When Ana Nov was a second-year student at university in 1997, her American professor offered her a part-time job to work as a translator for the American Bar Association to translate business law.
“I was the best among others to do the translation,” she says.
“[For] a lot of university students at that time, the salary was $200 [per month].
“The salary [I got] was $600 a month. So we just felt like the translation [business] is everything, you can earn three times more than university graduates at that time,” Ana Nov says.
Today, the 35-year-old owns the Ang Khmer Group, a translation company of which she says is among the top 10 firms in an industry of about 60 players.
But a lack of skilled labour and enough capital are still among the challenges for a business that has undergone changes in recent years, Ana Nov says.
With major donors reducing funding for government policy translations, her client base has seen a shift from government officials and ministries to private Cambodian businessmen and emerging SMEs in the country.
Despite challenges, she plans to expand. “I love being an interpreter and I love this business.”
Ana Nov, who has also worked in journalism and the advertising industry and studied in Cambodia, Paris and Canada, has offered translation services since being a student and started her own company in 2002.
Ang Khmer Group officially registered with the Ministry of Commerce in 2007.
With English and Khmer at the centre, a team consisting mainly of Cambodian and foreign freelancers and a few full-time staff translates into more than 10 languages.
Besides being multilingual, her staff are specialised in different fields, “because my clients are from all kinds of subjects; from the banks, machinery manufaturers, from the medical sector, agriculture”, she says.
The company’s clients include international donors like the World Bank or the Asian Development Bank, hiring her to work for different ministries and translate government polices, strategies and draft laws.
“From day to day I have to coordinate with government officials and it’s interesting that the government officials [nowadays] have a very good education,” she says.
She says compared to 13 years ago, when government officials spoke only poor English, they can now do translations themselves, while at the same time the big donors reduced funding for translations.
“Now we got a new source of clients; the Cambodian business owners,” says Ana Nov, who speaks English, French, Chinese and Thai.
“We have a lot of [demand] from the SMEs,” she says, adding that the shift started about three years ago.
But according to her, the industry still faces a lack of skilled labour, as it is hard to find graduates who speak several languages and at the same time are experts in the different fields the company’s clients come from.
She also says with more than 100 regular basic clients, and if managed well, she can make $20,000 a year in total. “But if I had more capital [to hire full time staff] I could double this revenue.”
She says sometimes 10 clients call her per day, but she only has the capability to take orders from two.
However, she still wants to hire more staff and expand the translation offers. One way, she says, is the plan to corporate with non-profit organisation AIESEC to recruit international staff.