Stay freelance or go the whole hog and set up an agency?
Thread poster: Stéphanie Denton

Stéphanie Denton  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:02
French to English
+ ...
Apr 3, 2011

Hi all

Hope you're all well and busy.

I'm contemplating going into "serious" business. I've been freelancing on a professional level since 2005, having started translating in 2002. Business is going well. And I still love it. Phew!

However, after some "bad" experiences with agencies, I'm contemplating going the whole hog and opening my own agency. I like to think that I could be fair and still run a lucrative business.

I currently run a team of three translators, and have plenty of reliable freelancers at hand. There are no agencies in my area, and demand is high. Admittedly, I'm scared. And stressed. I was just wondering what people's thoughts were about taking the next step? What about advertising? Currently approaching the Prince's Trust about it, and they seem to think that it's a fantastic idea, but obviously, they aren't translators, and I think your opinions will be more valuable!

As always, any advice and constructive criticism is very welcome.

Have a good evening.

Stéph

[Edited at 2011-04-03 22:30 GMT]


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hope53  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:02
English to Polish
+ ...
own business Apr 3, 2011

Stephanie,

Go for it, if demand is high there is nothing better than being your own boss.


Good luck,

hope53


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Stéphanie Denton  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:02
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks Apr 3, 2011

hope53 wrote:


Stephanie,

Go for it, if demand is high there is nothing better than being your own boss.


Good luck,

hope53


Agreed, I'm obviously just worried about investment, getting big contracts, etc. Might be a case of it's not what you know but who you know to start off with...


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Jaroslaw Michalak  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 12:02
Member (2004)
English to Polish
Translator turned manager Apr 3, 2011

You do realize that most likely it will be the end of your translation career? You will no longer have time to translate, as you will be a manager - full-time, and probably much more.

I am not saying that is a bad thing, but you might miss most of the things you love about the profession... Also, the required set of skills is quite different - I could not run an agency, even though I am doing well as a translator.


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Daina Jauntirans  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:02
German to English
+ ...
What Jabberwock said Apr 3, 2011

That's exactly the question I would pose - Do you like to translate or run the business end of things more? I also prefer the translation end of things, but for you it might be different.

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Paul Dixon  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 07:02
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Could be a good idea but bear this in mind Apr 3, 2011

Bonsoir Stéphanie!

This could be a great idea, that I have considered as a future plan for myself, but remember (as mentioned) that administration shall take up most of your time, and in addition (in Brazil at least) the bureaucracy is enormous and there are over 100 taxes to pay. Here in Brazil, being your own boss in a large agency is impossible without the help of a TEAM of accountants - and lawyers. You mention there are no translators in the area, which helps - but in this world of e-mail it doesn't really matter if the agency is in the area, unless you plan to offer a hand delivery service as a special bonus.

You say you have a team of three translators. If you wish to blend these and maybe one or two more into an agency this could be just about manageable, but here there are several agencies working with dozens of languages - and this would be extremely difficult to manage.

Hope this has helped.

PAUL

[Edited at 2011-04-03 23:41 GMT]


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:02
Flemish to English
+ ...
The status of the profession. Apr 4, 2011

You'll have to choose between being a translator or being a manager. The latter creates a link with the normal business world: The public regards translator as a lowly profession, something Google Translate can do, whereas being a manager is highly regarded.
Whenever I hear managerial people talk about translation, I hear phrases like: What other things do translators/interpreters do besides translating/interpreting?

Having managed xxxpeople (HRM-aspect) and realised a turnover of... is the way normal businesses work.
If you have been trained as linguist, I would seek the advice of professionals in accounting and finance as well as logistics. Being able to calculate and plan is important.


[Edited at 2011-04-04 06:35 GMT]


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Rifraf
Local time: 12:02
no agencies in your area Apr 4, 2011



There are no agencies in my area, and demand is high. Stéph

[Edited at 2011-04-03 22:30 GMT]


The whole world is filled with competitors, so just NOT having another agency in your area means nothing these days.

Just a word of advice from an agency owner in the Netherlands; our clients are based throughout the country and not just necessarily in our area...


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David Turnbull
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:02
Italian to English
Translate or manage; global or local Apr 4, 2011

As others have said, it will come down to whether you want to translate, or manage translations and eventually manage people who manage translations (etc. etc.).

If you are tired of language work and fancy a business challenge then go for it. If you still have a passion for translating first-hand and enjoy the relative freedom of freelancing, compared to the pressure of providing employment, then probably don't!

A note on geographical client bases and marketing: one obviously depends very much on the other.

If you market yourself as a "general" local agency (going to local business conventions, advertising in yellow pages, location-focussed SEO, etc.) then that's what you will be.

In my experience most UK-based SMEs/law firms etc. do want to work with local companies and if there is a gap in the market in your local area you could build up a small to medium translation agency. At a general agency I worked for, the overwhelming majority of clients were within 30 miles of the places where the company had one of its two offices, or where it had acquired another translation business.

I think the growth potential of this model is quite limited really as you end up a bit "stuck in the middle", without any price, differentiation or specialisation strategy to allow you to compete globally. You can pick up local business and some from further afield but that's about it. Nothing wrong with that, but I think agencies that work like that do reach a bit of a brick wall at a certain point.

If you market yourself as a global provider of specialised translations then you have a shot at making that work as well. I think this way provides a bit more challenge and almost certainly more scalability.

Good luck whatever you choose!


[Edited at 2011-04-04 09:01 GMT]

[Edited at 2011-04-04 09:02 GMT]


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Gilla Evans  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:02
Spanish to English
+ ...
Are you a translator or an administrator? Just one experience. Apr 4, 2011

As others have said - this is the fundamental question to ask yourself.

I did this rather the other way around. Back in 1983, struggling to advertise my services as a freelancer, I set up a translation agency in the form of a cooperative limited company of translators, in the UK. It went very well and grew into a thriving business run by and for translators and their clients. I learnt a huge amount from running this business, and vastly broadened my translation experience too. I also learnt invaluable things about the operation of an agency and the needs of translators and of end-clients. But after thirteen years of working this way I felt very strongly that administration was not my thing and what I really wanted to do was translate, all of the time. So I went freelance again in 1995. This is me, I am a translator at heart, and not an administrator. Happily the company I formed is still going strong and is well-respected by its translators and its clients, because the hands I left it in were and still are very very good.

And I am happier taking responsibility for my own work as a translator rather than the work of others.

But if you think you might enjoy administration and working closely with others, it may well be the way to go.


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Stéphanie Denton  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:02
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
General reply Apr 4, 2011

David Turnbull wrote:

As others have said, it will come down to whether you want to translate, or manage translations and eventually manage people who manage translations (etc. etc.).

If you are tired of language work and fancy a business challenge then go for it. If you still have a passion for translating first-hand and enjoy the relative freedom of freelancing, compared to the pressure of providing employment, then probably don't!

A note on geographical client bases and marketing: one obviously depends very much on the other.

If you market yourself as a "general" local agency (going to local business conventions, advertising in yellow pages, location-focussed SEO, etc.) then that's what you will be.

In my experience most UK-based SMEs/law firms etc. do want to work with local companies and if there is a gap in the market in your local area you could build up a small to medium translation agency. At a general agency I worked for, the overwhelming majority of clients were within 30 miles of the places where the company had one of its two offices, or where it had acquired another translation business.

I think the growth potential of this model is quite limited really as you end up a bit "stuck in the middle", without any price, differentiation or specialisation strategy to allow you to compete globally. You can pick up local business and some from further afield but that's about it. Nothing wrong with that, but I think agencies that work like that do reach a bit of a brick wall at a certain point.

If you market yourself as a global provider of specialised translations then you have a shot at making that work as well. I think this way provides a bit more challenge and almost certainly more scalability.

Good luck whatever you choose!


[Edited at 2011-04-04 09:01 GMT]

[Edited at 2011-04-04 09:02 GMT]


Dear all

I'm quoting David as it seems to sum up everyone's responses.

I am naturally a linguist, and LOVE translating, however, I am also a "manager" and very business-minded. I fully intend to still translate, don't get me wrong. But the demand is just too high and the opportunity too good to miss out on.

I am also very specialized myself: fashion/lingerie, military (living in Lincoln, surrounded by at least 5 RAF bases) and having lived near Châteauneuf, wine is a biggie...one of my translators is also from Reims, so all the Champagne houses.

That and I am a literature bug. Books are a huge passion of mine. Not to mention how lucrative that side of translating can be once you've cracked it. It's the cracking side of things that is going to prove difficult I think...

Obviously, I want to remain general too. Polish is high in demand in Lincoln. At the moment I can't shut my mind off as I've got all these ideas buzzing around! Think I need someone to bring me back down to Earth. Any takers?


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