Katja Virtanen, CEO & Founder at Delingua Language Services

Following the #LocFromHome conference, we asked the speakers to share their reflections to complement the highlights we wrote about the other day. Here’s what Katja Virtanen of Delingua makes of the current situation:

While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc, the language industry, on the whole, seems to have been impacted somewhat less than other sectors with a high number of small and medium sized companies. According to recent studies, however, it seems that also in our industry small translation companies are being hit significantly harder than larger companies.

Therefore, as I recently had a chance to participate as a panellist in the marathon online conference #LocFromHome organised by Smartcat, I wanted to encourage other SME owners to see the whole situation as an opportunity. I understand that companies are in different situations, and if you are living with a few months of cash flow at most and near-term survival is the most pressing item on your agenda, you may not see the silver lining in all of this. However, if the situation hasn’t yet driven you to despair, here is why I think small just might be the new big.

1. Support for the local and the small

In many industries, customers have found new suppliers for products and services close to home. Even though the pandemic is global, it has increased people’s willingness to support the survival of local small businesses. There are campaigns everywhere to #SupportYourLocal, and they’re not just about supporting restaurants. Buying from local businesses helps the local economy recover and decreases the number of possible layoffs.

However, it’s not only about the economic aspect. In times on uncertainty, it’s pretty human to turn to those you trust. Now, I believe it’s here that SMEs have a niche. It may be easier to connect with entrepreneur-driven companies with authentic stories behind them. In the same way, customers working from home are more likely to contact the PM they actually know than place their order on an anonymous platform. Also, if in normal situations having only one supplier for your services may feel a bit risky, now having one you can trust is crucial.

2. Agility in action

In this crisis, all businesses, big or small, will get hurt. The general belief is that it’s the bigger businesses that have the better chances of surviving because they are, well, big. Being big, however, they also have bigger fixed costs and their usual first reaction to crises is adjustment and cutting costs; not necessarily rethinking business and implementing changes, which may be a slow and administrative process in big multinationals.

Small businesses that are not cash constrained can be agile in making quick changes and adapting to new technologies and ways of working. Many smaller companies have already advanced in their technological thinking, and we know the shift to digital will only become stronger. Necessity is the mother of invention, so now we just need to re-think and implement.

It’s time to act and not be paralysed by the situation. As the old saying goes, never let a good crisis go to waste.

3. Renewed appreciation for the human approach

With the last three recessions (and, folks, that’s where we are heading, too), in the past 30 years, the pace of automation increased during each one. With all the current social distancing, it’s becoming possible to imagine a world of business in which human contact is reduced to a minimum.

I’d like to think our industry will rebound from this crisis quite quickly because the solutions the pandemic has required are already in place. Now the pace of technological change will accelerate even more and it might be a question of which smaller companies can adapt to this change, if they haven’t done so already.

On the flip side, however, I believe there can be too much technology. The more business becomes remote and automated, the more there will be a renewed appreciation for personalised attention. Personal contact might even become scarce. If this happens, small local companies and the strong local subsidiaries of multinationals will have their momentum. At the moment, offshoring and long, risky subcontractor chains not only seem difficult, but they could also fall out of fashion. More than ever, the language industry needs to be a people business.

Obviously, both big and small will need to figure out how they come out of this crisis stronger. My advice to other SME owners is now get up and fight. This fragmented industry wouldn’t be the same without us.

To end this article on a language note, the Chinese symbol for “crisis” has two parts: one means “danger” but the other means “opportunity”. We should respect the risk COVID-19 poses to our businesses (and health), but let’s not forget there are also opportunities. Go and seize them!

Do you agree? Has your own LSP seized the day or is it struggling to stay afloat? Let us know in the comments, and make sure to check out Katja’s and other speakers’ session recordings at the conference page!