Rzayeva Gunel: "At the heart of a translation business are people and technology"

Owner and Manager of Babbler Fish Translation Services and Translation Expert shared six tips with those who want to start their own business.

For me, the subject of having your own business is as inexhaustible as that of love. In fact, it is also about love. The love for your business. As the group Time Machine sang:

"I believe that life means progress,

Loving and completing the task,

Sparing nothing of myself for later.”

I say “own business” because it is a more personal thing than simply a “business” in which you invest to acquire income. "Own business" means accounting for every step taken on a long climb. I am impressed by the culture of small family businesses that they have abroad but is a rarer thing among we post-Soviet people. Small businesses, rather than large state corporations, lay the foundations of a healthy economy. The business may be a cafe, a flower boutique, bookshop, bakery or glass-making workshop. It’s great to be greeted in a bakery by an ordinary couple in floured aprons who organise everything themselves; their elder daughter is at the cash desk and their son delivers hot buns with a bunch of violets. This kind of business is not aiming for the Fortune 100 but simply to earn the family’s keep. Although they do say that every soldier carries a marshal’s baton in his knapsack. And small businesses like this often become global brands.

After graduating from university I found a full-time job, as many did at that time. I had no alternative. I changed jobs many times; although I was generally satisfied with the salary I never felt right. I am happy when arranging something, experimenting with people and resources to attain the goal, get the best possible result.

After working, actually suffering, for about 10 years in a variety of companies, I finally decided "to skydive". It was difficult to persuade my parents that I would make it - they were Soviet-era people who had worked full-time in one place for over 40 years and valued stability above all. It did not matter for them whether life was good or bad - the bottom-line was stability.

So, I "skydived"... to fly, although at first it was more like falling than flying. My dad then explained my blind courage as "anti-fragility skills development" training. Now I can say that it was a tough experience. All those bright, colourful expectations of freedom and euphoria were combined with the black and white reality of fatigue and, sometimes, panic. And even though I ordered a book, “How to Start Your Translation Business” from the US and learned it by heart, one question spun around my head: "How to do it?" When you have a full-time job, you have one specific task to accomplish, but when you start your own business you have to learn about web-programming, accounting, taxation, personnel recruitment, marketing and, of course, the core service provided, which in my case is language translation.

It was some time before I could make up my mind about the company's name. I did not favour abbreviations or acronyms from the initials of business founders or their families. I was looking for something unusual, figurative, both surprising and challenging one to understand its meaning. Finally, I decided to name my company “Babbler Fish Translation Services”. Babbler fish is an oxymoron, a figure of speech that intentionally produces an incongruous, seemingly self-contradictory expression. Further, Yahoo has an online translation service named after the fictitious Babel Fish which, if stuck in your ear, enables you to instantly understand anything said to you in any language. This name, starting with "B", the second letter of the alphabet, is also helpfully found at the beginning of all directories.

Our agency has already been in operation for seven years. Our clients are foreign companies that value quality and are prepared to pay adequately for it. In 2015 we cooperated with the Operating Committee of the Baku-2015 First European Games which was the country’s major event. That was a tremendous experience and an astonishing, interesting time for our team. Currently we are busy with translations for the Baku-2017 Islamic Solidarity Games.

I am an economist by education and when asked how I can handle a translation business without a background in languages, I always say: "You do not have to be a hen to produce eggs" and suggest they give us a test translation to assess the quality of our service.

At the heart of a translation business are people and technology. Although relying on a professional workforce represents a risk factor in business. It's not the same as buying expensive equipment and operating it. Then the equipment is the hen that lays your golden eggs. There is no problem if you lose one operator, you can easily find another one, give him brief training and set him to work. In intellectual services there is no golden equipment, but there are golden people that you must find and retain. 

Translation is surely creative work, especially as we translate not only plant operating instructions but also books and movie subtitles. Our translators and editors are thus creative and dedicated people. Many of them write short stories, essays and poems. Some of these are published on our website at  www.babfish.az . This prompted me to offer our clients copywriting services, i.e. writing texts for websites, promotional articles, catalogues and so on.

And of course, computer technology has a significant role in a translation business. This enables us to organise the work of a team based in different parts of the world making translations much quicker and ensuring better quality.

For those who want to start their own business I can offer the following advice:

  1. Ask yourself - to do or not to do? If you can get along without it, it would be better not to do it. Do it when you simply can't do otherwise.
  2. And do not be afraid. What you have is enough!

  3. Be persuasive. I like this motivational video with Will Smith: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2EOQ_AUqFk in which he says: "The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is I'm not afraid to die on a treadmill. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be all of those things, you got it on me in nine categories. But if we get on the treadmill together, there's two things: You're getting off first, or I'm going to die."

    Find a source of motivation to get over the difficulties you will have to face. 

  4.  Appreciate people and their work.

  5. Do not skimp on quality because low quality costs more. It's about losing reputation, clients' trust, the expense of rectifying the damage and so on.

  6. Never fear or feel embarrassed with rich clients. If you have come to sell your services, tell yourself: "I am the winner. Rejection cannot humiliate me. I do not sell myself, I am not asking for a favour, I move forward despite everything and do my work. Even if someone flies in a private jet, but I ride a bicycle. But I did it all myself and I offer excellent services."
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