Michelle Menard grew up in a multi-lingual, multi-cultural family. Her mother was born and raised in France; her father is from Panama. As a young child in Charlotte, the language at home was French and Menard often spent summers in France with her grandparents.
“It got me started with understanding that there are cultural differences,” she says. “Our grandparents did not speak English, and my sister and I were speaking French all summer while getting spoiled by our grandparents.”
While in college, Menard worked at a restaurant and also helped her mother, who had a freelance job doing translations. Her boss had an idea.
“While I was a student at UNCC, my manager at Olive Garden suggested I start my own business,” she says. “When he said that, I had goosebumps and flashes of what this business would look like.”
Why not use her language skills to help others?
Menard is founder and owner of Choice Translating, Inc., a company that assists businesses with translations and interpreting services. She has a core of 15 on staff and is projected to bring in about $3.2 million this year.
One key to Choice Translating’s success, which launched in 1995, is Menard’s method of hiring co-workers, and choosing what projects match each employee and what resources they need to complete their work.
“It was humble beginnings, just me and my mom working together to translate French projects,” she says. “In those days, there were visitors from France coming to the Charlotte area — which has more than 700 foreign-owned firms — and they would come to do plant tours, or meet with their U.S. subsidiary. Then we realized additional clients needed additional languages.”
Menard, who has been a SBTDC client for about 20 years, worked with UNCC’s office at the former Ben Craig Center on campus (now Ventureprise, the university’s entrepreneurial resource center), and its PORTAL [Partnership, Outreach and Research to Accelerate Learning] center.
One way the center has helped is with evolving technology.
“In the early days, if you were transferring files, you’d have to confirm the settings on the recipients’ side and save them to these bigger discs or FedEx them. We had a server cabinet,” she says. “Now everything is in the cloud. We expanded our resources to provide a more complete offering to clients.”
Menard’s employees are project managers who can provide interpreting services in person, over the phone or on video by working with vendor partners and translators around the world. In-person services cover needs such as social services or medical visits, crime scene investigations, legal depositions, employee meetings and parent/teacher conferences. Her
firm provides translation services in industries such as construction, education, healthcare, manufacturing, trade shows and for foreign direct investments, import/export companies and foreign dignitaries.
“We are not a reseller. We guide our clients through the process, because they don’t
know what they don’t know, so we’re able to walk them through and deliver our best work for them.
“For example, if it were a highly technical document, they want to make sure their distributor has buy-in on the technology. There’s an art to doing the document that way. Let’s say a manufacturer has a distributor they want to have buy-in; we have a process that translates keywords and has ‘this instead’ jargon, then we use technology to make sure the team of graphic designers and translators have the opportunity to shine and make a project in multiple languages at the same time.”
Long before COVID made remote the norm, Menard saw the benefits.
In 2014, she says, she discovered ROWE or Results Only Work Environment. “As long as people did the work, it didn’t matter where they worked from,” she says, “and we looked at the requirements of each job. On our staff, most everyone is a project manager, but in essence, to manage projects with the creativity and making sure you stay on deadline, does it require someone to be seated somewhere at a particular time? At that time, we did have an office, and we hired a firm to translate ROWE into our company culture.”
That allowed her employees freedom and flexibility.
“In 2017, we took the plunge and went virtual. We had folks on our team who needed to move to a different part of the state, and we didn’t want to lose that resource because they no longer could be in Charlotte,” she says.
Going virtual, she says, was a “huge, huge” undertaking. “We switched to a cloud-based platform that manages our interpreting business, and then being virtual during the pandemic made business much easier to handle. Because we already were virtual. And with the platform, as our clients stopped meeting in person, they no longer needed in-person, but sometimes telephone wasn’t sufficient. So we did video, and it was a huge request.”
Having a staff of 15 sounds small, Menard says, for a company with clients worldwide and services that cover more than 200 languages.
Menard often hires project managers virtually. “We have a multi-step process that uses an HR platform called JazzHR that posts the positions in online platforms and allows us to ask them questions when they’re submitting their applications,” she says. “It allows us to see the candidates and replicate the office, but in a virtual way, so we can do a personality assessment, see their unique abilities, and they get to meet the team. We want to let the team meet different candidates.”
Project managers work with vendor partners – translators – around the world. “So we have our staff, who are project managers, then we have our vendor partners, and how we qualify them is a whole different thing. They, the vendors, are essentially small businesses with excellent communication skills and expertise in the subject matter we’re using them for. They have to relate to our deadlines and the technology requirements we have.”
There are perks for her staff. In October, she’s hosting a retreat near Lake Norman called Reconnect, Recharge and Renew. Staff is flying in from New Jersey, Hawaii and Quebec as well as commuting locally.
“One thing that’s important is, people bring their whole selves to work, but they also need flexibility to do their best work, to commit to work, so we need to treat them like family,” she says. “Sometimes they need time away to deal with things, or visit friends, or travel. We have a project manager who is in Europe and wants to extend her trip. Another lady travels with her son’s hockey, so she needs flexibility because of the team.
“Charlotte is diverse, and the whole United States is diverse, so every community has that population where language services help through translation to support the immigrant communities, and help companies grow their export amount abroad, which helps the
“People think we have thousands of translators in a building, but what we have is a good database and network of folks we’ve worked with over the years.” ■
Choice Translating, Inc.