E.g., 04/10/2020
E.g., 04/10/2020

Your translation business does not need a USP

By: Joe Jeffries, Content & Communications Manager - Sandberg Translation Partners

29 June 2016

Popular marketing wisdom says that every business needs a unique selling proposition, or USP. Your USP is the special something that makes your product or service unlike any other. The inimitable quality that sets it apart from the rest in the eyes of a potential customer. 

For translation businesses, working in such a crowded and competitive market, the need to stand out is huge. But how do you stand out when so many others are already doing what you do? And how do you define your USP when there’s nothing truly unique about anything you offer? Indeed, taking the word ‘unique’ in its purest sense, the difficult truth is that few–if any–translation businesses can claim to have an offering that’s genuinely one of a kind. 

This realization struck us recently at STP during an internal chat about our own USPs.

On the face of it, the answer to the question “What makes us unique?” seemed simple. We specialize in the Nordic languages. We work almost exclusively for other translation companies. We have a large team of in-house translators. And we are experts in translation technology. 

We realized, though, that not one of those factors makes us unique. Other companies share our Nordic niche, serve fellow translation agencies and employ in-house linguists–albeit all on a much smaller scale than we do. And no matter how good we are with technology, we know that there’s always someone out there using it better. 

But does that discourage us? And should it dishearten you?

Not for a moment. Because what’s clear from our example, and from that of many of our clients and suppliers, is that you don’t have to have a USP to be successful in the language services industry. You don’t have to be unique at all. You just need to be different

And here’s some more good news. Despite the vast number of translation businesses around the world competing for clients’ time and attention, it is still relatively easy to mark yourself out from the crowd. 

To illustrate: take a dozen translation company websites at random and give them a browse. Chances are you’ll find little to differentiate one provider from the next. You’ll see similar claims about the number of languages and domains offered. And words such as ‘speed,’ ‘quality,’ ‘accuracy,’ ‘punctuality,’ ‘reliability’ and ‘professionalism’ will crop up more times than you can count. Of course, a fast, high-quality, accurate, punctual, reliable and professional service is what we must all strive to offer. 

But here’s the thing: it’s also the bare minimum that all clients demand from all translation providers. In the same way that when you buy a car, the very least you expect is four wheels, an engine and an ability to get swiftly from A to B without breaking down or blowing up. And this is where, with a little thought, you have the chance to separate yourself from the herd. 

First, accept that speed, accuracy, professionalism and so on are basic needs–not selling points. Use them to support your case, absolutely and by all means. But then dig deeper. Pinpoint anything and everything that lifts you above the masses. And then tell the world about it. 

If most of your rivals are generalists, trumpet the fact that you specialise. If everyone else offers every language under the sun, be proud that you keep your offering small and select, and show why it matters. 

Do you employ exceptional people? Offer industry-leading training? Provide a service that your clients go out of their way to recommend? Have suppliers who love working with you? 

Is your company culture admired by your peers? Do you have a larger-than-life leader? Are you renowned and respected for doing things properly? Or do you give back to the profession and inspire future generations to be part of it? 

Whatever it is, shout it out for all to hear. It doesn't even matter if you have nothing discernibly different to speak of. It can be enough simply to present what you do in a way that most others do not. So instead of talking in abstract terms about your ‘innovative’ services and ‘groundbreaking’ achievements, bring them to life with concrete examples and case studies. 

If other companies are vague or guarded about their internal processes, be open and transparent about yours. And if the norm is to communicate in buzzwords and jargon, disarm your prospects with clarity, directness and human warmth. 

None of this will make you unique. But it will make you different–and in our line of business, that can be every bit as powerful.


This blog was originally posted in the May 2016 edition STP's Icebreaker newsletter.

Joe Jeffries

I manage STP's internal and external communications. As a former freelance translator, project manager and small business owner, I understand what motivates production staff – as well as what clients want and need. I promote clear language, honesty and respect, and I use those values to shape all my work.