How I Did It
The entrepreneur: Denise Russell, age 39. Born in Brazil, she emigrated to the United States in 1986 and worked as a freelance Portuguese translator until 1997, when her own business took off.
The company: Language Masters Inc., based in Mount Airy, Md., translates commercial documents for clients including Malden Mills, Genzyme, and Ben & Jerry's. Russell says that her company's revenue has risen by 25% during each of the past four years.
Her talent: Managing freelancers. Russell contracts up to 40 translators at a time and maintains a database of 1,000 names. With only one full-time employee, Russell can keep track of her ad hoc team precisely because she herself was once a freelancer. Here are her secrets:
1. Team up. Russell typically staffs projects with a team of three -- a translator, an editor, and a proofreader -- who work for the same customer for a long time. Set teams produce better translations, Russell says. And when a freelancer has a family emergency or suffers a computer crash, a project isn't delayed; the other team members have copies of the material and can proceed.
2. Keep an eye on I.T. Russell maintains a record of the hardware and software that her freelancers use, so she can assemble teams with compatible systems. And when a client recently sent her an English-into-Spanish job in WordPerfect, a database search identified freelancers who also use the anachronistic software.
3. Pay promptly. Russell often charges customers a down payment so she can pay her translators in 30 days flat. "When I was a freelancer, I would get a call on a Friday at 6:30 at night to translate an agenda for a conference that was being held the next day -- and then the company would wait 90 to 120 days to pay me for the job," she says. "It takes a lot of creativity and caution in terms of managing our cash flow, but the result is that translators want to work with us."
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