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From the very beginning to where and how the company has got where it is today, in Gavin’s own words...... 1. Tell us about Applied Language Solutions, from your initial idea, to present day
Applied Language Solutions provide consistently high quality personal and corporate language solutions into 150 languages across a wide scope of industries, ranging from manufacturing and engineering, right through to IT, marketing and Public sector organisations. We currently have six offices worldwide and 60 staff proud to serve prestigious customers such as Yahoo, United Nations and Nike. We have really brought technology to an academic-based industry. We’ve capitalised on opportunities offered by innovative technology for business generation and working practices, and combined with the use of professional translators, exemplary customer service, project and quality management expertise to deliver a language service with optimal quality, price and delivery time. Applied Language translates all kinds of documents from simple letters to technical documents, as well as whole websites and printed catalogues. We are also the only company to offer an online tattoo translation service, which is still carried out by our professional translators and costs just £6. We have developed an automated project manager which means for small jobs, such as personal and tattoo translation, all of the processes are automated except for the translation itself. This means that the personal translation market such as tattoos, wedding certificates and the likes, which the rest of the industry is not interested in, becomes very profitable for us. We have also recently launched our Instant Telephone Interpretation Service. After looking at similar services and listening to the requirements of our customers, we realised that we can do it better, faster and cheaper using innovative technology. Our service is unique in that it offers low-cost calls but no upfront subscription or contract fees, and will allow anybody anywhere in the world access to our professional interpreters around the globe in less than a minute. Our Instant Telephone Interpreting Service is perfect for any business or organisation who needs reliable interpretation, especially local councils, government bodies, the police service, prison and probation services. The rapid and completely organic growth has been amazing, and just three years after we opened we’re now a multi-million pound Global enterprise with a 60 strong team, and a global presence with 6 offices operating in Huddersfield, California, Paris, Barcelona, Sofia and Guatemala City. We have also expanded into Asian market and are opening offices in Hong Kong and India in March 2007.
We use computers from a process point of view but the actual translation is done by the 6,000 professional ‘in-country’ translators we have recruited worldwide. To avoid translation errors, we don’t use machine translation. We have one on our website and although it is great for getting an idea of things, is very complex and clever, it is still only about 70% accurate. We have access to over 6,000 approved professional linguists worldwide, putting us in the perfect position to meet any customer requirement. Every translator and interpreter we use are highly qualified and have both extensive translation and working industry experience for the material they translate. They only ever translate into mother tongue and live ‘in-country’. We have over the past three years seen a massive increase in sales volume. We have moved from the earlier days of dealing with smaller projects to now winning larger contracts. We very rarely lose a customer because of the high level of service that we deliver. We measure customer satisfaction with a follow up email after each project asking them to rate each element, and have achieved a 97.8% satisfaction score. In financial terms, we have more than doubled turnover and profit in the first two financial years of existence and we’re on track to do the same in this financial year and reach £3.7 million turnover. 2. What was the inspiration behind your company? I come from a technology background and previously worked with a language company. That gave me a view of the translation industry as a whole, and I saw a trade whose roots were in academia not commerce. At the time there weren’t any companies in the translation industry capitalising on the opportunities offered by technology in terms of business generation and working practice for lowering costs, and very few that used or understood how technology could improve the translation industry. I saw this gap in the market and the opportunity to totally transform the processes involved in both business generation and delivery with the use of the internet to meet the challenge of today’s modern world. I spoke to the company who I worked for at the time about it but it was dismissed out of hand, so that’s when I decided to grab the opportunity. I launched Applied Language Solutions in October 2003 with principal aim being to use technology to provide quicker, cheaper and improved quality translation services, which is essentially where the company’s competitive edge lies. A lot of hard work has gone on that focus and we get the majority of new business through our website, which receives on average over 90,000 visitors each day, resulting in about 250 quotes. Like all good businesses it was started from my back bedroom with very little savings, loans secured against the house and scary credit card bills. As the company progressed I brought in my brother, Paul Wheeldon, as Chief Operations Officer and we opened our first office in Huddersfield.
3. Who were you aiming at initially and how did it feel when you received the first ever
payment for providing a translation service? Anyone who had any money! Any deal we could get from £40 to translate a birth certificate right through to our first big customer in the 5th week of operation, which involved translating all of Hewlett Packards’ European Sales material. This was the company’s first major job and was worth £22K. It was amazing to secure the first deal and finally felt that the company was alive and trading. 4. Has that altered or broadened out since then?
Hugely, but having said that in some sense not really. It’s actually altered in the fact that we’ve actually lowered our minimum order value with the development of our tattoo translation service, which means we now take orders for translation of tattoos for just £6. However, we’ve certainly broadened on both ends of the spectrum and take translation orders from £6 right the way through to orders worth millions. 5. What makes your business stand out from the competition? What is your competitive advantage? Overall I think the most innovative part about the company is the fact that we keep on innovating. I believe we have achieved what we have and will continue to do so by constantly doing things that are completely new to the industry. The core that what drives us is to always do things better, faster and cheaper for the customer. Technology - Technology is a main area where we have developed a competitive edge in the translation industry. We are continually looking at ways to improve processes and profitability through the use of innovative technology. If a technology system isn’t available, we develop it in-house, just as we did for our internal CRM system and the automated project manager. As a result, we have capitalised on the opportunities offered by technology in terms of business generation and working practices to reduce costs and automate processes wherever possible, which, in turn, ultimately means we can offer a better, faster and cheaper service to our customers. Geographical presence - We have low cost office bases to support the sales offices. Our operations and project support for the UK sales office are based in Bulgaria and we have opened an office in Guatemala to support our rapidly growing US operation. Once we open the offices in Hong Kong and India, this will then give us 24hr coverage, which will be another competitive advantage. Staff - Innovation is encouraged from every single member of staff. Everyone has the opportunity to shape the business, its vision and values. We have a non hierarchical organisation that encourages creativity and innovation. That means we are constantly changing the business for the better. Website - In terms of traffic, we are leaps and bounds ahead of any other translation company website with in excess of 90,000 unique visitors coming to the website every day. We constantly add new content and tools for visitors, and the site is fast becoming the definitive resource for translation and related resources. This results in over 250 requests for quotes, which is the main driving force in growth for our business. Specialising in web translation is another factor that makes this company stand out from the crowd, as they have the expertise to work with complex file formats and the ability to integrate directly with customers’ management systems. System Architecture - I think there are many things that make us unique, one of them is IT. The way we have structured our systems nothing is held in any of our offices anymore. People can literally work anywhere in the world where there is internet access and it is no different to being at their desk. We also use VoIP phones so regardless of where a person is they are still accessible on the same extension and
direct line. We are as far as I am aware also the only translation company in the world that is a Microsoft Certified Partner, with 10 in house developers we also write all our own systems such as Project Management Systems, A Customer and Supplier Portal with self billing system which means we don’t have to process any invoices and an online review system.
6. What would you say is the achievement you’re most proud of?
As we’re a young dynamic company always striving to deliver an excellent and unrivalled service, there are many achievements I am I am extremely proud of ranging from the implementation of innovative technology processes to award achievements. If I had to pinpoint something in particular, I would say that the biggest impact in business terms on the company was when we implemented the ‘follow up emails’ that go out to every customer to ask them for feedback on the project, and that I think has had a massive impact on the company as a whole. If you measure things in a company and show them openly to the rest of the company, people are suddenly under the spotlight and their performance improves, and we’ve seen that with everything we do. That was a real turning point from a customer service point of view. In October, we were very pleased to be awarded winner of the HSBC Start-Up Star Awards 2006, and have also beat stiff competition to make it through to the finals of other prestigious business awards, including Growing Business Awards and National Business Awards. Winning such awards not only recognises our ability as a company, but also acknowledges our passion and commitment about what we do. (Please see ‘Company Information’ document for other award, accreditation and company achievements) 7. In what direction are you expanding? There are a number of areas we are focusing expansion upon. One is geographically. In March we’re opening offices up in India and Hong Kong, not just for the low cost bases available there but also to sell in to their markets because the growth these countries are having as an economy means more and more organisations are requiring translation. There’s a huge opportunity for us over there because these organisations are expanding into all sorts of markets across the world. There’s also growth in terms of types of customers. As the company is a lot more credible and a lot bigger, we’re able to go after and win the bigger deals. For example, winning customers like United Nations, Nike and Panduit is something we could not have done a year ago. In the next year we will be increasingly targeting the personal translation market for things like marriage certificates for people who get married abroad, contracts for buying property abroad, tattoos and a whole host of other personal translation requirements.
8. What are the company’s main obstacles to growth? Previously, one of the major problems we had was a break in where we lost our entire accounts information, which we had to build from scratch with the paper invoices. On an ongoing basis, the main obstacle to growth is getting the right people quick enough to achieve the growth we want. We try to overcome this by not losing staff and some pretty imaginative recruitment campaigns! Another obstacle is the complexity of setting up office bases in other countries.
9. What would you consider to be the company’s greatest asset?
To get the company to where it is I had to learn web design, search engine marketing and have done every other aspect of the business. Fortunately I don’t need to do all of that anymore as I have an amazing team to do that and I realise the company’s greatest asset is the staff. We are continuously recruiting new members, and the amazing team certainly deserves the credit as being one of the major contributions in the success of Applied Language today. The awards we keep winning and the high level of success the company continues to enjoy are testament to the hard work and enthusiasm of all the staff. 10. What do you believe makes a good working environment for your staff, and how do you achieve the excellent work ethic and motivational levels obvious amongst your staff? We have a very strong commitment to our staff and truly believe that a well trained and motivated workforce is the main key to success. We strongly value each member above and beyond the statutory benefits of holiday allowances and sick pay, and as a result offer a novel and attractive incentive scheme to every employee. To ensure we develop our staff and encourage continual learning we run monthly book competitions, provide MP3 players and access to an audio library, which ensures the creative juices flow very well throughout the company. We also offer many other benefits such as free lunches, ‘duvet’ days, birthdays off and a supportive flexible working environment, to name but a few, and I think this comes across to the customer as a truly committed and passionate team. This is why we have such excellent customer service scores. To further demonstrate our dedication to staff development, we worked hard to achieve the strict working standards of Investors In People. Our focus is placed upon setting achievable but challenging goals, which is a principle that the highly driven team clearly gain from. One of the things that I think is very important is getting a really clear mission that is properly communicated across the business. This is broken down into Key Performance Indicators that are communicated to every employee so they fully understand their own and how they impact the overall business. Continual learning methods and ongoing support is also tailored for each individual, and staff are provided with access to appropriate training and development activities. Each individual is also instilled with the confidence that their progress will not go unnoticed, which enables staff to feel valued as individuals.
11.Tell us about your brand
Our brand subliminally represents the company’s values and what we offer. The brand stands for a really fast moving dynamic company that is also down-to-earth, warm and friendly. Firstly, it is worth saying that our slogan is “High quality language solutions delivered on time.... with a smile.” I think this pretty much sums up exactly what the company is trying to achieve and is a real guiding principle for everyone. If I’m honest, I chose the word ‘Applied’ because I wanted to ensure that we were always near to the top of the directory, and then ‘Language Solutions’ followed because that really does sum up what we do as a company. In terms of the logo design, I put a lot of effort into researching the colours because choosing the right colours were essential as they actually affect how people react, particularly on a website. Blue gives the feeling of trust and a lot of large corporate have blue for that reason, whereas orange is considered more funky and forward thinking. So I put the two together so that the logo establishes the trust element that comes with the corporate combined with a funky and modern image. That’s what we try to aspire to be, a funky modern business that can be trusted to provide the best possible service.
12.Where do you see the company in 5 years time? What is your vision for the business?
The vision for the company that we are continuously working towards is “Applied Language Solutions will, by 2008, provide a worldwide response in 30mins. Delivering consistently high quality translation and interpreting services which surpass customer expectations. Using innovative technology we will continually improve processes and profitability.” We are also aiming for 99% on time delivery for projects, which would almost be unheard of in the industry. This would allow the company to be the first in the industry to implement a money back guarantee.
13.In terms of Corporate Social Responsibility, what has the company achieved?
As a language solutions company, we are proud to provide Spanish Language coaching lessons to the children aged 7-8 at a local primary school, Meltham Moor Primary School. Increasing language teaching to children in primary schools is part of the Government’s agenda. We feel that it is important that we share our resources and knowledge with the local community to not only support the Government in their initiative, but just as importantly support local children’s education and what we do as a company.
The Spanish classes are a fun but educational way to assist the children as they continue to develop and move forward in their lives and education.
We also arrange walks across the Pennines to raise money for Huddersfield Language School who do a project in Tanzania to put aids orphans through school. We’ve agreed a pilot scheme to provide language training to kids in schools that don’t have it available and are in the final stages of organising this, along with other things such as sponsoring the local children's rugby team. In terms of environmental responsibility, we are at the forefront of environmental management in the translation industry having recently been the first translation agency to achieve ISO 14001. We’ve always made a conscientious effort to manage our impacts on the environment and recognise that an environmentally friendlier work place makes for a healthier environment in the local community and globe all-round.
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