Anyone who has ever been in the position of needing to translate information into different languages will appreciate just how critical it is to have the right specialist support. One company providing truly world-class translation and interpreting services, both globally and here in Africa is Avantgarde Translations.
LoA chatted to founder, Memuna Williams, to find out more about this fascinating specialist business and its aims for the future.
What does your company do?
Avantgarde Translations provides professional translation, interpreting and related language services, in major world languages, to businesses and to government entities around the world from our offices in the United States, Canada and Africa. Partnering with us enables our clients to reach new audiences and to expand into new markets with their products and services, and to do so effectively and efficiently.
"Research has shown that people are more likely to buy products and services if they are accessible in their own language. At Avantgarde Translations, we had a strong conviction about this early on and chose to produce high quality translations which our international business clients can put to use to credibly extend the reach and accessibility of products and services."
What inspired you to start your company?
Like many women business owners, I reached a point in my career when I found myself at a crossroads due to a convergence of events. These included moving to a new location due to my husband’s job, fewer job options in my new location and my growing young family. I didn’t know what I was going to do next, but I was very clear in my mind that I wanted to stay engaged professionally in translation. After weighing my options, I decided to start my own practice. In addition to being motivated by a love for my profession, I also wanted to make sure that I was positioning myself to do translation services the way I passionately felt they should be done, at a high level of quality. In order to accomplish this, I needed to have the right partner, one who would share my philosophy about producing high quality translations. After racking my brains, I realized that my perfect partner was literally already connected to me. My sister, Isata Jones-Stanley, had a masters in translation from the same university as I had, and had worked with the same thesis professor. I called her and asked if she wanted to partner to start a translation company. She immediately said "yes." We started the company in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA in 2004 and quickly opened a second location in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. From the start, our clients validated our choice to focus on quality with their testimonials, ongoing business, and referrals. Twelve years later, my sister remains focused on overseeing operations in Canada, while I focused on expansion into Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, where I now reside with my family. Our corporate headquarters remain in the U.S. in Charlotte, NC.
Why should anyone use your service or product?
Research has shown that people are more likely to buy products and services if they are accessible in their own language. To be truly and easily accessible, the communication about products and services must be effective and must resonate with intended audiences. Translating for local and global markets, therefore, involves much more that just converting words from one language to another. At Avantgarde Translations, we had a strong conviction about this early on and chose to produce high quality translations which our international business clients can put to use to credibly extend the reach and accessibility of products and services. Our approach, which inspired our logo and tagline, also saves our clients' translation costs in the short and long term. Our services are priced right and prevent an array of additional costs, such as loss of customer confidence that can be caused by poor quality translations. We leveraged our masters-level training to design a translation system that would deliver on our vision and work for our clients from the beginning. Our approach has won us many clients, many of whom work with us year after year. Today, we have a track record of having completed more than 2700 projects involving multiple document types and venues and 30 languages for 150 global clients in the US, Canada and Africa. We have an industry-experienced management team, a network of 7 professional consultants and over 130 professional translators. We enjoy 90+% customer satisfaction rating, and have earned awards and commendations for our business practices and translation quality. All of this has proven to be a key advantage against competitors.
"We enjoy 90+% customer satisfaction rating, and have earned awards and commendations for our business practices and translation quality."
Tell us a little about your team
Our team is critical to accomplishing the goals that we set for ourselves as a business. I am fortunate to have a fantastic non-traditional team made up of three employees in house which is our management team, an extended seven-person advisory supportive team of IT, legal, accounting and marketing consultants, most of whom have been with me almost from the beginning, and, as we have grown, a team of some 130 contract translators. My business partner keeps the bar high with respect to translation quality, and our in-house operations manager is a consummate professional and keeps everything running like clockwork. We never have to wait for any of the services named above, and sometimes, in the case of our lawyer and my marketing consultants, they go above and beyond the call of duty in supporting the business when necessary. Our network of translators is easy to work with and understands the importance of completing translations on time at a high level of quality. All of this makes it possible for our translation and business operations to run smoothly, and for our customers to remain happy with our services.
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
The thing I think is most pertinent about my entrepreneurial journey is how much I have grown in terms of my knowledge of business management. Soon after my sister and I started the business as experienced translators, I found that I also wanted to make sure that we were running the business side of things well. I earned an MBA and took advantage of additional entrepreneurial training available to me as a minority and woman-owned business. One of the things of which I am most proud is that, in addition to consistently producing high quality translations, we have also developed a well-run business. We have comprehensive business and marketing plans in place to guide all our actions, a system for selecting linguists, procedures for handling language service projects, a project management system, legal documentation such as non-disclosure agreements, offer letters and an employee handbook to help accommodate any potential new freelancers and employees quickly, general business insurance and errors and omissions coverage, accounting systems and bookkeeping assistance, and available lines of credit and established financial relationships for additional financing as needed. Today, we are continuing to build on our core strengths. The lesson from my development is to never stop looking for ways to improve and to maintain a healthy curiosity. Both perspectives keep the business interesting and challenging.
"Our network of translators is easy to work with and understands the importance of completing translations on time at a high level of quality."
What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?
Our next focus will be expansion into Europe with initial concentration into Brussels, as well as continued growth in market share in all of our current markets. We believe that our expansion into Africa has demonstrated that this transition should not be too difficult at all. This is due to the fact that when we established the company in 2004, we decided to build it right from the very beginning. This meant even as two sisters with only a handful of translators at the time, we were going to build the infrastructure in the company to be a global business instead of scrambling to manage operationally while growing. We opted to put the necessary technology, resources, communication, and operational tools in place to be able to scale the company seamlessly. We believe these choices will continue to support us as we move forward with our future plans.
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
I get great satisfaction from the creativity of planning our way forward, taking steps to make sure that plans are carried out and then looking back to see that, although things were not always linear, we accomplished the things we set out to do.
What's the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?
I would advise a woman looking to start up a business to trust her instincts, while at the same time, pay attention to and listen to the large volume of consensus advice that is out there on starting and running a successful venture. Both trusting that she is right and paying attention to advice will help move the business forward faster by avoiding second guessing and by reducing the number of mistakes that would otherwise be made.
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Why LoA loves it….
Finding a specialist niche in business in which to operate is always so important, and for companies looking to work in new markets across the African continent or globally, the ability to translate marketing or corporate materials into local languages is key. Memuna Williams and her business Avantgarde Translations are providing a powerful and efficient solution to those needs, providing customers around the world with high quality translation and interpreting services to give them the edge. --- Melanie Hawken, founder and editor-in-chief of Lionesses of Africa