In today’s episode, we’re talking to Lýdia Machová from Language Mentoring. Lydia is from Slovakia, and she learned German and English when she was 11 years-old. She used to work as a professional interpreter for celebrities like Brian Tracy, Tony Robbins, and also the former prime minister of Slovakia.
She has a huge passion for languages and today she can speak nine languages. With her online business called Language Mentoring, she helps people from all over the world learn a foreign language. Lydia also spoke at TED and her talk has now been watched more than 6 million times.
Lydia has a team of 10 people working with her on Language Mentoring and two more people will join the team in the next few months. In this interview, we talk about growing a business and building a great team.
From a career as an interpreter to building an online language business
You had a very interesting job as an interpreter and you worked for many big names. Why did you want to stop and start your own business?
Yes,indeed, I liked the job but at the same time, I realized that as an interpreter I would always be paid by the hour. Secondly, I was more interested in learning languages than using them for professional purposes. I kept learning new languages but it wasn’t really helping in my career. I decided that I wanted to build an online business so that I would be more flexible and could have the chance to travel more.
How did you find to find the inspiration to start your own business? Did you know many people who were doing something similar to what you’re doing these days? Actually, I didn’t have anyone in my family or friend group that had their own business. I made a list of people who I knew had their own business but weren’t really my friends. I reached out to them and asked them to go for a coffee. This way I learned which skills I needed to become an entrepreneur. I also went to many networking events and that’s really how I got an idea of what my business could look like.
In the beginning, I wasn’t really looking for so-called ‘’infopreneurs’’ because I didn’t know any, so I would reach out to many different kinds of entrepreneurs. Before you start a business you first have to learn how to do it. I was very actively networking and I quickly got an idea of what my business could look like. Were you confident that you could build a business in the beginning? At first, I wasn’t sure that I could do it so I started working on my own business when I was still working as an interpreter. My idea was that I wanted to create a business where people pay me in order to learn by themselves. My friends and family were skeptical and did not think that this was going to work.
Besides my job as an interpreter, I started doing small experiments with my friends and students at the university to test my idea. Once I saw it worked, I put it out there for clients and started to charge for my program.
Lydia working as an interpreter at one of Tony Robbins’ events
The power of organizing offline events
How did your first clients find you? Did you already have an online following at the time? I didn’t have a website or online following yet. Instead, I organized live events in Slovakia. That’s where I got my first client. The venue where my events took place would promote my events in their network and that helped me to sell tickets. Additionally, I also promoted the event on my Facebook page and it got a lot of traction in our local community. This way, I managed to sell out my very first seminar.
It’s an interesting idea to test a business idea by organizing live events like workshops and seminars. What kind of venues would you recommend to reach out to? It should be a place that already has a community. These can be cafes or, even better, co-working spaces. Reach out to them and offer to give a talk or presentation. The goal at this stage is not to make money but to validate the business idea. Live events are a great way to get instant feedback on your work and your ideas. If people like it, they’re also much more likely to tell someone else.
Do you think that these workshops have been a major contribution to your success? Absolutely! Every time after I gave a workshop or seminar I made improvements based on the feedback of my live audience. Giving these workshops was the perfect schooling for me, to learn how to present my knowhow; how to systematize it and what my students are interested in. This has been a major contribution to my success.
Speaking at offline events has been one of the keys to Lydia’s success
Using traditional mass media to promote your brand
Live workshops are also a great way to get the attention of local media outlets. Once they see that an event is going to take place, they can come and they can talk to you. No magazine or newspaper will reach out to you because of a webinar, but if you organize a local event, they will. Getting all this attention from the media provided even more traction in the beginning. Do you think this is how you managed to grow your business exponentially? Yes, even now, three years later, many people here in Bratislava recognize me on the streets because of all the magazines, radio shows, and TV programs I’ve been featured in. All this media exposure really helped to establish my brand, especially in Slovakia.
How did you make the transition from organizing offline events to going online? My plan was to start offline and move everything to the online world as soon as I could. The workshops were fun but it was also quite tiring sometimes. I could only give a certain number of workshops per week so it wasn’t really scalable. I had to go online. I had someone record my workshops and I turned that into a video course. I gave a webinar in which I sold this course and I made a few thousand euros in sales. That was the moment for me when I knew that I had created a sustainable and scalable business.
Learning marketing instead of learning languages
In the beginning, I really didn’t know anything about online marketing. I was fortunate enough to have a mentor. He was looking for someone who could help him with his English and he could help me with online marketing. That was a great fit and we’ve now been exchanging our skills for the last 3,5 years. Besides that, I also bought many video courses and I read many blog posts. My main job now is not to learn more languages but to actually learn about online business. That’s what’s really going to grow the business. I see so many people with great language skills, but if they don’t learn how online business works, they will never be able to earn a living off it. That’s a pity. Do you think it’s possible to become successful without having a mentor? Yes, I think so. It’s good to have someone that you ask for advice when you have any questions but it can also be a support group or online communities on social media. The most important thing is that you keep learning. Online business is a language that I will have to keep learning as long as I want my business to grow.
”Online business is a language that I will have to keep learning as long as I want my business to grow”
How to find a business mentor
A mentor doesn’t have to be someone who calls himself a mentor. It can simply be anyone who you respect and who is a few steps ahead of you, ideally in a similar niche. The best way to reach out to them is to offer them something for free. I offered to help my mentor with his English in the first instance. That’s an example of how you build a relationship. Think about what you are good at and offer that skill to the person you reach out to. The key is to offer them value before you start asking for something.
Want to find a mentor? Think about what you are good at and offer this person something for free. The key is to offer them value before you start asking for something.
Are you part of any entrepreneur communities? Where can we find these? I definitely recommend searching for entrepreneurship or online marketing Facebook groups. Or search for local events on Meetup.com. It’s really helpful to become part of a community and connect to other like minded people.
Lydia’s performance at TED
Let’s talk about that TED talk that you gave in New York. That must have had a big impact on your business… When I first read the invitation I thought it was a joke. TED is so huge, I had never thought that they would notice me. I didn’t have a huge audience and I hadn’t written a popular book or anything. They said that they thought that I had something important to share with the world. That felt amazing!
I received so many messages and emails from people who watched the TED talk online and told me that they found the confidence to learn a foreign language again. These messages really make my day. It’s very difficult to measure if the TED talk had a big impact on my business. Most of my clients are from Slovakia and my business here has been growing immensely but most people in Slovakia haven’t heard about TED. So it’s really difficult to measure the impact it has had on my business. On the other hand, I’ve had many invitations to speak at other events and I think that it was partly thanks to the TED talk. The video has had more than 6 million views now, in just 10 months.
Lydia speaking at TED
How Lydia generates revenue
Back to Language Mentoring, what is it exactly that you sell? I worked as an English teacher for almost ten years. For some reason, my students never got the results that I got myself when learning foreign languages. I started going to polyglot events and started learning how all these guys learned so many languages.
I try to be the bridge between the world of polyglots and the people out there who are struggling to learn a foreign language. I try to figure out what polyglots have in common, how to present that to people who are not crazy about learning a foreign language, and how I get them to become interested enough in the language so that they can learn by themselves.
”I try to figure out what polyglots have in common, how to present that to people who are not crazy about learning a foreign language, and how I get them to become interested enough in the language so that they can learn by themselves.”
I have video courses where my students get the knowhow but my main product is a course where 50 people learn a language together in an online group. We follow their learning, answer their questions and motivate them. I have certified language mentors in my team who manage the groups.
How to build a great team
Let’s talk about your team. When did you hire your first team member? I actually had my first team members before I ever sold anything. When I was running the test program with university students I asked a few of the participants to help me out with some small tasks. Two of these students are now on my team and these are the team members I work most closely with. We all work remotely but we like to meet in person as well. When students enroll in our programs we also offer meetup events where they can meet us in person. That’s when all team members come over and we all meet together. We also go on team building holidays, we call them ‘workactions’. Last year, for example, I brought our team to Corfu in Greece. Half the time we were working on projects together and the other half we were just hanging out. That was highly productive and a lot of fun at the same time!
When would you recommend Langpreneurs to hire their first team member? One of my entrepreneur friends recommended me to hire an assistant in the beginning and that is what I did. I didn’t really have a budget to pay them a salary, so instead, I asked them to do small tasks and I gave them access to my courses in exchange. Some of them were happy to attend my workshops for free and help me hand out sheets in exchange. That is how I started building my team. I think it’s important to start building a team right from the beginning. If you start hiring when you’re business takes off you won’t have enough time to train them. Training takes time but there are ways to do it in an efficient way. Every time we train someone new for, example, we record the Skype session and we make it available for the next person who joins the team. We now have a huge library of training videos available for new team members. Where do you go if you want to hire new team members? We don’t hire people who haven’t bought anything from us before. This has become our company culture. Anyone can say in their resumé that they’re passionate about language learning and that they like what we do, but how do you know they’re telling the truth? Once someone has gone through our programs, we have seen how hard they work and how engaged they are in what we do. We don’t even ask for a CV, we only ask for a cover letter. The people we select turn out to be really good, because they’re not just doing it for the money. Of course, I need to make sure that they get compensated well for the work they do but I also reward them by providing extra benefits. All team members have an education fund, for example, that they can spend on courses and books that help them to develop the skills that they want to develop.
”Workations” are one of Lydia’s favorite ways to strengthen her team and have fun at the same time
Creating the right mindset by spending time with the right people
Of all the activities that you have done, which one has made the biggest impact on your business? Changing my mindset. When I started there were guys out there who already had a huge audience like Olly Richards, and I never thought that I would be able to catch up with them. This was a huge mindset challenge that I had to overcome. The thing is that you don’t need to have the biggest audience in the world. Just pick something you’re passionate about and get started. All the big names once had to start from zero. Once I realized that I became unstoppable.
”Don’t compare yourself with the big guys. Just pick something you’re passionate about and get started.”
Of all the activities that you have done, which one has made the biggest impact on your business? Changing my mindset. When I started there were guys out there who already had a huge audience and I never thought that I would be able to catch up with them. This was a huge mindset challenge that I had to overcome. The thing is that you don’t need to have the biggest audience in the world. Just pick something you’re passionate about and get started. All the big names once had to start from zero. Once I realized that I became unstoppable.
Don’t compare yourself with the big guys. Just pick something you’re passionate about and get started. So how can you change your mindset, by hanging out with the right people? Yes, if I had kept hanging out with the people who were telling me that my business was never going to work, I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. So instead I started hanging out with people who were excited about my ideas and that’s how I made it work, step by step.