Running a translation company (well, actually any business) is complicated and may seem easier if you can share your workload and responsibilities with another translator as a partner.
When I was 25 or so, a friend and I decided we wanted to try to set up our own company. We hadn’t even graduated as translators yet. We didn’t know much about business but we were pretty good at what we did (teaching English and translating), and we enjoyed working but also had complementary skills and some very promising contacts, so we thought we could do something interesting together, and decided to take the chance. We had the required entrepreneurial spirit, we supported and motivated each other and, at that age, you don’t have much to lose anyway. We would work together, would share the costs of the start-up equally, and would split profits fifty-fifty.
We did not invest hard. As with most start-ups, we started working at my place. We turned the tiny 1-bedroom apartment into a cozy translation office although soon moved into a small real office! Basic furniture, our computers, a telephone, and nothing else.
We had an informal, flexible structure and philosophy and we liked it that way.
Things worked fine for many years – around 7 or 8, but ended horribly. As we were not only translation partners but friends, we would find it hard to speak about obligations, objectives, and many things you need to determine when you run a business. It doesn’t take long for an arrangement that once worked perfectly to start feeling unbalanced and unfair. This creates tension, much stress and disappointment, to say the least. In the end, that’s the way the cookie crumbles…
I am not saying a partnership is not advisable or desirable. It worked for me for a period of time; it’s not what I want now, but who knows what the future will bring. It is said that businesses with multiple owners are more likely to survive longer than sole proprietorships.
If you want a lasting, synergetic partnership, here are some things to consider BEFORE you offer anything to any translator or close any deal:
- Although it may be lots of fun to work with friends, I would not partner with a friend again. With friendship at stake and so many feelings and emotions involved, it is unlikely that you will be able to make objective decisions in the best interest of your translation company.
- You will need to set clear goals for each partner, “clear” being the operative word here. This is usually hard for translators because we are not trained to be owners of our own translation company. We learn how to translate, not how to run a translation company.
- State clearly (key term, again) what each of you is undertaking to do to move the project forward.
- Not all decisions have to be shared. Specify the scope of authority of each partner and those issues you will be deciding on together.
- Consult with more experienced people (whether translators or not) and draw up a clear compensation scheme. You will review it later and make changes as needed. Money is always a sensitive issue but a central one in business. We are here to make money. Speak openly about it.
- But, most importantly, before embarking on anything major, take on a small project together and see how it goes.
The fact that we are translators does not mean we cannot be effective businesspeople.