Each week, we ask small businesses key questions. Here we speak to Masa Sakano, who runs English-Japanese language translation services website Wise Babel from Newtonmore.
How and why did you start in business?
I arrived in the UK from Japan 15 years ago to take up work at a university in England as a professional astrophysicist. Sadly, the recent UK Government cuts to university funding have led to heavy redundancies and I was one of the unlucky ones.
A change was called for and I decided to relocate to the Highlands to pursue my passion for climbing. It was great, but I was without an income and, perhaps unsurprisingly, jobs for astrophysicists are in short supply up here.
The obvious answer was to start my own internet-based business, one that would allow me to work almost anywhere at any time. But what to do?
I have noticed, and learnt from my own bitter experience, how tough the language barrier is for people from Japan. Indeed, the language is usually the number-one barrier for Japanese travellers to the UK.
Japanese scientific papers containing exciting results are sometimes rejected for publication in the peer-review process due to the poor English used by the authors. Existing translation is sometimes literally laughable, as seen on some T-shirts. This was my opportunity.
I set up Wise Babel in 2014 as a professional translation and proofreading service for the English and Japanese languages.
How did you get to where you are today?
I have built and developed the website so that customers can order and pay for their preferred service via the internet, and they receive the finished translation online too.
I do everything myself, from marketing to translating and proofreading to website development.
My business is still young but word of mouth has proved to be most effective way of attracting customers so far, especially Japanese physicists.
In particular, annual visits to Japan have allowed me to promote Wise Babel to the academic community there.
Proofreading requests for academic papers in English written by Japanese scientists comprise the bulk of my work, though my services are not limited to them and there are loads of new opportunities to explore.
Another tough barrier to overcome was website development. I knew all the basics about software engineering in general and I am familiar with several computer languages, however, information technology is evolving rapidly and I am always fighting to keep up. It’s fascinating.
Who helped you?
The Federation of Small Businesses helped me set up my business and my accountants, Peter Munro & Co of Kingussie, have been really helpful – as have many of my friends. One of these friends became my first customer and gave me very useful feedback as well as income.
What has been your biggest mistake?
Not foreseeing Brexit.
What is your greatest achievement?
I’d like to think the greatest is yet to come as I am still new to business. So far, it has to be diving into self-employment and setting up my own company.
If you were in power in government, what would you change?
A massive improvement to communication infrastructure – the mobile-phone network and broadband – is urgently required, particularly in rural areas. A similar improvement has been responsible for the leap in development in South Korea over the past 20 years, while the UK and especially Scotland is falling behind.
Also, more investment in education is essential for the future of the country and the world. For example, annual university tuition fees of £9,000 in England and Wales are a national embarrassment. Access to the single market, coupled with freedom of movement, should be kept as it is now.
What do you still hope to achieve?
I would like to explore the potential for automated/computerised learning and broaden the business to include language education. Information technology is developing incredibly quickly and my business must adapt and lead rather than follow the trends.
What do you do to relax?
I go outdoors to climb and run, though cooking is a less stressful and tiring way to relax.
What are you currently reading, listening to or glued to on the TV?
I am reading Catch 22 (satirical novel by US author Joseph Heller).
What do you waste your money on?
I wish I had enough money to waste. My friends might say that I splash out on equipment and travel for climbing but that is why I earn money in the first place.
How would your friends describe you?
Crazy, brave, very intelligent and yet incredibly stupid.
What would your enemies say about you?
I have very few competitors but lots of supporters, so no enemies – only friends.
What do you drive and dream of driving?
I drive a Citroen Xsara and dream that electric cars will become practical, even in the remote countryside.