Armed with a degree in languages, Christian Arno founded Lingo24 Translation Services from his bedroom in Aberdeen in 2001, with a view to harnessing internet technologies from day one. Today, Lingo24 operates out of London, Aberdeen, New York, Paris, Berlin, Cham, Christchurch, Tokyo, Timişoara and Shanghai… Here are Christian’s thoughts on building a ‘virtual’ business.
Sarah Dillon: Hi Christian. Can you tell us what a ‘typical’ day looks like for you (if there is such a thing!)? What kinds of tasks do you tend to take on as managing director of Lingo24?
Christian Arno: There really isn’t such a thing as a typical day (thank goodness)! My three main roles are to take the time to talk to Lingo24’s senior and departmental managers and help them formulate and deliver on ambitious development plans; to travel between our operations throughout the world helping to make sure we’re all singing from the same hymnsheet; and to monitor closely developments with our clients and within the industry making sure that we are always implementing the brightest ideas in translation quicker and better than everyone else!
SD: How has founding an online translation company differed from your expectations? What have been your greatest moments and biggest challenges?
CA: To be honest, I didn’t really have any expectations as to how things would happen. The core idea behind Lingo24 – to use Internet technologies to make translation more efficient – just seemed an obvious one at the time, and one existing translation companies weren’t taking advantage of. Now, of course, lots of companies are doing similar things, so it’s important that we continue to innovate.
The greatest moments are always when you see you’ve got a special culture going. We had one two days ago on a beach in Panama – there were ten people from our Americas operation and two from our European operation, and we had an absolute ball. Everyone got on so well, and you could see how good the atmosphere in the company is. That, to me, is what it’s all about. We have a ‘positive feedback’ reporting system and that is also hugely motivational for me. When you see clients talking about Lingo24 in glowing terms it shows you’re helping.
I’d say the biggest challenges have been coping with downturns in the business – I’ve hated having to let good people go, but am confident that won’t happen again. Other than that, the cultural differences between all the people we interact with are a constant challenge – but then, like everyone in the industry, I consider that part of the fun.
SD: Any tips for freelance translators on developing an online marketing strategy?
CA: I’d say there are two steps: firstly, decide on a niche area (language combination and subject matter) you’re interested in with good growth prospects, and become the best translator in the world in that area – a genuine expert; then, create a website based around the key phrases prospective clients (both translation companies and end clients) might use to find you, and blog continuously about your work. If you can get others in a similar but not competitive area to link to your site, and use industry sites and social networking sites to engage with your peers, you’ll soon build a strong online profile.
SD: At a conference I attended, your operations director spoke about developing a homeworking mindset among employees. Any insights or experiences you could share about that process?
CA: Lingo24 attracts strong, independent-minded individuals – and we need them, given our reliance on home-working. As a general point, I’d say if you go down this route, you need to be much more organised in terms of communication, and you need to make sure you’ve got well-defined means in place to measure performance.
SD: What do you read — in print and online — to keep up with developments in your field?
CA: I read the Common Sense Advisory blog and love John Yunker’s Bytelevel. I read pretty widely beyond that. My favourite publication is the Economist – I find it immensely informative and the wry humour behind it is refreshing.
Thanks for featuring in my first 5 Qs, Christian!