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Business Plan a Smart Idea in Any Language

Over the last five years, former advertising and public relations agency owner Elaine Lazar had built a successful translation and interpreting firm with a list of impressive clients, including Microsoft, Lucent Technologies and Blue Cross. But like many entrepreneurs, she had never taken the time to write a formal business plan. Tired of setting goals and seeing them go out the window, Lazar decided to purchase business planning software and make the time needed to use it. Six months later, Lazar says, she has reinvented her company, streamlined operations, identified new markets and set a goal to grow by 30% to 60% this year. Lazar was interviewed by freelance writer Karen E. Klein.

My translation and interpreting firm works in more than 100 languages with more than 2,000 credentialed freelancers, most of whom have advanced degrees.

I started the company by the seat of my pants and have been running it 15 hours a day since. I had some loose-knit goals, but I just couldn’t find the time to write a business plan. Finally, I realized that we had to get some focus and direction.

A career coach suggested that we buy automated business planning software. I wanted to be totally involved in the project, and I wanted something user-friendly, not intimidating.

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My project manager and I found reviews of many packages on the Internet and finally, in January, we settled on JIAN BizPlanBuilder, which we purchased online for under $100.

We took turns reading the book included with the software disk, then carved out a couple of hours a week to work on the plan. It takes discipline. Some days we were so swamped we just couldn’t do it. But mostly we stuck to two regular afternoons every week.

As we immersed ourselves in it, we found we were thinking about our company in terms of the bigger picture in a way we never had. It forced us to figure out what has and what has not been working. It helped us devise new methods of analyzing our business.

The first major decision we made, in February, was to incorporate. The translation business carries major liability risks. Though we were adequately insured, we needed to protect ourselves from personal liability.

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Next, we worked on market analysis by researching our competitors’ services and pricing. With the help of a pie chart, we became more aware of our own clients’ needs, and we identified the types of organizations we still need to reach. Likewise, we learned there are certain industries that aren’t a good mix for us.

We looked at the efficiency of our office procedures and realized we needed to revise all of our forms and reorganize our translators’ database. When we streamlined that side, we also implemented better tracking of projects and records. We realized we were long overdue for accounting software that would flag double payments and automate our accounts receivable, so we would know when companies fell behind. We had been doing all of our accounting manually until we purchased QuickBooks, and we’ve decided it’s wonderful.

In terms of the future, we’ve created priorities, set up timetables, and we’re testing plans. We know we need an interoffice computer network, a faster Internet connection, a new telephone system, a new routing system for our e-mail and a Macintosh in the office. We have decided that we’ll complete these upgrades by the end of the calendar year.

We’ve also identified new directions we want to pursue. We plan to write a book on cultural orientation aimed at Asian businesspeople working in Europe and the U.S. We’re also going to explore affiliating with foreign translating agencies and forming partnerships with allied businesses. We’re already pursuing government contracts, exploring the Internet for partners and improving our Web page.

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All these things were in the backs of our minds, but it wasn’t until we made ourselves sit down and begin to put them in a concrete format that we recognized a lot of them. I highly recommend this process to other entrepreneurs. I feel that a business plan has helped us, as a small company, to operate more like a mid-sized entrepreneurial firm--and I like that.

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If your business can provide a lesson to other entrepreneurs, contact Karen E. Klein at the Los Angeles Times, 1333 S. Mayflower Ave., Suite 100, Monrovia, CA 91016, or at kklein6349@aol.com. Include your name, address and telephone number.

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At A Glance

Company: Lazar & Associates

Owner: Elaine Lazar

Nature of business: Translating and interpreting agency

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Location: 2444 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 411, Santa Monica 90403

Web site: https://www.lazar.com

Year founded: 1994

Employees: 1 full-time, 1 part-time

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Annual revenue: $624,000


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