Posted: Fri 17th Jul 2015
Mark Bailey combined a background in financial markets and 11 years teaching experience in three continents to create MB Languages, an affordable, high quality and needs- based language service. He discusses the story behind the brand and how Enterprise Nation was key to starting his business.
What was your motivation to start your own business?
I'd always wanted to start my own business. The lifestyle of being responsible for my own success or failure has always appealed to me. I've always liked the idea of creating my own thing and I always felt I was capable doing it successfully; I just didn't know what 'it' was. But I suppose I didn't try too hard before because I was focused on other things and because, to some extent, I was afraid of failure, of looking foolish if I failed, so I hid behind hard work and moving up the career ladder in language teaching.
Then eventually I ran out of excuses. I'd achieved what I intended to achieve in teaching and found that I wasn't satisfied. At the same time I noticed that I had a lot of advantages among the Japanese community in London in terms of offering English language learning (six years experience in Japan, a Japanese wife, contacts at large Japanese companies, strong professional background. You can learn more on our website at www.mblanguages.com). So basically I ran out of excuses to shy away and finally decided to commit to having a go.
Whilst you were starting up how did you balance home life with work?
Luckily, university (I was teaching at University College London) has a very flexible schedule and LONG holidays, so I really took advantage of that. But when it was term time, I had to use up a lot of my evenings and weekends. But it didn't feel like work because it was what I wanted to do. My wife was fine with it because I basically replaced some of my free time activities with starting a business, so it didn't affect my home life much. But I suppose I did bore everyone I know by constantly talking about it!
What's your top tip for effective sales and marketing?
In my field it's all about word of mouth. One client equals three or four clients and they in turn equal another three or four clients. And the lead-to-conversion rate through this method has been close to 100%. We've tried various forms of advertising, but we've had a very limited response. Although, I think there's a lot more we can do in these areas, especially online, hence my attendance at a lot of the Enterprise Nation Go and Grow Online events.
Which tools could you not live without in your business?
The cloud. We don't have a central office; all our teachers are freelance and teach at the clients' premises, so Dropbox and Google Drive have been invaluable. As have various specific online providers we use for our course content. That has been the key to us offering a higher quality product than our more established peers. We can offer a full supplementary online course to compliment our clients' face-to-face lessons at a cost of â‚¬50 per client. Without the cloud we would never be able to do this.
What's been your biggest business success to date?
We secured a contract with the largest travel operator in Japan in late 2014, which was our first taste of dealing directly with large corporations. This could potentially lead to larger future orders with them and has given us invaluable practice at dealing with larger clients.
What are your ambitions for the next five years?
To scale up by securing more orders directly from large Japanese corporations. Most of our clients to-date have been individuals who happen to work for these corporations, rather than the corporations themselves. After we become established among the Japanese market in London we plan to offer pre-departure courses for their delegates in Tokyo before they arrive in the UK. We are also planning to offer pre-departure Japanese courses for British staff being transferred to Japan from London and then post-arrival courses in Tokyo.
How does being a member of Enterprise Nation help your business grow?
As I described in a blog post last year, Enterprise Nation's StartUp Saturday was instrumental in the launch of MB Languages. The advice I learned there in one day is still useful to me now one year on. For example, how to use social media to build our reputation, how we can maximise the effectiveness of our website, and various pointers about PR and marketing.
However, I would say that in retrospect, the main benefit of Enterprise Nation has been to provide me with a community of like-minded people following a similar path. Starting a business can be a lonely pursuit and being able to talk to people in a similar situation and share experiences and advice has proved to be highly motivating and instructive. And that's without mentioning Emma Jones' infectious enthusiasm for developing small businesses. I'd feel bad if I didn't follow through with my idea!
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