As we enter a new year there will be many opportunities on the horizon, and if there is fire in your belly to get your business up and running then have a look at the lessons shared below. Jurga Zilinskiene MBE from Guildhawk answered a few questions for me, including some really helpful advice for anyone wanting to start up on their own, so if that is you, read on…
Firstly, can you give me a snapshot of Guildhawk?
Guildhawk is a Queen’s Award-winning language and technology company. We help leading brands like Michael Kors, Universal, and Shell generate sustainable profitability, supporting them as they manage their existing international presence or expand into new markets. The work involves anything from researching business opportunities, to translating movies or company policies; developing new AI machine translation tools, to analysing and abstracting multilingual data. Basically, any and all things a client may need in order for their international business to run smoothly and successfully.
We have a focus on due diligence and security, with several leading security experts with a wealth of knowledge. We are ISO27001-certified for data security.
What led you to start your business?
Well, I’ve been in business since I was a child! I started out renting my own corner of a market stall at the tender age of six, where I sold seeds and first realised the value of multilingual communication. This was Lithuania, pre-independence, so I was speaking Lithuanian, Russian, a smattering of English – all essential to make my business run. I arrived in London in 2001 and having made some successful forays into international trade, I then set up my business with £13,000 of my own savings. I took the lessons I’d learned on the market and applied them to the corporate world: language and communication are extremely important; an excellent product is utterly crucial; and the people you entrust with your business are the key to everything. You see, I remained a hawker at heart, and the people I chose to populate my business, my guild, had to be – and remain – some of the most talented, hard-working people I’ve ever met!
Once I had set up the business, a one-office, three-person operation in Stratford, we got to work – hard! – and early on, I won a Shell LiveWire Award for young entrepreneurs. The funding that came with this, plus the success of the business up to that point, allowed us to make the move to the City of London, and fill some strategic internal roles. It was also around this time that I learned to code – the management system I wanted in order to run the business efficiently and securely just didn’t exist, so I built it myself! QCS+, the tool I created, enabled huge efficiencies in terms of time, manual workload, reporting, and so on, so that was a game-changer for us, and the beginning of Guildhawk’s focus on technology and innovation as essential tools for success. QCS+ was subsequently independently valued at over £4m and we are now developing new software with backing from Innovate UK and Sheffield Hallam University.
Did you need to pivot because of the pandemic?
Bloomberg News recently featured us and described how we are pivoting by consistently innovating and challenging ourselves. During lockdown, we launched two new software products, Guildhawk Aided and Text Perfect. These products give our clients the benefits of a machine translation tech that produces far better results than other systems, as well as big savings. Because we own and build software and have experts in highly specialised industries (those of our clients), we are perfectly placed to serve clients in the ever-shifting world of international trade.
So, while the pandemic is definitely one of the most sudden shifts the business has undergone, it is by no means the first. We have tackled it the same way we tackle everything as a business – calmly, with in-depth research, hard work, and an open mind. The international standards we follow as part of our data security and quality certifications are also deeply embedded into our culture. We have 131 procedures just for keeping information safe. We have incorporated these into QCS+ and rigorously test them for scenarios including a crisis like terror attacks and the pandemic. We have a procedure to consistently monitor the latest developments and trends in all our client industries, so this identifies new needs and opportunities quickly. Our agile working model and the expertise of our teams mean we can research and then act on those insights quickly. This has led, among other things, to the development of our new technology tools, identification of entirely new client groups, and modifications to existing services.
How have you been able to benefit from using the City Business Library’s information resources?
Having been based in the City of London for quite some time, we have been members of CBL for a number of years. The sheer wealth of business data available through CBL is a hugely valuable resource for us in our research – and, as I’ve mentioned already, research is a critical part of our business – both for our clients and for ourselves. Before we make any major business decisions, we create clear, detailed business cases. Given the nature of our business, especially at the current time, we need to be able to do all this work very quickly indeed and be confident in the quality of the data we are using. The same applies to the work we do for our clients – we need to be able to stand over the quality of the data our proposals and recommendations are based on. The business data available through CBL has helped us to stay competitive, keep innovating, and, most importantly, continue to provide our clients with the quality of service they expect from us.
And what advice do you have for first-time businesses?
My advice for first-time small business owners is pretty simple to be honest.
- Make sure you have a great product – one that clients need – and love what you’re selling; it will illuminate the room, just like when I was a little girl in the marketplace. You will need to keep your product up to date, as what sold well yesterday may not sell tomorrow. Knowing what jobs your customers are hiring your product to do is vital and that’s why research and innovation is so important.
- Know your numbers and have a profit formula to generate sustainable revenue. It seems basic, but your business needs to be able to make money! So many new companies raise tons of funding and excitement, and then sink without trace as soon as they have to stand on their own two feet and actually produce something customers will buy! Don’t be one of them; it’s not fair to anybody. Honesty and hard work wins the race!
- Last, but definitely not least, surround yourself with excellent people who have integrity and care. Guildhawk is its people; they are the reason for its success. That’s why we’ve given up office space in the last few months, and are investing that money back into our people – training them for this brave new world we find ourselves in. It’s also why I am developing a new software and partnership model to give those same people a tangible stake in the business. No doubt about it, your people are the best investment you can possibly make as a business owner.
To find out more about Guildhawk, check out their website and social media pages.
@GuildhawkLtd on Twitter