Category Archives: Business

“Ring Out the Old, Ring In the New”- Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1850

imagesAt this writing, our country is facing severe uncertainty, as we flirt with a continued government shutdown, whose repercussions will be felt around the world if America is unable to meet her financial obligations for the first time in 200 years.  It will be interesting to see how these events impact the T&I sector, which Common Sense Advisory had forecast will be at 34.7 billion dollars worldwide in 2013 for outsourced language services, half of which is in North America. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, our industry is expected to increase 29% between 2010-2020, topping Healthcare and Social Assistance at 28%, despite the fact that the latter has the gigantic and aging baby-boomer population fueling its growth.

What is the takeway from this crisis both individually as well as collectively?  That we must move towards a viable plan for fiscal responsibility so that we are not spending more than we are making.

The third quarter, at the latest, is when our small businesses, be they language services providers or otherwise, should be planning for the following year by comparing projections to actuals to see if our business strategies for the year worked.

The most important figure arguably is the net income/net loss, which is total revenues minus total expenses. If the business has been in effect for several years, this is good indicator of the trend it is taking.  For reference, according to Common Sense Advisory in 2011, 24% of language service providers (LSPs) have been in business 1 to 2 years, whereas only 4% have been in business over 30 years. Sixty nine percent have 2.5 employees and only .4% have 101-500.

Substantial digging has to be done to uncover the reason for the NI (net income).  We should look at the number of clients this year vs. other years, what clients did not give us business this year, and who our most important customers are, in terms of profit, so that we can devote more attention to them or get any money that has been left on the table. On the other hand, sometimes, we may have clients that give us a lot of work (revenue), but the cost of goods sold is too high because their work is conditioned on a very low price point or because doing business with them is expensive due to their inefficiencies and payment practices or the customer service they require. We must be realistic and drop these clients who are a liability because they are negatively affecting our all-important bottom line, despite their sales volumes or contribution to the top line.

We must also be proactive.  If you want to improve the NI, you must obviously change something.  When you work on the budget, see what new strategy may make a difference in the following year, assuming it is affordable. Some items to consider might be hiring an employee to make your recruitment, scheduling, invoicing and sales more efficient.  Other considerations could be to weigh whether additional training might make you more marketable, or if the benefits of setting aside dues to join trade associations and attend their events make it appropriate. The latter will also help to keep you abreast of changes and issues in the industry and connect you to colleagues you can collaborate with.

Make executive decisions for next year now,  that will be commensurate with a long-term wellness plan for your business rather than just starting the equivalent of a “fad diet” that will not have a lasting effect.

Let me know your thoughts as to other considerations or advice upon reviewing your year-end income statement and balance sheet.

The Five Traits I Admire Most In a Colleague

I have been working as an interpreter and the owner of an LSP for over thirty years so one would imagine that I have been around the block and back in terms of working with a large number of interpreters, both in court interpreting and conference interpreting scenarios.  Whereas that is correct, I have been fortunate to interact for the most part with very professional individuals.

The following is an ad-hoc compilation of several intertwined qualities in the interpreters I work with that I have come to look for and appreciate during all these years:

  • Respect.  An interpreter has to have consideration for the person she is interpreting for, the one she is interpreting with and the ancillary cast of characters.  This means being true to the message the speaker or witness is attempting to convey without paraphrasing, modifying, or editing speech.  In terms of the other interpreter, she must be mindful of fulfilling her part without taking advantage of the other, both in terms of actual interpreting time and support when teams switch off.  As to the rest, it is important to meet the needs of the court reporters, for example, by controlling the dynamics of the participants in a proceeding so that you are not doing simultaneous over the witness’s voice, confusing the reporter, when you should be doing consecutive.  Delivery must be smooth, audible and convey the tone of the witnesses as well as the attorneys.
  • Discretion.  “ Whatever happens in the booth stays in the booth…”  I truly value a professional who deals with issues in our working environment without informing the client or bystanders of difficulties when there are other avenues to solve the situation.  I am referring to anything ranging from audio problems on the part of a technician, to slips on the part of your fellow interpreter, to personality judgments.  There is a place and a time to criticize without endangering an account for the agency that hired you, or the reputation of a colleague.
  • Honesty.  Being true to the code of ethics of the profession without over-representing your credentials and capabilities. Pulling your fair share of whatever work is involved without overcharging. Having unsolicited respect for the clients of third parties, not trying to influence them to change their allegiances.
  • Responsibility. It will always be doubly appreciated when you take on more than your share if a situation warrants it and you can help your partner. Always make sure that you are prepared for the work you have been hired to do.  Leave no stone unturned in asking for and studying any available materials to do the job as seamlessly and proficiently as possible.  Another very important aspect of responsibility has to do with timeliness.  We must entertain the possibility that Murphy’s Law may strike and arrive at venues with a minimum half an hour lead time. That little extra time will give you, your partner, the agency that hired you and the end client valuable peace of mind. It is well worth the effort.
  • Sense of humor.  This quality goes hand-in-hand with the others.  While it does not replace them and you can get along with and work with colleagues that do not have it, it makes life so much easier and fun.  It takes the edge off stressful work and allows you to laugh at what might otherwise be embarrassing and scary, letting you form healthy bonds and a camaraderie with the people you work with.

Strive to nurture these and other positive traits throughout your career and you will note how they enhance both your personal and professional life. Be genuine in your effort and realistic, knowing that practice makes perfect and that although Rome was not built in a day, whatever you put off for another day will delay in coming to fruition.

On Your Mark, Get Set, Go!

Competition, as we know it in the interpreting profession, is broadly defined by Merriam-Webster as “the effort of two or more parties acting independently to secure the business of a third party by offering the most favorable terms.”

Is it really a dog-eat-dog world?

Unfortunately, our widespread scarcity-mentality often urges us to think that there is a finite number of resources available for which we must all compete. Business guru Steven Covey says “People with a scarcity mentality tend to see everything in terms of win-lose. There is only so much; and if someone else has it, that means there will be less for me. The more principle-centered we become, the more we develop an abundance mentality, the more we are genuinely happy for the successes, well-being, achievements, recognition, and good fortune of other people. We believe their success adds to…rather than detracts from…our lives.” He goes on to state that if you’re “Principle Centered” then “Your source of security provides you with an immovable, unchanging, unfailing core enabling you to see change as an exciting adventure and opportunity to make significant contributions.” I would assert that individuals express their thoughts, create their reality, and that nothing happens randomly. Some of us have become more adept than others at manifesting. At any given point in time we are all visualizing different possibilities. The fact that we entertain them means that they are accessible to us in some plane in the continuum that we know as time and it is a matter of attuning our personal energy to the energy of the desired object in order to attain them. In practical terms this means that we must be able to excel in the performance of the job at hand, and successfully portray ourselves as competent to be considered for it.
We must also be aware of the fact that prosperity is a mindset—you will always have as much as you internally feel that you deserve, and no two people have the same definition of what prosperity and success entail. Quantum theory tells us that there is an infinite universe of possibilities and it is our individual attention that forces them to collapse into reality.

See the glass half full

When we compete for a job, an assignment or an award, we must focus on our strong points rather than fearing what the competition may do because that will only detract from our efforts and strengthen our rivals. We must put our best foot forward and detach from the outcome. If we do not achieve a particular goal, we must trust that at a higher level it was not meant to be because we were not ready for it or it would have been counterproductive for us at our current stage of development. We cannot wallow in frustration, resentment or bitterness when something does not come through. It will only weaken whatever else we are involved in. We may not be able to connect the dots at the time but the reason for that outcome will usually become apparent in time. We must likewise have our ear to the ground to be aware of coincidences that point to changes in our lives that we must be ready to embrace to fulfill previously laid good intentions, and be aware that as we are all interconnected, favorable outcomes have also to be considered in terms of all involved rather than just egocentrically.

Appearances are not always what they seem

I have experienced, among many others, a business case in point that illustrates these principles precisely. Approximately 25 years ago, I pitched the services of my company to the Miss Universe Host Committee which was looking for a team of interpreters to work for the pageant when they came to Miami. I was successful in my bid and we did that work for ten years. Subsequently, the managing company changed hands and they started using another LSP. I did not dwell on the loss of this client and shortly thereafter, I was hired by a well-known cable company to provide the simultaneous interpretation of not only the Miss Universe Pageant but several other shows, under much better terms. That client lasted another ten years and recently their producers told me they wanted to experiment with other female talent to revamp the programs. I accepted that change, expecting that it would open doors for me in other areas and within two weeks I was hired to do a significant number of live TV shows personally, which I would have been unable to do under the prior schedule, while also providing interpreters with different language combinations for those same gigs. It’s a matter of giving change a free rein in your life and expecting that the universe will lead you to where you need to be to receive the abundance that you are tuned into.

How Goal Setting Compares to Mountain Climbing

My mountain climbing experience, while limited, includes an excursion on the beautiful Inca Trail, in Peru.  There are many allegorical parallels between mountain climbing and goal setting which I’d like to discuss.

Adapt to your environment

Upon reaching the summit, as with any goal, you can expect to feel a great sense of achievement, but on the way toward your goal you will certainly encounter obstacles. On the Inca trail I had altitude sickness, but following instructions, I became accustomed to the scarce oxygen and at daybreak was able to enjoy seeing the breathtaking Sun Gate, offering spectacular views of Machu Picchu, our  goal on the climb.

Fortunately, by the time you make it to the top either in mountain climbing or through one of  life’s lessons, you have usually acquired the equanimity to calmly enjoy your surroundings, plus a quiver of tools that  allow you to overcome difficulties. Along the way, you start understanding your new environment.  Once you reach your goal, the problems may not have changed, but you will have. You will be better equipped to understand them, deal with them and experience the unique transformations that can only come after a journey.  In many cases, as you develop, your vision changes.  You mature as you assimilate lessons. Your arsenal is fortified, though perhaps not in the way you anticipated.

As the old Chinese proverb says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” To reach the top, one must first visualize how to get there.  At ground level, perspective is not the same as at the summit, where you have a bird’s eye view of the topography. At first, it may seem that the climb is through an impenetrable jungle but as you climb methodically,  you are better able to pick your paths.  The view improves as you gain altitude and the trees start to thin out. The winning combination is knowing what you want and which of your personal values support your goals.

Have faith

In any project, have faith that you can accomplish whatever you can imagine. Start taking baby steps to implement that vision. That you can imagine the result is an indication that you have the necessary resources to go forward. There is no greater deterrent to fulfilling goals than inertia or fear of failure, which keeps one from taking action, as when, for example, a person decides not to follow his dream of becoming an accomplished musician because of the practice, auditions and competitions that are part of the journey.

In practice however, everything sorts itself out gradually and the more ground one covers, the more prepared one is to overcome once seemingly insurmountable odds.  Once you mindfully begin the ascent, hitherto unseen opportunities open along your path and hasten progress.

I am reminded of when I made the commitment to go back to school for an MBA  at the age of 56.  It had been over 30 years since I had been a student.  I had a phobia about the level of math skills I would need. I had tried to go back to school before and had had to drop out for lack of time. I was fully engaged in running my language services company on a day-to-day basis, and the economy was in the midst of a recession. We were working twice as hard for less profit. It seemed impossible, yet one step at a time, I submitted the paperwork, attended orientations, took online courses and hired a tutor to supplement my finance and accounting skills. I found an executive program that met on Saturdays so I could continue to work. I focused on putting my best foot forward and was persistent in my efforts to do well.

Be tenacious

I was the eldest student in the class and at the end of two years was voted most outstanding by the faculty.  It all happened because I sustained my vision of getting the degree and applied personal values such as sense of responsibility, appetite for problem-solving and love of knowledge.    It was a taxing but rewarding experience which has stood me in good stead. Yet it would not have happened if I had not confidently started the climb and stuck it out. The experience led me to corroborate that one can achieve whatever one can visualize. Since then, I have gone on to fulfill other personal and business goals once considered farfetched, like offering  interpreting services around the globe, being a guest lecturer, writing articles regularly for several publications, getting an advanced scuba diver certification, and teaching yoga.

My brother, Alberto Salazar, a world-class marathoner in the 1980’s, relates similar experiences in striving toward significant goals.  While only in his twenties he tallied major victories at the New York and Boston marathons. He visualized himself winning, held that image, trained and learned from the experts. During each   race, he would just concentrate on placing one foot in front of the other, until he crossed the finish line.  I remember visiting him after he set a world record at the NY Marathon in 1981.  He was lying in bed in a suite at the St. Regis, enthusiastically chatting with the family, when I noticed the bed sheets around his feet were all bloodied.  He explained matter-of-factly that he had lost several toenails in the process.

Here, then, is one of the many lessons to be learned: always be  prepared to put some skin in the game if you consider the result  worthwhile.

Interpreters Listen Up!

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

I was recently interviewing to hire freelance interpreters, thankful that I was able to participate in a miniscule way to lower the high and static U.S. unemployment rate. One of the applicants took the initiative to tell me she was regularly employed as a freelancer, interpreting insurance claims for a well-known carrier that pays her an exorbitant amount of money to work throughout the state.  I was happy to hear that because I thought she might be good, if she commanded those prices, and we would be able to use her services for a normal fee during her down times.  That was before I read an article in the Economist that put this in perspective. Apparently, institutions and companies with very deep pockets do not always behave rationally.

Much to my surprise, when I tested her with a simulation of consecutive discourse similar to that used in the work she allegedly does, her performance was very poor. And I keep these tests simple to get a general idea of breadth of vocabulary, types of assignments one can do and what training candidates may benefit from.  There was no saving this baby. I tactfully informed her that she needed to improve her performance to work for us.  I did not expound, but unfortunately for her, I don’t think she will keep her current  job long. Sooner or later, someone who can tell the difference will inform the powers that be of her incompetence.

My pronouncement did not faze her. She didn’t skip a beat and blithely offered herself as a conference interpreter no less, which she deemed was more her style as in that mode, she doesn’t have to rely on memory because she  interprets simultaneously. I was mesmerized by the woman’s cheek as that skill is much more demanding than consecutive. I couldn’t resist asking her what experience she had in that field. She gamely answered that she had only done one conference, three months before—her trial by fire.  Undaunted, I asked her about payment and how it had gone. She informed me that she had been recruited by phone, sight unseen, by an agency from another state, to work in Florida.  She was only informed at the last minute that the end client was a well-known company that sells health/weight-loss products and the extent of her preparation was to visit their website the night before.  The day in question, lo and behold, her booth partner, because simultaneous interpreting is done in pairs, never showed and she ended up actually doing the conference by herself the full day. She did admit that by the afternoon her brain was fried.  I cannot but wonder about her audience’s, as interpreters, albeit experienced ones, switch off between one another every half hour to be able to maintain the integrity of the interpretation.

Our intrepid candidate went on to say that she had not yet been paid—some incredibly substandard wage—and that her employer had recently contacted her to do another conference two weeks hence.  She must have seen the incredulous look in my eyes and hastened to say she would not do it unless she was paid for the prior work by the day before the new assignment I only nodded, and asked her if she knew the subject matter for the new conference and what colleague she would be working with. She did not know and could not have cared less. Her only concern was being paid for the first assignment.

That, dear readers, is the seamy side of the current economy. It’s myopically penny-wise and pound-foolish. In one case, the insurance company is paying this  “interpreter” more than trained certified interpreters for something she cannot do properly. I assume her employer does not know either the cost for said service nor the quality he is getting. In the other, this same “interpreter” is paid peanuts to do something she most definitely cannot do. The language company that hired her is getting cheap labor to secure the bid, and the final user is wasting his money, not to mention the time of the attendees, but in this second scenario everybody thinks  he is nominally “saving” money.

This is one little example I happened to witness in my field, of  the type of practices that are keeping us in a vicious circle and that will not help us come out of our economic doldrums. And it seems to not be an isolated instance. I have been told by several familiar with this situation in our state, that many end users are foregoing their historical language providers in search of bilinguals who may be able to do the job for less. The only way to grow the economy is by adding value to our offerings doing whatever is needed to improve our skills and in tandem, encouraging the entrepreneurs in our midst to create jobs for us, which role is more important than that  of the often touted innovators according to Gallup research.  All of us working together will lead the way out of this lost decade.

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