A Conversation with Jamie Hartz on Key Strategies for Managing Your Small Translation Business

Published on 01.09.2021

Jamie Hartz is an ATA-certified Spanish>English freelance translator and transcriber, specializing in legal and commercial translations. She holds a B.A. in Spanish and Sociology from Grove City College and an M.A. in Translation from Kent State University. Jamie joined ATA in 2012 and has volunteered in the Association in various capacities through The Savvy Newcomer team, Membership Committee, Public Relations Committee, and Board of Directors (2019-2022).


According to data from the United States Small Business Administration (SBA), there were 31.7 million small businesses in 2020 (SBA Office of Advocacy 2020). In 2019, the number of small businesses owned by women was 42% of this figure (13.3 million) (Elliot 2021). Of this 42%, the women-owned small business in the category of Professional, scientific, and technical services, where women-owned translation & interpreting (T&I) businesses would be included, represent 13% or 1.7 million (Elliot 2021) (See figure 1). Mindful that the digital era has brought many changes to the T&I world, in this interview with Jamie Hartz, an ATA-certified translator and owner of a small language services business based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, we ask her about key strategies for managing a small T&I business effectively. Jamie also shares some best practices for terminology localization.

From the advent of e-resources causing the dwindling of printed dictionaries and traditional language resources, the strengthening of global collaboration in a digital world that is seemingly without boundaries, to a vertiginous increase of new terminology, cultural-loaded or cultural-specific expressions, and usage contexts, T&I professionals have had to learn to adapt to the new era. Thanks to smart technologies and streaming access, the world is either in our living rooms, on our desktops, or in our hands. Technology and people in a digital and pandemic world are driving culture, neologisms and jargons more than ever before.

Project Management for Small Translation Businesses

Deciding to become a small business owner can be challenging, but also rewarding. Being an owner of a translation business can also mean becoming a project manager (PM). PMs play a critical role throughout the translation process to ensure the quality of all deliverables and the satisfaction of each client. A PM can make the difference between the success or failure of a project.

In the T&I industry, not all business owners and/ or PMs are professional linguists. Yet they are tasked to assemble teams (e.g., translators and reviewers), establish project deadlines, coordinate terminology, develop solutions, track projects, and sign off on deliverables, among other responsibilities. When choosing team members for specific projects, occasionally PMs face availability and resource issues that must be solved for the project success. Do you think project managers must be translators by profession? If not, what are the ideal skills, competence, and knowledge that a small business owner and/or project manager should have?

While being a translator myself has certainly helped in many cases with project management, I don’t believe language project managers need to be translators by profession. One key skill PMs should have is attention to detail; they need to be able to review files quickly and carefully to catch errors, missing text, unresolved issues, and quality problems in the files they work with. They are often the last line of review before a translation goes to the client and then perhaps an end user, so it’s critical to be able to catch errors before they become a real problem. Other skills like thorough and concise communication, timeliness, and ability to keep a level head in urgent situations can be helpful, but I feel the other most significant asset an LPM needs is a very thorough knowledge of the T&I industry and best practices. Without this, they may lack the background to understand the significance of their work and that of their vendors, or may not take seriously the QA process that a successful translation project will involve.

A PM usually receives different types of projects with various deadlines and specifications. For instance, a project can vary from a couple of pages to hundreds of them. Customers may request rush deadlines, demanding delivery within short hours from the request, or the project content may have inaccuracies and errors if the source text was the product of a deficient translation. Terminology can be too technical, and customers may want to provide their own translation memories and termbases. Considering these scenarios, what are two main steps you follow to quote a project? In managing projects under tight deadlines, what two top productivity strategies do you implement?

This question reminds me of an infographic I saw recently that depicted a Venn diagram where three circles represented translation cost, quality, and efficiency. The intersection of “cost” and “quality” resulted in being “Just in time to be late”; the shared space between “fast” and “great” said “You get what you pay for”; and so on. It was witty and sarcastic, but it conveyed a key point: when it comes to translation, you typically can’t have all three. This is something to be aware of when quoting a project, since it’s at this early stage that the client will express their key priorities regarding cost, quality, and efficiency. To draw out how I can provide the best real-world solution for the client’s needs, two key steps I try to follow are: a) Gather as much information from the client as possible; this may be through email, so I can refer back to it in the future, or by phone so I can discuss the project in more detail and gain insight from a personal conversation; and b) Review the scope of the project as much as possible before quoting. The first step ensures that I’ve gotten all the information I need to be able to prepare an accurate quote for what the client is looking for, and the second step ensures that I won’t run into any surprises down the road. Talking with the client will draw out any key details they are able to provide, but there may be hidden challenges or nuances that only a thorough review in advance by the LPM can identify.

The value and quality of the product the customer receives are essential for business success and customer loyalty. With the advent of machine translation (MT) neural machine translation (NMT), post-editing, and CAT tools—for many a necessary evil and a new industry standard to keep abreast and cutting edge—T&I professionals utilize them to enhance productivity and improve accuracy in spelling and mechanics. However, in many cases, MTs and NMTs can render ambiguous content that require extensive post-editing. What two best-practice strategies do you utilize to ensure quality control if you received automated output? How do you leverage these new technologies as a part of your main strategies to ensure accurate translation and terminology localization of content? Will MT continue to become better and smarter?

As a business owner, I have not explored the use of MT since my clients typically require either confidentiality or creativity, both of which tend to render MT fairly unusable. However, as a freelance translator, I have had the opportunity to use MT on various projects and have developed some safeguards against the common pitfalls of this technology. One is that I review MT output very differently than I would edit a translation prepared by a human translator. Humans don’t translate “Juan Delgado” as “John Skinny”; machines just might. This is an extreme example, but working with MT involves a level of skepticism that not all reviewers are accustomed to.

Another strategy is to use MT as a reference but not a foundation. By this, I mean that when working with many CAT tools, there will be the option to either populate the target segments with MT output or to show the MT output as a suggestion in the TM window. Using it simply as a suggestion allows the translator to reference potentially helpful MT options or glance at the MT translation of tricky terms without relying fully on an output that may not be as nuanced or natural as a human translation would be.

When it comes to the future of machine translation, I feel that the more humans and machines can learn to work together, the better. It would be naive to think that MT will not continue to impact our industry, and it would be detrimental to the needs of our clients to give in to its sway entirely. Where translators can learn and grow and adapt to MT, they should, and where they need to protect client confidentiality, creativity, and nuance, they should as well.

Effective Terminology Localization Strategies

The United States is a melting pot of cultures where 43 million people are Spanish-native speakers (13% of the US population) and 12 million more are bilingual, making it the second largest country in the world after Mexico where Spanish is spoken (Lyons 2020). As a result, Hispanics and Latin Americans in the United States speak a myriad of Spanish variants, and translators and interpreters have seen the emergence of what many linguists recognize as United States Spanish—not to be confused with Spanglish. With this notion, what strategies do you use to ensure that Spanish translations intended for US Spanish-speaking and bilingual audiences are free of communication interference (i.e., incoherencies, misinterpretations, omissions, or additions)? What key productivity steps do you take to tackle localization issues (a client unaware of the US Spanish variant that may insist on a specific Spanish locale, such as Mexican Spanish, for a nationwide project that targets Spanish-speaking audiences) that may prevent an accurate and natural rendition of the intended source message?

One of the key benefits of discussing a project in detail with the client in advance of the project is that it allows the PM to learn more about the target audience for their translation. Based on this information, I often try to choose vendors who are well versed in the general region of the target audience. It can be challenging to match translators with the right variants, specialization, rates, and availability, but since we have an extensive network of translators within ATA, I’ve been fortunate to be able to work with a variety of very skilled translators who meet the requirements of our clients. I keep a database of vendors with their countries of origin and other key information, as well as a database for each client, containing their language preferences, target audience information, and key terms.

As the T&I industry continues to evolve along with technology, freelancers and small businesses also face the ever-growing modality of monthly, semiannual, or annual subscriptions for gaining access to online language resources such as dictionaries, language integration platforms, including machine translation (MT), computer assisted technology (CAT), and productivity and finance tools. In the past, most translators and interpreters acquired print sources. Nowadays, many professionals have transitioned from print to digital formats for several reasons such as the benefit of having the latest application versions and software updates, often at a discount or for free, and online access from anywhere. How do you keep your costs on digital resources from impacting your small business earnings while trying to increase your return of investment (ROI) on them?

Once a year, I do an informal audit of my business expenses; oftentimes the largest outlays are for big purchases like a new computer, continuing education, or travel, but the small charges for subscription services or other office needs can add up as well. My audit is intended to scrutinize whether I’m using all the resources I’m paying for and consider whether there may be lower-cost or free options to any of the ones I’m currently using. For example, I balk at how quickly the $30 monthly charge for my accounting software Xero adds up, but I think of how much time and stress it saves me when invoicing and quickly dismiss any idea of cancelling the service. On the other hand, a recent audit of my software subscriptions showed that paying a monthly fee for Adobe was not ideal since I could make a one-time payment for ABBYY FineReader and still get the same features I was using from Acrobat. I track ROI the best I can, but many of these expenses tend to result in intangible benefits to my time or work[1]life balance, so they can be valuable but difficult to measure.


Thank you so much for granting this interview to the ATA Translation Company Division (TCD). Your insights and strategies on project management and terminology localization will enhance best practices, not only to women translators and interpreters who own small businesses, but also to every T&I professional in the United States and in the world.

Contributors’ bios:

Rosario Charo Welle is an accredited Latin American & US Spanish translator and editor, specializing in public media and c o m m u n i c a t i o n , marketing, education, healthcare, and religion, serving US-based and global clients since 1999. She holds an English into Spanish Professional Certificate in Translation Studies from New York University, a B.A. in Communications from the University of Denver, graduating magna cum laude, and is currently pursuing a M.A. in Communication Management Marketing Communication at the University of Denver. An ATA member since 2001, Charo is recognized for her leadership and contributions to the translation and interpreting profession, serving in various leadership roles in the Spanish Language Division (SPD), including past SPD administrator (2016-2020) and co-founder of the ATA SPD podcast. She is the Deputy Chair of the ATA Professional Development Committee, the Assistant Administrator of ATA’s Translation Company Division. Charo is a speaker, communication mentor, and enjoys writing articles on translation and communication. Contact: [email protected].

Gloria Cabrejos is an English>Spanish translator and copyeditor. She holds a certificate in translation studies (English><Spanish) from Montmartre Technical School, a certificate in Spanish Editing and Proofreading from Universidad de Piura, and a certificate in Publishing Studies from Escuela de Edición de Lima. Her areas of specialization include community relations, mining, oil & gas, and the environment. She is the current vice president of the Peruvian Association of Professional Translators (ATPP). Gloria served as editor of Intercambios (October 2018-February 2021), the newsletter of ATA’s Spanish Language Division. She currently serves on the ATA Professional Development Committee, is a mentor in the ATA Mentoring Program, and a member of the ATA Translation Company Division Leadership Council. Contact: [email protected].


Elliot, Jessica. 2021. “Women in Small Business Statistics in the U.S.” The Blueprint. https:// www.fool.com/the-blueprint/women-in-small-business-statistics-in-the-us/.

Freepik. 2021. Flat-hand drawn confident female entrepreneurs illustration Free Vector. Accessed on July 16, 2021. https://www.freepik. com/free-vector/flat-hand-drawn-confident-female-entrepreneurs-illustration_12150935. htm#page=2&query=executive%20 women&position=41.

Lyons, Dylan. 2020. “How Many People Speak Spanish, and Where is it Spoken?.” Babbel Magazine, March 9, 2020. https://www.babbel. com/en/magazine/how-many-people-speak-spanish-and-where-is-it-spoken.

SBA Office of Advocacy. 2020. “2020 Small Business Profile.” U.S. Small Business Economic Profile PDF. Accessed on July 13, 2021. https://cdn.advocacy.sba.gov/wp-content/ uploads/2020/06/04144224/2020-Small[1]Business-Economic-Profile-US.pd