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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.

Home economics

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


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No sale!

Working as a life coach and business mentor for the last three years, I have come across many challenges and issues mums face in trying to run their own business; time management, dealing with guilt etc. However, one of the major obstacles mums seem to come up against time and again is that they have difficulty selling their product or service. They aren’t ‘sales people’.

Ask any businessmum to describe her business and its benefits and she could probably explain to you in glowing and passionate terms what she does and why she  does it. Ask her to sell you her business and she clams up. Why? Although I’ve asked for the same thing simply using different wording, many people assume that use of the word ‘sell’ implies pushiness or forcing a product or service onto someone who isn’t interested. For example, when you think of a salesperson, how do you picture them? A bored girl in a shop, a car salesman? Or something different?

It makes sense that when starting out with an opinion of sales like this, it is always going to be difficult to sell yourself or your business. So, why not challenge those long-held beliefs? Think about all the people who have to sell in their line of work and how many of them actually fall into this category. Can a different picture of a salesperson be developed?

Alternately, why not classify the action of selling as something other than sales. For example, informing or enthusing (choose a word that suits you and your personality). If the burden is simply to inform a possible client about a product rather then sell, does this lift the pressure? Is the process approached with a lighter heart?

The second thing a lot of mums assume about selling is that it implies concluding with a sale, often by ‘coaxing’ or ‘pressuring’ a client into it. It doesn’t need to be this way. If you truly understand your market and what they want and can present a product or service in such a way that it appeals, sales will be created simply by making people aware of what is on offer. Assuming the demand is there, of course.

Some other great ways to combat the no sale are:

  1. Look for instances in your business life when you have successfully created a situation for clients to come to you. Refer to these positive examples when thinking about sales.
  2. Visualise sales situations where you are informative and passionate and you get sales without pushing.
  3. Remind yourself why your product is great and why people would want to buy it.
  4. Be prepared that some people won’t be interested in buying and this is not a reflection on you.
  5. Ask for feedback on why they didn’t buy i.e. price, timing, not needed. With this feedback you’ll then be able to reposition the product better to appeal to future buyers.

Selling needn’t be stressful or pressured. Approached positively, it can simply be a celebration of what you do and who you are and, in the end, aren’t people more likely to buy from someone who’s enthusiastic about their business than someone trying to force it down their throat?

Alli Price, Motivating Mum


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Research suggests that as many as one in ten mums would like to run their own business. It can be the best way to get control over your working hours and spend more time with children, while still being able to contribute to household income. If you are a mum and want to run your own business, here are my tips.

1 List your priorities. What is important to you and what do you expect in return for running a business? Do you seek to make loads of money or are you simply trying to find a way to spend more time at home with your children?

2 Think about time. How many hours you can devote to a business. Be realistic if you plan to work around your kids. Remember – young children are especially unlikely to understand “mummy’s working”. Write down your which hours are possible, whether that’s 12-2 each day during nap time; 9.30-11.30 to fit in with nursery; 7-9 in the evenings or a combination of these on different days.

3 Research your market. All new business owners must do this by finding the answers to key questions. Will enough people buy your product or service at the price you plan to charge? Is your product or service unique enough to appeal? What competition will you face and how can you be different or better?

4 Write a business plan. Set out your aims and objectives – and the steps you need to take to achieve them. Pop into a local Enterprise Agency or Business Link for advice. See if they offer a free start-up course, which could be a great source of information and advice.

5 Decide your marketing and promotional tactics. Have a promotion planning session, during which you seriously consider advertising, marketing, PR and events. What method(s) are likely to be most effective for your business? Note on a wall calendar promotional activities you will do each month, but spend enough time each day marketing your business – it’s critical to success.

6 Promote your business online. Get a good website designed. Start a Twitter account in your business name. Create your own blog and blog on other sites. Start a Facebook fan page for your business. To make things easier, use Twitterfeed or Friendfeed to link your different networking sites.

7 Get registered. You have three months to let HMRC know you have set up as a sole trader (ie become self-employed), otherwise you could be fined £100. Alternatively, you might decide to form a company by filing the necessary forms with Companies House.

8 Keep good financial records. It’s easier to note down every item of expenditure from the start than to have to deal with an unruly pile of receipts when you have to complete you tax return. Many expenses are tax deductible, while you can also benefit from a series of allowances, too. Visit the HMRC website for more information – or seek advice from a good accountant.

9 Make the most of every customer. It is much easier and as much as eight times cheaper to sell to existing customers rather than having to attract and convince new ones to buy from you, so you must aim to delight your customers if you want them to keep coming back for more. As well as products, this must apply to your services, too. Whichever means is most effective, always maintain good communication with your customers. Keep them well informed and updated. Sort out any customer complaints quickly and satisfactorily.

10 Get help. Before starting up, assess your skills list and identify any that are lacking. You might need to find someone to help with your bookkeeping, PR, online marketing, sales, deliveries – whatever. You might not have the knowledge, time or will to do everything yourself. Providing your business can afford it, buying in help can free you up so your time can be better spent on something else. Explore all free sources of information and advice – including the Start Up Donut, of course.

After you start your business, you need to remain focused on your ideal work-life. If you’re not careful, running a business can easily and quickly take over everything, which means your home life suffers and this can affect how you feel. Have a finish time each day; put your work away when it comes; spend quality time with your family and make sure you set aside time to relax by and do things you enjoy.

  • If you’re serious about starting a business, check out my book at www.themumpreneurguide.co.uk, it is written specially for mums who want to start a business. It covers issues ranging from business planning and start-up finance to arranging childcare and setting aside time for yourself.

Antonia Chitty, Family Friendly Working


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Why do people who should know better continue to give credence to the myth that it’s difficult to start a business?

A recent high-profile example of this came a few weeks ago on Sunday morning on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show and it was uttered by no less a figure than would-be Prime Minister David Cameron.

Detailing measures he would take to aid small firms (and so the economy) if the Tories win the General Election, he said: “It takes something like 13 to 14 days to start a new [sic] business in this country. In America, it’s half as long. We have the ambition to make this [the UK] one of the fastest places in the world to start up a new business.” Later, this was reported on the BBC News website and others, but remained totally unchallenged.

It must be the party line. A few days later, shadow business minister Martin Prisk MP, in his ‘New year, new start, new business’ Blue Blog on the Conservative Party website, further fuelled the myth, saying: “We would cut the time it takes to start a new [sic] business in the UK. Currently, it takes twice as long as in the USA, Denmark or Hong Kong. Conservatives want to change that, so we would reduce the number of forms needed to register a new company and move towards a ‘one-click’ registration model.”

What type of business are they talking about? Have I missed something?

Setting up as a sole trader (AKA becoming ‘self-employed’) is likely to take 10 minutes tops. All you need do is call the HMRC Newly Self-employed Helpline on 0845 915 4515 to provide some key details (eg your name, DOB, NI number, address, telephone number, start date and type of business). You could even have been trading for up to three months previously (if you leave registration any later than three months, you’ll be fined £100). Should you prefer, you can register online. Where’s the problem?

And while forming a limited company (“incorporation”) takes slightly more effort (you need to fill out an IN01 form and complete a Memorandum of Association and Articles of Association), it can be done within a day if you pay £50 for the Companies House same-day service. Otherwise you’ll have to pay the standard registration fee of £20, which, granted, could take between eight and 10 days to process. Pay a professional to do it all for you and opt for the same-day service and your new company could become a legal entity in four hours or so.

So why spread the myth? Is it because our politicians are so out of touch with the reality of starting a business? Probably, yes. Few politicians of whatever persuasion have or will ever start or run their own small business. And that’s part of the problem, but one for another day.

And while it’s understandable that any party trying to gain power should seek to appeal to small firms and the wider electorate with the promise of a better new world, using untrue ‘facts’ (if you’ll forgive the deliberate oxymoron) merely increases the risk of putting people off, at a time when the economy needs them to start a business. We should encourage people to go into business – not discourage them.

Truth is, registering a business isn’t difficult and it doesn’t take a long time, the myth needs to be challenged (same as the ‘excessive red tape’ red herring). The real difficulty lies in surviving that all-important first 12-18 months and then moving the business onto the next stage. Any small-business owner would tell you that, Dave.

Mark Williams, Start Up Donut editor


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A journalist calls to ask how long it takes to make a profit when starting out in business. ‘It depends on the business’ replies Emma Jones ‘but I’d say it’s perfectly possible to turn a profit within the week.’ Here’s the feature to discover if Emma got her facts right.

Let’s take a business
This feature will not apply to all businesses but let’s take the example of someone providing goods and services to consumers (a craft business) and someone offering professional services (a book-keeper.) This is how they each become profitable by week end.

Example 1: The craft business

Make item with cost of raw materials being £5.50.
Photograph item with family camera, ensuring professional/high quality presentation.

Upload profile and photo to 3 craft sites which levy a small charge (or free) for listing and exercise a sales commission. Sites such as:

  • Etsy.com – listing fee of 20 cents per item and 3.5% sales commission
  • MISI.co.uk – listing fee of 20p per item and 3% sales commission
  • Coriandr.com – listing fee of 20p per item and 2.5% sales commission

Promote product via Twitter and Facebook. Include a link to the shop so people can click and buy.
Send an email to friends and family (personal, as opposed to group email) to announce the product and, again, with a link.

Upload pictures of your product to Flickr so the large audience there can see it too.
If you have a webcam, make a short recording of you making products and upload to YouTube.
Call local stores and boutiques to ask if they would consider selling your stock.

You’ve attracted interest and made a sale! Sales price is £25.99.

Cost of making sale:
Raw materials: £5.50
Listing fee: 20p
Sales commission: 78p
Marketing & promotion: zero cost but your time
Profit for the week: £19.51

Example 2: The book keeper

Start a blog using free blogging platforms such as blogger.com or wordpress.com – with helpful posts on book-keeping technique, this will help you be seen as an expert in your field.
Promote blog via Twitter.
Produce business cards. A pack of 50 cards can be bought for £12.99 from Moo.com.

Attend local networking event.
Post in online business forums with helpful book-keeping advice.

Approach small business sites with an article for them to upload that will interest & assist readers (include a link back to your blog so people can make contact).

Call local accountancy practice to ask if they require outsourced book-keeping.

Secure first client! Contract to carry out book-keeping for local home business at rate of £50 per month.

Cost of making sale:
Business cards: £12.99
Promotion and networking: zero cost but your time
Profit in first month: £37.01

Doing the sums
The beauty of both of these examples is that all this promotion and sales generating activity can be done by ‘Working 5 to 9’ ie it’s possible to keep hold of the day job and build your business (and profit) by working nights and weekends.

The secret is in keeping costs low (by being home based and making the mot of free social media tools) and focusing on making that first sale. In which case, it’s perfectly possible to realise profit in just five days. What’s stopping you? Get that business started!

NB. This feature assumes access to a home PC/laptop therefore costs of IT equipment not included.

Emma Jones is Founder of Emma Jones is Founder of Enterprise Nation and author of ‘Spare Room Start Up – how to start a business from home’ Her next book ‘Working 5 to 9 – how to start a business in your spare time’ will be published in May 2010


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When you operate your own business, bringing a child into the world is a costly matter. The good news is the government offers additional financial support you might not be aware of. The following tips are intended to make sure you get all of your state entitlements.

1 For company directors: make sure you receive the correct maternity, paternity or adoption pay
If you run a limited company, you will pay yourself as a director. Provided you meet the qualifying criteria regarding length of your employment, you are entitled to money your company can recover from the government. If you’re female and are taking most of your income out as a dividend, you will at least qualify from minimum statutory maternity pay (currently £123.06 per week). You can receive this for up to 39 weeks. Partners, of course, qualify for paternity leave, while those who adopt also have a legal right to paid leave.

2 For sole traders and partners: check if you can obtain maternity allowance
If you are not entitled to statutory maternity pay, you could be entitled to the maternity allowance paid by the Department of Work and Pensions. If you were self-employed for at least 26 out of the 66 weeks before you your baby is due, you qualify. The benefit is 90 per cent of your average weekly pay or £123.06 per week if higher.

3 Receive your one-off Health in Pregnancy Grant.
Since 6 April 2009, mothers who are 25 weeks into their pregnancy have been able to apply for a £190 grant towards the cost of pregnancy and childbirth. HMRC will make the one-off payment direct to the mother’s bank account, which she can spend as she chooses. It is not means-tested and will not affect entitlement to other benefits. Claim forms are available from your doctor or midwife.

4 Apply for Child Benefit
Register for Child Benefit as soon as your first baby is born. You will receive £20 per week for your eldest child and £13.20 per week for each of your other children. The benefit is not means-tested. You will receive the benefit until your child reaches 16 (or 20 if in certain kinds of education). A claim can only be backdated three months, so don’t delay.

5 Get your Child Trust Fund voucher
Save tax-free for your children by opening a Child Trust Fund. Accounts are available to all children born after 1 September 2002 and up to £1,200 can be added each year. The government will send you a £250 voucher to open the account and pay in a further £250 on the child’s seventh birthday. All income and gains are built up tax-free until your child’s eighteenth birthday, when funds can be withdrawn or rolled over into an ISA.

6 Apply for Child Tax Credits
Make a claim for Tax Credits, if you have children aged below 16. The credits are means-tested, but you only start to lose your entitlement to the child element when household income exceeds £50,000.

If you return to work, you may be eligible for working tax credits where you work or you and your partner (if applicable) work. If so, you may also be entitled to help towards childcare costs. If your earnings have gone down because of pregnancy, it would pay to make a protective claim rather than one based on the previous year’s earnings.

7 Set up a salary sacrifice scheme for childcare costs
Receive some of your pay from the company in the form of childcare reimbursement. The first £55 of childcare vouchers paid through the company is a tax-free benefit, and if paid instead of salary it will also reduce your National Insurance liability.

8 Have assets transferred to your children and save tax
Your children can receive income of up to £6,475 per year before being taxed. However, parents are taxed on income of more than £100 on assets they have transferred to their children who are under 18. Assets should preferably be transferred from grandparents or other relatives.

Children can also make gains of up to £10,100 tax-free. Transferring assets with better potential for capital growth, rather than income, is generally more tax-efficient. A share in the family business may be suitable.

9 Contribute to your child’s pension scheme
You can put up to £2,880 into a Children’s Stakeholder Pension for each child and the government will add a further 20% to your contribution. Income and gains in a pension scheme are tax-free, but your child will not be able to access the fund until they are 55.

10 Employ your children
Subject to conditions, you may make your children employees of your business, if they are aged 13 years or more. Your business will get tax relief on the wage payments, while the first £6,475 of income is tax-free in the hands of your child. You must consider the legal implications of employing children aged between 14 and 18.


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Sitting down for the first time to outline online objectives for your new business can be particularly daunting. Typically, you’re entering a sector where competition already exists and you may look upon competitors as tremendous obstacles in reaching your own business targets.

Perfectly true, but you have to remember with ‘search marketing strategy’, every online business, big or small, started with a blank canvas, not necessarily a structured plan with objectives.

I was involved with my first online business in 1997. The ability to reach certain search ranking targets was far simpler then – the market was much less saturated. Conversely, the opportunity to track, analyse and develop a search engine marketing strategy gives the 2010 start-up the necessary ammunition to build their SEO (search engine optimisation) arsenal.

As you begin to prepare your online marketing objectives, keep the following five tips in mind, to ensure your time and energies are optimised just as much as your search strategy:

1 Brainstorm and produce a list of 20-25 key ‘phrases’ that make up your SEO ‘dream ticket’. Do they look like realistic targets within your first year? You probably don’t know. If they’re single words, I’d suggest they aren’t achievable within your first year of trading. My advice would be to add to each of these words or phrases another demographic term, for example, “Widgets” should become “Widgets Hertfordshire” or “Hire Widgets”. Setting your SEO expectations too high, too early, can take away from what should actually be seen as tremendous ranking results for any start-up.

2 Track everything and leave no stone unturned. There are a range of tools available, mostly free, which allow you to see exactly what is happening on your website – how people find you, which pages they visit and the all-important terms they type into Google to find your website.

This information can produce the building blocks for a highly optimised search campaign and throw up new and innovative ideas to capture additional levels of traffic. Put the necessary packages in place from day one and review accordingly.

3 Understand – but don’t become an expert. Starting a business and having access to reams of data can be tremendously offputting. I had a tendency to look at data on a daily basis, overanalysing each search ranking movement and trying to understand why certain keywords performed in certain ways.

My advice in hindsight? Research your key data on a monthly basis – especially if you’re starting up from home on a budget. As a new website, it will take time for your search positioning to bed in. Seeing rapid movements up and down the ranking can strike fear into most, but it needn’t. Concentrate on your core business efforts and compile your analytics data for monthly review

4 Context is king. Your site content will make or break your online business. Poorly drafted content not only detracts from the usability of your site, it provides Google with little opportunity to grant your site authority. Write your content with the end user in mind.

Keep it simple, know when to produce both internal and external links and always field the opportunity to allow your site visitors to communicate. Don’t let them wander your site trying to find your contact page or telephone number. Keep everything within context and your site will quickly develop it’s own SEO pattern

5 Don’t take your eye off of your initial business goal. The web is constantly evolving. New opportunities present themselves each and every day. Try your best not to deviate away from your initial online business objectives. If you receive a call from business X promising to send an email to 100,000 recipients for £x – be wary. Is your business in a position to capitalise on this opportunity? Does this opportunity make good business sense? Does this opportunity seem to good to be true?


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