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
There’s a dilemma when you are starting a company. There are lots of boring essentials like company formation, VAT, Data Protection Act, employment law and, depending on which industry you are in, a host of other legislation. Yet complying with these doesn’t help you to sell anything, build a customer base or most importantly turn a profit.
It’s incredibly difficult to find the balance between being too gung ho about regulations (with risks starting at inconvenience and ending in prison), or over egging things, with a bigger risk of business failure. Hovering around are lots of professional advisers with fees to match - that’s the accountants, lawyers and consultants. Unfortunately it’s hard for them to be entirely impartial as their business is about charging fees.
Here are my top tips for getting this balance right.
When you’re starting off, anything that isn’t directly related to making sales or pushing the business forward is an irritant. But completely neglecting other issues can cause huge frustration when you are forced to comply; it can also substantially reduce the value of your business or may even cause its demise.
It’s different if you are well capitalised and have had previous business success. But if this is your first start up, then these tips are well worth a thought.
While working from home has its merits, there are many good reasons why renting yourself some desk space in an office might be the better option.
After all, if you're stuck in a corner of the lounge or upstairs in a spare bedroom, there can be an awful lot of distractions. Even well intentioned family members can often be more of a hindrance than a help when they knock on the door offering you the umpteenth coffee of the day.
If you’re starting a new business or looking to expand an existing venture and feel you’ve either outgrown the spare bedroom or can't take much more of those well meaning interruptions at home, the next logical place to consider is an office all of your own.
Thanks to the growing phenomenon of renting desk space here in the UK, it’s now possible to get your own dedicated workstation in an office where you simply pay rent and let the landlord handle all of the other stuff.
Turning yourself into a ‘desker’ means that you have all the benefits of a professional workplace environment, including high-speed internet access, utilities and round-the-clock security all for a flat fee. While these charges are generally payable monthly, you'll also be able to search for pay-what-you-use desk space too, which is perfect if you're a start-up that has to keep a firm grip on costs.
By searching out the right type of desk space, which can be done online using the free services of Desk Space Genie, you can find a place to work that’ll offer a more productive environment than being at home.
What's more, you'll get a credible office address and chances are the location might be more useful for making new contacts and networking. Renting desk space can invariably prove much cheaper than acquiring a whole office, the contract terms are often more flexible and the landlord does all of the management and maintenance of the facilities.
Being able to get up and leave your desk without having to worry about emptying the bins or putting the vacuum cleaner round at the end of the day can be undeniably handy. Better still is the fact that having a dedicated workstation away from home means that it's much easier to separate your work from your home life.
It's certainly more cost effective too, with average costs outside of London averaging just over £200 per month, although be prepared to pay a premium if you're desperate to be in a city centre location where rents are always higher.
There are added benefits that come with renting desk space and these can often include a parking space, use of meeting room facilities along with easy access to your workstation round the clock. Most contracts will generally include a typical workstation setup, so look to expect a desk, chair and possibly tea and coffee facilities.
A telephone line is generally not included, although broadband probably will be, and you'll also need to use your own computer. However, if you're making moves with your business, you'll probably be enjoying the freedom of a laptop and mobile phone already, so with access to high-speed internet and email you'll be up and running in a matter of minutes.
Desk space contracts often run on a monthly rolling basis, with perhaps an initial fixed rental period to check that you're in a reasonable position to pay the rent. Simply search Desk Space Genie for available locations in your area and the site will reveal a selection of possibilities. It could end up being the best thing you've done since starting your new venture.
Ciaron Dunne, Desk Space Genie
I was up until til 2:30am cooking to fulfil orders and make samples. I am feeling hyper and excited, with that butterflies-in-stomach feeling about what lies ahead and the opportunities that I have. I am equally overwhelmed about what to do next and I'm tired. Whatever I do, it means that I’m not doing something else that is equally important.
The bookkeeper came this morning and we are getting our new system in tip-top condition. It required my attention because we are changing to a new accounting system and I need to know how it works. So I couldn’t make the follow-up sales calls I needed to do, or pay the bills, or organise tasting sessions, etc. I also teach Spanish on a Wednesday and I haven’t prepared yet.
More orders are coming through, but I'm not able to cook tomorrow because I’m at a “Meet the Buyer” event. I hope the buyers do buy! So it looks like another 2:30am bed time tomorrow, as my kids are in a local panto and I won’t miss their debut!
Wish me luck, I’ll keep the coffee flowing...
You can find out more about Marcela on the new interactive business website www.inafishbowl.com
It is a well-known fact that ink is now more expensive than gold – and last time I checked not many companies were printing in gold. So how can you minimise your long-term printing expenditure? Here are my ten tips.
1 Separate cartridge slots
Great saving potential lies in simply switching from a printer using tri-colour cartridges to one with individual colour cartridges. You only replace what you use, thereby minimising waste and with ink/toner now containing chemicals to counteract drying out, you needn’t worry about cartridges sitting dormant.
2 Draft print mode
Draft uses up to 50 per cent less ink than the default print mode, with the only downside being a small loss of print quality. It’s a great money-saver and you can easily switch back to the standard setting when printing important or presentation-quality documents.
3 Greyscale prints
Do you need to have colour in all letterheads, text and images? If not, select greyscale in your printing options. This only uses the black cartridge, saving the more expensive coloured ink for important pages.
4 Low ink performance
Some printers will mix all three colour cartridges to maintain printing, even when the black has run out. Check your printer guide. If yours has this feature, you need to monitor black ink levels rigorously to avoid draining your colour reserves at a horrendous rate.
Technology is your friend. Duplexers (printing on both sides of the paper) save not just time and effort, but paper costs too. Even budget-end printers may now include this feature.
6 Print in batches
There are two important factors to remember for each separate print request sent to your office printer:
You will use less power and ink/toner if you send print requests through together, instead of forcing the printer to run numerous start-up and cool-down procedures.
Additionally, certain printers perform print head cleaning every time they turn on, which wastes ink. If your printer manual lists this attribute, either limit how often you turn it off or only turn it on when you need to do groups of printing.
7 Paper quality
Printers have become more tolerant of lower weight (ie thinner) paper, making it an ideal way to limit costs for documents that don’t need a professional finish. Look out for reams of 80gsm paper, as this stock can still give nice prints and good cost savings.
8 Paper settings
Not many people know that their printer’s paper settings can impact their ink usage, and thus your costs. Different papers have varying absorption and dispersion rates, which will be pre-programmed into printers. To confirm your setting matches the paper you’re feeding into the printer, when you select print, quickly take a detour through to “Properties”, locate the “Paper type” option (typically in the form of a drop down or tab) and ensure they match. This will eliminate any ink wastage and help reduce costs.
9 Recycle paper
Make it a habit to check if sheets of paper are blank on the reverse before binning them. If there’s no print and the edges aren’t damaged, you can add them to the printer tray and use for producing draft prints. This saves a lot on cost, as well as being more environmentally responsible.
10 Go compatible
The stereotypical dodgy refilled cartridge vendors have been rendered obsolete by advancements in quality requirements. Compatible (third party) cartridges must now meet stringent testing requirements to be listed on respectable retailers’ shelves and websites – and are of course cheaper.
Matt Bird works for printer cartridge superstore StinkyInk.