Turning a good idea into a multi-million pound global business venture doesn’t happen overnight. As founder and managing director of UK translation company Lingo24, this is a fact I know only too well.
My company now has 120 employees working on three continents, clients in more than 60 countries and in 2009 our turnover was £3.65m. The key to our success has been following a carefully managed growth model.
Growing the business in stages has been crucial. Trying to expand too much too soon can spell disaster for many new businesses.
So what is “staged-growth”? To use Lingo24’s formative years as an example, the business was run entirely as an online home-based (Aberdeen and London) enterprise for the first three years, which gave us one key advantage over our established competitors.
Although the short commute from my bedroom to my desk was super convenient, it also meant I didn’t have to pay for premises. That meant I could offer customers prices up to a third cheaper than our competitors.
Furthermore, outsourcing work to freelance translators rather than having tens of in-house staff meant Lingo24 only needed to pay for services when we needed them, we didn’t have to pay wages regardless.
If we had a lot of demand for English to French translations, we’d pay for the services of translators with those skills. If project demand switched to English to German, we could pay freelance German translators and so on.
Benefits of outsourcing
Outsourcing is a very effective strategy for businesses young and old. If you can afford it, you can easily and effectively outsource aspects of your operation – accounts, HR management, marketing, design, etc. All are freely available to use on a ‘pay-as-you-go’ basis.
My main aim for Lingo24 from day one was to build the ‘top online brand’ for translation services, not purely for UK markets. The advent of the internet made cross-cultural communications much easier, so we established similar home-based hubs in New Zealand (2003) and China (2004).
We recruited talented management and linguistic personnel in both countries and because we could then operate across multiple time zones, in effect, we were never closed. When our handful of home-based UK staff clocked off for the night we simply passed the baton to the other guys in Asia and Oceania. The internet effectively enabled Lingo24 to go global.
Tapping into emerging markets
The round the clock service advantage Lingo24 offered its clients was crucial. But the internet had other advantages over internal communications. We soon realised that foreign language internet was the best – and most cost-effective – way to tap into new and emerging markets.
Only a quarter of the Earth’s population speak English and more than 90 per cent of those do so as a second language. I arranged for Lingo24’s website to be translated into ten or so languages in our key target markets in Scandinavia, Western Europe and Asia. By talking to clients in their own language, they knew instantly we were a serious translation company.
Lingo24 opened its first physical office space in Romania in 2005, followed by Panama in 2008 – key locations that allowed us to tap into fantastic technical and linguistic skill-sets locally. I chose these international hubs carefully. Timisoara in Romania has a great technical university and it’s also a very multilingual city. Panama already had a very strong international service sector with multilingual contact centres when Lingo24 turned up in 2008 – the skills were already there.
Lingo24’s first physical UK office opened in Edinburgh in August 2008, with a second scheduled to open in London in April 2010.
I firmly believe that staged-growth has been key to our success. We have no debts and I anticipate turnover will rise to some £5m this year. The future is looking very good, but there’s still a lot of work to do. From home-based offices and outsourcing, to cross-cultural websites and talented staff across multiple time zones, it seems businesses of all sizes can go global.
Christian Arno, Lingo24