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Guest: Inna Kassatkina, co-founder of Global Language Solutions, “Every Word Matters”
Episode in a Tweet: An article in Inc. Magazine inspired this entrepreneur to quit her job, open her own company, and now she’s the president of a fast-growing global translation and interpreting services company.
Quick Background: Born and raised in Russia, Inna attended college in the U.S and loved it so much she decided to stay. With a love for linguistics and fluent in several languages, Inna met her co-founder, Olga Smirnova, and the two decided to start their own translation company. After initially starting out translating English and Russian, they expanded and now translate more than 100 languages. In today’s podcast, Inna shares her story and business lessons learned as a woman who leaves her home country, comes to the U.S., and lives the American dream.
Transcript: Download the full transcript here.
1. Seek advice from people you trust rather than always doing what you think is right.
The easy route is to think you always have the right answers. Inna realized that when she started her company, she didn’t have all the answers. She was new to the business world and had much to learn. So she turned to trusted entrepreneurs in YPO (See interview with Chuck Davis, former international president of YPO), Vistage and other groups who helped her shape her company. “What allowed us to be successful and continue to grow year after year was that we were able to listen to and really digest business advice from those people we trusted,” she said. Who do you turn to for trusted advice?
2. Being flexible is a strength, not a weakness.
Some people view perseverance as a great character trait–and it can be. But there are times when persevering down the wrong path is just plain stupid. “Being able to adapt as we encounter challenges to the original plan that we made is where flexibility comes in to play,” she said (See how Michael Maas scrapped plans and rebuilt a $300m company). For example, “Saying yes to a client’s requests when perhaps the company is not entirely ready to accept it or to develop a different service in anticipation of the client’s needs are examples of flexibility that companies need to have.” Are you being too rigid in how you run your business and deal with clients?
3. Growing too fast could kill your business.
“Our biggest challenges were associated with the years in which we had the greatest sales growth. We had to hire, invest in technology, and scale fast,” said Inna (See how Bryce Maddock, co-founder of TaskUs solved this problem). The biggest lesson she learned from these periods of fast growth was, “to move from being entrepreneurs to owner/managers, to learn how to hand over responsibilities to teams, especially to a sales and marketing team.” Letting others take over day-to-day sales was especially hard for Inna but she realized it was necessary to grow the company faster and let her operate at a strategic level.
4. Stop wasting time trying to micromanage weak sales people–just let them go.
Jack Daly said the key to hiring motivated sales people is to hire already motivated sales people (See Jack Daly on the difference between good and great salespeople). Similarly, Inna said, “It is very easy to spot a poor salesperson in their first month on the job because if they’re not picking up the phone, they’re not sales team material. Stop wasting time as a sales manager devising all sorts of plans and performance indicators and other objectives for these people. If they’re not doing basic things like picking up the phone, no amount of management attention is going to help them.” Is it time to upgrade your sales team with people who already know how to sell and don’t need to be micromanaged?
5. Scrap the idea of being all things to all clients.
Over time, Inna’s company realized the benefit of specializing in a small number of highly regulated industries that needed precise translation services. “Life sciences is really our core focus because our life science and healthcare clients are highly regulated, we cannot be a jack of all trades. We have spent years understanding the regulatory differences and building our vendor pool of expert medical translators,” she said. By focusing in industries that needed specialized services, Inna could charge higher prices and segment her services better. “If we try to be everything to every customer, we risk becoming mediocre across the board,” she said. Look at your business. Are you spread too thin? Are you too focused on low margin, commodity-type work?
1. Get advice from people smarter than you. There’s no need to learn from your own mistakes–learn from other people’s mistakes. Seek advice from people who have “been there, done it.”
2. Hire great salespeople to begin with, don’t waste time trying grow great salespeople. The job of a sales manager should be easy. Hire great salespeople, give them some direction, then get out of the way and let them do their job (See Mark Moses on how to hire top performers).
3. Get bigger by narrowing your landscape. It’s easy to keep expanding the services you offer but if your business is a mile wide and a foot deep, you’ll easily get clobbered by more focused and nimble competitors.
Transcript: Download the full transcript here.