Nicola Shimwell has been working within the language service sector for nearly 30 years. She started her career with Sony, Germany. Primarily it was to learn a language and to live in another country (the fact her then boyfriend was German helped make the decision!).
Her two-year stint gave her an insight into how challenging it can be to work in another language and another country. She believes that this experience ultimately led her towards starting up Dialogue. Nicola returned to the UK and worked within the Burton Group and met Rob (her future husband) who just happened to be French teacher in a business language school. Was this serendipity?
After marrying in 1992, they decided that they would like to run their own language services business. They launched a company dedicated to people who needed to learn another language to communicate better at work, understand cultural nuances and of course to be able to communicate on an even playing field – both in the written or spoken word. And so Dialogue was created.
It was an interesting start. No sooner had they given in their respective notices and found a suitable place to start their business, Nicola found out that she was pregnant. Daisy was born and soon after Jessica made an appearance. Life was busy and never boring. A few years later, Aimee and Becky, her identical twins were born, completing their family.
From the start, they wanted to create a business that put people at the centre. Yes, they needed to make a profit but their main motivation was then, and still is today, to allow communication across all levels of business, creating a culture of equality and ecologically-motivated pursuits.
Thank you for interviewing with us today, can you introduce yourself to us?
Thank you for your time. Yes, I’m Nicola and I run a language service company, that provides training to increase language and cultural knowledge. We also translate in all mediums and provide interpreters too. Our aim is to give our clients a single point of contact to help resolve any language challenges they might have.
Can you take us through your journey to where you are now?
It’s been a journey, that’s for sure. We started out as just me and Rob nearly 30 years ago and have steadily grown the business, employing 11 full-time staff and working with literally hundreds of freelance linguists all over the world. Battling recessions, pandemics and everyday challenges that small companies face. It has been exhilarating and very interesting and we are still learning and evolving. Ultimately, we would like to be known as the language solutions provider that puts people and quality at the centre of all decisions.
Since starting, have you made any changes to your business model?
I think over time, as everything is being automated, we have had to learn to embrace these new technical solutions but not to be taken over by them. How many times have you waited on an automated phone, answering questions that are not relevant and have thought ‘if only I could talk to a human’? Well, that’s where we decided that human interaction is still key, but we will harness new ways of communicating to benefit our clients.
Have you ever had a mentor? If so, how has this benefitted you either personally or professionally?
Yes, and we still get outside thinkers involved. It is one of the best decisions we have made. It allows us to think through challenges and get the all-important different perspective. It gives you space and allows you engage in different solutions. Above all it keeps you on your toes and keeps things fresh.
What outlets do use for marketing?
We have used and are using social media, but it’s possibly not the best platform for the services we provide – although it does allow for brand development. The marketing that works the best for us and has resulted in the majority of growth is referrals from our suppliers and clients. I should mention that events and webinars also play a part too and this year we will be exploring other avenues too.
What or Who has inspired you most recently?
Gosh that’s a hard one, probably Mel Robins and Marie Forleo, but I do read and listen to a lot of podcasts and there are so many interesting and inspiring people out there!
What is the best piece of business advice you have received to date?
Create values that resonate strongly with you and make sure you use them every day. They are not just words – they need to be used as a tool – so recruit against them, choose suppliers and clients that also have the same values etc. It just helps bring unity to a company. If people understand what is driving a business and they relate to it, then the company is going to be so much stronger.
How do you create an evenly balanced work and personal life?
You can’t always. Rob and I have lived and worked together for over 30 years and we understand that Dialogue can sometimes be all-pervading but at the end of the day, you need to down tools and do something completely different. We do have 4 adult children, wonderful friends, dogs and cats that happily distract us and give us the balance we need.
Name a seminal point in your career so far?
It has to be the decision to start our own company.
What gives you ultimate career satisfaction?
I think for me it is when you see everyone pulling together and people are enjoying what they are doing. Seeing people develop their skills, even if this eventually means they move on, is a wonderful thing to be part of.
How do you define your own success?
Seeing Dialogue start from zero to a company that is still relatively small, but knows who they are and what they are trying to achieve and have a group of people who reflect this.
Finally, what can we expect from you next?
Hopefully, you will see our new product Kudos making inroads into the language training world and a company that is getting a name for itself in giving honest, solution orientated and practical advice on how companies can improve on their communication strategies.