West Richland business grows in tandem with increased need for interpreters, translators

As a Spanish interpreter traveling throughout the Tri-Cities and eastern Oregon for more than 20 years, Flor Garza Gutierrez noticed a distinct need for interpreters.

During her decades of interpreting for several agencies, she made notes about these needs, names and phone numbers of associates and jotted down business ideas. She had a distinct feeling she’d one day own a business to meet the demands of a changing society – one made up of people from an array of places and speaking myriad languages.

West Richland-based Ms. Flower’s Interpreters and Translators came to fruition in 2007 with 10 companies contracted for services. That number has grown to more than 115, with interpreting and translating services offered in 42 languages, including the rarer languages of Nepalese, Marshallese, Tagalog and Albanian.

“The growth gives me goosebumps on a daily basis. I have constant surprises and a huge smile on my face each day,” Garza Gutierrez said. The entrepreneur said the growth and success of her business surprises her, but it doesn’t seem to surprise others.

“Something that sticks with me is that eight years ago, I was talking with another interpreter and one of our associates walked up and asked if I was the one who owned her own interpreting company. Before I could say, ‘No,’ my fellow interpreter said, “No, she doesn’t yet, but someday she will and it will be huge.’ I guess I didn’t see it in me. I was glad to grow in small steps,” she said.

Small steps didn’t last long, however. Last October, Garza Gutierrez hired a project manager to help her get a contract with the state Department of Social and Health Services, which very quickly made the business take off.

“That’s been growing like crazy. I’m always on the web trying to solicit interpreters throughout the state,” she said.

Many of the interpreters she contracts with are certified in both interpreting (speaking and listening) and translating (documents).

Her company’s services include on-site interpretation and telephonic interpretation of medical appointments, school meetings, legal proceedings and more, all available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Some services are planned in advance, others might as needs arise.

“I received a call yesterday from a medical facility. They said, ‘We have an Arabic patient and we can’t understand or interpret what they’re saying.’ I responded that I could have someone there within 20 to 30 minutes. The interpreter got there in 20 minutes and was able to assist during the appointment,” Garza Gutierrez said.

Spanish interpreting and translating comprises about 40 percent of her business, with 60 percent devoted to other languages such as Vietnamese, Arabic, Bosnian, Laotian, Korean, Russian and Somali, to name a few.

Revenues grew around 110 percent in 2016, have increased 150 percent so far in 2017, and she projected to be at 200 percent growth by the end of 2018.

The entrepreneur credits Ashley Coronado at the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce as a wonderful resource who is “wonderful to work with.”

Coronado serves as the business counselor for the state’s Procurement Technical Assistance Center, or PTAC, program, which is designed to help businesses in all areas of selling to local, state, federal agencies and government prime contractors.

“Ashley has been there for me so often. She helped walk me through getting contracts with area companies and has been so helpful,” Garza Gutierrez said. Coronado referred her to Joe Jacobs at The Small Business Development Center as well. “Joe and I emailed back and forth and spent hours on the phone; he helped me buy another business.”

Garza Gutierrez said she also gains focus for her business day through morning meditation.

“I strongly believe there’s a bigger force out there whom I draw wisdom and energy from. I wouldn’t be near as powerful without that. Everything is falling into place; I marvel at how my cup overfloweth,” she said.

Brian Kelly, vocational counselor for M2 Counseling & Consulting Inc. in Kennewick, has utilized Ms. Flower’s interpreting services for the more than six years.

“She started by doing all of the interpreting herself. She was a one-woman show and did a really good job for me, so I kept calling back. Now, if I need interpreters here in Tri-Cities, in Wenatchee or even in Yakima, she’ll either travel there or find interpreters for me,” Kelly said. “She does a great job.”

Ms. Flower’s Interpreters and Translators currently operates through emails, phone calls, texts and faxes. Potential clients make requests for help in the Seattle and Olympia areas, and Kittitas, Chelan, and Spokane counties. Garza Gutierrez then contacts interpreters in that specific area who specialize in the requested language.

In the future, the service will be much more streamlined with an online scheduling service, she said.

“Clinics, school districts, and any company will put a request on an online calendar. An immediate email and text alert will be sent to all interpreters for that particular language. The interpreters can immediately accept or reject from their phones or via email,” Garza Gutierrez said.

She will set the system to send requests first to all interpreters who live within 10 miles of the location an interpreter is needed. Although the system promises efficiency, the sheer amount of information needing to be added to the system to get started is staggering, Garza Gutierrez said.

“We have to input all of the data – interpreters’ names, addresses, rates of pay, language specialties, mileage, clinic and company addresses, distances from interpreter’s homes to our client addresses, and more. We have to establish passwords for each business so they’re able to access the online system to request services,” she said.

“I’m very excited about it. Once the scheduling system is up and running, I’ll be able to spend more time on long-term goals. I have wonderful ideas of how to triple the business, but can’t do it until the scheduling is efficient,” she said. “I want to have it up and running by the end of August because the school districts will need it.”

Kennewick School District, for example, utilizes her business for its interpretation needs.

The new scheduling system will be able to handle 500 appointments per month and once it hits 501, the cost doubles.

“We’ll hit that very soon,” she said. “We’re already getting requests in Montana, Idaho and other states, but I don’t have the interpreters in those places yet. My long-term goal is to fill requests and demands for up to 50 languages in all 50 states.”

Despite having no employees, the business continues to grow as Garza Gutierrez contracts with interpreters and translators from 42 languages.

“I contract with other small businesses for bookkeeping and other services. It’s very important for me to help small businesses because I started as a small business as well,” she said.

The recent purchase of another local business doubled the worth of her business, Garza Gutierrez said.

In June, Inna Korotkova contacted Garza Gutierrez with a business proposition. She owned Language, Passport & Travel Solutions and the two had collaborated for the past two years.

“She called me, said she was moving out of the area and offered for me to buy her company. On July 1, I bought it. The acquisition doubled the size of Garza Gutierrez’s company.

“I was so excited when she offered the business to me first; we were good business associates. We had over 100 interpreters before, which grew to 151 after purchasing the business,” Garza Gutierrez said. “Because of the purchase, our net worth has doubled, but the figures are hard to pinpoint as we are still calculating the value of each contract that came with the company.”

Businesses who need interpreting or translating services may call 509-521-8183 with requests. Online requests are also available by visiting msflowersinterpreters.com.

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