There is no shortage of translators who take the plunge and set up shop as self-employed freelancers, but few have the ambition or the spirit to start up their own all-round translation agency. This is not surprising, of course, as the establishment of a full- scale translation agency is a quantum leap compared with what it takes to launch a viable freelance practice. Nevertheless, the intellectual and financial rewards of business ownership can be substantial. Below I will discuss various aspects you will have to take into account should you consider beginning your own professional and all-round translation business.
First of all, what is meant, in this particular context, by the term ‘all-round’? Basically, it refers to the scope of your product. As a freelancer your output would be confined to your own language combination and degree of specialization; as an agency owner you will be able to supply your clients with translations across a whole range of source and target languages and disciplines, including commercial, technical, medical and legal documents. In theory, your range would be limited only by the number of staff you would be preparing to contract.
If you want to establish your own translation company, you would be well advised to find a competent partner first – unless you are willing to hire staff right from the start (which, in most cases, is not a recommendable procedure). Ideally, your business partner should be a person whose qualities are complementary to your own, if only because in such cases the division of tasks is usually quite obvious (and a potential source of conflict is removed). There are good reasons to separate responsibility for product quality (i.e., the quality of the translations) from organizational responsibilities (order processing, account management, etc.). These two roles do not go together very well in practice, and the associated skills are not usually combined within one and the same person anyway.
Find suitable office accommodation that includes at least two rooms: one library-style room where you can work in peace, and one nerve centre where the business is done. Make sure you have at least three computer workstations (one spare station is no luxury) and an office printer, a telephone switchboard with at least two external lines and a fax. Get yourself a straightforward high-quality accounting program with a CRM module and document your working methods in detailed systematic procedures.
Don’t forget to lie down and formalize a number of essential agreements on tasks and responsibilities with your business partner, so as to prevent any misunderstandings.
Once you have gathered all the information you need, you should draw up a Business Plan. Examples of such plans are available at your local Chamber of Commerce, or can be downloaded (for a fee) from the Internet. These specimen copies are structured in such a way that they will assist you in each step of your own Business Plan. One of the main advantages of having a reliable Business Plan is that it will present you with a realistic estimate of the money you will need to get your agency off the ground. If your capital requirements exceed your private budget (and it is quite likely that they will), you will have to present a thorough Business Plan to the bank in order to persuade them that your plans will pay off.
High-quality freelance translator network
The main asset of any translation agency is obviously its network of reliable translators. Incidentally, you need not be a networking freak to build up such a freelance network. Many freelancers will present themselves to you spontaneously as soon as they get wind of your existence; alternatively, you can actively recruit them and check out CVs on a variety of collective freelance websites