Excerpted from the August 1999 issue
"It's a big world: Get out there and translate." That could be the motto of business partners Elizabeth Elting, 33, and Phil Shawe, 29. The pair, who met while studying for their MBAs, has worked together to grow a 1992 dorm-room start-up into a $15 million business.
With 90 full-time staffers, 11 offices in the United States and four sites overseas, their New York City-based company, TransPerfect Translations Inc., is one of the power players in a hot new field fueled by the growth of international business. The company, with the help of 3,000 freelance linguists, translates a wide variety of technical, educational, business and marketing materials for Fortune 500 companies such as Upjohn, Dun & Bradstreet, American Express, JCPenney and AT&T. Not bad for a pair of post-grad students who financed their first full year in business with just $5,000 in credit card advances and, for nearly an entire year, ate four-for-a-dollar Ramen Fried Noodles for every meal.
You don't need to go on a crash diet for your translation business to survive, but, like Elting and Shawe, you can still get into the field with relatively little start-up capital, according to Walter Bacak, executive director of the American Translators Association. Of the 3,000 companies in the United States, most are small operations started with a few thousand dollars, often launched as part-time businesses.
It's essential, of course, to have good foreign language skills: Elting studied modern languages and spent her childhood and early adulthood living and working in Portugal, Spain and Venezuela. Beyond that, successful translators need to develop a niche: You could combine language skills with an engineering background, for example, to translate technical manuals. One of the best parts about owning a translation business, Bacak says, is that although your work is international in scope, you can do the translations right from your home computer.
With revenue of over $250 million, TransPerfect is the largest privately held language services provider in the world. From offices in 66 cities on 5 continents, TransPerfect offers a full range of services in over 100 languages to multinationals worldwide. With a global network of over 4,000 linguists and subject-area specialists, TransPerfect is the largest translation company to be fully ISO 9001:2008 and EN 15038:2006 certified. TransPerfect is headquartered in New York and has regional headquarters in London and Hong Kong. For more information, please visit our website at www.transperfect.com.