Lesson 137: Seeing your translation business from the process perspective – useful or over the top?

Lesson 137: Seeing your translation business from the process perspective – useful or over the top?

Like many linguists, I really like studying and discovering new fields. It’s part and parcel of our job. What works really well with me is to set goals in my learning. And by that I don’t mean aspirational timelines or ephemeral end points, but real, concrete goals. Most of them take the form of official examination. I guess this is how I ended up with a certificate in IT and business analysis. In the past few weeks, I’ve been studying modelling business processes and of course, I took the exam today.

As always when getting my hands on a new piece of business-related knowledge, I immediately think of ways to apply it to my business and by extension – to every freelancer’s business.

Seeing your translation business from the process perspective is exactly this: you recast your business as a set of processes that happen inside the business to deliver value to customers. To be able to do that, you need to identify your inputs, outputs, how they get transformed from one into another and your value proposition. But before we get into it, let’s take a step back and go through the steps of process mapping.

At the highest level, any modelling exercise will involve looking at the context in which you operate. One of the tools I found most useful to grasp the context is Harmon’s alternative view of an organisation, see below.

your translation business

In this view, you can see how your business relates to the external environment (and a very good idea in here is to conduct a PESTLE analysis!), but also you can map out your customers, competition and perhaps suppliers. Of course, the number of insights you get from this exercise will be plenty.

A step lower, you’re encouraged to draw a process map, which is an outline of processes that make up your business together with dependencies between them. In here you can see a rough draft of a process map of my business which I drew today.

your translation business

What have I learned from it? Mapping my processes out has definitely helped me to realise that I need all of these elements to function properly as a business (ok, not that I didn’t realise this before – it reminded me of this fact). But I was definitely forced to think whether I was neglecting any of these core processes…

At an ever more granular level, process modelling gets down to documenting the flow of specific tasks within each process. Such a view, also called a swimlane diagram, outlines all actors, key decisions and business rules, as well as step by step tasks that need to happen for each project to finish.

process model

I’ve just started drawing my swimlane for Acquire Customers from above. It will take me a while to document it, but I’ve already noticed some interesting elements, for example inefficient communication and handovers between me and my assistant and – the horror – bottlenecks that I was creating myself!

My next step will be to document the Translate and Proofread Texts process. Why do I think it’s important? I believe in documenting undocumented processes. This is how I do business and it’s important for me to be clear on the next step, but I can also use a process diagram to explain to clients how working with me looks like. That way I can also ensure consistency, especially when working with others. I can also look for potential problems or see how I can improve my customer service. If you work with others, documenting your processes is likely to improve collaboration and bring efficiency gains. Of course, my article barely scratches the surface here, but I gave you an idea and a few keywords to carry on researching.

Or am I going over the top here? Do you see yourself mapping your business processes in such a rigorous way… or am I alone in my madness? 🙂


  1. Alina Cincan , on Jan 28, 2016 at 20:22 Reply

    Nope, you’re not alone 🙂 And it is not madness, it’s sound business sense.

  2. Sarah Henter , on Jan 29, 2016 at 08:06 Reply

    Marta, you’re not alone 🙂 We map operations, too. We have real, written out “employee handbooks” with our processes although there’s only the two of us *lol*

  3. Jayne Fox , on Jan 29, 2016 at 08:54 Reply

    Love the process mapping, Marta! I did some writing for a process documentation company at one stage and really got into the swimlane diagrams. I think it’s great that you’re going to develop process maps for translation and proofreading!

  4. Nigel Wheatley , on Jan 29, 2016 at 08:54 Reply

    No, I don’t think you’re mad at all! In fact, if anything, I think you understate the potential importance of this documentation.
    I work mostly with the pharmaceutical industry, which is obviously intensely regulated – indeed, this intense regulation is the very source of much of my business! So I’m working with people who have Standard Operating Procedures for writing Standard Operating Procedures, who are used to having to provide written justification for their claims of quality, what do you think they expect of me? Well, fortunately not yet full ISO9001 certification, although that’s a long-term plan, but still a process description that’s a bit more than just “you send it, I’ll translate it, hasta la vista baby!”
    Process documentation is hard work, a big investment, but it also opens up new markets as well as being a business tool in its own right as you point out.

  5. Paulinho Miguel da Fonseca , on Jan 29, 2016 at 18:33 Reply

    Dear Marta,

    First of… Thank you for the laughter with “or am I alone in my madness?”.
    I am the same way in most cases when it related to my business. I am in a constant struggle to convey ideas into plans that will end up bringing more benefits.
    Thank you for the insights on what you have been learning and developing and yes, I find modelling is very useful, though I never got a deep or thorough review of my own business, but as you outlined, every step needs clearance and I will add ‘aim’ and the drafts as shown give us a, at least, good understanding of what needs to be executed or is pending or undone.
    Thank you.

  6. Paula Trucks-Pape , on Jan 29, 2016 at 18:45 Reply

    Mapping is a very important tool for me because I process visual information best. It helps me see connections and context that I don’t have perspective on when I’m lost in a particular task. Hadn’t thought of applying it to my business processes, though. Thanks!

  7. Daniel , on Feb 26, 2016 at 18:10 Reply

    A lot of potential lies in analyzing and understanding translation processes in depth. The more departments and people involved the more important it becomes.

  8. Mariusz Listewnik , on Mar 20, 2016 at 14:39 Reply

    Great post, I think you’re certainly not the only who thinks about processes! It’s one of the things I’m planning to do as soon as possible because there are tremendous opportunities for time gains.

    During this year’s TLC conference I met one translator who uses Translation Office 3000 to facilitate accounting and documenting translation projects. I must admit that I’ve had this program for almost a year now and haven’t started using it yet… maybe because with TO 3000 you need to get through the hurdle of creating your custom invoice. It look like a daunting task, but I found a nice tutorial that explains how to do (bit.ly/1UtULXbit).

    So I think it’s worth to spend time on improving each and every process, even though it might require an investment of time and energy. Let’s face it, our job consists of repetitive actions, however diverse the subject matter we deal with. On the other hand it’s good, because we can do things better next time.

  9. Allison Wright , on Apr 14, 2016 at 18:06 Reply

    You are not alone in your madness.
    Until about eight years ago, I had a ‘translation cover sheet’ for each translation job – a physical piece of paper, which I would fill out even if I did not print out the translation itself. Apart from client contact details, invoice details and delivery details, it was essentially a checklist of work processes performed for that job. This and the timesheet form I filled in for every job enabled me to work out cool things, such as how much editing/proofreading time I needed per unit of time/number of words of translation; how much ‘non-billable’ time I spent on each job, and therefore how to adjust my rates for the next quote.
    Years of doggedly following my own draconian system (which I no longer do for projects under 10,000 words) means that normally I can merely glance at a document and know with a fair amount of accuracy how long it is going to take me. An excellent planning and pricing tool!
    Not so mad, is it?.

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