Business, NCTA


The presenter of the September General Meeting. Re-defining the value proposition of their work will help translators develop their business. BY INGEBORG WEINMANN WHITE

Eleni Pallas’ presentation, the central event of our September General Meeting, sparked a spirited and lively discussion among fellow NCTA members. As soon as her introductory phrase, “Look at yourself as the CEO of your own life” reached our ears, we all perked up and paid attention. Pallas’ sparkling personality and enthusiasm are contagious. She challenged us to look at our life and business in a different way by considering a more “holistic” approach.

She briefly outlined for us how, in the course of history, our lives have become compartmentalized on many levels and how we tend to separate work and life, the personal and professional. According to Pallas, this outlook began to take root in the sixteenth century, when, through influential minds such as Descartes and Newton, we began separating mind, body and soul. By the eighteenth century, Adam Smith, who is widely cited as the father of modern economics, promoted the idea of skills specialization and efficiency that would help companies transition from agricultural to manufacturing-oriented organizations. With the Industrial Revolution, the assembly line was created, and workers had only a very limited view of the product they were helping to produce. Today, most of Western economy has moved from the manufacturing to the services industry. But in some ways our thinking and approach are still stuck in the manufacturing model.

Shift to a holistic approach

The way many service businesses operate is that they only know a tiny piece of a client’s problem. Eleni Pallas suggests that we should know much more about our clients as a whole and offer them not just our knowledge and skills but also our creativity and everything else we bring to the table with our unique service. She believes that there needs to be a shift towards a holistic approach, a way to take into consideration one’s value as a whole, and not just how it helps the bottom line.

Ms. Pallas asked some provocative questions: How can we re-define the value proposition of our work? How do we sell our services? Do we feel like we are in control?

Several people expressed their frustration and feeling of powerlessness with the way clients view our services; often there seems to be limited understanding on the part of project managers and end clients of what a good and competent translation entails and how much of the “whole person” is involved in it.

Most of us as freelancers invite clients to come to us by advertising our services through professional organizations or websites, for example, or by sending out resumes. But how do we “influence” clients to perceive our services as a way to create value and achieve their own goals?  Most of us put a lot of energy into external things and into what other people think of us. But in reality, the only things we can control are our own thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

Be a “Conscious Leader”

Eleni Pallas’ message is straightforward: become a “Conscious Leader,” lead yourself or someone else will lead you. Act as the CEO of your life and consciously choose the best way to use your talents, ideas and capabilities. Otherwise, other CEOs, organizations, communities, families or friends will be happy to do so, taking you where they think you should go. The first step to leadership mastery is controlling the “controllables” (one’s thoughts, feelings and actions) and re-routing the effort inadvertently funneled into controlling the “uncontrollables”—and yes, for all you linguists out there, she admitted she had invented these two words. As we reclaim our “outsourced” energy (the energy we use by worrying about things we cannot control) we can use it for higher-value activities such as creative thought, innovative solutions or even daring to turn dreams into reality.

An important part of doing that is to understand the two concepts of influence and control. We can influence people’s perception of us, our client’s approach to hiring our services, and their way of viewing our work and our value. Clients, Ms. Pallas pointed out, often have a perception of value in money, which is a narrow and compartmentalized view, and it is our responsibility as service providers—in this case, translators and interpreters—to influence and challenge that perception. We have to go to our clients and make them see that the value of our service lies in infinitely more elements than just how many words we can translate within a certain time span and how low we can keep their cost for this service. We need to get them to realize that what we provide is not just a mere translation but rather a way for them to expand and deepen their business in the world and in the global market. And how we do that is by bringing our creativity, skill and unique understanding of languages, cultures and people to the table, all of which encompasses our value. Ms. Pallas referred to us translators as “Business Developers,” since we help companies build their businesses.

At the conclusion of her talk, Eleni Pallas challenged us to get together as a group, even as an association, and present a different and more holistic picture of the translation business. Our goal should be to educate, or rather influence, clients to recognize the service we provide as something incredibly valuable in the development of their own businesses, and not just a translation tool. How are we going to define our value beyond the number of words and number of hours we put into a project?

All these ideas left the room buzzing long after the talk was over. The energy and excitement were palpable, and yet to me it seemed as if a door had opened just a crack and offered me a glimpse of a creative and holistic way of changing the way I approach my business. I left with the hope that Eleni Pallas would come back and perhaps teach a workshop at NCTA sometime soon. I will be among the first to sign up. IWW