Multilingual marketing services are in growing demand as the world flattens and more Michigan companies export goods and services. Translation businesses say they are thriving despite fierce competition. “It’s a good business these days with everything going global,” explains Lori Ann Elzerman, founder of Expert Language Services in Rochester Hills. “With the slowdown of the U.S. economy, companies are trying to sell their products abroad.”
Elzerman, who confesses her own lack of foreign language expertise, focuses her business on technical automotive documents and human resources materials, as well as on marketing pieces for advertising agencies. It specializes in multi-language projects, often translating one document into 14 others. “Basically, if you were interested in a Lincoln MKX and walked into a dealership in Central America, you would pick up something we translated,” she says.
Other services include interpreting for business meetings, corporate training, voice-over services, scripts and Web site translation, which is growing at a fast rate. Consulting goes hand-in-hand, as in the case when Elzerman was given a memo to translate regarding snow removal and ice that wasn’t applicable that time of year in Brazil. “Companies get so used to sending communications out without thinking about where it’s going,” she says.
Like most translation houses, Elzerman works with freelance translators and sister translation agencies all over world. Iterotext, formerly known as AAA Language Services in Troy, maintains 10 in-house project managers who specialize in a particular language and oversee more than 300 translators around the world who are subject matter experts in their native language. Many are translators who Iterotext have used for 25 years. Sue Aitken, president of Lingua Science in Ann Arbor, started her business in 1990 after working as lead translator at Nissan Research and Development.
“I was in charge of hiring translators and outsourcing translation work, and thought I could do this on my own. Like many things, it was a little harder than it seemed at first. I thought I would make so much more money doing it on the outside. Maybe now I do, but it took a while.” Lingua Science specializes in Japanese language translation services for documents ranging from contracts to automotive specs. Her business is with the more than 300 Japanese companies throughout Michigan. In addition to translation, she handles some interpreting of meetings and Japanese language training for executives planning to travel to Japan or stay for extended job assignments, or those who just want to speak Japanese for local business.
Her biggest competition comes from China and India. “They will do e-mail blasts advertising translations in any language at 3 cents a word or some other really low rate,” Aitken explains. “Everybody is really cost conscious now, but it can be to the detriment of the quality of the work. I have to be really careful as a business person to determine how to continue to make a profit,” she says. Iterotext specializes in owner manuals, user guides and instructions booklets. Although automotive companies are its biggest clients, the company is trying to branch out into consumer electronics and appliances.
Marketing and sales director Beverly Cornell, who knows enough to be polite in about six languages, notes the languages where business is growing. “Certainly Arabic is one of the more popular ones, which has its own issues as a right-to-left language. Asian languages such as Chinese, Korean and even Vietnamese are becoming more popular. Eastern European such as Czech, Hungarian and Polish is on the rise as well with the automotive companies going there,” she says. Indian-based languages such as Hindi or Urdu are coming up as well.
Current industry challenges, however, include losing money on European projects with the euro and British pound being so strong right now. Time zone issues and holiday differentials such as Memorial Day and Independence Day falling on different days in different countries can wreak havoc on scheduling.
Cornell is often up at midnight talking to Asia and then up at 6 a.m talking to Europe.
“You have to be able to manage that, especially when the English skills of those native language speakers can be challenge on the phone,” she says.