This month of April, TransForma is celebrating ten years in business. During this time we’ve relished the good, survived the bad, and learned some valuable lessons along the way. Here are the ten most important ones. I hope you find them useful.
1. You don’t have to do things the way they’ve always been done.
You don’t have to do what’s been done before, no matter what line of business you’re in. If everybody did this, there’d be no innovation … no iPhone, no Uber, no Air BnB. So while it’s good to get an idea of the standards your industry uses, there’s no commandment saying that you can’t alter the current model. The best way to know how to service your customers is to listen to their needs, and not to follow some convention or standard that was established long ago and that doesn’t necessarily apply today.
2. There’s enough work for everybody.
I don’t lose sleep over my competition because there’s plenty of business at all levels, whether you’re a tiny startup or a huge conglomerate. Unless you’re Amazon, you’re not going to service everybody. There are multimillion-dollar companies in the language services space that don’t benefit for pursuing the types of opportunities that I go after. They have massive infrastructures and are set up to handle extremely large accounts. This doesn’t mean that they don’t take small projects, but it does mean that they don’t chase them. And they are not in the same position to fully satisfy those needs as we are.
3. The fishing’s better in the blue ocean.
As you start and grow your business, you’ll think of the obvious places to go for customers. You’ll come up with exactly the type of prospect that needs what you’re offering. The thing is, your competitors – especially those that have been around much longer – already thought of that, and they’ve been “fishing” there for a long time. This is not the place to go. Instead, follow the “blue ocean strategy” (made famous by the book of the same name): go fishing where the water’s not tainted by the blood of their spoils. By doing a little research and thinking creatively, you’ll find those pockets of opportunity that your competitors either dismissed or haven’t considered.
4 .You need your clients more than they need you.
Years ago, when I was a freelance translator, I had five major accounts that kept my bank account funded. Networking never came naturally to me, and I used to turn my nose up at the mere notion of the cocktail party circuit. And then, in a period of five months, I lost each and every one of them … and this happened right after I’d bought a house, when I had zero money in the bank. The lesson: in the business world, nothing is permanent. Even when clients are happy with your work, decisions are made that have nothing to do with you. Budgets are cut. Your company champion gets fired. Priorities are rearranged. Don’t assume that a situation will stay the same forever. And even if you don’t lose your clients like I did, you’ll never grow if you continue depending on the same client base for all your business.
5. Your industry’s changing, and you’d better change with it.
No matter what industry you’re in, it’s constantly changing because of new consumer trends, new technology, evolving needs, and countless other reasons. If you’re not on top of what’s happening in your industry, you won’t be in a position to take advantage of opportunities that will help your company grow. By listening to podcasts, reading industry reports, following your competitors, attending industry events and the like, you can stay current and also forge alliances with similar companies to pursue large clients or allow you to offer additional services to your clients (see #6 below). Also, your industry could be changing because of trends like artificial intelligence, which is disrupting just about every industry. If you don’t see the change coming, you won’t be able to prepare for it and your survival could be at stake.
6 .Your competitors can help you make money.
A few years ago, I met a woman at a conference whose company is similar to mine but larger, and who’s been around much longer and has more resources than I do. So we struck an arrangement where her company serves as my “back office” when we gets requests that are beyond our capabilities, such as rare languages, a request that involves infrastructure we don’t yet have (like video remote capabilities) or extremely large written projects that must be delivered very fast. This way, I can tell all my clients that yes, we can do that for you … and I have a trusted partner who helps us get it done.
7 .Who you are and what you do should be perfectly aligned.
At the moment, the world seems to value the high-tech startup that requires venture capital in order to scale quickly. But what everyone forgets is that high-tech entrepreneurs still like to order pizza, take dancing lessons, go on vacation and get a massage. The world needs every service, and there’s plenty of opportunity for non-tech businesses to thrive. For example, there’s a very successful cookie-baking business in my community that caters to college students’ craving for sweets as they’re doing their late-night cramming. It’s better to marry your skills with the opportunities that are right in front of you, rather than chase a technology-driven idea simply because it’s the current “thing.” At the same time, as I explain in #8, you can’t afford to ignore the ways that technology can help you service your customers.
8. Automation and technology are a must … even if you’re not a “tecchie”.
By this I mean the tools to help you run your business, not the focus of your business. Whatever type of business you run, whether it’s baking cookies or selling real estate, you won’t get far without technology applications that will help people do business with you and help you maximize your efficiency.
9. If you don’t love your business, your business won’t love you.
Here’s a question to ask yourself: what’s the point of taking risks and losing sleep over something you’re not passionate about? What would keep you going when the going gets tough? If you pursue a business opportunity only because you think you can make money at it, you won’t have the wherewithal to stick with it when times are bad … and you’ll go broke. It’ll be too easy to abandon the effort, and you’ll have wasted precious time and money. In contrast, when you love what you’re doing, not only does it give you a purpose, but also a deep sense of satisfaction when success finally does come. Which leads me straight to #10.
10. Success is defined by you … and no one else.
Figure out what it takes to make you feel successful, then set out to achieve it. You’re the one who knows what it takes to make you happy, including how much money you want to make. Never make the mistake of evaluating yourself based on what others have achieved. If you’re happy doing freelance work, figure out what it takes to be successful on your terms, then go out and make it happen. If you want to build a multimillion-dollar company, figure out what you need to do and go do it. You are the only boss of your self-actualization project.
Carmen Hiers is founder and managing partner of TransForma Translation Services. Call us today at (305)722-3827 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org for a free quote.