Becoming a success is not always easy, but staying in business for more than three years is just as hard if not harder.
“Almost every third start-up project is abandoned within
the first three years” – KfW BankenGruppe
The added incentive and risk is also to start up in another country. This may be more beneficial for your product or service, but also will require adjustment to the different corporate climate.
Germany has some hidden advantages like the PartGG company status, that allows you to be self-employed and freelance, but creates a legal and financial entity for cases of liability and insurance. At roughly 300+ € to set up it is also not very expensive. A lot of doctors, lawyers, journalists, designers and language service providers choose this structure, as you can come together as a small team (min 3) and provide a broad range of related services. However, in a lot of cases Germany is still a qualifications based job market, so encouraging skills transference or selling the concept needs a lot more time than in the US/UK.
To date I have been in business as a language service provider over 8 years with my company trans-lingo, and 3 with my non-profit, Leipzig Writers e.V..
So what know-how and takeaways can I pass on to small start-ups?
1) Build an adaptable team and core – as most markets change quickly not only do you need like-minds to work together, but also ones who are open to change. This may be necessary due to potential changes in the market that occur down the line but not at the exact time of your success.
Leipzig Writers is building towards having their own venue, something we did not envisage at the onset. Leipzig is also ready for an English-driven arts and cultural centre. You only have to look at the success of English Theatre Leipzig to see the climate is ripe.
2) Stay true to what you are about – this is not always an ethical question, but a pragmatic one. If there are certain principles that you start off with, be sure to keep to them. A core of integrity has better foundations than shifting sands. It may be as simple as being willing to say no if a client does not wish to follow your principles, regardless of if they throw cash at you.
Trans-lingo always translates and proofreads, but not every client is willing to pay that price or sees the benefit of that.
3) Do not be blinded by smoke and mirrors – a lot of cowboys exist out there and will offer you the world. Make sure you do your homework and see if what they say they can offer is what they can produce.
Trans-lingo and Leipzig Writers has had many offers to improve their websites, but nothing with any kind of sensitivity to the exact nature of the business. Which comes to the related point, that avoiding time and energy on vaguely written texts that have a hard sell message is advisable.
4) Never give up, but know your walk away point – there will be many obstacles and that as a founder you will have to have broad shoulders for. It will be tough and unexpected things will happen. If you loose your passion and motivation completely then you should call it a day, though.
Trans-lingo survived the financial crisis and the floor of the Business English and translation market falling out by taking on side projects.
most of all, though……
5) Make it fun – do activities together as a team that are not so business related. They do not have to be about team building, but may do that as added bonus. This can be as simple as going for brunch together, or finding a way to do something as a team to donate or give back to the company.
Leipzig Writers at present does not have anything as specific as trans-lingo, like running together or instead of sending client Christmas cards, using that money for a local cause. But we are working on that.
I guess the thing about me starting up in Germany and how this has been a challenge is that beyond a mini Student Union organisation I never had my own business in the UK. However, I think the greatest possible cultural corporate challenge is the ability to know when it is good to switch between languages. Some clients want to practice their English and you feel obliged to assist if this what they want as a client. However, know when it is better to shift to German. Also, the Sie/du switch is a mind-field as much as greetings and closings in emails in English is. This is still a learning curve for me. I think my new challenges will be associated with breaking more into the arts and literature scene here. As the latter is pretty comprehensive in its networking, but the former has, in my opinion, a long way to go.
If you are of a creative, ambitious and adaptive spirit I would encourage you to go down the road of setting up a Start Up. Even if there is a high failure rate, the learning curve is invaluable. And do come back to the five points I make. I have them listed on my notice board to remind me of just how I have stayed in it to win it? And also why I have, which is always the small talk question people with a more cautious and need for security mindset ask.