The Business School for Translators: five weeks of straightforward, practical business tips

A review of Marta Stelmaszak’s Business School for Translators by Helen Oclee-Brown

Business SchoolPlease note that Marta Stelmaszak is no longer providing this course.

My freelance business had been ticking over nicely for a few years, but the spark had gone towards the end of last year. I wasn’t really making any progress and I didn’t know how to get myself out of a rut. That’s when Marta’s Business School came along!

I must admit that I wasn’t 100% convinced from the off. I wasn’t sure it was the right course for me and it all looked so swish: would it be style over substance? But the detailed course description was impressive and described my situation down to a T. So, after reading some of the glowing testimonials from a few unexpected sources, I took the plunge.

The Business School is an online course run by eCPD Webinars. There are five hour-long webinars, a 30-minute one-to-one chat with Marta and, of course, our secret Facebook group (more on that later). Don’t be fooled into thinking that the course is just 5 ½ hours! You have to do prep for each lesson and there is homework to boot. Be warned: some of the exercises are monsters (I didn’t find the three to four hours quoted on the course website nearly enough to cover them), but most of the tasks are incredibly useful.

You can find details of the course on Marta’s site, but here is a quick overview of the themes for each week:

  1. Business-plan your career: research, plans and strategies
  2. Run your translation business like a CEO: working as a freelance translator
  3. Contracting, supplying, providing: working with agencies
  4. You, the sales department: selling services
  5. Everything you have to know about marketing: marketing in translation

Now, these sound like pretty heavyweight topics. And they are! But Marta breaks the subjects down into bite-sized chunks and students complete simple, but effective exercises that show them how to position their individual businesses. I emphasise individual because no two students are the same: we all have different experiences, skills and motivations. And naturally our businesses will all have their own foibles.

Preparation is one of the course’s key themes. And boy does Marta like to be prepared! Many of you will have seen her talk about her own Ideal Customer Avatar and, by the end of the course, I felt as if I knew him or I was somehow complicit in stalking him! In all seriousness, I think that many translators when starting out don’t really consider whom they are (or could be) translating for. I know from experience that it’s all too easy to get drawn into the agency merry-go-round. Marta opens your eyes gently – there’s no prodding here – and suggests how and where to target different clients.

Getting back to prep, Marta makes it clear that the more you can do in advance, the easier it’ll be to attract clients and keep them happy. And if this sounds a bit wishy-washy, it isn’t. Students have to define concrete goals throughout the course… and stick to them (she checks!). To give you some idea of the work you have to put in, during the course I drafted targeted profiles, brochures, price lists, a QA procedure, contingency plans, a market-research project, a strategy canvas and a nine-month business plan. In short, I used these exercises to pick apart my business and re-model something better out of the good bits.

My favourite exercise was one of the simplest: listing five things under the heading “as a successful translator, I…”. Marta’s advice is to pin it up on your wall so you can see it every day, particularly on the bad days. Likewise, two other softer points really hit home. First, the genuine help factor. It’s not rocket science, but I produce my best work for the clients I want to succeed, and whose products or causes I believe in. Second, I work better when I concentrate on what I’m good at. Again, nothing groundbreaking here, but how many of you have found yourselves huffing and puffing your way through unsatisfying jobs?

Lastly, our online network is an enormous support for many students during the course and long after it finishes. The BSfT Facebook page is for old and new students alike and has a strong community spirit. It’s a great place to share jobs, look for someone with the reverse language pair and ask questions, even daft ones!

Has the course improved my business? Yes. My client base is changing and I’m much more confident. On a practical note, I found it extremely useful to write down SMART goals. Deadlines are deadlines after all.

Was I a model student? Not entirely, but one of Marta’s aims is to make the course relevant for your whole career. I regularly revisit my notes, look at the holes in my business as it is now and try to fill them in.

Would I recommend the Business School? Yes, wholeheartedly for those stuck in a rut or for those who simply want to move their business on but need a few pointers.

Helen Oclee-Brown - ITI Convention 2013

Helen Oclee-Brown MITI is a business and legal translator working from French and Spanish into English. After a few years working at a marketing localisation agency and at a translation company, Helen set up her freelance business in 2009. You can find out more about Helen’s services on her website or send her an email. She tweets (very occasionally) from @helenocleebrown.

This post was first published on 23/12/2014 on my previous blog.

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