Friday, July 23, 2010

Business Advice at Jewish Family and Career Services

Guest blog today with information for our Louisville-area contractors from Linda Golden, Project Manager:

Running a business is not an easy task. Invoicing, tax forms, marketing - the to-do list never ends. Yet as an independent contractor, that is what you're doing: running your own business.

At In Every Language, the interpreters and translators we work with are all independent contractors running their own language businesses. We frequently get calls with questions about invoicing, mileage reimbursement and letters of employment verification; however, IRS Employee vs. Independent Contractor laws limit our legal ability to offer anything but the most basic response to these questions. That's why we're excited to partner with Jewish Family and Career Services (JFCS) to offer all of our linguists small business development advice.

Need information on developing an invoice template for your language business? Not sure which tax forms you need to submit? Is travel to an appointment something you can write off on your taxes? What associations should you join? Should you get a business card? JFCS is happy to meet with you to answer all your questions. They also offer free business classes. In fact, a new class on writing a business plan will begin this Sunday (July 25th) at 1:00 PM. To register, call Gary Liebert at (502) 452-6341.

The Institute for Social and Economic Development recently published a brief article about JFCS's services on their blog. You can read it here:

If you would like to take advantage of the free services at JFCS, call Mary at (502) 452-6341 to schedule an appointment.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Translation's Triple Bottom Line

I have always considered In Every Language to be a social enterprise. The community nature of what we do is inherent. We take what one man is trying to say and make it so another man can understand it. Without us, information would be unable to correctly pass between entire cultures and countries. Being a translator automatically means being a helper. As language service providers (LSP’s), we do not have to integrate social cause into our business model, because, regardless of the message translated, the social benefit is in the act of translating the message itself.

I knew this when I started In Every Language. I had recently left a career in television and was looking for something to give purpose to my life—a way to help people. I started volunteering as an interpreter for Francophone Africans settling in Louisville. Somewhere along the line, I started getting paid. Any other job I had or took on seemed fruitless, without soul. It was only when I was interpreting that I felt like I was fully alive, like I was contributing, like I was using a gift God had given me to benefit others. When I interpreted, I disappeared and became a catalyst for change. The tremendous capability that translating and interpreting have to help others is why I got into this business. This focus on helping was always there—developing it into a business came later.

As I learned more and more about how to run a company it became, oddly enough, harder to help. Not everyone seemed grateful or even willing to receive what In Every Language had to offer. The director of a local refugee resettlement agency even accused me of trying to monopolize on “poor refugees” and of taking advantage of them for personal gain. Having started this company purely to provide a service to the community, these words stung and I searched my and my company’s behavior, trying to figure out what had led her to say such hurtful things. How could offering safe, professional, valued work to someone who deserves it be taking advantage?

It didn’t take long, though, for me to realize what she meant. She didn’t think I was taking advantage of them; she thought I was profiting from them. In Every Language is the first for-profit language service provider to contract members of Kentucky’s refugee population. I won’t go so far as to say that I was Kentucky’s first social entrepreneur, but I was definitely the first one she had ever met.

It’s been a weary road since then. Both I and In Every Language have had to prove ourselves over and over. The company will be five this August and I’m still trying to explain what social entrepreneurship is and why it’s important.

We’ve all heard of the bottom line, but many social enterprises have a triple bottom line. In the traditional model, for-profit companies focused on, well, profit. Then the double bottom line came around: people and profits. As our society rips itself apart with war and violence, people want healing. They want more. They are coming to expect both an economic and a social return on their money. As a global society, we no longer want to make only money; we want to make money and a difference.

But things are changing again. Just as the double bottom line was starting to catch on, we now face a triple one: people, profit, and planet. According to Bill Lockhart, author of Wal-Smart: What It Really Takes to Profit in a Wal-mart World, the for-profit world’s economic sustainability allows both social and environmental change to occur. And this makes sense. You may have the winning ticket to improving your world, but if you can’t afford to get to the store and cash it, those winnings are never going to help a soul.

I’m calling this blog “Translation’s Triple Line,” when really and truly, I’ve written more about that double line I mentioned and how I’ve staked myself out as a social entrepreneur. But I did say things were getting ready to change again. As soon as we’ve finally gotten people onto this people + profits idea, we’re going to start focusing on the planet, too. In Every Language is getting ready to move to the triple bottom line.

While the “people” side of translation is inherently clear, the “planet” side is going to take a little work. I recently attended Sustainable Brands, a conference for marketers of sustainable companies looking to learn how to better convey this idea of a triple bottom line to their customers. I have to admit, some people I met wondered why I was there. LSP’s don’t manufacture anything; the only thing we really have to recycle around here are the employees’ water cups, and in our case, we don’t even do that. We use reusable glasses instead. When people think sustainable industry, you’ve gotta admit, the first thing they think is not translation.

The key, though, is that we all have to be responsible. Language Line Services recently came out with an environmental responsibility report of sorts, discussing its green initiatives. And while the document was pretty much 20 pdf pages full of greenwashing, at least folks there are trying and aware.

Here at In Every Language, we’ve abandoned our downtown office and are going virtual in order to become both commute and paper-free. We’re giving preferential treatment to interpreters who take public transit to appointments instead of driving. We’re vetting the sustainability of any product vendor before use them. We’re also taking on more environmentally-focused translation projects, such as green marketing and packaging, CSR reports, and groundwater testing, and have pledged not to work with clients who are socially irresponsible. We’re doing what we can when we can—just like we’ve been doing for the past five years.

We’re not perfect. No company or person is. Like the double bottom line before, this idea may take a while for some people to catch on. But we do have a clear head on our shoulders and a clear goal of where we want to be. We’re determined. And we’re not going to take a single bottom line for an answer.