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  • Writer's pictureHarry Le

Small business planning and strategy for the translation industry

Business plans. Deciding on your niche. Auditing your resources. Small business planning and strategy for the translation industry, or any other market sector, can be a serious challenge. Especially for first-time business owners.

But even if you have some experience in the industry — even if you’re already operating as a language service provider (LSP) — proper strategic management is always important.

Let’s take a look at the sort of business plans that are useful for LSPs, as well as what they can do for you and your longer-term business strategy.

We’ll mainly aim at small businesses. But there are some important points to consider as the owner or director of an LSP of any size.

Your LSP business plan (the first 12 months of operation)

Is a business plan really necessary in the modern world? It’s a common question. Things can change so fast and less traditional methods are becoming more popular.

If you’re getting financing, a business plan is, of course, necessary. Mainly because you will need to present one to get that financial backing in the first place. But even if you’re self-financing, having a clear plan laid out is going to be of huge use to you.

Part of this is to give yourself a reality check. Your goals might be brilliant and laudable. But whether you can achieve them given your resources is something you need to have a firm understanding of.

Any good business plan for an LSP should include certain elements common to most traditional business plans as well as several more modern innovations. These include:

  • Vision, mission and goals

  • Market research and analysis

  • Operational strategy

  • Products and services

  • Marketing plan

  • Financial strategy

  • 12-month expense projection

  • Customer acquisition costs

  • Customer value

  • KPI dashboard

  • Proof of consistent improvement

Of course, if there’s no need to actually show your business plan to anyone, it doesn’t need to be drawn up like an official document.

But there are many things that a business plan can do for you, even if you don’t have a financial backer you need to impress, which don’t stop as soon as you start operating. In fact, your business plan should be constantly updated as you make changes and as developments happen.

There are two reasons why. First of all, your business plan should be an ongoing live document. Consider post-launch changes to your products and services. Your marketing plans and processes will develop as you test their effectiveness or efficiency in the real world. Alterations like these should result in updates to your plan. How else will it continue to be accurate for the first 12 months of your operation?

Secondly, this is a new era of the business plan. Companies like Airbnb and Wikipedia have found success while doing away with the traditionally understood business plan. That is to say, one that is essentially a rather dense work of literature rather than a useful, living document.

Wherever you fall on the spectrum, constantly updating your business plan is the only way it will be of any use to you.

Your strategic plan

Your strategic plan can be thought of as a continuation of your business plan. In much the same way, your strategic plan should be a living document. It should be:

Instituted after the one-year period your initial business plan covers

Longer-term than your business plan, lasting five years or more

Able to help you implement and manage your existing products and services

Remember, if it’s not designed for external use, there’s no reason why your business plan and strategic plan can’t simply be the same document. Or why they need to follow any set format that is useful to anyone but you. There are, however, certain things you should do to test them.

The “Five Rs”

The “five Rs” is a simplified system designed to help business owners build social and political factors into their planning. This makes them very relevant to the translation and interpreting industry. Especially given the sociopolitical changes evident in the world today.

Once you have your business plan set down, everything should be filtered through the lens of the five Rs:

  1. Risk. Not monitoring sociopolitical changes such as Brexit or climate change can have dramatic risks if you do not pay attention to them. Other important risks would include economic or technological changes to the industry or the regions you are targeting.

  2. Renewal. This takes into account the opportunities that sociopolitical changes might offer you. New technologies such as machine translation or new markets being created are the positive side of considering potential future risks.

  3. Regulation. General data protection regulations are an excellent recent example of the dangers that changes in regulation can bring to your business. You should also consider those regulations that are already in place and how they might affect the delivery of your services.

  4. Relationships. Whether they’re with other companies in the translation industry or outside it, or with professional or governmental bodies, considering your business relationships is a smart way of making your business and strategic plans take the world outside your business into account.

  5. Reputation. More vital than ever in the modern world, where online reviews give such power and can cause such damage, is considering how you will both build and maintain your good reputation. Things like transparency or your green policy are more important today than ever before. You should also never forget your offline reputation and how you will manage it.

Selecting your niche as an LSP

Establishing your own unique niche can be difficult for LSPs. Identifying a subset of languages or topics is only one route you can choose to address this problem, however. Your niche could be smaller-scale work, for instance. You could have a portal specifically designed to be easy to use for someone who knows nothing about translation. In a sense, you’re going for a more generalized approach and banking on volume rather than being narrow and specialized.

This is a good example of why, as with all aspects of your business strategy, it’s important to regularly reexamine how you are operating your business. Perhaps the initial niche you identified doesn’t result in enough business. Or perhaps you’ve been very successful in it but you now want to expand.

Your business plan will give you the same firm foundation that it did when you first launched.

Strategic management

Any strategic objective you want to achieve needs to be managed. There’s a certain simple yet obvious cycle that applies to how you do this:

  1. Analyze what is going on in the internal and external environment of your organization.

  2. Strategize how you are going to address those situations, both as a high-level strategy and on the straightforward organizational level.

  3. Execute – build the plan and put it into effect. Remember to identify your KPIs and goals and perform a SWOT analysis.

  4. Evaluate. Did your plan work? You can now refine and evaluate your performance.

What about the future?

It’s all very well saying that you will identify and adapt to changes in, for example, technology such as machine translation. It’s another thing entirely to actually figure out how you’re going to do it.

The five Rs are going to stand you in good stead here. They will help you institute a way of operating that makes monitoring the development of the technology, in this instance, simply part of the way your company works.

The next step is to embrace that change or technology and build it into your business. Historically, companies that try to resist new technologies do not end up as successful enterprises. So you need to incorporate your response to those possible developments into your strategic planning. How will they affect your sales? Your human resources? Your production?

Responsibility for this is going to fall on your entire management team. Delegation here is going to be very important. It’s sometimes difficult for you as a small business owner, so used to doing all of the work yourself and being 100% hands-on, to hand over responsibility to someone else. But the strength of your management team was created by you. Sometimes, you are going to need to trust them to do the work. They can then create their own mid-level teams.

Your business continuity plan

This is an often-necessary addendum to your business plan. Sometimes called a BCP, it’s a document that shows any client or the potential partner who asks exactly what you have decided to do about this new technology. Or that environmental crisis.

Your BCP lays out precisely what you are going to do and what your backups are. It is a written demonstration of your preparedness and awareness of your own business, your own industry and the rest of the world and how they are likely to interact in the future.

Know your company value and focus on growth

So what will be driving your growth in the future?

The values and mission you laid out at the start of your business plan will always be your starting point when you’re thinking about what to do about any development. They’ll give you something to ultimately fall back on as you assess the situation.

But it really is the constant analysis and awareness of what your internal strengths are as a translation company and how you can leverage their interaction with the sociopolitical external world that will really protect your business on into the future.


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