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Forword Translations

Forword TranslationsStepping Forword

A business idea first popped into my head when I had four dollars in my bank account. I was leaving Kazakhstan after two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer and was fretting about the job search I was about to begin. One day in mid-August, on the flight to New York City, I came up with the idea that maybe my job search might end with the creation of my dream job. Combining my love of languages, my belief in grassroots ideology, and my passion for nonprofit work, I did create my dream job. With it the idea of Forword Translations, Inc. – although I didn’t yet know it by that name – was born.

In order to fund my idea at some later date, I put away about a quarter of the “readjustment allowance” given to me by Peace Corps. In October of the same year I enrolled in a free “Entrepreneurship Boot Camp” service offered by a division of the New York City government and in November went about establishing a business legally. The name was incorporated that December and I finished hiring employees in January.

Forword Translations produces, of course, translations. What makes us different from other translation companies is that in the course of our work we help nonprofits and small businesses develop their outreach and marketing campaigns. We don’t do translations for airlines and Fortune 500 corporations. We operate on the idea that nonprofits especially should have access to the same resources as well-endowed corporations. Furthermore, we believe that speakers of other languages should have access to the resources that English-speakers have: brochures about tax preparation in Spanish, health and safety notices in French, computer education guides in Russian. We have a dual focus of helping the servers and the served, and we accomplish our goal with little cost to the servers and no cost to the served.

A highly overlooked factor when considering translation is not the longevity of the company or the aesthetic appeal of its website but the background of its staff. In my hiring process, I found that Ph.D. holders and translators with 30+ years of experience often did worse on the written test than the devoted university student. Having more degrees than a thermometer doesn’t make a good translator – we can prove it to you with test scores. What makes a good translator is not how well she speaks a language, or how long she has lived abroad. The best predictor of a good translator, rather, is her writing skills in her native language. If she can precisely express her own thoughts in written word, she can probably express another’s thoughts in a second language.

This is one of Forword’s competitive advantages: that all of our translators are intelligent and well-rounded people with diverse backgrounds. All of our translators have worked with nonprofits of some kind, from grassroots websites to Latin American foundations, political action committees to churches and universities. They are entrepreneurs, freelancers, and philosophers. The various experiences of our staff make it certain that we can translate anything, whether it’s a 100-word invitation to a potluck dinner or a 5,000-word grant proposal.

Because of our mission and our ideology – i.e. helping low-budget organizations develop – it comes naturally that big bucks are not to be made, making the shoestring budget philosophy all the more relevant. Forword relies heavily on free advertising like social media sites and SEO to promote its name. It’s important to spend money in order to make money, so we do; however, in the fashion of prudent startups, we are very careful with the resources we have. We have to spend a lot of time and energy focusing on very specific markets.

Finding which markets to target is one thing; making our product appeal to the members in that market is another. One of our biggest challenges is that translations are not tangible products. Cheeseburgers, scarves, and automobiles are easy enough to market because colorful adjectives and a high-gloss photo can accomplish the feat well enough. With translation, the quality and appeal of the product is only known to the people who are already experienced in the field. It’s difficult to convince monolinguists that there is quality in words and symbols. We try as best we can to convince potential clients that researching their purchase is essential to making a good one, whether it’s a company car or Chinese subtitles, but in reality it’s as easy as convincing a golden retriever to upgrade to a better Frisbee.

Forword Translations Where is Forword now? We are looking ahead. We will expand to more than 30 languages in 5 years, always ensuring that the translators we hire are both top quality and devoted to our mission. We conservatively expect to have revenue of about $450,000 in the fifth year, about 15 times the expected revenue of year 1. As any businessperson can tell you, things rarely go exactly as you expect, and frequent changes to the plan are essential to success. That $450,000 may turn into $1,000,000 or into $45,000 because of a change in the market, a taut relationship with foreign nations, a hot internet trend, or an amazing improvement in automatic translation technology.

I remember some advice by a successful businessman who coached me through the process of starting Forword: “You can dip your toe into the icy river of business without really getting wet, but as soon as your wallet drops in, you have to suck it up and dive.” The success of your business is dependent on how much you invest in it – financially as well as emotionally and mentally. Don’t expect to be a millionaire within 5 years – Zuckerberg is an anomaly. Instead, expect to have lost all of your savings and expendable income, and to incur some debt, in the first year or two.

Forword currently has 10 translators and 1 full-time staff member, and is set to acquire more translators as the number of languages offered increases. You can find us on:

Our main website – http://www.forwordtranslations.com

Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/ForwordTranslations

Twitter – https://twitter.com/#!/ForwordInc

StumbleUpon – http://www.stumbleupon.com/stumbler/ForwordInc

Idealist – http://www.idealist.org/view/org/j75BWw68Jh8d/

More presence on social media sites is coming, as well as a totally redesigned website!

As most small business owners can attest to, shoestring budgets work because they have to. Small business starters are not billionaires (with a few exceptions), but rather hard-working, talented men and women who want their dreams to come true. For these people, progress is slow but certain.

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