Business building: tips from the top

For budding entrepreneurs, failing to plan is very much akin to planning to fail. Two of the biggest mistakes many new businesses make are trying to sell their wares to the wrong people – and spending a lot of money doing so.

Christian Arno, founder and managing director of Lingo24, launched his translation company from his Aberdeen home after graduating with a languages degree in 2001. Lingo24 now operates across four continents with over 100 employees worldwide and has a network of 4,000 freelance translators. Having come so far in eight years, Arno has some advice for companies looking to market themselves and grow.

“It’s important not to throw large sums of money at things without knowing what the outcome will be. In the early years, I found that companies would call me up and try to sell me advertorials which sounded great, but weren’t. After a couple of costly ones, it became apparent that the return on investment just wasn’t there.”

Indeed, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising were still relatively novel concepts at the turn of the century but Arno was quick to realise the potential of these marketing tools.

“The internet was pivotal in the success of Lingo24 and today direct online marketing is still our most powerful tool”, says Arno. “I discovered SEO and Google AdWords and there has been no looking back. PPC allowed me to test out online marketing techniques for very little money – I could set my monthly budget at a nominal amount, allowing me to gauge its efficacy without blowing my entire marketing budget. And as it turned out, it has brought us a lot of custom.”

However, in 2006, Lingo24’s Google ranking dropped suddenly on certain key search terms. “It was probably a case of Google changing its search engine algorithm”, says Arno. “I have found that the key to ranking highly in Google is trying not to be too clever about it. Forge close relationships with relevant industry partners, offer to contribute articles to their blogs in exchange for links and ensure your own website is kept up-to-date – there’s no substitute for fresh content and there’s no fooling Google.”

Online marketing certainly seems like the most cost-effective route for businesses to go in the current economic downturn. And for Lingo24, it has been an integral part of its global expansion plans, with websites now in Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Dutch, French, German and a number of other key languages helping them to tap into new and emerging markets.

“The majority of the internet is in English, yet most of the world’s internet users’ first language isn’t English, so there’s a clear gap there”, says Arno. “I researched key search terms used by local customers and incorporated them into the translated websites. Because the saturation is nowhere near what it is in the English-speaking market, I found that we rose very rapidly in foreign search engine rankings.”

Lingo24’s global expansion has seen turnover rise to £3m in 2008 and is expected to rise to £4m in 2009. With an increase of 6,000% in turnover since inception, Arno has this final tip for entrepreneurs seeking to grow their business:

“Take things slowly at first – understand your market and talk to others who have succeeded before you spend too much. Money may be tight for a lot of businesses at the moment, but growth is still possible...however, it probably won’t happen overnight.”

 

2nd June 2009

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