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Interpreting is Expensive … But the Alternatives Cost More

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: August 8, 2017

It’s always a surprise when event managers receive the response to their Request for a Quote for interpreting at an event. Even the simplest simultaneous interpreting setup seems to cost thousands of pounds. Is it really worth it?

 

There is no getting away from the fact that interpreting is expensive. And while the traditional justification has been to write long posts on how hard interpreting is (and it is hard) or to talk about the training interpreters have to take to be able to deliver at a high level (lots), that doesn’t mean a lot to you. No matter how good interpreting is, if it has no value for your company, it won’t be worth it.

 

One common response to the cost of interpreting is simply to decide to do everything in English. In some cases, that might seem like a very good short-term decision, especially as English is a global language. But what works in the short-term is often ruinous in the longer-term. Statistics from the House of Lords showed that companies in the UK lose out on £50 billion worth of contracts each year due to a lack of language skills.

 

English-only meetings and events might be cheap to set up but by displaying a lack of cultural awareness and language abilities, you will be putting customers off rather than winning them over. Conversely, when potential customers see that you care enough to have professional communications in their first language, they are more likely to see you as trustworthy and be more comfortable parting with their cash.

 

Choosing to do business in only one language leads to inevitable communication struggles. Every conference interpreter can tell stories of speakers who really should have used the interpreters that were available. For me, one of the most striking stories happened at a specialist construction event. Two Italian businesses had the opportunity to showcase their work. The first team presented in broken English, even though there were Italian to English interpreters available. The team from the second company noticed the train wreck that ensued and decided to speak in their best, most powerful Italian, which was then interpreted into English and then into French, Dutch and Spanish.

 

The difference was most noticeable after the break, just by looking at the number of visitors to the booths rented by each of the two companies. The first team, who used broken English, found themselves alone and bored while their competitors, who realised the power of interpreting, found themselves swamped with interest.

 

If there is a single best advertisement for the ROI of interpreting, it came last year, when I was interpreting for a British technical manufacturer, hoping to woo a French buyer into placing a large order. The entire meeting and the entire contract turned on a misunderstanding of a single word. The only person who realised what was going on and was able explain the problem to speakers of both languages? The interpreter.

 

One interpreter, one troublesome word, one large contract gained by the end of the two days. That was definitely money well spent. Interpreters, if recruited correctly, briefed properly and provided with the right setup will always be worth far more than you will pay them. Their work is the difference between an international meeting that changes the future of your company for the better and one that turns into a frustrating waste of time. Choose wisely.

 

And if you would like someone to help you choose interpreting that will deliver great value for money at your events, drop me an email.

How to be More Successful in 2017

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: January 6, 2017

Happy New Year!

 

After an exhausting 2016, many business leaders are excited and anxious about what this year may bring. All of us hope to do better this year than last year but, despite all the tips and tricks we might read about online, we might now know how. Here are three strategies I have found to be indispensable.

 

Key 1: Define Your Own Success

 

As both a business owner and a dad, I have no shortage of people offering me their tricks and tips and must-dos. Yet what is glaringly obvious is that most people will give you advice after making the assumption that you want the same things out of life that they do.

 

If I am going to be any more successful this year than I was last year, it will mean being clear about what I mean by “successful”.  More than that, with all of us under continual time pressure, actually knowing what success looks like makes it much easier to say ‘yes’ to the right things and ‘no’ to the wrong things.

 

Since I know the types of clients I want and the kinds of marketing that seem to work for me, I know to ignore anyone selling their latest gimmick. Since I know my priorities, I can also confidently ignore anyone who says that you can’t be a success unless you work 25 hours a day and wake up at 4am, having gone to bed at 5.

 

Key 2: Prioritise Personal Growth

 

In the translation and interpreting community, 2016 was a year where there seemed to be more courses and classes and conferences on offer than ever before. In the events industry too, it seems that people are more aware of the need for Continued Professional Development than ever.

 

The simple reason for this is that every penny invested in a good source of personal and professional growth pays off. I recently read two papers where it was found that the best way to improve sales performance was to set both sales targets and targets for what you wanted to learn.

 

Given how fast technology and business practice is moving, those businesses that sell more will be those where everyone is committed to staying consistently at the top of their game.

 

For event managers, that will mean staying up to date with changes in marketing and shifts in delegate expectations while learning how to integrate new technology. For interpreters, that will mean clocking up the practice hours, diving into specialist subjects and continually honing our approaches to clients.

 

Key 3: Find a Community

 

This last one is by far the most important. Remember how people go on about SMART goals? Well it turns out that the only way they actually have a real effect is when you mix them with regular accountability.

 

In fact, the more research I read, the more important I realise that it is to make sure that you are in a community where you can be supported to grow. No matter how senior you are in your company, you will need someone to listen when times are tough … and a little push when you have started coasting.

 

No-one grows consistently on their own. This year, perhaps the greatest gift you could give your own success would be to find a group of people who are trying to be more successful too.

The Business Clients Call for the Hard Stuff

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: December 9, 2016

What type of interpreter or events manager are you? Do you get the run of the mill, straightforward stuff or are you called in when it is tricky?

There will always be simple work in every field and tons of people to do it. If you locate yourself at the high volume end of the market, there will be lots of opportunities but just as much competition. There both service and rates matter. With the importance of each of those dependent on the client and assignment.

At the tricky end, there is less work but much less competition. Some of your colleagues won’t want to even touch those projects. If you deliver on them, you win yourself not just praise but great respect and more negotiating power.

How many interpreters can confidently deal with live media work? How many event managers can deal with a multilingual, multi-strand, multi-site conference?

The people who get called for the hard stuff will always be in demand. Are you one of them?

By the way, if you are looking for interpreters who can deliver challenging assignments with aplomb, let’s talk.

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.

Holding a Conference in Edinburgh? Buy Local

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: November 10, 2016

 

So you have been persuaded by the elegant style, medieval mystery and classy charms of Scotland’s capital. Don’t be fooled by its small size. Edinburgh and the central belt are hotbeds of talent, including the translators and conference interpreters you will need to make your event a rousing success.

Much more than the Edinburgh Festival

Edinburgh is world-famous for many things: the castle, the architecture, and the Festivals, to name a few. Millions of tourists flock there every year and with hotels and venues to suit most budgets, it is an ideal location for events from huge conferences to weddings, from management retreats and AGMs to press conferences and product launches.

A good Edinburgh Destination Management Company will give you the lowdown on Edinburgh’s better known locations and best kept secrets and locals can also give you great tips on when to hold your event. For example, while you might be tempted to hold your conference in August, to give your delegates the chance to rub shoulders with Festival and Fringe stars, you are likely to find the city incredibly crowded and any travel plans will need to be made with a lot of room for manoeuvre.

What is often hidden about Edinburgh is the incredible level of innovation and expertise available in the city and its environs. For a relatively small city, it has four universities as well as numerous colleges. Why does this matter if you are coming to Edinburgh for an event? Those universities produce graduates in some of the key areas you need for your event to work, creating an enviable talent pool for you to choose from.

Why hire local?

This talent pool is not the only reason why it pays to hire local when meeting in Edinburgh. In these days of ever tightening budgets, travel is one of those costs that keeps being “rationalised”. Given that Edinburgh’s main bus company have adopted a set of fixed fares, the travel for those who live in the city will always be known in advance.

Of course, reducing travel expenses is simply part of the bonus of hiring locals. Less travel time also translates to less CO2 emissions and a more environmentally-friendly event. Add into that local knowledge that gets built up among those who regularly work events in the same city and you get a very cost-effective, high ROI way of hiring.

For International Events, Edinburgh has it covered

The Edinburgh talent pool really comes to the fore when it comes to international events. One of Edinburgh’s universities, Heriot-Watt University has its leafy campus on the west edge of the city and hosts one of Europe’s leading degree programmes for translation and interpreting. While many Heriot-Watt graduates head off to work in Brussels, Paris or even New York, a good number stay in the city or nearby, giving you access to expert conference interpreters and translators for your event.

When it comes to AV, there is a great company just over the Forth Bridge called AV Department, who can deal with everything from complex audience response systems to simple mic, amp and speaker setups. Between them and the local Heriot-Watt graduates, you can be sure that all your simultaneous translation needs (which the professional call ‘simultaneous interpreting’) will be covered, no matter how big and complex the event.

However big your event and however many languages you will need, Edinburgh has exactly the people you need to deliver great results every time. And with its vast array of talent across all the right disciplines, you can hire local experts in every area and watch your event really fly.

Want to talk direct to an Edinburgh-based consultant interpreter to get started organising your event? Drop me an email.

Beware of Casual Translators and Interpreters

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: November 4, 2016

The rise of crowdsourcing and casual work platforms like Fiverr and Upwork has revolutionised outsourcing. Whereas before, hiring someone to perform a service might involve looking up people in the Yellow Pages, calling them and visiting their office, now just about any service can be bought in with a single click. On the same platform, you can hire cleaners and writers, taxidermists and designers. It seems to promise great benefits for clients but are there risks?

 

Smart Budgeting Takes Risk into Account

 

Imagine you needed medical treatment. Which would you prefer to do, pay a doctor who had spent years training and specialising or hire a guy on a platform who said he read a couple of books on physiology during his college days?

 

It’s a laughable question. There are some services where the risk is too great to do anything but call in a professional. We understand this almost without thinking but we almost always draw the lines in strange places.

 

Here’s a simple example. You might spend thousands of pounds (or euros) setting up your business website and then the same amount again getting a web shop set up. You wouldn’t dream of leaving your corporate image to a guy whose only experience was mucking around with WordPress one boozy Saturday.

 

Yet after all that investment, it is still common to see business people being advised to use google translate for web forms or hire random people from Fiverr and Upwork to produce versions of their website in other languages. We want to spend good money on the original version and yet skimp on the budget when we want to reach new markets.

 

Unprofessional Translators and Interpreters Put Your Business at Risk

 

If it sounds silly, it should. A bad translation can make a mockery of all the hard work you put in to your business in the first place. Would you want the newest offering from your restaurant to be translated as “Supreme Court Beef”?  Would you want the delegates of your conference to be stumped when the interpreters give up and go home?

 

As Jay Soriano wrote, while the gig economy is indeed thriving on places like Fiverr, it would be naïve to expect the quality to be much higher than the price tag. For small, one-off jobs with low importance for your business, platforms like that will work a treat. When your reputation is on the line, it simply isn’t worth the risk.

 

The smart way to buy translation and interpreting

 

Reducing the risk of something going wrong is easy. While I have written lots of more detailed posts on this, let me just outline some basic principles here.

 

  • Look for signs of accountability: professional memberships are a great place to start
  • Look for signs of contribution and growth: a translator or interpreter who is doing great work will only sustain that level by continued training and giving back to their profession. It is easy to see when that is the case.
  • Look for someone who asks intelligent questions: if someone offers you a quote without any clarifications, stay away!
  • Look for interest: if the translator or interpreter seems to be treating your work as ‘just another assignment’, it is unlikely that they will be delivering great quality. For their work to be great, they have to have a great understanding of your work.

 

If you would like more detailed help, feel free to get in touch. I am always happy to point people in the right direction.

What could a Conference Interpreter do for your business?

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: November 3, 2016

Great leaders often get frustrated by anything that looks like a restriction on the growth of their business. They push themselves and their staff to find solutions to anything that looks like it might cause their company to stagnate. But often, the most obvious growth barrier can be missed.

 

Languages: a barrier or a door

 

One of the toughest barriers faced by any company is a lack of language skills among their staff. People who don’t understand you can’t buy from you. For those who don’t understand your brochures or websites or sales people, you simply don’t exist.

 

How big is this problem? In the UK, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Languages recently estimated that the UK companies lose £48billion per year in lost contracts due to poor or non-existent language skills. In my own work, this year alone, I interpreted for one company who were on the verge of losing a multi-year multi-million-pound contract due to language issues. After two days of interpreting and explaining, they qualified for the contract.

 

But if languages present a potential barrier, they also present an incredible opportunity. Every language your company speaks literally adds millions of people and thousands of companies to your potential client list. Even the steepest investment can generate unheard of ROI, simply by creating new markets for your products and services.

 

Where Conference Interpreters Come In

 

While any company that wants to reach international markets will necessarily have to look at multilingual websites, translating marketing and regulatory materials, and making sure that everyone understands contracts, before all of that you will need to build up a presence and credibility in your target market. Put another way, you can have the greatest product and the fanciest website but if you don’t spend time meeting people in your market, learning about them and presenting what you can do, you are throwing money down the drain.

 

Where conference interpreters and indeed any interpreters help is that they allow you to communicate face-to-face with potential clients. From trade shows to product demos and from PR stunts to press conferences, interpreters create spaces where two or more groups of people can use the languages they prefer and yet still understand each other.

 

A classic real-world case happened when a large construction equipment manufacturer wanted to showcase their newest lines to an audience of industry press. In that case, six interpreters, covering three languages, ensured that the presentations were as persuasive in Russian, German, and French as they were in English. The result? Positive coverage in industry press and increased exposure as a result.

 

Interpreting and Brexit

 

If you are a UK company trying to make sense of Brexit, the power and potential of interpreting is exactly what you need. You surely don’t want one country to be the upper limit of your growth. Now is a great time to launch efforts to snag new markets, while the doors are still open and the opportunities are still there for the taking.

 

And if you are an EU company wondering whether the UK will still be worthwhile, the time is ripe for you too. If you get in now, before any barriers are erected, you stand the best chance of establishing a market and place that can continue to provide much needed additional profit to your company.

 

So what should you do now?

Ask your marketing team to size up one EU country (or the UK) as a potential market. Look at population size, incomes and the like and then begin to plan an event to appeal to this audience. Then, while you are still at the planning stage, get in touch with an experienced conference interpreter and ask them to build you an interpreting dream team, to give you advice, as well as make your event sing. It’s one investment that reaps dividends.

 

Ready to talk about the potential of interpreting to grow your business, let’s have a chat!

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 Problem with “Merely Beginning”: A Response to Seth Godin

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: August 15, 2016

training wheels

There comes a time in everyone’s career where they will disagree with those who have inspired them. I am a big fan of the short, pithy posts from marketing maestro, Seth Godin but yesterday, he slipped up. Or rather, he missed an important detail.

 

His post, “Without Training Wheels” is, on the face of it, a masterful piece of motivational thinking. His argument is that the best way to learn a skill is to do it. If we want to learn marketing “You don’t need to go to school for four years. You need to do marketing.” Following the metaphor of learning to ride a bike, he argues that “All training wheels do is confuse, distract or stall.” In other words, real-life is a better teacher than the classroom and any sandbox environments will just get in the way of your development. Far better to be let loose on the world promoting “a worthy charity” or a “micro business” than to sit in a library reading a book about how to do it.

 

Convincing? Yes. Accurate? It depends.

 

While it is true that we are learning that children learn to ride bicycles better when they start with bikes with no wheels, that doesn’t mean that no-one ever learned with training wheels. Similarly, while there is no argument that we will learn more in our careers out in the world, that doesn’t mean that a little time in the classroom (or doing one of Seth’s courses?) can’t give us a helpful boost or even help us avoid some embarrassing falls.

 

There are few better examples than the world of interpreting. There are definitely talented interpreters who came into the profession having never set foot in an interpreting classroom. Many of those, however, have found it helpful to do courses later in their career to sharpen precisely the kinds of skills that are now taught in a good interpreting degree course.

 

There is a reason why most organisations ask for you to have trained as an interpreter before you bang on their door looking for a job. Interpreter training will not make you a perfect interpreter but, if it is delivered well, it can give you the basic techniques you need and, more importantly, the crucial skills of effective learning and critical thinking.

 

In the past few years, researchers like Elisabet Tiselius have started to argue that, if interpreters are to keep on improving, they need both the initial academic training and close mentoring from other colleagues. In other words, just doing interpreting is not enough to actually improve at it. We need to be able to think about our practice and learn to work with others to improve it. And, without the critical thinking skills that a good interpreting school should teach, it is all too easy for interpreters to get side-tracked with bad advice.

 

In the world of marketing, I absolutely defer to Seth’s wisdom. Perhaps there it is much better for people to dive right into the pool than to learn in the classroom and then jump in after learning a few strokes. But in interpreting, the most effective route to excellence still seems to be to get solid training from practising experts and challenging theorists, and then to take your first few strokes, knowing where the sharks are knowing where to find ongoing mentors.

 

Do you need to spend four years in school before interpreting professionally? Probably not. Will it help to get training from the pros first? Absolutely!