Transcript: Building an Online Business

Hello and welcome to our Building an Online Business session. My name is Erika Ellacott and I am a Merchant Community Advocate at WooCommerce. I’m based in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, and I am very excited to kick off today’s session. We’re going to be speaking to the founder and CEO of a language learning business that has experienced so much growth over the past couple of years that we knew we wanted to learn more. You’ll have an opportunity to ask questions, so please make sure to submit any you have in the Q&A and I will do my best to answer as many as we can. So let’s get to it. Welcome, Anja. Thank you so much for being with us today. Thank you, Erica. What a beautiful introduction. Thank you very much. We’re glad to have you. Can you start off by giving us a quick intro about yourself and where you’re joining us from? Sure well, first of all, I wanted to say thank you also to the entire WordPress team for organizing the Growth Summit because honestly, like everyone who is watching the session – events like this one is well, one of the things that have helped me most in the past years to grow my business, to learn from others for networking as well. So, yeah, thank you very much for that. And I’ll be so my name is Anja and I often use the name on social media, “Anja from Alemana” and if you speak Spanish, then you might know that Alemana means Germany so it’s basically Anja from Germany. So I was born and raised in Germany but I lived in many different countries and I am currently in Mexico where I’ve lived since 2014. And yeah, I have three businesses. So the main one is ZALOA languages and then I also have a second business, which is fashion that I export from Mexico to the European market and then I also work as a business coach for clients who want to start their businesses or grow the businesses. Amazing so very busy, it sounds like, but also the perfect person for us to speak to and learn how you’ve done it. So we’re going to talk a little bit more about ZALOA languages today. So what is it? Can you give us your elevator pitch? Sure, so ZALOA languages is a digital language company. We build communities to learn a language successfully. Our mission is to break language barriers and to help people to grow as a person through the language learning process. So we offer online language learning programs and through the community, we help those people to hold themselves also accountable for their progress in the language learning process. Because as for business, it’s actually the same for language learning. You have to, well, focus on accountability as well. So, yeah, that’s what we do at ZALOA languages. I love it. I love languages. I love learning different cultures so I’m very passionate about this and very true – if you don’t use it, you lose it, so that accountability is key here. We learned a little bit about what you have been doing before, but what prompted you to start this in the first place? What inspired you? OK, so I guess, it has always been my plan to one day launch my own business. And coming from a very German background, I always thought that I needed to be perfect, but I needed to, I don’t know, have more experience, more contacts, more money, whatsoever. And I used to work for big corporations before in the fashion and cosmetic industry and what I found there, like, honestly, I always enjoyed in my workplaces, but what I found is that my work didn’t have any impact. And I guess that was one of the main reasons why I wanted to start my own business, because I wanted to make an impact on this world. And then second, also because I wanted to be, well, more independent location, independent as well. So, yeah, that’s why I launched ZALOA languages in 2015, six years ago, crazy. Yeah that’s wow. That’s a lot of time. And, and so making this change, this transition from kind of the more corporate world, did you start full time on ZALOA, did you, did you start part time, how did that happen? OK, so I guess the very few beginnings when I started working on the idea, that was like I did it, I don’t know whenever I had time on weekends, but then when I really, I actually incorporated it first in Germany, now it’s a company registered in Mexico, but I started in Germany as a German citizen, that was just easier by then. And so when I started this whole process, then I went full time right from the beginning. Wow so dive, dive right in. I love that. And I mentioned I mentioned briefly kind of at the beginning of this, that you’ve gone through quite a bit of growth in the past couple of years. So in whatever detail you’re comfortable with, can you tell us about that? Sure I think the session is especially for those listening and watching, I really want to try to give you, well, as many advice and tips as possible. So, yeah, I try to go into detail and also feel free if you have any questions to leave them here in the chat. So I guess, well, two or three main points that I would like to mention that helped us in our growing process is, first of all, so we started 2015. And I guess German has always been the strongest language in ZALOA languages. But then I started because I’m a polyglot, I love languages. So I started adding more and more languages because maybe two or three customers started asking for Japanese, for Mandarin, for any other language and one of the biggest learnings is, and that’s what we started like a year before the pandemic actually, we started focusing on, in German, we have that saying, our strong horses, to focus on the strong horses, which basically means this 20/80 rule to focus on the 20% of your business that brings you 80% of your income. And so in that case, that was for us, the German language and the Spanish language. And so we decided last year to drop all the other languages, which is as a polyglot for me, really hard to say goodbye to so many other languages, but to really focus on what helped us to really make money as well. Second, what we also started last year is that we started focusing more on niches. So, for example, the German language, there is I don’t know how many people out there who explain the German language or help others learning German through explanations in English. There’s very few people and back then I think we were one of the first ones who started doing that with explanations in Spanish. So basically we focused on a very specific niche, which is the Latin American market. And then also with that niche, we even built like sub-niches to like to focus on those working in the Medical Center and then those who wanted to do, I don’t know, an exchange here in Germany. So we focused on those very specific niches and that has helped us a lot. And number 3 is also we change the business model. I’m going to talk about this a bit more. But, yeah, basically we adapted our business model to the new circumstances of last year and I guess this is the most important. I love the fact that you can break it down into those three and it sounds very clear and organized, but I’m sure that when you had to make those decisions, it might not have been that way. How did you, how did you determine this? How did you figure out what those three areas were going to be for you? Good question. So I trust numbers, but also I trust my feelings. So basically when we changed our business model. So what happened? We have already been very digital before the pandemic started. So I guess we were always a bit ahead of what other language companies would do and then we used to work with like language courses, which is a model that is very much used in the language industry. And so last year when the pandemic started and we started focusing on the Latin American market and we realized, OK, so now we’re not only serving the Mexican market, but also Argentina, Peru, Colombia, those are our main markets now. And we figured, OK, most of our clients or potential clients just lost their jobs. So right now, during the pandemic, when it’s actually most important to invest in languages, is to learn a new language or to go out there and say, hey, I speak German and people just couldn’t pay, they just couldn’t afford our courses, and so we, like, changed the whole price strategy and turn our business model away from the courses to a membership model. So instead of paying $150 for a language course, our clients started paying every month $22 U.S. dollars and so, yeah, I guess that was one of the main things that we realized. OK, well this is what – Well, never a dull moment working with technology, but we are back, so you are just saying that you had changed your pricing model to a membership and I don’t know if you want to add anything on there. I guess that was the key. And what just happened here is that technology is just to prove that we always need to adapt. As business owners, we always need to adapt to any kind of change and just make the best out of every situation, right? Oh, for sure. And I love that. I love hearing these stories about how you’ve been able to do that, because, I mean, we all know how hard the pandemic has been on so many businesses. So the more we can hear the success stories and the more we can learn from the folks that have been able to pivot and change, I think the better. You talked about having always had an online presence before and one of the things that I’ve noticed between your WooCommerce website, Instagram, all the videos that you put up, is that you create a genuine connection with the people that are visiting your site and it makes them want to work with you. What tips do you have for folks that are either rebuilding their online presence or doing it for the first time? OK, I guess one of the tips would definitely, definitely be to always think like, for example, we usually as a team, we work on project A. But me, I always think about the next steps. The next growth strategies, for example, so always be a little ahead of time maybe. And then also, like we said, it’s not like, OK, we started our membership model and everything was perfect right from the beginning. No, the membership model became perfect because we had many launches before, with like almost like really bad results, let’s say. And so I guess that’s also part of the process. And it’s important for me to mention as well to listen to the customers as well. I guess this whole post pandemic time now is a lot about community. So just launching an online course is just not enough anymore. We focused on the community building because we know that for learning a language, you’re not alone and you shouldn’t do it alone. Same for building your business. Like I have most of my own groups. I have my own coaches. I work as a coach to help others with that as well. So I guess that’s important, too, to like this whole community aspect. As you said, like when people come to our YouTube channel or Instagram page, they just feel very welcome and I guess that’s important to not just throw out a course and tell people, OK, this is what I do and this is what I offer, but also do more than just that. I guess that’s important. Yeah I mean, speaking another language, learning anything, really, it requires vulnerability and so you have to be willing to make mistakes and to try that out, and you you want to feel comfortable in a safe environment where you can do that, and so from what I’ve experienced, it looks like you created that. And I think that’s really commendable and really well done. And so I love the fact that you’ve kind of led into more of my questions and that it’s not always rosey and and sunny on the business side. What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve had to face? OK, I guess the team has been a challenge and is always a challenge for me. It’s important to say, like, so I’m the founder of the company and I’m the CEO, but like, I wouldn’t like all that wouldn’t have been possible without a team, right? So just focusing on the product, just focusing on the prize model is just not enough. Like if you work with other people then also try to help the team as much as possible. I guess that has been and is still a big challenge. Like, for example, when we went through all those changes as a founder of a company, you have your vision right and you have everything in your head is like, OK, but we’re going to do it next year in 2022, we’re going to do it that way but then you also need to communicate that to your team, first of all, before you’re communicating to the customers. Of course. And so sometimes then it’s also part of life and part of the business to just say, OK, we all change as a person, as human beings, so sometimes the way the company changes and the way that people you work with change, it’s just like, well, it doesn’t fit anymore. And so also to say goodbye to people and to allow new people to enter it, I guess that’s part of the process and that has always been very challenging for me. Yeah, that makes total sense. And I’m sure many of the people joining us have felt that or will feel it, we’re getting a lot of questions from attendees, so I’d love to start taking some from them. First up, E. Fitzgerald, do you have several WordPress.com sites for your businesses or do you have separate pages on the same WordPress.com site? OK, very good question. So we have one general WordPress site so we try also – it’s basically ZALOA languages is the main business and then we have our branches, which is the different languages and right now we focus on German, on Spanish and on indigenous languages from Mexico, which is our social project, basically. But so basically what we have is that we have set – if you go to our website, you can actually also see it, that it’s ZALOAlanguages.com is the main website. And then from there, if you click on Aleman, which is the Spanish way of saying German, then you would like we would redirect you to another page. But still we have all our courses, part of the ZALOA languages page, because like building the whole course and the course page and all the plug-ins that go with that, it’s just well, also in terms of finances and money, it just helps if you distribute it and if you make it for all languages the same place. But yeah, so one main page and then for every language, different pages. And next, how did you add the calendar and the place where clients make appointments on your website? Well, plan and plug-in do use? Very good question, because we’ve been struggling a lot with that. So basically, we have our main courses. They are like self learning courses. Right so you don’t need to schedule anything. And this is good to LearnDash builder, if you’ve heard about LearnDash, that’s the one that we use for courses and then we offer in addition to the courses, people can also schedule appointments with one of our native instructors. And that has been really, really hard because for us working on the Latin American market, it is very important to offer a different currencies like the Switcher. And so this has been a big struggle. And currently we work for the scheduling part with vcita, I think it comes originally from Spain, but we’ve been testing so many different tools and you spell it the vcita. That’s the one that we’re currently using and it has been great so far, but we just switched a couple of months ago. I love that you’re so willing and sharing that you tried a whole bunch of different things. You see what works, you see what doesn’t, and that you take on that level of experimentation. Let’s see if we have OK and do you use a different approach when teaching different age groups and cultural backgrounds? Yeah, we do, actually. And I guess that’s also why it’s so important to focus on different issues. So, for example, before for me, it was very hard when someone asked, so I have my kid is five, my daughter is 5, and she would like to learn German. Yeah she doesn’t want to learn German. You want her to know German. That’s alright. And so right now, like we ask our native instructors, but we don’t offer a specific program for those because we just decided to not focus on kids right now. So we focus on young adults and even within that age group, like we see different behaviors, like a person who needs it for their job has a different motivation than someone who maybe got married to a German and needs it to live in the country or to, I don’t know, to get along to communicate with the family of the husband or the wife. Right so, yeah, we definitely adapt our marketing strategies to those different segments. That’s great. Would you give some advice for WooCommerce beginners? Great question. Oh, very good question. So an advice I would give is to ask for help. Always like me, for example, I have a team, so my team does the main work. But as the founder, I always need to understand what’s going on and I guess that’s very important to like, for example, when my team says, we could do it that way, then I can think about and I can also say, OK, but we could also use option B, right? Is option B possible? No, I don’t think so. So then we actually contact, we actually contact WordPress.com I don’t know, every week, if we aren’t sure to ask, How is that plug-in and how does that work with that plug-in and what’s the issue with that one? So as a beginner, I guess asking for help is important. Also sometimes, like we also sometimes hire experts for a specific problem and then we find them online and we just hire them for a very specific project and ask for help, but also understand everything yourself. I guess that would be important. I love it and I think asking for help, I mean, can transcend no matter what field are you’re working in, and especially as beginners, there so many resources that we have online? And you mentioned yourself that you’ve done Masterminds and a whole bunch of other resources as well, so you can never stop learning. So what’s next? What’s next for you, for the team? What can we hope to see from you? OK, so we definitely for the German language, we’re definitely going to focus more on our sub-segments, as I mentioned, like we focused on a segment which is serving the Latin American market. But even within that segment, obviously, there is a huge cultural difference between Mexicans and Argentinians, for example. But then also we focus on the different groups and this is what we’re going to do more. This is a bit more like short term, let’s say, then long term. Obviously, we also always working on this community part more because as I mentioned, I think after the post pandemic time, it’s very important. So we’re currently working on new strategies to bring people together again, virtually, but also on the spot like also person, in person events. And yeah, we actually also this is still a bit top secret,but we’re actually working on an app as well, because this is also like listening to our customers, what they suggest, what we could improve. It’s just like right now opening a web browser is great to do it at your German courses but if you get notifications on your phone and then if you can somehow turn it into an app that’s like our mid-term project, I’d say. I love it. So I’ve heard overall ask for help. Listen to your customers. Don’t be afraid to experiment, to take chances. And I mean, this has been super valuable. I love chatting with you.I have a million more questions, but unfortunately, we don’t have more time for them.So thank you again for being part of this. It was lovely to have you and thank you to everyone who’s joined us today. I hope you took as much value from this as I did and enjoy the rest of Growth Summit. Thank you very much.

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