in Warsaw, Poland; challenging and entertaining content; a lively livetweeting community (#tlconference)… What I didn’t expect was a networking dinner full of translators jiving and jigging on the dance floor, and the privilege of an ‘Experts Café’ that pushed me to the limits of my knowledge, in a good way.

But the memory that will stay with me for life is seeing thirty or so experienced interpreters publicly giving each other and themselves the gift of honesty. I don’t think anyone will forget that moment.

If you are an events manager, go to the Translation and Localisation Conference to learn what an industry event should look like and how to balance learning, networking, and emotional connection. If you are in the Translation and Interpreting industries, go there to be informed and challenged.

Would I change anything? Perhaps the odd presentation was poorly targeted, perhaps there could have been more content that didn’t involve CAT tools or technical software. But what really makes a conference is the people and those who were in Warsaw will tell you that TLCers are a friendly, open, inspirational bunch. And that is why it works so well every year.