Huiping Zhang is an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in Montreal and founder of wintranslation, an award-winning Canadian translation companywhich translates into over 100 languages including many indigenous dialects. As entrepreneurs, our inquisitive minds continue to observe, analyze and learn even while on vacation. We asked Huiping for her reflections after a trip to Costa Rica where she contemplated the pros and cons of business growth. Here's what she shared.
My two children and I recently hiked, zip-lined and snorkelled our way across Costa Rica. It was the first time I took them by myself on a holiday in a foreign country, representing a step toward independence and adjusting to change after a divorce. It was a bittersweet break from the everyday. Though I was nervous about caring for the children, ages 14 and 8, in a country where I don't speak the language, I knew it would be a great bonding opportunity. After running my business for 18 years, time away would also give me a chance to reflect on work and life.
We stayed at six different hotels, rented a car and were led by tour guides from different providers. I couldn't help but compare our varied experiences to my own entrepreneurial journey. Here are my take-homes:
1. The importance of soul-searching.
In the daily grind of running a business, it's hard to detach and discover if what you're doing is really what you want to be doing. Ostensibly it was at some point, but as life evolves, sometimes we're left going through the motions without the passion we once felt. After many years of single-minded focus on growing my business, this vacation served as a moment of introspection to confirm whether I'm headed in the direction of my own choosing. It left me asking: What kind of business do I want to run? Do I even want to run a business? What do I want out of it? Am I bored of "doing the same thing?" Do I want to grow bigger? Where does money rank among my other priorities? What are my other priorities?
2. Consider your industry positioning.
We stayed in a 19-room inn ranked by National Geographic as one of the world's 25 most unique places to stay. The Pacuare Lodge is off the beaten tourist path, where the cost of land and labour are lower than in built-up areas. This made me ask: What does "off the beaten path" look like for my industry? How can I provide a unique, personalized experience for clients? How do I position my services as unavailable or unattainable from other providers? I was able to draw a parallel from my world. One of our largest clients asked if we could work with indigenous languages. It was an area I knew nothing about, but we said yes. It is challenging: Sometimes the translators drop everything to go hunting and never deliver their work! However, this specialty service now accounts for almost 20% of our revenue after just four short years.
3. Is bigger always better?
Of our many different tour operators, some aimed for exclusivity, some wanted high-volume, some were very focused on customer experience. One company asked us to complete a survey after each guided tour or ground transfer, but most didn't survey us at all. In the translation industry, we also have large and small players, volume versus niche providers. Everyone is striving to build a profitable company. We seem to be in a competition with each other to get bigger. But isn't it better to run an amazing 19-room hotel than a lousy 500 room one? Am I content with my current business size? Why must we continually seek growth? How big is big enough?
4. Why do we do what we do?
While financial security is very important and a practical yardstick for measuring entrepreneurial achievement, what happens after we have bread on the table and shoes for our children? What inspires us and keeps us going? The answer will vary from person to person, but I now realize that it's important to consider the question.
5. Leverage available resources.
One tour company operated a hand-cranked zip line to take us across a river where a golf cart delivered us to the inn. The manager herself greeted us with mango smoothies, and our names were hand-written on a charming welcome sign. Each day of our stay was characterized by eye-opening uniqueness and top-notch hospitality. The personal attention felt luxurious and indulgent. What resources are available in my industry to deliver a similarly exclusive experience to clients? What can I learn from this to improve what my company offers and how we deliver?
6. Balance profitability with a sense of purpose.
I noticed how happy and content the maids, cooks, servers, tour guides and front desk staff were. Because of the amazing guest experience they provide, the staff is tipped generously. The lodge offers employment to people who live in a village nearby. Since jobs are scarce, people value them highly. The existence of an employee gym makes me think the owner cares about their well-being on multiple levels. A portion of the inn's profit goes toward the purchase of primary forest for the sole purpose of preservation. Don't we feel good when we help our stakeholders prosper? Am I providing for the well-being of employees such that they intrinsically provide excellent client care? How should I give back to our community so that clients feel good about associating with our business?
7. Find your Pura Vida.
Pura Vida, the literal translation being "pure life," is the quintessential spirit of Costa Rica. It represents a love of nature, friends and family and the longing for a simple, peaceful life―which may explain why it's one of the happiest societies on the planet. We could all learn from the essential teaching of Pura Vida: Clarify what is important to us; find peace within the bounds of our geniuses and be fully present in life.
Now that I'm back at work and some days get stressful, I remind myself of the 19-room hotel and how I would like to build my own version of it so I might reach my full potential while living in harmony with my environment. I want to provide a sense of well-being to everyone that I come in contact with: my children, employees, clients, the environment and the universe at large. After a 15-day Costa Rican escape and time to reflect, I know now why I do what I do and how I am going to continue my entrepreneurial journey. May you find your Pura Vida moment, too.