By Larry Gould, thebigword

Napoleon Bonaparte was once supposed to have quipped that England was a nation of shopkeepers: 'L'Angleterre est une nation de boutiquiers." Although clearly meant disparagingly, the UK should embrace this view the world has of it: a country of small businesses that form the backbone of Britain.

Indeed, SMEs are still the cornerstone of the British economy – the Federation of Small Businesses claimed that in 2013 SMEs employed some 14 million people. From tech start-ups in East London to flower shops in South Yorkshire, British SMEs share many common struggles. The most common of these, often described as the “thorn in the side” of the sector, is exporting.

The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills found that between 25,000-150,000 non-exporting UK SMEs have the potential to be competitive in export markets. This could add over £800 million to the value of the UK economy.

Presently, if SMEs export they tend to be reliant on Eurozone markets – an obvious choice given freedom of trade and the homogeneity of currency within the Eurozone. The relative familiarity of the cultures and business practices of Eurozone economies is also a great help as is the proliferation of English, especially in Western Europe. However, Eurozone economies are struggling to recover. For businesses to expand and contribute this additional £800 million to the UK economy they must look to emerging economies such as Brazil, China and India.

For a SME to consider operating in these markets, one of the key overheads - that of translating collateral - first needs to reduce in cost. SMEs simply don’t have the large translation budgets of large companies.

When Google Translate started in 2006, basing translations on millions of online texts, it raised a question for the industry: will tech take over? Microsoft now prepares to unveil its Star Trek translator – a Skype service that seeks to understand spoken words and translate them into another language, speaking them back in real time. Such tools have been fantastic for not just the world of translations, but for all of us. They are easy to use, free, and help us understand what was previously indecipherable. However, these tools have limited use in a business capacity where communications need to be accurate, appropriate and reliable.

Professional translators make sure that the message conveyed to a foreign audience is the same as the original author intended it to. Machines still lack the ability to do this. A machine doesn’t have a sense of humour, or the ability to choose the perfect words for a target audience. Industry tools like thebigword TMS, a translation management system which partners professional translators with an automated and highly secure application, are driving down the cost.

Technological revolutions have speeded up the way translators work – more copy is translated per hour than ever before. In the last twenty years technology has increased the speed of translations by 4-5 times.
This rate of words translated is only set to accelerate, and with it the cost is set to ever decrease.

In the next decade or so, professional translation for SMEs will be just as accessible as the once unaffordable and aspirational mobile phone. Technological advances in professional translations are democratising the service, and it is only a matter of years until it is one that SMEs will embrace as readily as printing services or IT support. Then Britain’s SMEs, shopkeepers included, will be able to offer their excellence to a truly global market place.