How to start a translation business

The translation and localization industry is one of the fastest growing business-to-business (B2B) market segments. International companies know that language services play a key role in global expansion and translation budgets are growing. More and more content is being translated more than ever before and into an expanding array of languages.

The Slator Language Industry Market Report 2019 provides a comprehensive view of the global language services and technology industry, which, according to Slator was a USD 23.2bn market in 2018 and projected to grow to USD 28.2bn by 2022.

With such a large and growing market size, opening a translation business makes sense. There is a lot of money to be made if you know what you are doing. So how can you start your translation business and make a good living? As someone who has been in the translation industry for over 20 years, I think I am qualified to provide some insight into this and would like to impart some of this knowledge to our readers.

Knowing and loving languages helps. Being a polyglot is not a prerequisite, but it can help you start your translation business. If you yourself are a translator, then it will be easier for you to hire good translators, check the quality of translations and manage quality control of projects. You can then also translate materials yourself, but that is not recommended if you want to have your own translation business. Better to farm out the work and leave your own time for managing the operation.

Translators, translators, translators.  As a translation company owner, one of your greatest assets are the translators and reviewers who will do the actual work. So it is key that you get your hands of good professional translators who will turn in good work. Once you identify a good translator, make an effort to nurture that relationship and keep them happy. They will help you make money. Whether it is a freelance translator or an in-house staff member, make an effort to keep these people happy and working for you.

How to recruit translators? There are numerous ways of doing so. One easy way to seek out freelance translators online is via websites such as Proz and Translator Cafe. If you are looking for in-house staff, you can also use conventional hiring practices like wanted ads and headhunters.

Quality, Quality, Quality. This is the cardinal rule-always deliver the best quality work. Quality complaints will kill your translation business so avoid them at any cost. Review the work you deliver rigorously. There is no excuse for turning in poor work. Reputation is everything in this business so keep yours clean.

Customers, customers, customers.  Need I say more? Your customers are the lifeblood of your company. The translation business is all about service. As in customer service. Give your customers great service and they will keep on coming back with more orders. Repeat customers is what will make your business. Does your customer need the translation first thing in the morning? No problem. Do you guys do Norwegian too? Of course we do, thanks very much. Can we get a discount? Sure thing. Get the idea? Learn to say the word Yes and remove the word No from your vocabulary.

How to get knew customers? Not an easy task but not impossible either. If you have your own connections, get them involved. Your uncle is Operations VP in some company? Your aunt is a partner in a law firm? Why wouldn’t she/he want to help his favorite niece/nephew? Tell all of your family and friends that you have a translation business. Network with people and spread the word. The beautiful thing about the translation business is that every company and business needs translation services from time to time. Tell your next-door neighbors that you have a translation business and who knows, maybe a few years down the road they will get you a killer lead. It happens, believe me.

Project Managers. PMs are a very important part of a translation business so recruit good ones. PMs provide the interface between your customers and your translators. PMs will get to know your customer’s preferences and will provide the customer service that will keep your business going. Larger translation companies will also have vendor managers and customer sales reps to grow and establish new accounts. Very large translation companies will also have M&A people to buy other translation businesses in order to grow market share. But as a new translation company you won’t need some of these activities. But in time you may do.

Position your translation business. There are many verticals in the translation industry. Medical translation. Legal translation. Business translation. Official translation of documents for immigration. Translation for the automotive industry. Each vertical has its own requirements and possible forms of certification. Equip your translation business with the resources needed to service your chosen verticals.

Know your competition.  Find out of who you are competing against and try to outperform them in some way. Better prices? Better service? Think out of the box on this one and try to snare away some of their business. Or if you don’t want to step on any toes, at least find out which customers they are serving and see if there are some opportunities that they are overlooking.

Advertise your business. There are various ways of doing this. For a translation business, digital advertising online is key and probably the most cost-effective form of advertising. Establish an online presence by creating a website, a Facebook page, LinkedIn, Instagram. The returns on this activity will take some time (even years) but will prove to be worthwhile. Start writing good content and circulate it online. Trade shows are always good as they will put you in direct contact with buyers and competitors. At first, if your budget is modest go on your own to a industry conference and give out business cards. Once your business gets bigger, get a booth and staff it with your sales people. Spread it all out as you never know where your next lead will come from.

Bill Gates

Keep expenses low. At the beginning, you will need to develop your company and the revenues may not come pouring in right away. Bill Gates is quoted as saying that he always had enough cash on hand to run Microsoft for one year without one penny of sales. This is good practice for your business too.

Keep your nose clean and hope for the best.  I myself am a religious person and believe in prayer. But even if you yourself don’t, it can’t hurt to hope for the best. Luck never hurt anyone but ultimately a person creates her/his own luck. Work hard and don’t give up. Success is right around the corner.

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