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Graduate: Stick to PM job, or start own agency?
Thread poster: Portia Tanner
Portia Tanner
United Kingdom
Jun 4, 2015

Hi all,

I would like to share my current dilemma in the hope of receiving some words of wisdom from industry veterans.

I am a French and Spanish graduate who is shortly due to receive her Masters in Translation Studies. I decided to undertake the Masters straight after my undergraduate course so that I had professional and relevant qualifications to start my own home-based business as I do not want to subscribe to the 9-5 lifestyle and love the appeal of working from home. I always planned to start my own online boutique translation agency.

However, 2 months ago I was offered a job as a project manager in a neighboring town (I have had to relocate as it is 1.5 hours away). These are extremely hard to come by in my area, and I know that I would have to wait years for another position like this to come up. The money is not great - in fact, I have friends walking into call centres earning more. There is progression each year with moderate increases, but we're talking years down the line before I'd be satisfied with a salary working there.

My dilemma therefore is... do I follow my dream and attempt to start my own agency, allowing me to work from home and be with friends/family/partner while I'm young and a fresh grad, or do I play this sensibly and stick out the PM job which is hard to come by in my area to get experience under my belt for a few years?

I sit in the office throughout the day and do enjoy it, but I constantly have at the back of my mind a voice telling me ''you could be building your own brand right now''.

I'd really appreciate your thoughts on this as I've been driving myself mad for the past month.

Best wishes,
P


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Mikhail Kropotov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 08:13
Member (2005)
English to Russian
+ ...
Are you in a position to start an agency financially? Jun 4, 2015

People who start their own business consider it a success if it gets to the break-even point within a year. Do you have enough money saved up to go this route right now?

Another thing to keep in mind... If you are recently out of university, a full-time PM job would definitely give you more hands-on experience, better preparing you to strike out on your own sometime down the line.


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Portia Tanner
United Kingdom
TOPIC STARTER
Dilemma Jun 4, 2015

Hi Mikhail,

The past 2 years I've been saving for when the time came to start up (that had always been my plan until I got the PM job). It's not much - £7,500, but it's hard to tell what the initial startup costs will be and I'm sure there will be much that I haven't taken into account and will crop up.

The immediate costs seem to be equipment (most of which I already have), website copywriting/creation, branding, marketing, accountancy fees, and a monthly all-in-one TMS fee if using a SaaS platform.

I definitely appreciate the PM opportunity, but I've always been quite entrepreneurial and figure that I would rather give it a go now when I have little to lose, as opposed to risking it all after progressing in a company.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 06:13
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
How about doing what you've trained to do? Jun 4, 2015

You're doing the job of a PM at the moment, and you're talking of starting an agency, but what about professional experience translating? Isn't that the best place to start? Not that an early experience as a PM isn't valuable - it is.

But once you start managing the process, you never actually get to do it any more. You'll spend your entire day on admin, HR, negotiating, prioritising... and never a moment translating. And there's really nothing worse than having people pulling the strings (be they bosses or clients) who've never actually done the job, so you may find you get precious little thanks from the actual translators.

Why is your immediate choice between a salaried career as a PM (which totally negates your longterm dream) or an agency owner? Why not spend some years as a freelance translator? There's nothing to stop you outsourcing as/when you're ready for it. And it would seem to tick all your boxes.


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Kevin Fulton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:13
German to English
Don't do it! Jun 4, 2015

Portia Tanner wrote:

The immediate costs seem to be equipment (most of which I already have), website copywriting/creation, branding, marketing, accountancy fees, and a monthly all-in-one TMS fee if using a SaaS platform.



You also need to take into account customer acquisition costs (salesperson – you don't expect the jobs to arrive on their own, and if you're your own PM, someone needs to be making client contacts), vendor (translator) fees that will have to be paid while you wait for your customers to pay you, your own living expenses while you wait for customer payments. If you're running this business out of your home, you may have to insure your office equipment separately, yet another expense that will have to be paid. You will need a line of credit from a financial institution to get you through the rough times. To do that, you need a business plan. To formulate a business plan, you need to decide which market segment you wish to operate in. Will you aim for high-quality or low price? To enter the high end you will need aggressive sales tactics and great translators with a track record. In order to demand high prices you will need to pay for talent. Or are you aiming at the low end where price matters more than quality?

There are already over 10,000 translation agencies, many of which are in a death spiral as they charge less and less in order to hang on to what meager business they already have. They are like cockroaches, ready to be squashed, but like cockroaches, there is an unending supply of people who hope they can survive in a very cruel business environment.

Before I started translating full time many decades ago, I was in the money lending business. I live in a region that gets lots of snowfall, and every fall I'd get loan applications for people who wanted to get into the snow removal business, so they wanted to borrow money for a plow to attach to their pickup truck. They thought that it was a good way to make money since everybody needs to have their driveways cleared. Less than half the loan applications were approved, and of those almost all of them sold the plows at the start of the following season. It was the same story with people who wanted to get into the landscaping/yard maintenance business.

A basic business axiom is that low barrier to entry = high risk of failure.

My point is that you're really better off aiming for a secure income as a PM than trying to enter a market with a very high risk of failure.


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Portia Tanner
United Kingdom
TOPIC STARTER
A case of heart vs head? Jun 4, 2015

Hi Sheila,

When I had initially planned to start up, it was indeed as a freelance translator, and you would think this is what I'd still want to do having gone through a postgrad immediately after graduating. The French and Spanish markets are incredibly saturated, however, and having consulted with several translators with this combination, I was a little put off with their input. That wasn't a major upset, though.

When I explored the other roles in translation, I realized that I actually preferred the running and organisation side of translation (helped out at an agency owner during my final undergrad year), as opposed to the actual practice. There's always been something about the back office side of business that's driven me to want to start up on my own (which I've been good at in previous jobs), and I've always dreamt about owning my own translation agency.

You have given some me food for thought, though - growing gradually as a translator and getting to a point of outsourcing seems interesting. More fuel to add to the fire - my brain will never make its mind up at this rate

I think I'm perhaps hoping to hear a "You can do it!", "Now's the perfect time!" or "Great idea, if I could go back in time, I'd do it too!" for reassurance, but it will ultimately come down to whether I'm brave enough to give up the safety net of secure income and job stability for the risk of sporadic earnings and failure, and losing a potentially good opportunity.


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Bernhard Sulzer  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:13
English to German
+ ...
Translate instead Jun 4, 2015

Portia Tanner wrote:

Hi all,

I would like to share my current dilemma in the hope of receiving some words of wisdom from industry veterans.

I am a French and Spanish graduate who is shortly due to receive her Masters in Translation Studies. I decided to undertake the Masters straight after my undergraduate course so that I had professional and relevant qualifications to start my own home-based business as I do not want to subscribe to the 9-5 lifestyle and love the appeal of working from home. I always planned to start my own online boutique translation agency.

However, 2 months ago I was offered a job as a project manager in a neighboring town (I have had to relocate as it is 1.5 hours away). These are extremely hard to come by in my area, and I know that I would have to wait years for another position like this to come up. The money is not great - in fact, I have friends walking into call centres earning more. There is progression each year with moderate increases, but we're talking years down the line before I'd be satisfied with a salary working there.

My dilemma therefore is... do I follow my dream and attempt to start my own agency, allowing me to work from home and be with friends/family/partner while I'm young and a fresh grad, or do I play this sensibly and stick out the PM job which is hard to come by in my area to get experience under my belt for a few years?

I sit in the office throughout the day and do enjoy it, but I constantly have at the back of my mind a voice telling me ''you could be building your own brand right now''.

I'd really appreciate your thoughts on this as I've been driving myself mad for the past month.

Best wishes,
P


I'm with Sheilah on this one except for the possible outsourcing part. I hold that there is a future for professional translators who decide to network with other translators to offer their services. This is a business as well and you're going to work only with professionals you can trust to deliver a great job. You could work with just those who speak the same languages you speak. I am sure there are several business models possible for something like that. But don't call yourself a translation agency. That's middlemen hell and you don't want to do it. My advice.


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Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:13
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
Experience Jun 4, 2015

Portia Tanner wrote:
I decided to undertake the Masters straight after my undergraduate course so that I had professional and relevant qualifications to start my own home-based business

With respect for your ambition and your - laudable - goals, from what you say above you lack experience not only translation but in full-time work.

If (if) you went from school to undergrad to post-grad, you cannot until two months ago have had the opportunity to put your undivided attention into any job. You've been a student for the past 15 years. You say that you "prefer" the "organisation side" but how can you know without having worked at it? A couple of months is nothing.

It may seem a big deal to you now but, in and of itself, a degree is only a framework. It's a skeleton on which you need to put muscle, skin and features.

Keep your savings. Stick to the PM job. Learn about working for a living, study your intended trade, educate yourself about marketing, sales, organisation as it is in the real world rather than the classroom. Find out more about what it takes to run a successful agency (or what it doesn't take). Think of it as reculer pour mieux sauter.

There will be plenty of opportunity to start an agency in future. As others have said, it's a market with very low barriers to entry. Give yourself the best chance to achieve that dream, rather than sabotaging yourself through inadequate preparation.

Dan
(Edited for clarity)

[Edited at 2015-06-05 08:28 GMT]


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Maxi Schwarz
Local time: 00:13
German to English
+ ...
I'm with the translate first advice Jun 4, 2015

Besides the reasons already given, as an experienced translator, there is nothing more aggravating than dealing with a PM who has no experience as a translator - and nothing more pleasant than collaboration with a PM who does have that experience. It's like night and day.

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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 13:13
Chinese to English
If you'd like some encouragement... Jun 5, 2015

...then sell yourself to us a little more.

When you start your own business, you will have to deal with - in some ways market yourself to - translators as well as clients. You will have to persuade translators that you're a good person to work with. In this thread you've told us that you'd like to run a business, and that's great for you. But why not start building your brand now, here? Tell us what your brand is, how you're going to operate, and why translators should choose to translate with you. If it sounds good, there are many translators who will give you vocal support and advice.


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Vladimir Pochinov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 07:13
Member (2002)
English to Russian
Get some hands-on experience first Jun 5, 2015

As an agency owner you will have to deal with much more than the administrative side of business. As I see it, you don't have a network of highly skilled AND reliable translators, you don't have regular DIRECT clients, you don't have a solid reputation among language professionals and clients... do I need to continue?

On the other hand, you will need to wear several hats as yours is likely to be a "one-gal-show" initially. You will be the CEO, a business development manager, a customer relations manager, an HR/vendor manager, a project manager, a system admin... you name it.

Also, what services other than translation per se do you plan to offer (DTP, software localization, subtitling, voice-over)? What target industries and sectors do you have in mind?

Do you really think you will have much time to spend with your family and friends? Forget it... Your translators will contact you with queries about terminology or technical issues, your clients are likely to postpone or cancel projects time and again, you may have to juggle several complicated projects at a time. You will need to negotiate with prospective clients. And don't forget the time difference issue. You clients can be 5-10 hours ahead or behind you.

I am developing my own translation agency business right now and I am facing all these issues. But, unlike you, I have been working in the field full time since 1987.

[Edited at 2015-06-05 04:20 GMT]


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Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 06:13
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Experience, experience, experience... Jun 5, 2015

Get some hands-on experience first! Two months in a job means nothing experience-wise! Take it as learning how to manage your own business and build your own brand…

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Angela Rimmer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:13
Member (2014)
German to English
+ ...
I'm with Dan Jun 5, 2015

Dan Lucas wrote:

Portia Tanner wrote:
I decided to undertake the Masters straight after my undergraduate course so that I had professional and relevant qualifications to start my own home-based business

With respect for your ambition and your - laudable - goals, from what you say above you lack experience not only translation but in full-time work.

If (if) you went from school to undergrad to post-grad, you cannot yet put your undivided attention into any job. You've been a student for the past 15 years. You say that you "prefer" the "organisation side" but how can you know without having worked at it? A couple of months is nothing.

It may seem a big deal to you now but, in and of itself, a degree is only a framework. It's a skeleton on which you need to put muscle, skin and features.

Keep your savings. Stick to the PM job. Learn about working for a living, study your intended trade, educate yourself about marketing, sales, organisation as it is in the real world rather than the classroom. Find out more about what it takes to run a successful agency (or what it doesn't take). Think of it as reculer pour mieux sauter.

There will be plenty of opportunity to start an agency in future. As others have said, it's a market with very low barriers to entry. Give yourself the best chance to achieve that dream, rather than sabotaging yourself through inadequate preparation.

Dan


I wholeheartedly agree with Dan here. Sounds like experience is something you lack (nothing wrong with that, it's not like you've been sitting around doing nothing for the last X amount of years), and what's a year of working for someone else in the greater scheme of things? The number one best business practice when running your own company is to have the long-term vision in mind.

Here's what I like about you, Portia: you already know exactly where you want to be in future. That means that if you take the PM job, you'll work it with that long-term goal of running your own business in mind. You'll pay attention on the job, see what that company is doing (both their mistakes and their successes) and use that information to build your own company when the time comes. You'll gain practical experience and also gain useful contacts that you will need if you want to have your own translation company. In our business, having contacts is paramount.

You wanted to hear "You can do it!" and you know what? I believe you can! You have the right attitude and entrepreneurial spirit to be a business owner. But now may not be the time. Working in a company that is already established, even for just a year, will give you GREAT insight into the pitfalls to avoid, the good practice habits to establish, etc. and gives you time to organise your own plan for how you're going to run your own company successfully in the future.


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:13
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Business PLan Jun 5, 2015

Hi Portia

It would be worth your while to spend your free time compiling a proper Business Plan. This would answer the questions you're asking yourself. Instead of going round in circles, a Business Plan will lead you in the right direction: to the answers you're seeking. None of us here on Proz can make this decision for you. Your first step in (potentially) setting up your own business is: being able to take well-informed decisions that are important for the business.

I strongly recommend that you do a Business Plan - and keep it updated. A Business Plan will force you to look hard at yourself in the mirror, and to get real about everything you THINK you want to do - including about the all-important financial aspects.

Essentially the 3 questions that a Business Plan must answer are:

1. Who am I?
2. What do I want to achieve ?
3. How do I get there?

There's lots of help online, including from the UK government at

https://www.gov.uk/write-business-plan

You may also find that locally, in your area, there are free classes for startups that include courses in Business Planning. I took one of these courses (many years ago now) and it was really useful. I was given a "guru" who helped me to write my business plan, transforming my vague aspirations and dreams into hard, cold facts. And it was free (though it wasn't always pleasant) !

[Edited at 2015-06-05 08:33 GMT]


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:13
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Optimistic Jun 5, 2015

Mikhail Kropotov wrote:

People who start their own business consider it a success if it gets to the break-even point within a year.


That's optimistic - most experts say it takes 3 years at least !!


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