This year, TransForma celebrates a significant milestone … our tenth anniversary. For ten years we’ve been providing worldwide translation services from our home base in Miami. But three years into our existence, we landed a project that we thought would serve as a gigantic financial and professional springboard for our company. As it turned out, it nearly finished us. Yes, that’s right. When TransForma was 3, it almost didn’t make it to 4. How did this happen? The details are below. If you’re too time-crunched to read the entire interview, you should know that what happened to us is akin to what happens to a 16-year-old boy whose family hits the lotto, and to replace the 35-year old, 4-cylinder beater the boy’s been driving (think Volvo 240), Mom and Dad (mostly Dad, probably) decides to gift the lad a 911 Turbo S. Too much, too soon. If the boy makes it to 17, it’s a miracle, and the experiences learned when ALL the airbags deployed will serve him well in the future.
The project came to us innocently enough, as a request from an associate at a global law firm. He sounded very young. The case was a huge international case, and the associate had been asked by his boss to contact us. How the boss knew us, I don’t remember. He described the project and said, “there are a bunch of files. They’re small, but there’s a bunch of them.” My thought was, how many could there be? Fifty? A hundred? And how long … two to three pages each? So, I opened the zip file he sent me, and what I found was three thousand documents that needed translation, the average length of which was about 50 pages. They were going to trial in about six months and everything had to be finished by then. By my calculation, 3,000 documents at an average length of 50 pages per document equals a billion pages.
I was stunned and speechless. But I got right to work, lining up several translators and other vendors and setting up a process, a workflow and our translation memory, since the vast majority of the documents were tax returns from a Latin American country. But in spite of this advantage, we were not able to deliver even a fraction of the job. It was like trying to dig the Panama Canal with a teaspoon. Six weeks into the project we were let go because it became clear that we wouldn’t be able to deliver at the rate of about 500 to 600 documents a month, which is what the project required. Even the much larger agency that replaced us, with multiples more manpower and technology than we had at the time, had a very hard time fulfilling the request.
That project took every available resource we had, delayed our work for other clients, and messed up our records and our finances. Executing was a nightmare. We almost lost our business, but the silver lining is that I learned things about the language services industry that I didn’t know, and that would’ve taken me a lot longer to learn. It was truly baptism by fire. We survived, but it was a traumatic experience for me as the owner. For a long time, I felt like an abject failure, and to this day I think about it. Once we were fired, I thought in hindsight that the right course of action would’ve been to hand the project over to a larger agency in exchange for a commission … which would have made me a nice chunk of money. But I’m glad I didn’t go that route and that I actually went through the humiliating experience of being fired. It made me analyze why we weren’t able to deliver, and it helped us learn about the vast resources of worldwide support and technology tools available should a project this size ever reach our company again. And we’ve utilized those resources on much smaller projects, allowing us to deliver excellent translation at competitive prices.
At TransForma, we take our work very seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We’ve been able to put the traumatic experience behind us and chuck it up to life’s lessons. We’re still here, so we must be doing a few things right. We’re very grateful to our clients for helping us make it this far. We look forward to many more years providing translation and interpretation services to our clients in Miami and throughout the world. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (305) 722-3827.