Name: Jurga Zilinskiene
Company: Today Translations
Founded: August 2001
You often hear budding entrepreneurs declaring that they have always wanted to go it alone, having dreamt since childhood of owning their own company.
While many aspired to take the plunge before finding themselves in another nine to five job, Jurga Zilinskiene can genuinely claim to being nothing else but an entrepreneur. Jurga has her first business brainwave at the age of six, after finding some old packets of seeds in the loft of the family house.
The fact that she went from living in a Lithuanian town to own Today Translations, managing over 1,500 linguists across the globe, in just five years, makes her story even more remarkable.
“There were beetroot seeds, onion seeds and 10 or 15 other types,” she explains. “They were very old. I took them down to the market and sold them. I had quite a queue. I think that I was selling them very cheaply.”
The young Jurga wasn’t happy building up a seed-based empire, however, and at the ripe old age of 10 went into the pet breeding business with a little help from the family pets. She would also buy sweets and sell them onto her schoolmates.
By the age of 16, she started making serious money by importing cloth from the United Arab Emirates and selling it on. A year later, she was running her own small supermarket. She somehow found time to get married, but the relationship turned sour and she moved to the UK aged 19 to study law.
“I eventually completed part two of the law degree, before I decided that I didn’t want to become a lawyer, but I liked the idea of understanding the law,” she says. “My legal knowledge has come in very useful in my current business, since about 80 per cent of our business currently comes from law firms.”
The current business in question is Today Translations, which Jurga set up in August 2001. In a short period of time, Today has gained a portfolio of over 200 clients, with Jurga in charge of a huge team of linguists who translate, interpret and proof-read documents in over 160 languages, from Arabic to Yoruba.
Jurga is setting her sights high for Today – she plans to double the company’s turnover every year, not a mean achievement when the business is set to make £600,000 this year.
The twists don’t end there though – Jurga has managed this success despite the fact she has not borrowed a penny in startup funding.
“The investment I made in the business was gradual,” she explains. “The final figure was about £13,000. It was my own money – money I had made and saved from previous ventures.
“I never borrowed from the bank. I don’t like borrowing from the bank, some people might say that I am old-fashioned in that way, or maybe un-British, but I believe in natural business growth.”
Using a business sense honed since her seed-selling days back in Lithuania, Jurga realised that there was an opportunity to set up a translation business in the UK that offered a truly personal service to clients.
Jurga, seemingly in a bid to work in every profession that exists, was working as an interpreter at the time.
“I had been working as an interpreter myself, mainly interpreting in Russian, but when I was working as an interpreter, I found it hard to plan my time.
“I also saw that there was a real opportunity to start a business that would offer a better, more personal service than other agencies seemed to be providing.
“There has never been a better time to consider a career as a professional linguist, whether as a translator or interpreter. The British armed forces in Iraq and elsewhere are also crying out for more Brits able to speak Arabic. There is such a shortage that they are turning to students taking Arabic degrees,” she says.
In another example of her determination to succeed, Jurga learnt how to design her own software, after not finding a developer who could meet her needs.
“I initially wanted to buy or commission a database,” she explains. “I consulted about 10 companies and individuals, but after failing to find a programmer to meet my needs, I decided to do it myself.
“So, I hired a tutor and had training in visual basic. But when my tutor told me that particular type of programme could not be designed, I bought a book and found a way to design it, until I ended up with precisely the database I wanted.”
Having shown such dedication and versatility in her entrepreneurial career, it’s not surprising that Jurga is slightly disappointed by some of the British press coverage of Eastern European migrants.
As she points out, not only do new arrivals start up new companies, they also provide much-needed labour which would push up prices and staff costs if removed from the UK workforce. However, Jurga hasn’t encountered any prejudice herself.
“I have not found it a problem being an outsider or an immigrant. In fact, it has sometimes seemed almost an advantage. People – both individuals and organisations – have been extremely welcoming and helpful.
“Also, being a foreigner has certain advantages in my line of work,” she says.