Lingo24: Christian Arno

The founder of online translation company Lingo24 on why international trade is vital

Christian Arno must have a fairly large trophy cabinet. During the eight year lifespan of his online translation company Lingo24 he’s totted up an impressive range of accolades, most recently being included in Growing Business magazine’s Young Guns, a list of the brightest and most successful young entrepreneurs in the UK.

The international business, which Christian started from his bedroom at the age of 22, now employs over 100 full-time staff, has a global network of 4,000 translators and offices in the UK, Panama, Romania, China and New Zealand. With clients such as Orange, BP and MTV, the company’s turnover grew by 30% over the past year, giving the global recession a real kick in the teeth. The secret? Not placing all his eggs in the Google basket according to Christian.

“On the internet, English is obviously the dominant language, accounting for about 50% of all content, but it means it’s not difficult to rank highly for key terms in foreign languages,” explains Christian. “We’ve used foreign language search engines to really grow our business meaning the UK now accounts for less than 50% of our turnover.”

The strategy successful for riding out the global economic storm. While the UK has been struggling, Lingo24 has been well placed to scoop up trade from stronger foreign markets, accounting for the company’s impressive growth over the past year. Christian is a massive advocate of small companies setting their sites overseas, but he does admit the nature of what he does makes international markets easier to corner.

The company offers translation services around the clock via an intricate back-end system which monitors each project from client brief, to translator right through to invoicing. The system has evolved considerably since 2001 when Christian, then an undergraduate languages student, offered a friend equity in return for building the first platform.

A network of freelances was used from the start, and the online model meant the company was free to grow without large overheads. In fact, it was several years before Christian opened his first company premises, which was not without its teething problems. “Taking on an office was necessary but it was a massive change of strategy. It was a big culture shift for the staff who had worked from home for several years, but everyone who was sceptical has now seen the benefit. Communication had become a real challenge and nothing replaces being in the same room as someone.”

Google disaster

While Lingo24’s growth has been impressive there have been a couple of significant potholes over the past eight years and they’ve been web-related. “The business didn’t really get going until I understood how to get to the top of the search engines,” says Christian. “In the history of the business we’ve had two downturns which were serious enough that we had to let people go. They were both caused by Google deciding we shouldn’t rank highly anymore. Nobody knows exactly how Google ranks sites and sometimes things that were once acceptable for you to do suddenly become unacceptable.”

The company may rank well on most search engines now but Christian said the experiences with Google forced him to consider other marketing channels such as ad sales. There are also specific online marketing teams assigned to different languages ensuring the business maintains its global stronghold.

Another crucial element to the firm’s international success however, is making sure it can operate effectively across all time zones – the very essence of the Lingo24 ethos. “We were sometimes making calls at silly hours,” says Christian. “At the end of the day when people were tired, they had to phone people just waking up.” Having offices in New Zealand and Panama means all times zones are serviced. “The 24 hour service is what sets us apart from other translation companies but we’re not going to rest on our laurels. We’re paying close attention to what other online companies and translation services are doing so we can offer the same to our clients.”

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