Start up businesses do’s and dont’s, a personal experience


Dear readers and followers,

You may think that this change of year has definitely killed my inspiration to write; well, nothing can be less true. I have plenty of ideas and, maybe, too little time to express them as well as I would like. Well, this first half of January has been quite busy, and I will try to keep you updated little by little, but today I just want to focus on something that may seem less related to languages than what I normally include in this space, but it is not: we are going to talk about business!

As you may know if you follow my Instagram, I have spent part of last week in what some people have called the Alma Mater. I could not find a better definition myself, for either the University -to which the term is normally associate in modern language- or the city. I will definitely be back to some of the things that happened, but also I want to use it as a starting point on this post to talk about image and branding. I am no expert, my guru among others can give you all the professional advice you may need, but I am learning “on my own skin” plenty of lessons that may be of help to all of you.

Knotty Translations is already one month old, and I can say that I am receiving some useful feedback, spontaneous or when I ask for it. So far, so good, I am quite satisfied. The reactions are exactly what I was hoping for, and even is Salamanca I found the dichotomy of supporters and sceptics I wanted. The first thing I can suggest about your brand choice is: do not rush. Take your time to figure out everything you want to associate with it. It took me months to have a clear idea of what I wanted my creature to look like, but I weighed all the aspects. When everything is clear, just believe in it and fight for it.

Second advice: use all the help you can. Even if it is just an opinion on the logo or the name, but ask the people you trust; also, attend all the events that can help you create or make grow your business, even the worst ones can help you find your direction. Here is, actually, the main point of this post: Yesterday I went to the Start Up business event in Somerset House and, believe me, that has been by far the worst event I have attended to in the last five years; nonetheless, it was useful.

First of all, how can someone decide to book Somerset House for this kind of event really escapes my power of understanding. Oh, wait, the supporting team (the organisers were careful enough not to show up to explain) clarify that: “We had 1500 attendees but, being a free event, it was assumed a 50% of drop off.” I beg your pardon? You don’t assume, you calculate that people will attend, and book a venue that can host all those who signed up, not an old building which has a capacity of one fifth of the people you have in your list. Well, that must not have been clear to them, so they decided to use two floors of part of a wing of the old building, and to have attendees waiting outside, in the cold and under the rain, without even a canopy, because people had to leave the venue before someone else could go in. And, no, I did not arrive at 12 pm, I arrived at 10:30 am, right after the start!

Does all this sound silly? Wait for the best. Of course, the rooms where as small as my bedroom, so we could barely queue to talk to representatives of the companies, and the corridors were so narrow that we could hardly form two rows to walk in and out. What was the other great idea? To use long legged easels outside each room to identify them; the result was even less space in the corridor, and people constantly tripping over the easels and dropping them on the floor. Well done so far!

Oh, come on, this is you being picky, not everyone can afford Olympia or has the EU among the sponsors,” you could tell me. Fair enough, but HSBC is not exactly a poor sponsor, and even I can think of some cheap venues that are more modern and user friendly than Somerset House, but what I just explained is just part of the problem. Don’t forget that the rooms were small, and the talk were so overcrowded that we had to queue more than half an hour before them to have a chance to get in, which meant missing the one before, because you had to queue for the following one. And that is not all, if you wanted to attend to one of the talks in the lower ground, you had to, of course, leave the first floor, losing your place; hence, if you wanted to go back upstairs you had to queue again and hope that someone would leave. The results was that I missed all the morning speeches, because I preferred to talk to all the companies that were interesting for me before leaving the priority that had costed me half an hour outside in the freezing weather, and a running nose.

What did I learn from this awful event? First of all, how not to organise an event! Then, well, it was more a brush up on what I already knew and still have to put into practice. I am currently following Marta Stelmaszak’s “January Business Camp,” and most of the tips that the doubtful business experts gave me yesterday were just a confirmation of what we are doing day by day with Marta (mea culpa, Marta, I am so awfully behind with the camp, but I will catch up between today and tomorrow!)

What really surprised me about the event was that it was actually focused enough on people who had an idea but were still in the creative phase and had not started at all, which was very helpful because they assumed you had a very vague plan about where to start from. If that can be a little too far behind what I need, it was great in general for those who arrived there in the “I have no idea what, but I want to do something” mental state. One of the nice details was without doubt the photo booth; there, two professional photographers took our pictures that we can later use for our professional profile. Mine are horrible, but let’s see what I can do with them when they arrive.

The financial support section was quite useful, if interested in receiving a loan for the business, or in buying and insurance. Honestly, it was not that useful for me, because I was looking for a cover for personal liability, and the company that was there has not included it yet among its products, and it won’t until June, but in general it was interesting.

The stands that were very useful for me were the Microsoft Office one, because I messed up with my package and I need to buy a new one (let’s not talk about this, but I am happy anyway,) the Hootsuite one, which gave me a broader idea of what to do with my profiles on social media, and the 100 businesses one. This actually is a great opportunity for all small businesses that want to promote themselves locally and get in touch with the rest of companies in their area.

Of the talks I could manage to attend to, as I said, the one about founding was not exactly among my priorities, but I see the great potential for different kind of businesses, in particular product based ones more than service based ones, like in our case. Even for myself, I got to know more about crowdfunding, and was not wasted time in the end. The second talk was more of a “show and tell” than a real inspirational speech to help us see how to succeed with our business, and I am very happy for Is that nice, but the only useful tip has actually been “be on time.” Ahem, now seriously, no, I am not going to add a comment to this. The really interesting speech, surprisingly, was the one about how to boost your business with emails. I am not in that phase myself, and I may not be there ever, but I saw some knowledge and a person who was able to share her experience and, at the same time, to give useful tips valuable for everyone and not so painstakingly obvious ones as in the previous case.

I know this was a post in which I complained a lot, but I hope you can also get some useful advices from it. To sum up my view, I would say that, if you are in the process of creating your own translation business (I use the word “translation” broadly, as often is wrongly used, to talk about both translation and interpreting, just because I prefer to avoid using / every time I can, not to talk about the awful and/or,) you should keep these basic, logic concepts in mind:

  • Take your time, but try to reach the result you desire, because once your name or brand is out, it is done.

  • Ask as much as you can, don’t be ashamed of looking like a freshman or like someone who has no clue about anything, you are starting, why should you have everything sorted out already? In particular, ask several people about the same subject, having different points of view will help you see if the advice you receive is valuable, in general or in your case.

  • Don’t take experts and their words at face value, some so-called experts have very little idea of what they are talking about themselves, and they are just as new as you in this.

  • Trust your instinct, but don’t let it blind you. That works for everything: from the idea you have to the people you trust. That is, the genius idea that you had the other night after a talk with friends in the pub may be a good start, but maybe it should be perfected during the day, and with a tea in front and not a pint; also, do not discard people on the first impression, yesterday I would have not given a penny for the PR or one of the speakers after seeing their appearance in that specific context, but I waited to listen to them, and they were actually among the most professional and knowledgeable people down there.

  • Know your limits, don’t undervalue yourself and don’t lie about your capabilities. The first part is important because at the beginning we tend to think that “everyone can do what we do.” Wrong! Maybe some people could, but the fact that they don’t doesn’t mean that it is worthless, it means that they are not interested, are not as qualified as we think they are, or cannot offer exactly what we could, so we should focus on what we have, and we will see that, in the end, we are different. The second part is also basic because it is pointless to say that, for example, we can type 60 wpm and we can use all the available tools as a pro; that may help us reach the second stage of a selection, but if we cannot back up what we declare, we will end up closing in front of us a bigger door than the one we just crossed.

  • Never stop learning and improving, the competition won’t, and you will be behind the level requested from the market very soon.

  • Keep networking constantly, you can never know where a good chance can come from. Also, keep in touch with people, don’t just call them when you need them, but build a professional relationship with them, the more loyal you demonstrate to be, the more these relationship will be loyal to you.

  • Keep taking all the chances to get in touch with professionals or more experienced businesses, even when it is a bad experience, you can still get something out of it.

  • “Be on time!” as Captain obvious says. I am joking about this, but you would be surprised by how many people and professionals actually struggle with this, and are not able to respect this basic point.

    Enough advices for today, but I think it is a good starting point, an. Good luck with you business.

    Until next and… keep being naughty, Knotty surely will!!!