Welsh/English Translation company ac ati…: Helen Mainwearing
How one idea translated into a big success, and how a good research helped cement that success
Helen Mainwearing’s Welsh translation company was soon speaking the language of success. Startups.co.uk finds that enthusiasm can take you a long way
Helen Mainwearing thought of the ultimate marketing ploy when she named her Welsh language translation company. ac ati…means etcetera in English, which not only implies a range of services but also puts her ahead of all other translators in the Yellow pages.
After deciding she wasn’t happy on the nine to five treadmill, Helen decided she wanted to start her own business. “I had been in contact with Shell LiveWire and went to them with two ideas that couldn’t have been more different,” she laughs.
“The first was to set up a Welsh translation service and the second to open up a multicultural crafts shop.” Mainwearing researched the market and decided to go for the former.
One of the major deciding factors was the 1993 Welsh language Act which requires all public and legal matters to be bilingual – in English and in Welsh. Everything from annual reports to job adverts now have to be printed in both languages by law. Also significant was the advent of the Welsh Assembly.
Mainwearing contacted organisations, businesses and schools and quickly realised that there was a big hole in the market for reliable and business like translators. Companies were relying on part timers looking to make some extra cash. But as translating was a second job, they couldn’t necessarily be counted on to keep to important deadlines.
“Everyone I asked was incredibly enthusiastic about the project. They all said that if I did start a company to get in touch with them as they were desperate for help,” she says. Mainwearing handed in her notice, bought a computer and ac ati…was born in February 2001.
Helen promoted the company by approaching the local Welsh language enterprise. She distributed flyers and business cards in her area and placed her advert at the head of the Yellow Pages listings. The business was an immediate success.
“I had to cut back on the advertising, the response was so great. I received coverage on Welsh language TV and radio and from that I not only got customers but also people coming to me asking for freelance work,” she says.
Using freelancers leaves Mainwearing free to do the urgent work and send out the longer term commissions to a network of freelancers.
As well as a lack of decent written translators, Helen is also filling a need for simultaneous translation at public meetings. She carries out all this work herself but says it is the hardest part of her job:”I get a real buzz out of it but lots of butterflies in my stomach beforehand. The first job I did was with a local college’s board of governors, I was absolutely petrified but it felt so good when it worked out well”
This marked something of a turning point for Mainwearing. She confesses that she isn’t the most confident of people but getting over this hurdle proved a significant boost.
Another key moment in the first months of the business was getting a contract with the Citizen’s Advice Bureau to translate 250,000 words on its website. “This was a major development as I hadn’t expected so much so early on,” she says.
Regular customers are important to Helen. “They don’t have to return to you, so it’s very rewarding when people come back.”
In all Mainwearing’s work – and in that of her freelancers – she attempts to exceed expectations and keep customers coming back. And this in time will help to grow the business and allow her to take on staff.
But it is Helen’s evident enthusiasm for the Welsh language that is the biggest key to her success: “I’m really pleased when smaller companies and charities approach me. They don’t have to have bilingual literature, like the bigger companies, and I just think its great when they actually want to do it rather than being obliged to.”