How to build a successful interpreting business

How to grow your business as a service provider in a marketplace with a fierce competition?  The founder of Interpreting Studio Olga Kuzminykh talks about the marketing strategy that brings success to her own translation business.

Olga Kuzminykh: “If you build it, they will come” doesn’t work anymore. (This quote referred to the movie “Field of Dreams” 1989 and referred to the Bible verse when Noah was building the ark. Source: Quora)

In the business context, it’s been a long time since setting up a company and a website was enough to attract and retain customers. The number of new small businesses created in Europe is on the rise. Of course, it is a sign of the healthy economy, but the same time it indicates how fierce competition is in the marketplace.

As supply exceeds the demand, it is getting increasingly difficult to market your services, as well as differentiate your offer from the offer of your competitors. That is the main reason, why, after analyzing all of my marketing materials and strategies, I have decided to go with this one: personalized marketing.

Running your own business is not the easiest way to success. Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

OK: My entrepreneurial journey started…. with a job search. After my graduation, I was looking for a job. It was back in 2008, exactly the time when the economic recession began. Understandably, it was not the best timing for job-hunters.

It took a long time before I got a job offer from a translation agency. But, despite the fact that I was happy to see that my search finally bore some fruits, after a couple of weeks I realized that my job required minimum translation skills on my part. Most of the time I was looking out for companies to outsource translation services. That wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do, so it made no sense to keep the job and after a couple of months, I left the company.

Being out, free and optimistic about the future, I decided to open my own business. However, I had no idea what it takes to run your own company. Even though I had a couple of clients I did the translation for, of course, it was not enough to sustain a business! I had no experience, didn’t know what steps to take, and what challenges and problems to expect.

I always say that fortune favors the brave. By chance, I heard about the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Heidelberg (IHK) providing consulting services to newbie entrepreneurs. Together with the IHK consultant, I developed a detailed business and the budget plans. Besides business plan, the IHK consultants explained the registration process, taxation and other important issues, which was an eye-opening and tremendously helpful information.

Olga Kuzminykh. Interpreting Studio
Olga Kuzminykh. Interpreting Studio

Has a good business plan brought you translation gigs?

OK: I wish it were that simple! The business plan was the first step to build this venture. This provides direction for the business, but then one needs to take massive actions to find customers. I tried different marketing approaches but soon realized that cold-calling or emailing is an antiquated way that brings zero results.

It also became obvious to me that most of my business was born out of random conversations with friends, or mutual acquaintances at networking events, parties or meetings. Often those casual chats lead to business opportunities.

Referrals and personal contacts have brought me more business, than sending out cold impersonal offers. I think these cold, unsolicited offers fly directly into a trash bin or buried forever in an archive folder.

So to bring business to success one must be good at direct selling?

The business consists of several aspects, with one aspect having a good product, but many business owners tend to forget that this product needs to be sold. Once the firm is open, owners need to sell so they can develop their businesses. Thus, I’d say that selling is the most important aspect, and the notion “build – and they will come” doesn’t work.

In my opinion, any newbie entrepreneur first should concentrate their time and efforts on selling, and only then invest time and money into improving their product. Before I became an entrepreneur I thought about it the other way around. I thought – I’m a good professional translator, so somehow, somewhere I’ll make it. It turned out this all works completely the opposite way. That is — everything starts with sales.

How do you sell? How do you keep the balance of selling your services to personal contacts and not being perceived as the one who turns every conversation into a sales pitch?

OK: The secret is empathy. Even when I know that someone could be a potential client, I never start a conversation with a sales pitch. What I am looking for is building rapport and finding some beliefs and opinions that we have in common. Clients who purchase professional services are interested in the person who delivers the service.

I listen to what a person says, how he or she reacts. Even if the person is interested in my services, but at the moment, they don’t need it, I would not pitch at this moment. It can be a good opportunity, but it is not an obligation. Being empathetic and honest with potential customers lies at the heart of my consultative relationship philosophy.


What would you advise aspiring entrepreneurs?

OK: Begin with a question – do I have a good network of contacts? If not, start building your network and do it well in advance before opening your business. But also, see your contacts not as prospects to be sold, but as persons to be served.

I build my company on four pillars: help people, behave with integrity, treat customers with dignity and respect, provide superior products and services. I am a strong believer that these values bring happiness to customers and success to any business.

Contact information: Olga Kuzminykh

Tel.: +49(0)621 336 89 55

Mob.: +49 (0)176 520 569 30

68167 Mannheim, Germany

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