We talked to Miles Avison, founder of Avison, about the provision of translation, interpretation, and language training services in multiple languages and this is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Miles Avison: All things considered, we’re fine, thanks. I miss my parents – they live in the UK and I’m based in Sweden. We usually see a lot of each other, so that’s been a bit tough. But thankfully we’re all well.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Avison.
Miles Avison: I started my business as a freelancer back in 2002. The “dot com” bubble had burst in Sweden, and I had been working at a start-up that failed in the said bursting. I was suddenly behind all the Swedes in the queue for work, and demand far outstripped supply. I had moved over from the UK in late 2000, and my Swedish still wasn’t perfect. So I focused on what I knew – sales, communication, and languages – and started teaching business English (I had done a Cambridge TEFL course after my business/French degree). After a stint as a freelancer at one of the larger language schools, I realized I could sell the service myself. I also started to translate from Swedish to English. So I was hunting down businesses I felt needed an English version of their website, as well as executives that I felt needed to present themselves better in English, with my help of course.
A year or so in, and after about 6 months of calling the (at the time) state-run pharmacy to sell my services, someone there gave me a callback. “Kan ni översätta till 13 språk?” I was asked. “Can you (plural in Swedish – “ni”) translate to 13 languages?”. “Sure” I barked back without hesitation. If I didn’t have a translation agency the day before, I had one that day! I spent a week finding, recruiting, testing, and hiring translators for these languages, some of which were by no means every-day languages for me – although all were official here in Sweden. From there I started building a database of freelance translators, language teachers, and interpreters, and Avison Communication was born.
Since then, the focus has shifted between the different arms of the business, with interpreting (simultaneous and consecutive) coming more to the fore in recent years. But the principle has remained the same: helping companies and individuals communicate with other markets, cultures, and individuals.
How does Avison innovate?
Miles Avison: If I’m honest, innovation hasn’t been a strength at Avison! At least not in the technological sense. In the more literal sense – adapting, developing, and addressing needs – we are better. An example would be our reaction to the coronavirus pandemic when it really took hold last winter. We shifted all sales and SEO/SEM efforts towards remote simultaneous interpreting (or RSI). Simply put, interpreting for conferences, presentations and meetings online (via Zoom or other platforms made for the task) instead of onsite. I would say the day-to-day success of my business is about communication. Both with the clients and with our essential resources (our translators, interpreters, and trainers). And also our rapid-response-available-all-hours approach to winning clients!
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Miles Avison: We suffered a significant fall in turnover in 2020, and as a result, posted a small loss for the first time in a while. We cut costs where we could and were grateful for some financial support from the state. With the help of the changes mentioned above, we are now starting to see better numbers.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources and what are the lessons learned?
Miles Avison: Not really. We work mainly with freelancers/consultants. And although we were not giving them as much work as we would like to, their working conditions are generally very flexible. There is still work out there for those that want it.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Miles Avison: We have a bespoke CRM system that helps us stay on top of our relationships with our customers. For my part (I work with project management and customer relations), I just tried to keep the active dialogue with customers going, even if work wasn’t coming in from them.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Miles Avison: Yes, we received some salary support from the Swedish government. It definitely helped during the worst months (May to August 2020).
Your final thoughts?
Miles Avison: As an owner of a small business, I think you have to see that business as a living organism. You have to address its needs, care for it, and be passionate about it. Like a pet… or even a partner! Also, be ready to jump ship! Sounds drastic, I know. But I had about 25 new ideas over the last year (most of which were somewhat unrealistic… bit late to become a police detective, maybe!) for what to do if the ship kept sinking. Only ideas for now…