Erika Baker – DipTrans IoLET MCIL
I am Erika Baker. I grew up in a small town in Germany in a family where my parents expected every family member to speak at least 2 foreign languages. Our house was always buzzing with visitors from France, Spain, Britain, America, Russia … Above all, my parents would use their language and personal skills to create a chaotic but welcoming place for everyone.
And so I graduated from learning to say “merci beaucoup” as a small child to spending summer holidays at a language school in Barcelona at the age of 14. Years later I studied Japanese at a language school in Tokyo. After completing secondary school in Germany I spent a year working as an admin clerk in a town near Manchester in England. I knew the area well, as I had spent many delightful summer holidays there.
Returning to Germany, I briefly studied the basics of economics at Göttingen University. I was quickly convinced that this was not the right career path for me. For this reason, I confidently switched to languages and have never looked back. After eight years working as energy political and energy economic researcher for a Japanese company in London I started out as a freelance English-German translator in 1992.
I soon realised that I would need colleagues and support, if I was to succeed as a freelance translator. For this reason I became a member of what was then the Institute of Linguists (now the Chartered Institute of Linguists).
Networking among freelancers was still in its infancy in 1994. When I got involved with the CIoL translators’ network TransNet in 1994 it was an address list of some 100 people. I am still the main moderator of this thriving Yahoo group with over 1500 members. At the same time I started the Institute’s German network, which I also still moderate today.
During my 10 years as Honorary Secretary of the CIoL Translating Division I was in constant contact with many of our members. What is more, I was part of a small team organising workshops throughout the year as well as several annual weekend conferences for up to 400 participants. I also ran workshops and gave talks on developing and maintaining good relationships with customers and on networking.
In the translation business our clients are our partners. We work together for our mutual benefit. I have found that the better our personal relationship with our clients, the better the language service we can offer them.
Freelance translators often fear competition and are very protective of their patch. But I discovered that fellow translators are colleagues first, competitors second. Over time, networking and referring clients on to colleagues has always resulted in more work, not less. An added benefit is that there is always plenty of expertise on tap to help solve any language or business related problem. And last but not least, a network of colleagues makes for great online and real-life friends. This is a valuable bonus for freelancers who often feel very isolated.
When my daughter was seriously ill for a period of 3 years I lost most of my business. After her recovery I discovered that starting again was difficult as the world had changed since I started out 15 years earlier. Then, the focus was on networking and word of mouth recommendations, now client acquisition is much more internet based. Still, good interpersonal skills are a necessity for maintaining good customer relationships!
In 2010 I took over Mecki’s flourishing translation business 1st Choice Translations. With her continued support I maintained the website’s high Google ranking. What is more, within 12 months the business exceeded the projected turnover.
Four successful years later Mecki suggested that we could apply the same website model to offer other translators a steady and reliable income from direct clients. Shortly afterwards we established Iolante Ltd.
As a team we combine the up-to-the-minute website optimisation skills needed for client acquisition with the ability to put together a team of colleagues to offer services that benefit everyone. The outcome, we believe, will be a successful new business concept: a group of independent franchisees in a close-knit network that benefits our colleagues and our customers.