The rise of the internet and e-commerce has made it easier than ever for small businesses to access fast-growing international markets. But cultural and linguistic differences can be prohibitive. Figures from the Confederation of British Industry show that just one in five UK SMEs currently sell their products and services internationally, while those that do export are 11 per cent more likely to survive. Web-Translations, founded by Daniel Rajkumar in 2000, works with a global network of freelance linguists to help SMEs translate their websites into foreign languages, connecting them with potential customers abroad. He tells City A.M. how collaborative technologies and flexible working help his firm operate more effectively.
How do you incorporate flexible working into your business model?
We work with freelance translators around the world, bringing them together on a project-by-project basis. Because they’re so spread out, we use telecollaboration systems to help them cooperate. Collaborative technologies have evolved a lot in the past five years. It’s now quite common for people to use systems like Skype and GitHub to share files they’re working on, and in many ways it’s just as easy doing that with someone on the other side of the world as it is in the same building. It works very well for us.
What kind of support do your translators need in order to collaborate?
It’s mainly about communication. People need to understand exactly what’s expected of them on each project. One of the positive aspects of telecollaboration is that you’re forced to be far more granular in specifying what you need from people on a task-by-task basis. In most jobs, people have a broad job description – it’s sometimes not clear what’s expected of them day-by-day. But in a telecollaboration environment, where people are paid specifically for the hours they log, it’s only productive time that you’re paying for. It helps makes the organisation much more efficient.
Web-Translations has a “bring your own device policy”. How do you manage the security and connectivity issues around this?
We let our staff bring their own smartphones, laptops and tablets to work and connect them up to Microsoft Office 365 through the cloud. The licences mean staff can use the software on their own computers as well as the business’s. When they connect up and log in at home, they have access to the same set-up and resources as they would in the office.
Having a central server helps protect the computers from viruses. There are inconveniences – the users have to give more consideration to everything that they’re installing for security reasons, and that has to be cross-checked over the network.
But the computers can be formatted with different profiles depending on whether it’s being used for work or personal use. There are some cost savings to this. And if people want to work on the latest models of computers or laptops, we give them a contribution towards the cost of buying it – so they can benefit from a subsidised upgrade.
How do you collaborate with small businesses to help them expand internationally?
The internet has removed a lot of the geographical barriers to trade. But the cultural and linguistic barriers still exist. When people are searching for products or services online, they quite often land on the sites of foreign companies that have been translated and localised for a specific market. But many SMEs in the UK are completely unaware of this – they don’t recognise that they’re missing a huge area of demand by not having a site available in multiple languages. We help connect these businesses with potential customers in other countries.
Do your linguists have to develop an understanding of the businesses they are translating for?
Our linguists have to study the text in detail, but they also need to know quite a bit about the industry they’re translating for. We pick and choose our freelancers so that the right translator is on the job. There are often different possible interpretations of words, so understanding the context in the sector helps it to make sense. A dental bridge, for example, is very different to a bridge in engineering. Words have multiple meanings, and the first interpretation might not always be the right one.
Using linguists based in the country that they’re translating for also helps with this. They are able to keep their native language more current, and are connected to the culture every day – the standard of work is much better.
What do you think is holding back more UK SMEs from expanding internationally?
I think a lack of awareness and a fear of the unknown play a part. Many small businesses in the UK don’t appreciate what they can achieve internationally with just their website. Around 10 years ago, firms realised that they needed to set aside a budget for their website, and then they realised they needed a budget to market that website. But as for translating it, that’s seen as something else, more of a strategic matter that won’t necessarily have an ongoing budget attached to it. The approach that we take is to try and help SMEs get a toe in the water. They’ll have a few of their web pages optimised and translated to drive more traffic. Once they see what they’re missing, they usually want to go further.