Can You Say "Profits"?

The Crisis of Success

But success, Horton recalls, temporarily turned into a nightmare. Working to run the business, she left billing for last--a big mistake. Typically, clients took two to three months to pay--yet Horton had to pay her consultant-interpreters monthly.

Her first recourse was to seek a bank loan to cover cash flow. Because she lacked collateral, though, she was refused--three times. The situation forced expansion: In March 1997, Horton moved into her current office. Unwittingly, she found a godparent: the South Providence Development Corp., a nonprofit employment development firm that happened to be one of Horton's co-tenants.

Funded largely by three neighborhood hospitals, the company was working to revive the neighborhood by spurring the employment of residents--mostly in the sponsoring hospitals, but also through the "incubation" of new businesses. By settling at 550 Broad St., Horton Interpreting fell under the New Village Industries umbrella, which enhanced Horton's clout with hospital purchasing agents. At last, Horton got the larger contracts she needed.

Business continued to pick up from there: By 1995, client requests for written translation had become so common, she decided to make it a priority. This service is more difficult to price, though: Horton charges by the word, but she must estimate for clients in advance a price for consultants fees and computer time. Computer glitches can eat up hours, like when she runs across incompatible computer programs. A "simple" translation can take days. Some jobs have been disasters, Horton admits, because she priced them too low.

Yet Horton has persevered, learning through trial-and-error pricing. Today, written translation accounts for 25 percent of her business. She has more than 200 consultants who can respond to requests for up to 70 languages. And next year, when her Web site is up, she expects clients, consultants and her company to connect via modem, as she moves her business's reach beyond Providence and into cyberspace. Why not?

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This article was originally published in the October 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Can You Say &quotProfits"?.

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