The idea of the linguist as an entrepreneur resonates very strongly with me. In fact, exactly how entrepreneurship “fits” with freelancing is something I mulled over (not very eloquently) in the very earliest days of this blog. So it’s been exciting to see the idea finally given a name and a widely accepted definition, and even more inspiring to see two such capable professionals give it a face.
The Entrepreneurial Linguist is Judy and Dagmar Jenner’s new book on the nuts and bolts of growing a language service business. It is aimed at translation and interpreting practitioners who want to work with direct clients, a largely neglected area which I’m sure will pique the interest of many.
Translating twins Dagmar and Judy maintain the popular translation blog, Translation Times, and are regular contributors to the ITI Bulletin and ATA Chronicle. ATA members will almost certainly have heard of their well-received Entrepreneurial Linguist workshops. Judy is actively involved with the Nevada Interpreters and Translators Association, while German-speaking linguists may know Dagmar through her role with the Austrian Interpreters and Translators Association.
The following are some of the points that particularly impressed me about this book, and which in my opinion, make it stand out from other books in this genre.
Good range of topics
Linguists with little working experience of the corporate world can sometimes find it difficult to understand the culture of the very clients they are hoping to attract. For this reason, the section on business etiquette was appropriate and well pitched.
The sections on money were also particularly strong, covering topics such as the relative merits of accountants versus bookkeepers, tips on organising expenses and paperwork, and general approaches to money management. There were also plenty of suggestions on pricing strategies for direct clients and repeat clients.
Related to this was a very interesting section on negotiation, probably one of my favourite. I always find it helpful to read or hear actual scenarios when it comes to dealing with clients and on this The Entrepreneurial Linguist didn’t let me down, with useful pointers on approaching prospective direct clients by phone, in person or by email.
There was also some sound advice on blogging and professional networking, including a sensible guide on determining how strategic you need to be and how to measure the actual benefits to your business of such activities.
One of this book’s greatest asset is its use of linguist-specific case studies and examples to illustrate more general business ideas and concepts. The section on selecting topics for conference talks did this very well.
However the book’s message would have been even stronger if all such examples had been drawn from the language-services industry exclusively. For example, the discussion of customer service would have been even more convincing if the practitioner described in the illustrating anecdote was a language service provider, instead of a massage therapist. (Not least because I like to think that it can’t be hard to find an example of outstanding customer service from within our own ranks :).)
What surprised me about this book was that there were one or two small points which seemed almost anachronistic. For example, the section on press releases. Now, a press release feels like a relic to me. Much like the fax machine I was assured was essential when I started out, but ended up ditching many years ago when it became apparent that no business client in my field was ever going to fax me anything.
Of course, that’s not to say that I can’t imagine a scenario in which a press release (or indeed a fax machine) might be useful. But I do question its value to the average language service provider who is interested in targeting the business-to-business segment today. Obviously this may simply be a reflection of my own very individual understanding of how business works, so do feel free to chip in below if you can offer some enlightenment.
If a press release is simply another seed to be scattered in our marketing garden, then surely what’s important is whether and where this seed takes root. (And that’s as far as I’ll take the gardening analogy, I promise.) So I would like to have seen the authors tell us more about their experiences of using press releases, much in the same way they took us through the merits of blogging. Specifically:
- How does the potential reach of a press release differ from that of a blog post, white paper or article, in the authors’ opinion?
- In the authors’ experience, does the value of the press release lie in its relatively greater appeal to local or trade publications, for example?
- Or are the benefits mainly around SEO and/or general reputation building?
- Most linguists work solo, or in very small partnerships. How likely is it that a press release from such an entity will gain traction, especially in an arena as crowded as a free press-release site? Do the authors know of any specific case studies or examples where this has happened?
- Exactly who or what kind of outlet uses a free press-release site as a source of information?
(Incidentally, the irony that most translators ask these very questions of social media isn’t lost on me. So they should. We need to ask ourselves these kinds of questions when assessing all marketing channels.)
Strength in numbers
Another stand-out feature of this book was the chapter on professional associations, including how to set up a network or chapter for yourself.
For individual linguists, this chapter offers valuable insight into how these bodies are run and how to get the most out of membership. For associations too, it contains some sound tips on attracting volunteers to positions of responsibility, and more importantly, how to retain them.
I’m sure more of our colleagues would get involved at this level if ground rules were clearly set and expectations around roles carefully managed as the authors suggest. (I’m a big fan of our professional associations, but having volunteered for a range of other organisations before, I can reluctantly confirm that they/we have a lot to learn when it comes to recruiting and retaining volunteers.) In this chapter, Judy and Dagmar make associations sound sexy, and for that they deserve a medal.
Overall, I thought the authors’ approach to work-life balance, peer interactions, and client acquisition was empowering, encouraging and inspiring.
The authors were careful to point out that their book is not a roadmap of how linguists should operate. Instead, it aims to help linguists decide for themselves how best to position themselves, in light of the specific factors influencing the wider context in which they operate. In this sense the book is not a series of instructions or a manual, but a widely-applicable tool for linguists to return to at various stages of their careers and client acquisition process. This is why I opted to get the book in hard copy, although the option to immediately download a pdf is certainly convenient too. (It was more than worth the wait for it to wing its way to my letterbox here in Brisbane, Australia.)
The book does contain some references to US-specific bodies and procedures, but overall it does a good job of catering to a wider audience. The authors’ combined experience of operating businesses in both Austria and the US has made them aware of key differences in business regulations and practices on both sides of the Atlantic. More importantly, their advice displays a degree of cultural sensitivity that strangely enough is often lacking in books aimed at language practitioners.
In summary, The Entrepreneurial Linguist should be compulsory reading for anyone involved with a professional association. And if you’ve ever wondered about direct clients – where to find them, what all the fuss is about, or whether you’d even want them – then this book was written for you.
In the interest of disclosure: I was delighted to see a review of this blog alongside several others in The Entrepreneurial Linguist, but other than that, I have no vested interest in this book. All links in this post are non-affiliate links.