Some lessons from the BusinessWeek top 50

For reasons unknown to me, I suddenly started receiving a subscription to BusinessWeek (my guess is that this is related to buying a Newsweek subscription…anyway!) and although I find the quality of their articles a bit uneven, some of them have great tips for businesspeople, even if the business operates out of your living room. This week’s issue highlights “The 50 Best Performers,” including their insights on surviving the recession. Following are a few tips that I gleaned, which I think apply to freelance translators as well:

  • Sell an essential product. Market leader Colgate-Palmolive points out that of the many things consumers have given up in the bad economy, “Brushing their teeth is not one of them.” In general, I think that businesses view translation services as fairly essential; while they might have an unpaid intern write their web copy, it’s unlikely that they either can or would trust the mail clerk with translating documents for a lawsuit. However, within our industry, I think it’s important to concentrate your marketing efforts on industries that have to translate (for example law firms, patent firms, pharmaceutical and medical device companies, companies that produce multilingual annual reports, etc.) rather than those that choose to translate (for example hotels, luxury goods companies, etc.).
  • DIY and update. Steel giant Nucor hasn’t laid off a single employee, despite a decrease in business. One of its key strategies is having employees do tasks that either used to be done by contractors (mow the lawns, clean the bathrooms) or get ahead on projects that are often put on the back burner (rewriting safety manuals, doing preventive maintenance). Now is a great time to look at the work that you either outsource or put off; think about taking a web design course so that you can create or update an excellent website to promote your translation services, or take webinars to brush up your translation-related software skills.
  • Hold on to the clients you’ve got. I’m usually the first one to advocate marketing as a business development tool, but this is a great point; it’s generally cheaper to maintain an existing client than it is to find a new one. IT outsourcer Cognizant Technology Solutions is now getting 90% of its business from repeat clients, thanks in part to its team of “relationship managers” who check in regularly with existing clients. So, be your own relationship manager; check in with your existing clients and ask them how business is going, is there anything you can do to better meet their needs, have they been happy with your recent work? My only beef with this point in general is that in my unscientific experience, it’s much easier to charge a new client a higher rate than it is to raise your rates with existing clients.
  • Set yourself up to be first off the blocks. Throughout this article, many companies conveyed that they’re making changes now so that they’re poised to strike when the economy rebounds. For some, this means expanding into new international markets (Avon in China, anyone?), for others, it means diversification (crane manufacturers buying kitchen equipment companies). Whatever the case, now is definitely the time to think about where you want your business to be in the year after the economy rebounds!
2 Responses to “Some lessons from the BusinessWeek top 50”
  1. Karen Tkaczyk April 10, 2009
  2. Alison Carroll April 19, 2009

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