Not counting the experience earned in the day to day running of a small business, which every translation practice will offer its owner, there are other ways in which you can gain professional experience in business just by virtue of being a translator. Although it most likely cannot be entered in the CPD log, this experience can be applied directly to your own business in order to grow it. A translation business can grow itself, in effect. The following (blatant listicle) attempts to show you how...
1) You see first hand how small companies operate
You receive websites, marketing materials, instruction manuals, terms and conditions etc. from small companies on a daily basis. The sheer variety of internal and public-facing content from these companies gives you a broad overview of how the various teams and departments interact within a small company.
You read the internal communications of managing directors, peering into a world you’d seldom see without being privy to these documents. You see the importance of clear documentation for internal and client users of products and services. You see how often this importance is sidelined in order to just have something to show. You get to form preferences over which companies operate in ways you’d be happy to work alongside, and those that you wouldn’t.
You can use this SME experience to gauge your own company’s performance, setting the bar for how to pitch your services to similar SMEs.
2) Comparing small business to enterprise-level communications
At other times you can receive financial reports, presentations for new product lines, marketing copy, press releases and other high-level corporate communications. With a little comparison between these you can start to see the differences between the operating methods of all business sizes, from small to enterprise.
Seeing how these top-flight marketers, legal teams, CEOs and execs operate can also give you an awareness of the enterprise world that would be hard to come by otherwise. From pre-emptive legal and reputation protection and the ensuing legal battles, to back-biting and self-preservation emails, you can learn all about the politics of this often cut-throat environment.
More positively, you can also learn how to put together a slick presentation, website structure, organisational structure and learn which KPIs are important for a range of departments and business types.
3) Translating masses of content in any vertical gets you an ‘in’
You learn to speak the language of that industry, as already spoken by the industry. You can use this to move into trade shows and the business offices themselves as if you had been in the industry for years. Jargon, keywords, current trends and interesting new developments can all be gleaned through the documents sent through by your clients. The benefit of paying attention to these things should not be lost on the shrewd translator looking to increase their client base.
4) An unparalleled level of access into the plans and goals of teams or companies of any size
From business models and company presentations to reports on market experiments and financial results. This level of access across all sections of a team or company can give you food for thought on how you plan to structure your business. You can compare your business model and target markets with those of well-established companies, helping you to fill in the blanks and create a clearer vision for your business.
5) Keeping abreast of the latest marketing trends is good for your business
Depending on your specialities and language pairs, you are reasonably likely to come across documents detailing plans for business development using novel methods, marketing plans for gathering press on big and small budgets, leveraging social media and SEO effectively. Any one of these can be a masterclass in how to promote your business. Not all of them are groundbreaking, many follow in the wake of well-documented 'innovations' yet they all show what is being tried and tested in businesses in your source language markets.
So there you have it, five (spuriously similar) ways that being a translator can improve a translators’ business. Now, to maximise this effect, you can target clients in a market you would like to learn more about. This will create a virtuous circle which you can start to make use of in your own business growth efforts. Keep notes on what you think might apply to your business then review and apply these regularly. It might make no difference, it might double your income with some clients, or even gain you new clients. In either case it’s progress of some sort. Happy observing!
Disclaimer: I think you’ll agree that, in order to have a respected business with loyal clients, a respect for client confidentiality is paramount. This isn't about sharing confidential information, merely abstracting the ideas and methods observed by a translator in the course of their work for the benefit of their own business. Which in turn can benefit those of their clients.