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Oct 31, 2010

Scalability

In one way or another, issues of scalability have been with me for a long time. In one dramatic lesson in the thermodynamic considerations of scaling a picric acid synthesis during Easter vacation in my sophomore year of high school, I leaned that the consequences of getting it wrong could be rather corrosive. In later research efforts, the scalability of formulations and processes was just as critical; what looked good in a small flask on the lab bench didn't necessarily translate to success in pilot-scale or commercial formulation equipment. To make things work on a large scale, different models of thinking were often called for.

Scalability isn't just an issue for chemistry and engineering; businesses face these challenges in many ways. The business of language services is no exception. If we intend to allow our business to grow in volume (as opposed to focusing on other kinds of development and growth), it is imperative that the processes used in running the business be scalable. "Good enough" for today could mean hopelessly over your head with a modest increase or interference from other factors like health problems. In addition to being scalable, processes must also be robust - well designed and well documented - so that they can withstand setbacks and/or be delegated to trusted others in an emergency or when the growth of the business makes this a necessity. Or when you simply need a holiday.

If you never feel the urge to write a business plan, you should at least be clear about the basic goals of your translation business and think carefully about the implications of growth, demand cycles, illness or family troubles and other major factors we inevitable encounter time and again in our careers.

Think of processes and issues like

  • receiving and responding to requests for quotation
  • safely transferring and archiving information to meet client needs and the legal requirements of the relevant jurisdictions
  • scheduling
  • outsourcing
  • invoicing and collections
  • efficient retrieval of information even after long intervals
  • limited retention periods required by some clients
and others that may affect you now or in the future. Are you ready to deal with the events and changes ahead? Growth? Or shrinkage?

Where is the most time "lost" in your current processes? Most of us probably don't even know. Time and again I read surprised comments by fellow translators or others who actually begin to track the use of their time, only to discover that it really gets spent in ways they did not realize.

I'm not proposing solutions this time around. There are many good approaches to these issues, but the best ones will generally depend on the goals you define. I make a lot of suggestions in my other posts, but these are often filtered by my personal goals or the particular characteristics of the country I live in or the markets I serve. Some or all of what works for me might be irrelevant or actively detrimental for you.

I can't say that I'm entirely in agreement that those who fail to plan plan to fail. A random walk through life can take us to some interesting places, but the experience is generally enhanced by some sensible guidelines and good support processes.

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