Small business spotlight on: WordWorks Media
Meet Imogen Bowen, co-founder of WordWorks Media – a London-based multilingual translation agency. With Discovery Communications and the BBC on their client list, Imogen generously shares their start-up journey so far – challenges, successes and tips for budding entrepreneurs.
Tell us a bit about WordWorks Media
WordWorks Media specialises in translation, dubbing and subtitling services for broadcasters, production companies and global brands. In addition, we provide transcription services in English and lots of other language combinations for TV rushes, focus groups and conferences. We also advise clients on how to edit or ‘localise’ their source material so it won’t get lost in translation.
What did you do prior to founding WordWorks Media?
I met my business partner, Thea when we worked at Nickelodeon TV in the ‘90s. We stayed in touch and continued our respective careers in broadcasting and marketing for the likes of Channel Five and MTV Networks.
In 2012, our careers came full circle when Thea hired me to work with her at a foreign voiceover agency based in London. The job turned out to be exactly what I was looking for and I really enjoyed the whole process of taking a script and adapting it across six languages without losing the essence of the original.
What inspired you to set up on your own?
In 2013, the agency owners decided to move abroad and wind down the business. Thea and I were faced with two options: buy them out or start our own agency. After lots of brainstorming and endless spreadsheet analysis, we decided it would be more viable to start with a clean slate and the idea for WordWorks Media was born.
We gave ourselves two months to research the business and define our USP. We identified a gap in the market for a less formulaic, ‘one sizes fits all’ agency which combined our passion for authentic foreign language services with our expertise in TV production and marketing.
WordWorks Media launched in November 2013. We now have over 300 translators on our books as well as a global network of studio partners, voiceover artists, subtitle editors and transcribers.
What’s the most challenging job request that you’ve had since setting up?
Comedy is always tricky to translate and one of our first projects for a fashion PR agency really proved that. The client needed a set of branded content scripts translated into four languages. So far so good, but the scripts were in the form of live comedy stand-up sketches which parodied the problems associated with wearing underwear that didn’t fit properly.
Once we’d gone through the scripts and localised all the underwear measurements, website addresses and so on, we started on the jokes. Some humour just doesn’t travel and we had to be really systematic about checking all the jokes, puns and slang were carefully adapted without deviating from the timing or style of the original.
There were lots of conversations about how to translate ‘back boobs’ into Polish and ‘Do Italian women really watch Downton Abbey with a curry on their laps on a Saturday night?’ It sounds really obvious but those are the kind of references that can turn a mediocre translation into something that really resonates with the target audience.
What are your biggest successes?
Usually the founding partners of a new agency can take a few clients with them to get them started. We didn’t have that luxury so persuading household names like Discovery Communications and the BBC to give us a go within the first 6 months was a major achievement.
What’s next for WordWorks Media?
We’re exploring ways to facilitate filming abroad using international fixers and film crews for location work and provide our clients one point of contact across each stage of the production process. This would complete the circle for us and it’s something we’d really like to add to our offering.
What advice would you give someone considering setting up in business?
- People do business with people they like: No client will remember your sales patter if you’re not actively listening to what they’re saying and trying to help them solve a genuine problem. Learn to listen and you stand a better chance of finding out how you can add value to their business and become part of the solution.
- Don’t be a busy idiot: Outsource and delegate as much as you can. Not easy when you’re a start-up but it’s important to set clear goals, review your business plan all the time and trust your team to get on with their jobs.
- You can’t have it all: As Shirley Conran once said, ‘Life is too short to stuff a mushroom’. Work out what your priorities are, what you’re prepared to compromise on and don’t beat yourself up about the rest.
How do you switch off from your work?
After a day of new business calls I put on some really loud, inappropriate music and dance like no-one’s watching. Having kids also helps to keep things in perspective – they really don’t want to discuss the finer points of effective script localisation no matter how hard I try!