What I Learned in Business School -- Part 1.0

Cèline over at Naked Translations had a very interesting post asking readers to give advice to beginning translators. I left a lengthy (perhaps too lengthy!) comment with some of our own hard-earned lessons, which I am summarizing here. These recommendations center on the business (and not linguistic) side of things, as I have this handy M.B.A., which I figured I could use to share some of my business tips. Most of these can be grouped into economics/finance/marketing/accounting/statistics/entrepreneurship.

In future posts, I will follow-up with more lessons (in no particular order). I am also developing a presentation for the annual American Translators Association (ATA) conference, which I hope I will have the opportunity to present.

  • Look professional. This starts with your website. If you have no faith in your ability to produce a good site, don't do it. Find a professional; even someone at the local community college who's taking some basic design and XML classes. Barter if you have to.
  • Look professional in your images. Don't put vacation pictures with sunglasses in your hair on your website or on your marketing materials (or LinkedIn or Proz). Find a friend who's a good photographer and take some nice close-up shots, preferably with good lighting and minimal background distractions. Put your friend's name on the picture (Photo by: XYZ) so he/she can get business. Being an entrepreneur is all about referrals, and it goes both ways.
  • Unless you are very accounting-savy, hire an affordable accountant/CPA, whom you probably won't have to pay until he/she does your taxes. Get advice on whether you should incorporate or not. Leave it to the pros.
  • Keep good records. There's no need to pay a bookkeeper to organize your receipts and show up with a box full of receipts. Do it yourself by making a very simple spreadsheet where you log the expenses/income, with exact dates, purpose, etc.
  • Go visit your local Small Business Administration to get started on all the paperwork you need to file. In Nevada, a very business-friendly state, this was actually more involved than I thought: you need the IRS number, a business license, a Nevada tax ID number, a home occupancy permit, a certificate from the secreatary of state, etc. etc.
  • Don't skimp on your "face" to the world. Don't get the free VistaPrint cards: fork over the $50 or so for business cards that don't say they were free on the back. VistaPrint does those, too, and they are actually quite nice.
  • Reduce your expenses. Do you need a laptop and a PC? In the beginning, probably not. Do you really need a Blackberry? Sure, you want one, but will you get $50/month of revenue/business/use out of it? Do you have a Costco membership? Consider becoming one; they have great deals on office stuff, everything from Herman Miller chairs to computer paper, excellent shredders, Sharpies, and of course, all electronic equipment.
  • Don't compromise on price, if you can stand the pressure and have a bit of a cushion. Set a price and stick to it.
To come in post 2.0:
  • Take risks.
  • Volunteer. Give back.
  • Build strong networks with other professionals.
  • Grow the profession.


Kevin Lossner on December 16, 2008 at 10:14 PM said...

In the follow-up I'd love to hear your take on risk management in the business. I've got my own particular emphases here which I trumpet when I encounter some armes Schwein who just lost 80% of his business when a single client walked, but after doing an interesting translation on this topic for a professional risk management consultant, I saw that there is much more applicable depth to this topic.

Thomas Gruber on December 17, 2008 at 2:05 AM said...

As new "Flowers" on the markets grow slow plan for quiet periods especially in the beginning. It takes time to build up a client network and there will be months in the beginning with nearly no income at all.

Unknown on December 19, 2008 at 11:29 AM said...

Right on! These are great tips for beginners and experienced people alike. When I first started, I also found it helpful to set regular work hours and force myself to do something work-related. If I didn't have translations to do, I would apply to agencies, work on my website, etc. This worked a lot better than thinking "no work to do? I'll just go for a run!"

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The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

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