Growth isn’t easy for language services providers. Even in a market that itself has steadily grown for a decade and weathered a global recession.
LSP growth largely is a function of just a handful of factors:
- Partner relationships
In this post, we will explore how smart LSPs can optimize each of these aspects of their businesses to grow at a steady and sustainable pace.
Operations: You Might Need Someone to Take Responsibility for Project Management
At a certain point in any company’s growth, the number of projects and tasks running concurrently become too unwieldy for ad hoc management.
Good project managers are worth their weight in gold, no matter the industry. They keep your processes running, prioritize how you budget your resources and ensure that you don’t spend energy on low-yield efforts.
In languages services, companies are finding that they need to hire on this particular skillset at an earlier point along their growth curves. That’s because translation work is more complex today than it was in generations past, Anja Peschel at Peschel Communications says.
“More languages, varying file formats, increasingly demanding specialist subjects and more and more complex requests from clients,” she writes. “As a result, project management work is making up a much larger share of our overall workload than it used to.”
You should probably consider hiring a translation project manager once workloads get too unwieldy for your current workflows. This will let you scale your workloads alongside your company’s growth.
Identifying the Right Translation Project Manager For Your Team
Your project manager needs to be able to keep your trains running on time. In an LSP, this means the PM must be sufficiently familiar with language work and also familiar with building management processes.
In other words, you need someone with experience in two rather different disciplines.
Joe Bechtel, VP of global language services at Sajan, has a six-point rubric for identifying a good translation project manager. He says you will need:
- Someone who can multitask
- Someone who communicates well
- Someone who is a proven problem-solver
- Someone who stays positive
- Someone organized
- Someone who can be flexible
Where to Find That Person
Granted, there aren’t as many translation project managers out there as there are companies that need them. In that case, the team at Technolex Translation Studio says you have two options for finding the person:
- Promote and train one of your translators. This person will understand the work that goes into translating a piece of text, which will inform the processes he or she builds out. The training could be extensive, though.“A translator performs tasks, while a manager makes decisions and sometimes needs to choose between mutually exclusive options,” the Technolex team says. “A translator usually has one or two tasks, while a manager can have dozens of them at the same time. Moreover, it is important to prioritize these tasks correctly and distribute them between employees. Inability to quickly take control of a situation can cause catastrophic results.”
- Hire a manager from elsewhere. You could bring on an experienced project manager, but then there is still the matter of onboarding this person to the nuances of translation work. This includes software, customer expectations and existing workflows (which might seem byzantine to someone from outside the industry).
Automation Technology: Empower Your PMs With the Right Tools
Automation can speed up work and create real efficiencies in a language services company. This goes for translators who use MT tools, and this goes for project managers who can create more time in their day by automating repetitive work.
In June, Slator highlighted MiniTPMS, lightweight translation project management software built specifically for boutique and smaller firms, as a next-generation startup poised to reshape the translation industry. Tools like MiniTPMS, which allow for collaboration up and down the supply chain, will be a huge boon for your PMs and your translators in the next few years.
Once teams are set up to collaborate more closely, the next step in growth is to automate as many intermediary processes as possible so that PMs, translators, editors and everyone involved can focus on the work they do best.
Doing this opens up all kinds of opportunities. Here are a couple of examples:
You Will Be Able to Take On More Rush Work
Every PM at some point has had a project fall in her lap that is huge, is complex and was due yesterday. It’s what PMs have nightmares about.
With a CAT, however, a PM can quickly and easily divide up the project into a group of bite-sized tasks, each of which goes to a different translator. No need to ping each translator individually to assess whether he’s available. The software takes care of that intermediation. Then, the available translators each take on the small rush jobs, and the big project comes together in a matter of hours, not days.
You Can Build Contingencies for Translators Who Fall Through
Every agency that’s ever worked with freelancers has had someone go AWOL after accepting an assignment. Sometimes, that’s 100 percent on the freelancer. Often, however, this is a symptom of a systemic issue within the organization itself — the agency isn’t developing a close enough relationship with that freelancer.
Automation preempts the latter issue. First, a good PM will assemble a pool of trusted, reliable translators whom the agency can turn to in a pinch. Then, the PM can constantly keep those lines from going slack by kicking those translators tasks, even partial tasks, from the CAT.
Week after week, these workflows will reveal whether any of the translators are backing off or disengaging somehow. When slack begins to appear from the translator’s side, the PM can reach out directly to see what needs to happen to mend that relationship.
Going forward, this fortifies the pool of talent your LSP draws from and builds redundancies so that a project (or an entire client relationship) doesn’t hinge on the work of one freelancer.
At the end of this piece, we will explore a few more strategies for building stronger freelancer relationships. These fold nicely into automated workflows.
Marketing: Double Down on Activities That Don’t Scale
The backbone of the translation industry is still the one-to-one relationships that professionals in this space build. In just about any other industry, two LSPs would be competitors. But in language work, they often end up as collaborators and partners, filling in language and knowledge gaps that the other might not have.
Case in point: Translator Simon Berrill says other translators drive a large proportion of his client base. And this isn’t because those other translators are simply being nice. They, too, have clients, and they have a strong incentive to help out their own clients by any means necessary.
So, how do you invite such word-of-mouth referrals and assignments for your own company? By being an exemplary colleague to everyone. There are two things you can do right now to build up this referral network:
Be Clear About Your Values as a Company
Understand how you’re different from any other agency out there, Chelsea Ramage at Interpro says, and be sure to live the values you communicate. Clients will definitely shop around to see what companies have the passion needed to be their partners and what companies have a culture of promoting good work. Be the company these clients are looking for.
Be a Champion of Other People’s Successes
“At our company we get 40% of our business from advertising agencies, so we keep tabs on what they are doing,” Grant Hamilton writes for the American Translators Association. “If somebody wins an award, we write them a letter to congratulate them. If someone gets appointed to an important new position (or even a not-so-important position), we also send a word of congratulations. An actual letter in an actual envelope with a stamp on it. The impact is amazing.”
You can only develop your reputation and build these relationships the old-fashioned way: Through one-on-one communication. That makes this kind of marketing, by definition, the least scalable thing you can do as you grow your company.
But besides doing great work, it’s among the most valuable things you can do, too.
Partner Relationships: Cultivate Your Network of Freelancers
More so than most industries, translation services lean heavily on freelancers. Therefore, your agency’s growth will hinge on its ability to connect with someone who specializes in, for example, German legal documents or uncommon language pairs.
The flipside? Having a healthy relationship with a large network of freelancers gives you the flexibility to scale projects up and down as demand requires. Here are four things you can do to cultivate that network:
Always Be Looking for Reliable Freelancers
Just as a sales team must keep a pipeline full of leads, a translation agency must keep a talent pipeline full of potential freelancers.
Part of this will be a natural consequence of the marketing efforts described above: You will meet talented translators at the events you attend and through referrals. At the same time, remain active in freelancer marketplaces and even on social networks such as LinkedIn.
Keep the Relationships With Freelancers Warm, Even When You Have No Work For Them
As Nicolas Jacobeus at Belighted writes, it’s good to have a high-level agreement in place with each freelancer so they can know how much you pay and what collaboration with your company entails. This helps set expectations and saves both sides from having to negotiate each project.
Then, make sure that whoever is in charge of working with freelancers checks in with each of them from time to time. Not to the point of being annoying, but enough to keep that line from going slack, and to get an updated indication of each freelancer’s availability.
In other words, focus on building authentic human relationships.
Empower Your PMs and Freelancers to Collaborate Freely
Don’t overwhelm your freelancers by having several points of contact to whom they must reply, translator Oleg Semerikov writes. This is one of the fastest ways to burn out a freelancer and ensure he or she never works for you again.
Instead, have one person serve as a point of contact, and give that person all of the onboarding documents, payment information and nondisclosure agreements he or she needs to get a freelancer working.
Further, ensure whoever edits the freelancer’s work is able to collaborate with that freelancer. Translator Jill Sommer, writing at the Globalization and Localization Association blog, says she prefers to be able to work directly with editors on a translation, especially one who sends back proposed edits for acceptance or rejection. This, she’s found, lets both people make the best use of their skills as professionals and results in better work.
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