The language industry – a broad term that includes all translation, interpreting, localization, globalization, transcreation, internationalization, etc. services – is a very strange business. It is quite rare for a translation company to be established and successfully managed by business or management professionals. The majority of translation agencies worldwide started out through freelancing.
Therefore during its initial phase a company depends on the personal talents of the freelancer to get enough projects to render their translation services full-time. The database of clients, projects, rates and invoices can be easily managed using a simple Excel spreadsheet.
The first time the volume of work accepted from customers exceeds the lone freelancer’s capacity, is the start of the second phase of company growth. The freelancer looks for an able colleague, friend, university-mate, relative etc. to help complete the job. The delegated role could be: a second translator, proofreader or editor, domain expert, etc. It is important that the new-born businessman delegates part of his/her duties but monitors progress, keeps control of the overall process and remains the contact person for the customer.
This way, the translation agency starts growing organically according to its real needs. It is important to assign the new co-workers to particular roles: project manager, salesman, quality manager, finance assistant, etc. The number of invoices, projects, customers, providers (and rates agreed with them individually) increases correspondingly.
Relatively quickly, an Excel spreadsheet is no longer sufficient. Professional software, also called a Translation Management System (TMS) is a good choice. The software can be used as a simple database, but a TMS also opens up completely new horizons. As a rule, it offers a vast number of different analyses.
Profitability monitoring – per project, per customer, per language combination, per project manager, per currency, per domain, etc. etc. – is an excellent tool for optimizing the company. Decisions about specializing in a specific market sector, working with particular language combinations or domains are much better justified if they are backed by data from TMS reports.
The Key Performance Indicators (KPI) offered by TMS software can be used to optimize HR policy. Regular analyses of the performance of individual people – both in-house staff and freelancers – result in increasing overall company profits.
However, by far the most valuable feature of TMS is the automation of various processes. In the case of regularly repeated, similar projects, the project workflow can be significantly simplified and automated. This reduces the role of project managers, or rather converts their tasks from project management to project monitoring.
For a former lone entrepreneur (or freelancer), who gradually becomes the owner of a translation agency – TMS is a great tool to become a conscientious businessman, aware of the entire economic environment of his growing business.
From my own perspective – working on developing my business gave me much more satisfaction then working in my business.
Jurek Nedoma is also co-founder of the professional TMS software development firm XTRF Management System.