The Language Worker podcast ft. Team LEaF

Team LEaF recently joined Rita on The Language Worker podcast. We talked about our journey’s into the translation industry and getting to our current positions, the type of work and languages we offer and our wonderful clients and, of course, our sustainability and ethical business values. Watch the video below, listen to the podcast or keep scrolling to read (a finessed version of) the transcript.

Introductions

Hi everybody, so today I have three guests – everybody knows I like having multiple guests these days because I think it’s so much fun. Here we have Kitty, Lucy and Kate. I just met them in the last 15 minutes or so and we have been chatting a little bit. I found out that Lucy is almost a professional athlete! They’re here because they work for LEaF Translations and they’re going to talk all about it. Before we get into the details, let’s hear a brief introduction of each of you.

Hi, I’m Kitty, I’m a project manager at LEaF Translations. I’m from Darlington, which is in the north east of England and I met Lucy when I was at the University of York, studying French and Italian. Lucy was looking for an intern at LEaF Translations, which I applied for, and through that I ended up doing work experience with LEaF then continued from there.

Hi I’m Lucy. I am from York in the north of England. I’m a German to English translator. I was a freelancer for a long long time and then when I had kids and was on maternity leave I wanted to do something a little bit different so set up LEaF Translations and then the rest of history.

I’m Kate, I’m also from York and I’ve been working for LEaF Translations for just over two years. I’m also a primary school teacher with a specialism in English.

Lucy’s background

Let’s hear from Lucy, how long have you been in the business? What did you study? Let’s go back a little bit and hear about your background.

So when I was at secondary school from age 11 to 16, I studied French and German and really enjoyed German. I had the same French teacher for three years and just got a bit bored of French so I ended up dropping it but I really loved German, something just clicked in my brain. So I did German A-level until I was 18. I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do at university and I thought “I just want to keep learning German and if I do that I get to live in Germany for a year” so I ended up studying German and philosophy at Edinburgh University. When I graduated, because I’m a little bit of a perfectionist, I felt like my German wasn’t really good enough to have a degree in it so I decided to go back to Germany to improve my German. I got a DAA scholarship and did a Masters degree in a very small town called Fulda – right in the middle of Germany, near Frankfurt. I studied Intercultural Communication and European Studies, lived there for two years and then moved to Berlin. 

When I was in Fulda I was basically the only British person at the University and they wanted their website translating into English so they asked me to do it. That was my first translation job, which I pretty much got because I was the only British person at the University. It was a really good experience and I really enjoyed the process. During my Master’s Degree, I did an internship at a big translation agency in Germany, which gave me an insight into working within an agency and they basically said they would like to keep working with me so I decided I would do some freelance work. Then when we moved to Berlin I worked in house at another agency. In 2008, I moved back to the UK with my partner and I carried on doing freelance translation, that was pretty much until 2017.

So when you were working as a freelancer, what kind of translation did you do? Did you specialise in a vertical or was it more general?

I would take on anything pretty much! I’ve always really liked writing so I would say I much preferred the marketing style, where you need to be a good writer, and the less technical stuff. But I did get sent a lot of technical stuff as well. I definitely much preferred the marketing and the tourism stuff. Then when I set up LEaF, they were the natural things to focus on. I think to be a good marketing translator you need to be able to write well, and if you can write then it naturally makes you a better marketing translator.

Did you start having direct clients or did you always work for big or small companies? More in Germany or more in the UK? How did that go in terms of clients?

It was pretty much all companies and agencies in Germany, I had a couple of random direct clients, you know how it is, through people that you know or through people that mention you. But it was pretty much just agencies for a long long time. Then in 2017 I decided I wanted to start working with direct clients and because of Brexit as well I realised that all my work comes from Germany and no one knew what was going to happen to trade of services between the UK and Germany. So I knew I needed to get some UK clients just as a backup – that was another of the driving forces to try and get some work from within the UK and we just grew from there. Initially LEaF Translations was just going to be German to English translations because that was what I did, I didn’t ever have any plans to grow an agency I just wanted to get direct clients essentially. Then we started getting enquiries for other languages and I knew other translators that could do it so why not?

Kate’s background

Kate, how was it for you? You didn’t really study translation or language as such, did you? Did you know you wanted to be a teacher?

No my story seems very different to Lucy. I did French at A level, which feels like a very long time ago, and after that I did a four-year teaching degree in Nottingham in England. I’ve been a primary school teacher for about 14/15 years now. Then I had two children very close together fairly recently, I have a 10 month old baby and a two-year-old, and so I started working for LEaF when I was on maternity leave from primary school a couple of years ago. I was a full-time teacher and now I’m a part-time teacher. I did an English specialism as part of my teaching degree and I’m the English lead at my primary school so I’ve got that passion for languages but not a specific language like Lucy has German – although I have very very basic French. I’m the office manager at LEaF so I do a lot of the admin and all the invoices. I currently work one day a week for LEaF Translations.

Kitty’s background

Kitty, how did you get into languages in the first place?

Very similar to Lucy, I studied languages at secondary school. I did French, Spanish and Italian, which carried on to A Level where I did French and Spanish because Italian wasn’t an option. Italian was the language that I wanted to study the most because I have family living in Italy so I visit there quite often, which is maybe where the passion for languages started – wanting to communicate with friends there. When I was choosing what to study at University I chose to do French and Italian Ab Initio, so starting out from scratch at University although I did have a slight knowledge of it already. I chose French over Spanish because Spanish and Italian are really similar and I thought that could get quite confusing but I did pick up a module of Spanish in my final year of uni, just to try and keep it up. Although it’s quite hard doing three languages at the same time! While I was at University in York studying French and Italian, I had the chance to do a year abroad as well. I did my first semester in Italy where I had modules in translation studies so I had the chance to get some experience in translation, learn the techniques and a lot of the theory. Then I went to a university in France for the second part of my year abroad and carried on with some translation modules there. But I had to leave France because that was when we had the Covid pandemic. So I came home at that point, finished off my degree at home and then during that time was when I met Lucy. I got some experience at LEaF Translations and learned a lot more about the industry there. Last year, I did my Master’s Degree in Translation Studies so I spent a year at University getting experience in translating, learning all the theories and I started full-time with Lucy in October just gone. So I’ve been at LEaF Translations for a few months now.

The start of LEaF Translations

So Lucy, what were your first steps to becoming a company owner? Did you feel the need to set up a company from the get-go or were you going to continue being a freelancer but more mindful of where your clients were? What was the thought process? 

I was like “I’ll choose a name, come up with a logo, create a website and that’s it then I’ve set up a company” and that’s great, it will all just happen, clients will come flooding in… Of course, it doesn’t work. So in 2017 that was when I chose the name and set up the website, spent ages doing all this but essentially carried on working as a freelancer for two more years pretty much. So we specialised in SEO translation, I should probably mention that my husband has worked in the SEO industry for around 15 years now. I’m one of those quite naturally inquisitive people, I like to understand how things work, so over that time I’ve just constantly asked questions and with having our own website I wanted to learn SEO to improve the amount of traffic we were getting. So one of his contacts, it was an SEO agency in the UK, approached me asking if we could help them with some translation and some keyword research for a few different languages and that was the first step into SEO translation and into dealing with larger direct clients on larger projects in different languages. Then at the beginning of 2020 I decided it was the year to properly push myself out of my comfort zone and try to grow the business. I still had an eye on SEO translation but to be honest back then I was thinking more about tourism because I live in York and York gets a lot of international tourism so it seemed like a natural step. Then obviously the pandemic happened and no one traveled and so tourism as a vertical was not an option, I basically had to pivot and SEO was the natural next place to look to because of the clients we already had and my growing network within that industry. 

It took a long time, I feel a bit like 2017 to 2019 I was pretty much a freelancer with a website and a company name but not really a company. Then it was only 2019 onwards that I started viewing it more as “I’m a business owner not a freelancer anymore”, I wanted to actually grow the business. I’m also inspired to increase my positive impact so I’m quite passionate about sustainability and ethical business and as a freelancer you don’t have much of an impact. I mean obviously there are the people you talk to but as a a company, the bigger you get the more influence you have on the people around you, on competitors, on clients, on the general public. So you can do more, you can inspire more people, you can instigate more change and that was another motivating factor. Also personal development, when I look back at the journey from freelancer to where I am now and hopefully will be in five years time, the company development mirrors personal development and I love the steps forward and and the growth.

What did you do when you were faced with the idea that you had to work with other people, as in hire other people to work with you? I suppose the first step was to get freelancers from other languages or from the same languages, right? Did you become more of a project manager in that moment and hire people to do the linguistic work or how did you do it that first time around?

I was pretty much a freelance recluse until 2017 – I didn’t know any other translators at all, I wasn’t on LinkedIn and I didn’t even really feel the need to, I had my clients in Germany and I didn’t have any grand ambitions. Then I met a friend of a friend who is a translator, Kate Stansfield, we had a chat and through her I realised actually it’s quite nice to talk to other translators and why haven’t I done this before, it’s a nice thing to do. She was active in the YTI, which is the Yorkshire Translators and Interpreters network, so I joined that and then the ITI as well and grew a network of translators through that. Then when I received projects for different languages it was only natural to look to my network and I trusted them. There is an element of “it’s my baby, I don’t want to share” and you do have to get over that.

So then there is a whole other story because you got used to working with freelancers for a period of time but needed more people in the mix to make things go smoother. I suppose you started with Kitty, right?

Yeah, we still get quite a lot of work from Germany and I really enjoy translating so I do quite a lot of that myself but with all the other clients it became very stressful trying to manage all that on my own. Kitty was working freelance whilst doing her Masters degree and had been brilliant at everything I’d set her since she started work experience and it just made sense for Kitty to take on more and more project management. Then it got to the point where she graduated from her degree and we were taking on more and more clients, I realised actually if I keep doing this A) I’m going to burn out and B) I’m going to get really frustrated because I didn’t have any time to work on the business, I was so busy being stressed with all the project management.

I always say it’s two different brains – the one for language work is not the same for business, it’s a different brain.

Yeah! It made sense then, Kitty can join and take on a lot of the project management and then that can free up some of my time to grow the business and keep progressing LEaF Translations. Then Kate joined in 2022, started doing admin tasks but it’s grown and she is now the office manager. That’s been a big help as well just to relieve some of those tasks so I don’t need to think about them anymore. It’s been amazing. It was a bit of a leap but it’s all worked out really well because they’re both awesome.

Understanding the translation industry

Yeah I can only image. Kate, how was it getting to know the industry? What did you have to learn to be able to do your job?

Good question! I’m not just saying this because Lucy and Kitty are here, but I absolutely love it. I’ve had to learn a lot, learning bits on the job from Kitty and Lucy and they’ve been really helpful but it’s been nice to get my teeth into something a bit different. There’s aspects from my teaching career that are really helpful in terms of writing blog posts, proofreading, working with the English grammar side of things as well. There are transferable skills that I’ve been able to use. A lot of it I think was mainly the terminology initially. But just from asking, I feel like I picked up things quite quickly and I really enjoy it. I like having the mix of doing the teaching then also being involved with LEaF Translations as well. To start off with it was a bit daunting because I was in the middle of maternity leave, I felt like my brain wasn’t functioning quite as well as it normally does but taking on a completely new job has been really good. I think maternity leave is a good time to be reflective and actually think “what do I want to do going forward”, life is going to be different and that’s why I think it’s nice to have been given this opportunity and to try something different. I’ve been at LEaF for only two years but to see how it has evolved and where we’re heading is really really exciting as well.

Kitty’s translation mentor (aka Lucy)

Kitty when did you actually start translating? While you were doing your degree?

I did a few translation projects with LEaF, I haven’t actually done anything separate from LEaF other than as part of my studies. We spent a lot of time during my Masters practicing different translations in different subject areas and styles.

That means you had a mentor from the get-go right?

Yeah exactly, I’m very lucky.

I’ve never heard anyone say that their first few experiences were already within a context where there’s someone there to help. Did you discuss this with your classmates? Did you show them how lucky you were and mention this whole situation?

A lot of people that I was studying with at university knew that I had this connection with LEaF already. I didn’t talk about it too much because I know it’s difficult to get started in the industry, especially as a freelancer. I was very fortunate to find this work experience with LEaF. 

With the other students, how did they feel? Were they fearful, were they excited about facing the real world once they were done with their degrees?

It was definitely a mix, I think for the most part everyone was excited to get started. I mean, everyone there loved translating, they were there for that reason so everyone was definitely ready to get started in the industry but it’s just knowing what those next steps are after leaving that I think was the scary part for most people.

When I go to university and and talk to the students especially during their MAs, they don’t know what to expect of the real world because I guess whatever you do at University usually doesn’t really match with what happens in the real world. Did you feel safer having Lucy around you? Did you feel like you had a better grasp of what the future could hold for you or were you also fearful and hesitant?

Yeah definitely, I had a lot more hope for after graduating. There is obviously the element of fear of the unknown, not knowing how it’s all going to play out but I was definitely excited to get started and continue the journey with LEaF. We had spoken previously that it could have been an option once I had finished university so knowing that already was definitely a massive help for my situation.

What now?

These days, what happens at LEaF?

Well we’re growing basically. Since Kitty started in October so not that long ago although it has gone so fast, the last few months we’ve been really busy which is great. There has been a lot of talk in the industry, a lot of negativity, but it’s going really well. We’re focusing on just being the best that we can, providing the best service, learning all the time. I’m a massive believer in moving forward, learning, developing, keep pushing yourself out your comfort zone and just seeing where it leads. We work with lots of really great clients who keep coming back and keep recommending us to other people, which has been amazing. Our growth has all pretty much been organic, just through word of mouth essentially. We’re busy in a good way and just really excited about what the future holds. Hot off the press news: we’ve just become an accredited member of the ATC – the Association of Translation Companies in the UK.

Congratulations!

That’s really exciting too so it feels like we’re making lots of steps in the right direction and that’s the plan, to just keep going and see where the journey leads.

Our clients

What kind of clients do you work with at the moment? Is it big clients, direct clients, some LSPs, people from the UK, people from Germany, people from all over Europe, where are they and who are they?

It’s a real mix to be honest. We still have quite a lot of clients from Germany, we work with some direct clients, for example Vivani, an ethical vegan chocolate brand.

My favourite chocolate, I know all about it!

It’s amazing chocolate, they’re one of our long-standing clients. We also work with a big digital marketing agency in Germany on a number of their different clients and then in the UK we work with a lot of SEO agencies on their clients. It’s quite cool because we get to work on some really big accounts that otherwise we probably wouldn’t get as such a small translation company so it’s really exciting. Then direct clients as well in the UK, ethical businesses and some local York businesses, there’s quite a big mix to be honest.

When you introduce yourself, do you say “if you’re not ethical you’re not my client”?

No, I mean, there are certain areas that we wouldn’t work with but we don’t say we’re only working with you if you’re ethical. I should rephrase that, we only work with good companies that we like so ethical in that sense but not necessarily only fairtrade or organic for example. I didn’t actually realise until I went to the ATC conference in November that a lot of small LSPs work with bigger LSPs as a provider. I had no idea, this was a massive revelation to me. We’ve never done that and we don’t really have any intention of doing that so we work directly with our clients and we only work with freelancers or translate in house, which I think makes us quite unique for such a small agency. It blew my mind that it was the standard in the industry that there’s the client and then a big LSP and then a little LSP and then they might outsource to another LSP, we’re quite different.

Our languages

How many languages do you work with at the moment? What other languages besides what we would expect from the UK? I suppose you have a wider variety of languages.

Our main languages are the main European languages I guess you’d say, we also do Japanese, Chinese, Korean although not that often and it tends to be more for SEO keyword research and specific SEO projects. Generally it’s the main European languages, our most common is probably German and then I’d say French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and some Scandinavian, it’s a bit of a mix to be honest. When we first work with translators we get them to proofread something first, then translate and we get an experienced translator that we know and trust to proofread it, that’s how we get to know translators. We ask for recommendations if we need extra people, which works really. Then we put a job applications page on our website so people could apply directly by completing a Google form and filling out all their information and we included sustainability criteria in that because we want to work with translators who are also committed to reducing their carbon footprint and who are also passionate about sustainability because it’s really important to us. It’s a way of using our influence to have a positive impact but actually we’ve been getting so many applications through this form that we’ve had to massively limit it because poor Kate was just having to go through so many applications.

So Kate is like the Vendor Manager I suppose?

In that sense, yeah, Kate brings great people skills. One of the things that Kate is brilliant at is forming relationships with the translators and that’s a big part of it as well.

Translation or project management?

Kitty I’m very interested in this story, you study to be a translator, you love languages, but you become a project manager. It’s always very interesting to me when people transition from language work into pm-ing, so how was it for you? Was it something you expected to happen?

Yeah it was expected because I started taking on a lot more project management work while I was freelancing and studying at University and I also did a few modules on project management whilst I was studying. It does suit me, I’m quite good at time management and organisation so it very much fits me and my skillset.

These days, do you do more language work or more pm-ing work?

More project management. I have still done some translation work whilst I’ve been working at LEaF and proofreading as well. We are looking to increase that in the future but for the time being the majority is project management.

Our freelancers

How many freelancers, your “pool” as we say in the industry, Kate, do you think you work with on a regular basis?

I’d say on a regular basis probably like 20 to 30 but it depends on the language combinations of projects at the time.

So do the vast majority of your freelancers work with German, for example?

No actually the vast majority of freelancers are from English into other languages so English to French is one of the main ones and English to German as well. Then also English into Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese etc.. That’s what I discovered, UK clients generally want translation from English into other languages, apart from certified translations it is pretty much all English into other languages. This unfortunately does mean for Kitty that there’s not as much stuff for her to do. As she said we’re looking to grow into those markets and try to get more the other way around, French to English and Italian to English.

Why are we on a podcast?

I cannot leave without asking this question. So who posted on LinkedIn that one of their goals for the year of 2024 was to be a guest on a podcast and why? Kitty?

Well I saw the trend on TikTok to begin with to make a bingo card of goals for the year. So towards the beginning of January I sat down and I looked at things we’ve done in the past year and what we could do this year that was achievable and things that are exciting, that we could look forward to and being on a podcast was one of them.

So now you’re on a podcast, how do you feel Kate?

It’s another new experience that I’ve enjoyed. You’ve made us feel very relaxed, which is great. It’s been nice to chat and hearing again how everyone’s got to this point, I mean, I obviously know Kitty and Lucy but actually hearing them explain their story is lovely.

Lucy how do you feel about talking about your company in this new format?

I’ve really enjoyed it, like Kate said it is really interesting to hear everyone’s story and to reflect a bit as well about how far we’ve come and what’s next. As I was talking before about personal development and growth, if you said to me a few years ago I’d be appearing on podcasts and doing public speaking, I would have said “no chance”! I was always the person who sat in the room avoiding eye contact with the teacher, like “don’t ask me a question, don’t talk to me” so it’s great it’s like another step forward.

Kitty, our Mastermind and the reason why we’re together, how do you feel? Is it fun, is it interesting or you’re like “oh I regret it so much”? 

No I don’t regret it at all, it’s been a great experience and I really enjoyed it. Thank you. 

Yeah, me too. That’s it for us. Good luck for all your projects, your clients and your freelancers. It seems like everything is working out perfectly well, everybody seems to be happy so I wish you all the best and I’ll see you around.

Kitty LEaF blog 2021

About the Author

Kitty

Kitty Trewhitt is a translation project manager at LEaF Translations. She oversees each phase of the translation project and keeps in contact with both the client and linguists throughout the process. Besides managing our projects, Kitty also translates and proofreads texts from French and Italian into English, as well as creating LEaF’s monthly newsletter and managing the company social media accounts.