A Reflection on the 2019 ALC Conference: The Pie Keeps Growing

By Colleen Beres

On May 1st, the Association of Language Companies (ALC), kicked off their 2019 annual conference at the Omni Shoreham in the beautiful Woodley Park neighborhood of Washington, D.C. A buzz of excitement and the first hints of spring humidity impressed upon the leaders of language services companies (LSCs) from around the world as they gathered in our nation’s capital for four days filled with camaraderie, education and advocacy. As a first-time attendee of this event, I was surprised by the inclusive and transparent environment of what was, for all intents and purposes, a concentration of my competition. Because of this special environment, by the end of the conference, I held tightly to four major takeaways about the future of the language services industry and how LSCs can maximize short-term and long-term growth.

1) Expect Exponential Growth of Demand for Language Services

To put it simply, business is booming. Digitalist Magazine estimates that worldwide annual spending for translation services will grow to $45 billion by 2020. As companies continue to cast wider nets into the global economy, they are required to translate content into an increasing number of languages to effectively target new pools of consumers. But even more than a global audience, our world is producing more content than ever before. Combined, these two factors alone can support why demand is growing so quickly. In an overview of trends extrapolated from the ALC annual survey, Konstantin Dranch of industry beacon Nimdzi Insights, shared that two-thirds of LSCs surveyed reported growth in 2018. This is the time for companies push operations hard, expand portfolios with current customers and outline strategies to scale up so that they are prepared to do so when necessary. The pie is growing, and it is big enough for all of us to have a second helping.

2) Protect Quality by Cultivating Meaningful Partnerships

Because the horizon is so bright, it will be a challenge for the supply of qualified language professionals to grow at the same pace necessary to meet demand. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of translators and interpreters is projected to grow 18% from 2016 – 2026, which is more than twice the growth expected for the aggregate of all other occupations. LSCs rely heavily on freelance partnerships. When considering the demand projections, LSCs need to focus not only on maturing relationships with company employees, but also with external partners.

Ted Wozniak, President-Elect of the American Translators Association (ATA), shared three major tips that, while seemingly obvious, are necessary reminders of how to effectively develop and protect relationships, specifically with freelance translators. He stressed that we need to cultivate and cherish relationships with language partners in order to leverage their precious supply of talent. How? First, get rid of an “us versus them” mentality. This ideally symbiotic-like relationship can only be fostered if freelance partners are embraced as members of the team, whether it be for one project or continuously – make introductions, pay in a timely fashion, and create opportunities for networking. Second, follow The Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Simple. And finally, make it personal. The most effective way to engage someone is by using their name. Therefore, tactics that employ the use of “Dear Resource” are not encouraged. Language is not a commodity and those who wield the craft and talent shouldn’t be treated as such. Ted suggests that if a mass email is being distributed, be transparent about it and express that the need is urgent, therefore capacity only allows for mass communication.

Talented language professionals are people first and the greatest assets to guaranteeing our continued success is to treat our people, fully employed or contracted alike, with respect and dignity.

3) Working Together Makes Our Industry Stronger

I’m relatively new to the language services industry, so my goal in attending this event was to procure a better understanding of macro trends, to create valuable connections that could develop into partnerships down the line and to learn from my much more seasoned industry peers. Before the conference even started, the ALC organized roundtable discussions with topics varying from sales and growth to HR and staffing. There was almost a “What happens at ALC, stays at ALC.” sentiment; very successful CEOs and executives let down their guards and shared their best and worst tales of successes and failures. Does this mean that it was all sunshine and rainbows? Can we anticipate the demise of the free market within the ALC member community? No. Certainly, no one was handing off clients to be altruistic, but again the scope of work is so large that offering insight can only bolster a stronger and more structured community. Especially if you are in the small to mid-size LSC, I suggest you proactively seek out opportunities to foster relationships and organized forums. Whether it is the ALC, GALA, Women in Localization… etc. get involved and take a seat at the table. You never know who will be willing to help you once you help them.

4) Embrace Technology to Create Efficiencies… or Die

The conversation of technology in localization cultivates sentiments of both progress and fear in the hearts of many language professionals. While Machine Translation (MT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have existed for some time and have created efficiencies never imagined, like automation in many other industries, it has progressively woven in qualms of professional extinction as it all becomes more advanced. The robots still aren’t likely to take over, but I have some thoughts on what will happen. First, the demand for highly specialized talent is going to swell. With the need for linguists to translate repetitive or simplistic text eliminated, the text that they will be called to analyze will be more complex and more subjective. Second, LSCs will need to rely on their commercial teams and “boots on the ground” even more. According to the ALC survey, companies confirmed that in-person connections made the most impact when working to create longstanding and fruitful B2B relationships. Finally, account managers and project managers need to be an extension of the commercial team. Their responsibilities far surpass successful project execution; it is vital for account managers and project managers to foster revenue growth with established clients by promoting additional service offerings and increased volume. Technology is here. LSCs can either adapt and be equally innovative, or they will die. Period.

As I reflect on the four days in D.C., I’m happy to say that I achieved all my goals set out before the ALC conference started. It was a highly educational experience and I made some incredible friends in a very short amount of time. Language is powerful and LSCs are charged with an immense responsibility to create a common voice to cultivate relationships, to drive business and to unify the world. May we continue to work together to embrace and nurture that responsibility.

“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.” ― Ludwig Wittgenstein

Colleen Beres is a Business Development and Strategy Consultant for Terra Translations. She earned her MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in Finance and Management & Organizations. Colleen has spent the past 15 years of her career utilizing qualitative insight and quantitative data to help safeguard businesses and organizations while promoting successful growth. You can reach Colleen directly at [email protected].

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