The B Side of Interpreting

Published on 25.03.2022

By Cecilia Lipovsek

I was incredibly fortunate to graduate from two outstanding translation and interpreting schools back in my hometown, Buenos Aires. So much so that I was ready to dive head-first into the profession the minute I finished my last final exam, if not before.

However, it wasn’t until I moved to London early in 2015 that I realised how unprepared I was to build and run my freelance business. It’s no one’s fault—translation/interpreting school teaches us to translate/interpret (not an easy feat in itself) but it very rarely prepares us for business life (not an easy feat, either).

On top of that, the world has been changing dramatically since the turn of the century and the pandemic certainly turned it upside down. Thus, what it was, no longer is. Plus, what applies to other professions, doesn’t necessarily apply to translation/interpreting; and what applies to translators, doesn’t always apply to interpreters.

I learned this by frustratingly trying to implement what it was during my first London years, much like trying to get a square peg into a round hole. So, I started carving my own path, instead— necessity is the mother of courage, right?

Before deciding to jump and move across the world, I had successfully navigated a career built on my connections, many of whom were my own tutors and professors from translation school. They very generously invited to me contact them after graduating and mentored me as I took my first steps as a freelancer. I tell you, college is a very long job interview. The upside? It was simple, safe, and organic. The downside? It unfolded before me without my having much say in it, except whether or not to go with the flow.

This side of the Atlantic, with no network nor any reputation to precede me, I had to look at the B Side of Interpreting in the eye and actually build and run a business—from scratch. In the process, I learned many interesting and useful things, which I share in detail in JUMP! A DIY Guide to The Terpreneur™ Method and gladly summarise in three key points:

1. The Dawn of a New Business Model

In my experience, the five business models traditionally used by translators and interpreters no longer serve their purpose or us – some never did. Pseudo-employees and hopeful freelancers are destined to fail right off the bat, as the former agree to take on all of the obligations without enjoying any of the benefits generally reserved to employees and the latter simply have no idea what’s going on with their businesses or how to steer them. Becoming oversubscribed and/or micro-niching can easily be a dream goal for translators, but it’s certainly a hopeless utopia for interpreters who can never be in two places at the same time and who have no control over the dates of events, meetings, and conferences. Being an agency of one, which served many of our predecessors well, is no longer feasible nor sustainable when running a small business in such a saturated market.

The 21ST century answer to this? Becoming a Terpreneur™; that is, an interpreter who uses lean entrepreneurial skills to run their professional practice turning it into a solo business or a company of one, as Paul Jarvis likes to call it. Which skills? Business development, branding, marketing, and networking. The goal? Build our businesses around ourselves and our remarkable skills and talents with the help of a select group of collaborators hired on an as-needed basis in order to keep the business small, smart, efficient, and resilient.

2. The Magic Combo of Uniqueness

The first step in every journey is to decide where you wish to go. Businesses are no different. The trick is to narrow down your destination enough for it to be specific and manageable while keeping it broad enough for it to be financially worth your efforts while creating enough flexibility to pivot with any change in circumstances.

Whom you decide to serve will determine how you serve (help) them, not the other way around. The way that you help them combined with a strong, memorable brand will set you apart from the pseudo-employees, hopeful freelancers, agencies of one, and competitors of the world and will guide every single decision you make in the running, growth, and development of your business.

3. Coffee Is the Best Investment

A while ago, a friend of mine said that every minute you spend playing with and listening to your children is a minute they’ll share with you later in life. The same goes for your existing and potential clients. There are endless books, courses, and programmes about the art and science of marketing and networking but, for solo-business owners like us, it all boils down to simply having a conversation with ‘the locals’, those who live in the destination you set your eyes on. Once you know who they are, all you have to do is to show up regularly and have a cup of coffee (or drinks) with them. It’ll be the best business investment you will ever make.

This is a very brief summary of the key entrepreneurial skills I’ve been using in my interpreting business for the last seven years. They’re not difficult to grasp. They do, however, require boldness and gumption, not to implement them but to adopt them. Translators have a longer and more solid tradition of building their own solo businesses, but the mere idea of developing a brand (something that we all have by the way, like it or not) can be subversive and revolutionary for many interpreters, as is narrowing down the scope of our services and productising them.

The problem is that, without them, we’re doomed to staying as pseudo-employees and hopeful freelancers or dragging uphill the heavy burden of insisting on being something we’re not: agencies and large LSPs.

We’re providers of professional services in the post-pandemic 21ST century, owners of our own businesses: small, smart, efficient, and resilient— just like us.

Cecilia Lipovsek is a London-based Diplomatic & Conference Interpreter of Spanish, English, and Portuguese. She is the owner of MULTILATERAL, Britain’s most specialised interpretation service for Latin America and the UK serving diplomats, governments, businesses, and professionals so that they can focus on the what while she and her team deal with the how.

She is an active member of the AATI, the ITI, and the London Regional Group, regularly contributing to their publications, as well as a guest lecturer, and a public speaker.

Early in 2021, she published JUMP!, the first business book created for interpreters, and her second book, WELCOME! about diplomatic interpreting will be officially released on 24 March 2022 and can be pre-ordered on