It feels almost unbelievable, but January 1st, 2023, has marked the 20th anniversary of the day we have started providing translation services to our customers. On that occasion, I would like to offer a short recap of this period along with a brief glimpse into the future.
Our road to the translation business
Although, I had originally planned to study geography and cartography, fate and historical and societal developments led me to study English. At that time, Translation Studies were not yet an established field of study at the university in Nitra. However, it was clear to us – meaning myself and Katka, my wife and colleague in one person – that after the Czechoslovak Velvet revolution of 1989 and in a country with hundreds of translators from the Russian language, there would be a great demand for translations, especially from and into the English language. My interest in this topic was also reflected in my diploma thesis, “Translation of professional texts in the field of physical education”, which was focused on the terminology of rugby. This thesis gained acclaim at the very first annual competition for students Translation Universiade organized by the Literary Fund, the Slovak Society of Translators of Artistic Literature (SSPUL), The Slovak Society of Translators of Scientific and Technical Literature (SSPOL) and the Faculty of Philosophy of the Comenius University.
Translation and interpreting were also a part of my work duties while I was employed as an officer at the Prison and Court Guard Service, where I dedicated my time to translations in the field of penitentiary sciences. Among other tasks, I was interpreting events organized by the Council of Europe and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT). Later, I switched to the private sector, where I worked in Human Resources. To this day, I still benefit from experience gained in the HR line of work in my day-to-day business. Katka worked in the department of trade of an engineering company, where she used her knowledge of the English language on a daily basis, either in the form of translations or for the purpose of communication in the scope of marketing activities.
Our first steps as self-employed translators
After the birth of our second daughter, Katka used to translate on the side while still on maternity leave and with the end of her maternity leave, we acknowledged that this time presented an ideal opportunity for us to try to stand on our own feet. On January 1st, 2003, Katarina Absolonova set up a business in the field of translation, and after few months, the profit from her business activity exceeded my own earnings. I helped out as an external source, mainly with the technical and marketing issues. I later joined her at the company and set out for an entrepreneurial career. The name ASAP was chosen at the very beginning of our business journey, the inspiration of which was my own frequent texting at the end of my business e-mails which said: “Please, deliver ASAP”. Apart from the apparent acknowledgement of the fact that timely delivery of translations was and still is one of the most critical requirements of our clients, it was personally important to us that our company’s name began with the letter A. At that time, the internet business was still dominated by catalogues or directories, often arranging the search results in alphabetical order. As for the company’s logo, it was heavily inspired by BBC’s visuals, as I am a great fan and long-term viewer and listener of their broadcast.
Cooperation with external translation suppliers
For a short period of time, we used to deliver translations to our customers done just by the two of us. However, the demand for our translation services grew each day, and we were faced with the question of whether we wanted to remain just freelance translators or if we wanted to take the extra step and big leap into the world of business by engaging the services of external translators along with employing internal translators and our very own project managers.
First internal translators and project managers
At first, we went with the more straightforward and – more importantly – economically safer option of cooperating with external translators, and after a couple of months, we decided to hire our first full-time employees. This decision certainly had its perks. For example, when we took a vacation, we no longer had to trot through a forest, laptop in hand, frantically searching for the elusive mobile internet signal. After many months, we were finally able to enjoy a vacation to the fullest without having to regularly check our e-mail inboxes. We aimed to build a medium-sized translation company that could provide translation services of the same quality and variety as multinational translation companies but at a price that would be acceptable to regular corporate customers. In Slovakia, this segment was practically undiscovered at that time. There were mainly small translation companies, which usually consisted of a translator and their assistant, or large companies which came from abroad and were doing business in the local market. This model has been successful in Slovakia.
The situation was a bit more complex when we launched a branch company in the Czech Republic. The Czech translation market was already more saturated, which reflected in a more pronounced competition in the translation business. However, our Czech branch called ASAP-translation.CZ and founded in March of 2007, represents a significant added value since for foreign translation companies as well as end customers, we worked as a supplier of translations not only for the Slovak language, but also Czech, Hungarian and Polish.
Technical progress in translation services
I believe that for many years, we have been considered pioneers in new technologies and translation procedures by our customers, suppliers as well as competitors. However, my relationship with computers was not all that clear at the beginning. It was my cousin who typed my diploma thesis into a PC, since a computer was not a standard part of household equipment back then. Instead of working with computers at the grammar school, we hand-drew flowcharts. At the university, we were once shown a computer classroom as part of a lecture, but in reality, I never even knew how to turn it on. Everything changed once I started working for the Slovak Prison and Court Guard Service, where my very first – and excellent, I might add – IT teacher was a colleague of mine. I bought our first computer with the last salary I received from the Prison and Court Guard Service, which outraged several of our family and friends who did not understand why we bought ourselves an expensive toy when we didn’t even yet own an apartment. This was followed by acquiring internet access, which at that time was not at all a common tool for a translator. I remember how I once travelled to Bratislava to pick up a Dutch translation done by a translator who did own a computer but considered using it for translation purposes a waste of time. What followed was the first Trados v2.0 purchased second-hand through a sale shop from Germany and equipped with an anti-piracy dongle. Owning a Trados at that time meant not only significant time savings, but it was also an excellent marketing tool. At the same time, I unexpectedly started working as a promoter, lecturer and expert on the launch of computer-assisted translation in Slovakia.
The beginnings of online marketing in the translation industry
Although Trados was a strong marketing tool, we were aware that the employment of other people didn’t pose just an advantage in the form of an external workforce, but mainly our obligation to secure enough translations to ensure a decent salary for the employees. Since most of our customers were foreign translation companies, our first investment into marketing came in the form of registrations in various catalogues and directories, which we also used for the purposes of e-mail marketing. At that time, e-mail inboxes were not yet spammed with dozens or even hundreds of unsolicited messages. Back in those times, when you sent an offer for a translation to people, they were often genuinely pleased and became regular customers. Literally overnight, we gained dozens of new clients this way.
However, the internet’s development quickly progressed, and everyone started using e-mail marketing, which caused a significant decrease in its effectiveness. Once again, we managed to find a new way of marketing in the form of Google AdWords, currently rebranded as Google Ads. In its early days, all you had to do was pay for a few keywords and customers, along with translators, would naturally come to you in heaps. Here, I have to admit I underestimated the speed of development of this type of advertising and did not use our market position at that time to its fullest potential. The situation was changing very quickly until one day, we simply realized that instead of customers, the majority of clicks came from new translators at best and competition or robotic spamming systems at worst.
Establishment of the Association of Translation Companies of Slovakia (ATCSK)
The translation market was growing rapidly not just around the world but also in Slovakia, and in many countries, associations were being established, bringing together translation companies whose goal was to promote professional translation services and cooperation with universities, which provided education in the field of translation and interpretation. Also, our company, ASAP-translation.com, s.r.o., felt the need to establish itself in the field and collaborate on the promotion of professional translation services, which is why we initiated the establishment of the Association of Translation Companies of Slovakia in 2006. We managed to engage most of the largest translation companies at the time, and in 2007, the Association of Translation Companies of Slovakia (ATCSK) was founded. Later, it became a member of the European Union of Translation Associations (EUATC). Within the framework of ATCSK, we have cooperated on the promotion of professionalism in the provision of translation and interpretation services. The CEO of ASAP-translation.com, s.r.o. served two terms as the president of ATCSK. During this time, we managed to launch a cooperation with universities providing education in the field of translatology, as well as a program of professional internships for university students from the Constantin the Philosopher University in Nitra, the Comenius University in Bratislava and the Matej Bel University in Banska Bystrica. We have also organized round table talks, during which we managed to establish cooperation with the organizations of translation professionals SSPOL and SAPT.
Achievements of the translation company ASAP-translation.com
During its 20 years of business, the translation company ASAP-translation.com, s.r.o. has become one of the leaders in providing complex translation and localization services not only in Slovakia but also Europe as a whole. In addition to regular translation and interpreting services, we also offer various specialized services such as the transcription of recordings in foreign languages, subtitling, localization and voice-overs. Rather popular are also the services of our Facebook language advisory group with more than 6,000 members. Annually, we implement translation projects in various combinations of more than 100 languages, and as of December 2019, we reached a milestone of 100,000 completed translation projects.
In 2021, we managed to achieve a turnover of more than € 1 million for the very first time, and in the unofficial ranking of translation companies in Slovakia, we secured the 5th place. As part of the training of young translators, we have provided lectures not only at universities and conferences across Slovakia but also in Prague, Brussels, Budapest, Barcelona, Portsmouth and Buenos Aires, as well as post-editing training for DGT translators in Luxembourg. In 2006, Katarína Absolonová won second place in the category Budding Businesswoman of the 7th annual awards for Outstanding Businesswoman of Slovakia, which is organized by the National Agency for the Development of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises along with the Top Centre for Female Entrepreneurs.
In 2010, Katarína was appointed as an “Ambassador for Businesswomen of Slovakia” as part of the project Support for Women’s Entrepreneurship in Slovakia under the banner of the European Commission. The role of the ambassadors is to promote women’s entrepreneurship and motivate and inspire all women who are thinking about starting their own businesses. In 2017, our employee Jakub Absolon wrote and successfully defended his dissertation thesis, in which he addressed the timely and complex topic of machine translation and the post-editing process. As part of the Greentranslator project, we co-organized the Eco-festival in Nitra and contributed to the development of civil society with our numerous pro bono activities in the region. As far as our publishing activity is concerned, we have published several publications aimed at the education of translators in the field of translation project management, localization, the use of computer-assisted translation and the use of machine translation in professional translation.
The future of the translation industry
We are entering our third decade of providing translation and localization services to our customers. The future development of our company goes hand in hand with developments in the translation and localization industry. In the past – but today as well – we are one of those translation companies which look forward and try to be among the first to apply modern technologies and procedures into their processes to transparently provide our customers with a varied portfolio of translation services in required quality and scope, with timely delivery dates and at a reasonable price.