Many translation agencies are under the impression that the only way to grow their business is to do more of the same: find new clients in need of translation services or provide new language pairings to your existing clients.
However, limiting your business to a single core service (translations) leaves you vulnerable to new competitors, changing customer needs, and disruptions to the industry.
Diversifying your service portfolio can help you stay competitive by providing new value to your existing customers and pulling in new customers you wouldn’t have attracted otherwise.
In this article, we’ll look at how two LSPs expanded their business by offering new services and offer best practices to do the same.
Case study #1: Elite Translations Asia expands with the needs of its clients
With advancements in machine translation, streamlined supply chains, technology is undoubtedly disrupting the translation industry.
Hong Yin Yin, founder of Elite Translations Asia, first felt the impact in 2014, when she saw a downturn in the company’s revenue for the first time since founding the LSP in 2006. She knew that, in order to survive, her company needed to become more than just a traditional LSP.
“I realized that we have to build our technology capabilities, but at the same time, I saw that digital — as a broad, broad category — is the business that we should move into,” she explained.
Since 2014, Hong has expanded the focus of her company to include a slew of services in digital marketing, talent placement, and more. How does she know what services to offer? She asks her clients.
Learn your customer’s pain points
Hong and her team have made a habit of assessing their customers’ current pain points, and then reflecting on how the company might be able to solve them.
In certain cases, finding a specific pain point was easy. For instance, several clients directly asked Hong if her company also offered interpreting services.
And when a client doesn’t come right out and tell you what they need, then you have to do the research. A good place to start is client surveys.
Match up their pain points through your company’s existing strengths
Perhaps where many LSPs get stuck is by only considering themselves experts in translation. Hong has a broader perspective. She understands that her team has an array of skills related to linguistics and localization. “We are still leveraging our linguistic talents; it is just different forms of service delivery,” Hong explained. To explain this, let’s look at the company’s digital marketing services.
Elite Translations is headquartered in Singapore with offices in Hong Kong, Malaysia, and a new addition planned in Japan. “A lot of the multinational companies set up headquarter in Hong Kong and Singapore ... Southeast Asia, especially, is one of the fastest growing markets,” Hong explained.
More and more global companies are moving into the region looking to reach new customers. And the best way to do this is through digital marketing campaigns.
Currently, Elite Translation’s digital marketing arm focuses on the WeChat platform — the most popular social media channel in China and on the rise throughout Southeast Asia. The digital marketing team is leveraging a growing phenomenon specific to their region.
As Vinnie Lauria explained in Forbes:
“Asian consumers tend to ‘live’ on their messaging apps much more than their non-Asian counterparts. This helps explain why consumer-oriented brands, goods and services are far more pervasive on mobile messaging apps here than elsewhere: it’s not unusual to see Chinese booking a cab on WeChat [...] Some companies even build in-chat apps that integrate with WeChat or Messenger in lieu of their own applications, further blurring the lines between a messaging app and a fully-fledged consumer platform — and completely flipping the standard product roadmap on its head.”
Elite Translation’s digital marketing team writes articles on behalf of their multinational clients which drives users to the company’s official WeChat account.
Taking advantage of China’s growing dependence on the WeChat platform is a big part of Elite Translations’ localization wherewithal. But they also stress the importance of using regional linguistic experts for successful marketing campaigns.
Many companies will pull from a central repository of articles and copy and use translations to make them available globally. However, Hong understands that, in order for content strategies to be original and appeal to a local audience, they need to be written specifically for that audience. The value Elite Translations brings to their clients is the ability to write articles in their target audience’s native language with a deeper understanding of what will appeal to that audience.
Elite Translations promises their customers 10,000 new followers on WeChat every six months — an impressive measure of success.
Case study #2: Braahmam offers clients strategic localization consulting
When a company enters a new region or country for the first time, translations are not the entirety of their localization strategy (or at least they shouldn’t be). But they are often the only component that an LSP is involved with.
Biraj Rath, CEO of Braahmam, a language solutions, design, and technology agency, believes that there’s a real opportunity for LSPs to offer their customers new value through localization consulting services — especially around entering a new market.
“I think there is a big shortage of high-quality manpower consulting resources in the industry,” Biraj explained. “A lot of people are just mechanically doing translation and localization — they’re not really solving the customer’s problems in many ways.”
He sees three key areas of the localization process that LSPS are well-suited to assist with: creating a market entry plan, collecting market intelligence, and partnering with the execution of their localization strategy. Braahmam has experience with all three.
Helping companies enter a new market
When an LSP is an expert in a particular locale, this knowledge can be a real commodity for their customers. For instance, what do you know about the location that could make or break a product launch or would be helpful when adding a new service branch?
“If, at the beginning of entering into the market, you don’t have a strategy in place, you will end up spending a lot of unnecessary money, energy, effort, and resources,” Biraj explained. “The wrong step in the beginning can destroy a lot of goodwill for everything.”
Consulting services may be as simple as looking over a company’s market entry strategy for poor assumptions about the region.
Braahmam, which is headquartered in India, often helps their customers successfully enter their local market, starting with which of India’s twenty-two languages they should focus their translations on.
“People ask what one language that they can use that will work for everybody in India. And the answer is there isn’t one. If you try to localize in twenty-two different languages, then it’s a huge amount of money, and you don’t even know whether there’s going to be a return on investment.”
Braahmam’s recommendations cover what percentage of the general or specific populations they would hit if they translate materials into two to seven of the most popular Indian languages.
A major problem, Biraj explained, is that there is little existing research around which languages will offer companies the best return. However, this problem is an opportunity for LSPs who are able to provide custom research for their customers.
Collecting market intelligence
“The thing about localizing a product is that, if you haven’t done your study well and a market doesn’t need a product, then the localization is not going to help,” Biraj said.
Conducting proper market research often depends on having a solid understanding of the location your research is taking place in. “You need to have the correct data collection points to be able to analyze that data correctly. So if you’re not collecting the data in a certain way from the right resources, then you won’t get the right analysis,” Biraj said.
For instance, a consumer goods company may want to conduct a consumer survey, where a software company might collect and analyze usage data from corporate customers.
If a company has sold products or services solely in the U.S., they might not be familiar with competition in other countries. This can be especially true in niche markets or when moving into smaller countries with less existing research. LSPs familiar with the local economy can conduct market research around these competitors, like their pricing and marketing strategies. While many market research projects may be unmanageable for smaller LSPs, conducting competitor research is something that LSPs of any size can quite easily accomplish.
Braahmam has helped companies with several market research reports, including helping a mobile phone manufacturer understand the Indian mobile market.
Acting as local partners
Moving into a consultant role may require a change in perspective from your current or future customers. Instead of simply being a provider of a service, ideally, you want your customers to see you as a true localization partner.
Local LSPs can act as a conduit between the customer and local resources like marketing and legal teams. In addition, LSPs can help their customers navigate hiring and tax laws, and other business regulations. Once again, it can be easier to find resources around practices for the U.S. or countries in the European Union. But in smaller markets, this information can be much more difficult to track down.
LSPs are also in a good position to offer recommendations around sales and marketing strategies that will work best for a specific country or region, such as whether local customers are used to negotiating the price of a service or product.
According to Biraj, this change in perspective from service provider to partner can have an equally positive impact on your existing translation services, as well. It can help you set realistic expectations with your customers.
“One of the things about this business is that you may not get [translations] right the first time, even with your best partner. The provider or partner who’s working with you needs to learn about your company and your products.”
Biraj gave the example of Nike. The brand’s well-known slogan “Just Do It” doesn’t translate well. A company helping Nike with marketing translation probably wouldn’t get it right the first time.
“So you need to learn a lot about that product, about its history, about its application, and then work with the customer over a period of time to arrive at the right mix of things.”
Instead of simply handing the translation off, a partnership can include collecting and analyzing market feedback. “There will always be feedback from the market,” Biraj explained. It’s just a matter of what you do with it.
Strategically expanding your services
Not every LSP will have the internal resources to easily add a consulting or digital marketing service arm. You need staff members with the right backgrounds or the financial resources to hire them.
Expanding your offerings to include consulting or other related services can be a part of your growth — something you move into slowly and strategically.
Starting small — one client at a time — can help you set expectations and work out a process before you start advertising your new service to anyone. When you start with a long-time trusted client, you’re on your way to building a partnership we talked about earlier.
Also, start with one new service at a time. Don’t try to go in many directions at the same time. Get comfortable with your new offering before you add new ones.
Build a network
Before you start, we suggest educating yourself in areas that you plan on covering and building relationships with local service providers and related associations.
For instance, if you’re interested in helping your customers find local legal advice, find out what lawyers charge and who comes highly recommended. Your customers will depend on your research and connections.
Develop an SOP
According to Hong, the first non-translation project that they took on was interpreting, and their first attempt at it wasn’t very successful. “We were squeezed between the client and also the expectations of the interpreters. But we learned relatively fast. From there, we figured out the standard practices and the market practice that we have to insist on.”
Now, whenever they’re considering a new service, they first research what it would look like to offer that service. They develop a standard operating procedure (SOP) for their project managers and sales team to follow.