Who’s Paying?

The language service industry is complicated in that we are essentially servicing 4 separate consumer bases on any given day. First we have our employees who make everything behind the scenes work and need to accommodated appropriately. Then there are the subcontractors whom we have to attract, maintain and support. Next we have the Deaf and LEP individuals who utilize our many language options to move through their day. Finally we have the doctor’s offices, universities or any other location where all the bases come together. Each of the 4 have different demands and needs which our industry has to keep in mind in order to run successfully. And while juggling those needs on a daily basis, it can be easy to forget that while we have a variety of consumers, only one of them is an actual customer.

This is a distinction that we often have to remind ourselves of and one that every industry needs to focus on. Obviously we want to provide the very best services to each consumer base but if the customer isn’t happy then we won’t have the cash-flow needed to keep the doors open and at that point, we’re no good to those other groups anyway.

This becomes all the more complicated on those occasions where one groups’ wants/needs conflicts directly with that of the customers. In our experience, this most often manifests itself in a situation where the customer is worried about costs and that can negatively effect the overall product but certainly other examples have arisen over the years. Then you’re in the uncomfortable situation where regardless of how you handle it, someone is going to be unhappy.

When that does inevitably happen, think of yourself as in the ‘At Sea Rescue’ business. Certainly, you want to get everyone out of the water ASAP but there’s also no point in pulling anyone aboard if your boat can’t float.

Working Vacations

Every small business owner knows that IF you go on a vacation, you will never truly be ON vacation. This happened to me last week when I was on vacation at a beautiful lake house overlooking amazing views, stunning sunrises and sunsets and although I was enjoying all of that – family/views/downtime – I was also working.

It seemed a necessity. It seemed a responsibility. It seemed normal – to me. To my family I received raised eyebrows and looks that ranged from sympathy to annoyance as I signed four new contracts and helped support staff and Interpreters with emails/texts/phone calls. Why weren’t they high-fiving me and looking at me with pride?...I thought…

I have to admit I am really bad at vacations. I have lived a life of overcoming obstacles and crisis and learning to survive. I’m really, really good at it. But I’m not great at having a balanced life and learning to put aside the fear of failure and of being really poor (I’ve been there, trust me!)..and realizing that what my loved ones really want is my time and not knowing I just signed on another customer on. To them, the financial stability of the business (or of me), is not what’s important. It might actually be ‘me’.

It seems simple and cliche’ ‘Take time for yourself, it’s not selfish. Make your happiness a priority, it’s necessary’ ..and on and on. However as business owners, knowing so many others happiness, health and well being may be on the line – it’s hard to do. So – lesson learned ..maybe – Take the time. Disconnect from work. Trust it’ll all be there and humming along when you return. And turn your site back to the beautiful sunsets of life while you still can.

Answers Please

The risk in writing this particular blog is the ‘get off my lawn’ effect. When we see someone being particularly prickly about an issue that seems minor or even worse, is annoyed because things aren’t the way they used to be, we understandably start to tune that voice out. After all, when you’re trying to move your business forward there’s not much use in humoring someone who only looks back.

That being, I’d like to quickly address a trend in business right now and that is the ‘no response‘ response. In the evolution of business communications we’ve continued to cut the time-fat off interactions. Two hour lunch meetings became one hour conference calls. Those calls became email proposals and those eventually became a series of text messages. It’s save all of us an incredible amount of time and without question is a good thing. This effort to save time is so ingrained that we now have an overused joke about how any given meeting could have been an email.

But now we’ve seemingly gotten to the point where upon receiving an email or text it’s a common practice not to acknowledge it’s existence from the sender and simply act accordingly. This, I would argue, is where the effort to save time becomes counterproductive. First of all, with auto responses available on phones and emails such as ‘Sorry, can’t’ or ‘Received, thanks!’ we’re literally talking about seconds per day that you’re banking by not responding. Unless you’re NASA, a dozen seconds here or there isn’t going to cripple your day’s work. Second, the confusion caused by leaving the sender in the dark can burn an incredible amount of time. Instead of being assured that the other party is at least aware of the correspondence, the sender now has to wonder if they should wait before trying to work with someone else or if the message was received at all. This can lead to missed opportunities or a breakdown in the system altogether.

Lastly, sending a brief response keeps you in the mind of the person you’re working with. This is an especially important point for our industry or any other that deals with subcontractors. If I reach out to two identical subcontractors for work 5 times each, and neither one accepts any of those requests, no big deal. But, if one of them sends an automatic ‘Sorry, no’ and the other simply doesn’t respond, I’m much more likely to try the auto-response individual moving forward because we’ve at least engaged in some form of dialogue. So please, for everyone’s sake, just give a brief virtual nod when receiving work correspondence.

Thank you! – Linda Nguyen

One of the joys that comes with running this blog is that from time to time, we have an opportunity to shamelessly gush over someone we work with. Today that someone is interpreter Linda Nguyen.

Linda began subcontracting with EIS nearly a decade ago as one of our first Vietnamese providers and has been a staple of our spoken language department ever since. From day one, she’s been everything you’d look for in business associate; professional, responsive, organized, highly skilled and dependable. That alone would make her invaluable but it’s not close to telling the full story of her contributions.

More times than we can remember, EIS has received unsolicited compliments from our customers about the service Linda has provided onsite. Whether that be her patience in educating customers on how to best work with an interpreter, her grace when dealing with a problematic consumer or just her relentlessly inviting disposition, she’s not just ‘good’ to work with; she’s a genuine pleasure to work with.

For the reasons listed above (and for so many others) we just wanted to say ‘Thanks Linda!’ You’re fantastic and we could not be happier to work with you!!

Breaking up is hard to do

A small business may have several, or in our situation, very few vendors to work with. The ones we do work with, we have had longstanding relationships with. The good and bad of that is pretty obvious. Or maybe not?

This morning on a regular ‘check in’ call with a vendor it went something like this ‘How’s the weather there, hot as hell right?’ .. and the chit chatting niceties continued for several minutes. My vendor sounded casual at best and bored at worst. I had been trying to get momentum moved on a project for months – No, that’s a lie – for years I’m almost embarrassed to say.

While I’ve swallowed excuse after excuse due to the good service we’ve had over the years and the almost too personal relationship we’ve developed, I knew today I needed to draw a line in the sand. I gave ultimatums. I insisted on firm deadlines. I even went to far to reveal I was looking at other alternatives.

The conversation ended politely and with both of agreeing on new timelines for the projects I needed complete. I felt my shoulders relax as I hung up the phone. I also realized that this was a reality of having a business almost two decades old. You develop relationships with customers and vendors alike that become too familiar and sometimes not what’s best for the company.

Much like a romance that starts out all hearts and roses and ends up with a broken heart.

My hope is I never have to break up with this vendor. My hope is we move back into a more professional relationship and the lines are drawn appropriately again. My takeaway is to reexamine all my business relationships on a regular basis to be sure I’ve got the ‘boyfriend’ that listens and takes good care of me.

Remember the Carrots

A few months back I was having a conversation with an old friend who has spent his career carving out a path as an incredibly successful CMO. He’s worked, in some capacity, at a handful of the biggest companies in the world. More recently, he took on a role at a relative start up and in a few years has helped transform the business into the major player in that particular industry. There’s nothing missing from his resume.

Yet my friend seemed very dissatisfied with his work life. He’s very good at the game of business and had amassed a significant amount of wealth but couldn’t shake a lingering sense of dissatisfaction. It was then that I asked him a question and we had an interaction that I see far too often in the business world.

Me: “Well, if money were no object, what would you do?”

Him: “I think I would just teach somewhere on a limited basis. Then I’d spend the rest of my time traveling or writing”

Me: “That sounds great. Do you have a number you’d need to hit before you could do that?”

Him: “Oh yeah, I’m well passed that number already”

Me: “Then why aren’t you teaching right now?”

He went on to list a number of half baked excuses about why it wouldn’t be a good time to make that transition or how he’d be sacrificing certain stock options until year blah blah blah. I came away from the interaction realizing that my friend had lost sight of why he worked so hard in the first place. He had become so focused on the grind of getting to his carrot that he had blown right by it. Now, instead of thinking of stopping and going back to get his reward as a victory lap, it felt like he was regressing. Nonsense.

I bring this story up on a Friday because we’re all about to (hopefully) spend the next couple of days doing some things we enjoy. The weekend is the time you reap the benefits from working hard M-F as you should. We look forward to the weekends and we indulge ourselves in the things we enjoy. This is a good and healthy practice and something that my friend and so many other seem unable to remember to do on a bigger scale.

Now, of course, very few of us will ever have the exact opportunity my friend does. It’s easy to think ‘Oh man if I had that kind of money I’d be retired immediately!’ But we all have a tendency to forget why we work. It might be to get to retirement, it might be to pay the bills or it might be so we can afford the latest video game console. The particular carrot is besides the point. Our problem comes when we don’t enjoy the rewards of our hard work because we get so focused on the work itself.

So keep your eyes on the carrot and when it’s within reach, you eat the hell out of it. Because the opportunity to work will always be there but the rewards, and the time in which you have to enjoy them, are far more perishable.

Two Fish

A long time ago a couple of fish had a conversation. They were bemoaning the fact that food was getting harder to come by and that they needed another resource if they were going to survive. It suddenly dawned on them that they had been limiting themselves to resources in the ocean and not thinking outside the box. One of the fish mentioned that he saw people by the shore and occasionally they would throw bread into the water. An idea was born.

Both fish decided they would paint themselves beautiful, bright colors. One fish decided to go entirely fire engine red while the other included a deep blue into the mix. When they swam near the humans with their new bold colors they discovered that the plan had worked! They were showered with bread pieces and had all they could eat. For a long time it went on like this and life was good.

But a couple of years later, the humans stopped being so impressed. Some bread still came, but not as much. The blue fish suggested that they try something new to get the humans attention, like splashing around a bit but the red fish wasn’t interested in that. He thought it was demeaning to what it meant to be a fish. So, the red fish maintained his brilliant colors while the blue fish splashed around. The blue fish did get a little more bread but not enough to make the red fish regret his decision.

A few years later, the same cycle started to happen. This time the blue fish suggested not just flopping, but performing full on tricks. The red fish rolled his eyes and again a little more bread came for the blue fish but it was so little that the red fish felt justified in staying put.

Every handful of years, this happened. The red fish held fast with his beautiful but now recognizable colors and earned just enough bread to survive. Meanwhile, the blue fish moved from splashing, to performing tricks, to making sounds and eventually one day grew some legs and crawled out of the ocean. The red fish was sad it no longer saw his friend but consoled himself with the fact that a little more bread was now his to eat.

Then, one day, the red fish looked out of the water and saw a human with bread, but the human looked odd. Unlike other people, his skin was a beautiful blue color. Before the red fish could figure out what was happening, the human grabbed him out of the water.

‘Hello old friend’ said the blue human.

‘Oh my goodness! It’s you! What happened?’ cried the red fish.

‘Well, I learned enough tricks and before I knew it, I wasn’t a fish anymore’

The red fish smiled at his new friend. It was nice to see a fish that he knew from back in the day do something so interesting. And the red fish felt happy…right up until he saw that in the blue man’s other hand was a fishing pole. The red fished looked at him in horror.

The man gave an apologetic shrug. ‘Sorry old friend, but I eat differently now’.


The point of this story, other than auditioning to write for Pixar’s next sad fish origin movie, is that I’ve been reading a lot of articles recently about business struggling to come out of the pandemic and I’m a little shocked at some of the thinking. Many industries are suffering and of course countless business have had to close their doors for reasons well outside of their control.

But, there also seems to be a strain of thinking that bemoans what the world has become and what that does to a previous business model. I read a piece in which a struggling business owner, as way of explaining their obstacles, mentioned that they’ve ‘been doing things the same way since Reagan was in office‘. Huh.

First of all, neither your customers nor your competitors care how long you’ve been doing what you’re doing. It’s amazing to keep any business running that long, but those are separate matters. This has always been a ‘what can you do for me today’ game. If your customers wanted what you were selling yesterday. That’s great. If tomorrow they want something different, that’s not their problem. It’s yours.

Second, WHY ARE YOU STILL DOING THINGS THE SAME WAY?! Even if your customers want the same product you should be constantly tweaking things, trying things and evolving your business. Otherwise, when crazy things shift the world, like say a world shaking pandemic, you’ll be left out in the cold.

The assembly line, the internet, automation, pandemics; these are all things that have twisted and forever changed the business world. And I get it, it’s tempting to shake our fists at whoever we deem responsible for change and to wonder aloud why kids these days can’t just read a physical newspaper like decent folk. But if we don’t commit to learning new tricks as we go along we are, at best, setting ourselves up to get less and less food as time marches forward. Or, in sadder cases, we just become the food.

You Never Know

A interesting thing happened recently in Minnesota as a bill was passed that legalized the sale of THC-infused edibles. The curious piece is that some of the support for the bill, support from representatives who would typical vote against such measures, came as a result of not reading the fine print. It came to light after the fact that some of the key support came from those who simply didn’t fully understand the bill.

From a business perspective, the result has been a THC-infused gold rush as distributors scramble to stock their shelves with state approved products. Supply is understandably short and with talk or rolling back such regulation already in the works, there’s an immediate and undefined window in which select business can cash in.

The point to this story is that in business, you just never know. This was a bill that was not supposed to be passed. Yet, via an oversight, here we are. And the distributors who were ready are the ones who are going to get paid. It’s a story we see over and over again.

Sometimes the leadership somewhere changes. Sometimes is that a competitor retires out of the blue. It can even be that an old relationship that ended amicably but a decade ago resurfaces in the hopes of working together on a new project. You just never know where the next boom is going to come from and it’s often impossible to predict. But what you can do is keep yourself and your business flexible and on it’s toes so that when the unforeseeable does happen, you can take advantage.

Don’t burn bridges, don’t alienate previous relationships and keep as many lines of communication open as possible. In the metaphor of your own Minnesota weed shop, you just never know when a state senator is going to read the Cliff Notes version of a bill that will wildly improve your bottom line.

Grinding

When you look back on your career its natural for your mind to jump to the exceptional moments. Opening a business, landing a promotion or switching industries would, of course, be on your highlight reel. Likewise, you may also contemplate some of the hardships; losing co-workers, missing out on contracts, fighting your way through a pandemic! But all of these moments, despite their importance, are mere fractions of the total picture.

All the time in between these dramatic scenes comes the grinding. Spending hour after hour, day after day and year after year doing the hard work not only fills up the 99% of your non-highlight hours but is also the very thing that allows for those big moments to happen in the first place. We don’t get to enjoy any of those big moments without first putting in the hard work.

Now, obviously I’m not revealing any big secret when I say ‘You have to work hard to succeed’ but I do think it’s worth evaluating our perception of that work. When someone talks about ‘the grind’ it’s almost always in a negative way. After all, we literally call it ‘the grind‘. It paints a picture of a loud and tedious life in which we slowly make incremental progress. If that’s how your day-to-day feels I would suggest, assuming you have the opportunity, to get out as soon as possible.

Work shouldn’t be brief moments of exuberance mixed into endless hours of painstaking monotony. Unless there’s a singular and final goal at the end of your time, it’s simply not worth living your life this way. I realize I’m getting dangerously close to the ‘Find something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life’ cliche and I’m absolutely not suggesting that. No matter how much you love your work, there will be days and weeks where it’s agonizing to get through the day. A job is always work. But from a broader view, let’s call it over the course of 12-18 months, you should be able to look at whatever your particular grind is and be happy you’re part of it.

Perhaps it’s easier to put it this way; work will always involve a grind. The question is whether you’re grinding it or if it’s grinding you. If it’s the latter, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate if you’re in the right position.

Thank you! – Amy Lynne

A few blog entries ago we said a special thank you to one of our customers – SUNY Upstate. Today, we thought we’d share a similar sentiment of gratitude but this time to one of our subcontractors – Amy Lynne.

Amy has been with Empire Interpreting Service since its inception and during that time has helped us build, maintain and reinvent the reputation which we so proudly stand upon. She is incredibly skilled not only in her craft of communication but also inter-personally and professionally. If the interpreting world was filled with Amy Lynnes, we’d be a much stronger industry indeed. So here’s a short list of the things we’re grateful to Amy for. If you’re reading this Amy, please know how much we value you. (Also, pretty please never stop working)

Thank you for answering the phone at 3:00a for all those emergency calls

Thank you for dealing gracefully with all of our most difficult clients and customers

Thank you for driving in North Pole-like weather to help keep patients’ appointments

Thank you for mentoring new interpreters as they come into the field

Thank you for being a sounding board when we had issues and needed the perspective of an interpreter

Thank you for your relentless flexibility when assignments went off the rails

Thank you for your patience with our staff when we made mistakes

Thank you for the millions of other things we’re forgetting to thank you for.

Amy Lynne – You’re the best.