Growing up, few could’ve expected that Angela Sterling would one day become the proud founder and managing director of Lingotot, the language-teaching franchise. “I’m from the north of England and when I grew up in the 1980s it had zero social diversity,” she says. “It was very much white working class. No one went on holidays because no one had the money and we had no experience of other cultures or languages.” Fortunately, during secondary school she had the opportunity to study French. “And I fell in love with it because it was so exotic,” Sterling says. “I realised that it wasn’t just other people around the world that could speak different languages. I could do it too.” This revelation set her upon the path that would take her towards entrepreneurial success.
A second huge leap forward came when she worked as an au pair in Paris after turning 18. As a part of her job, Sterling had the privilege of joining the family’s son on his playdates, one of which would leave a lasting impression. “One of his friends lived in France, studied at an international school where they spoke English, his dad was German and his mum Polish: this boy spoke all four languages,” she says. Given how Sterling had grown up in an extremely homogenous culture, it’s easy to see how this four-year-old’s proficiency in different tongues impressed her. “It blew my mind,” she says. The experience was one of the reasons that made her decide to study to become a modern foreign languages teacher at University of Stirling.
A few years later, Sterling decided to open a business of her own when she returned to the UK after having spent two years developing the foreign language curriculum at a school in Dubai. “But I didn’t have a job to get back to because I knew on a personal level that we were going to have at least one more child,” she says. However, not one to sit idle for long, she decided to start teaching French to other children. Although this decision was not one Sterling made in the blink of an eye. “I did a lot of research, read books and became convinced that not only could I do it but I could help other people do it too, even if they didn’t speak the language themselves,” she says. This research would eventually lay the foundation of the method used at Lingotot.
Nevertheless, despite her teaching expertise, there were a few important skills that Sterling was desperately lacking. “I couldn’t run a business,” she says. Luckily, she almost stumbled upon a solution when it was time for her oldest daughter’s seven-week health check at a Sure Start children’s centre. “They were promoting this course that was literally called business for women,” she says. “And they had a crèche where I could leave the baby and learn how to run a business.” Not only did the course teach her the fundamental managerial skills required to realise her entrepreneurial ambitions but it also gave her the first customers as a result of people from the centre signing up for her classes.
Eager to expand her client base even more, Sterling confesses to have been slightly overzealous in her initial marketing efforts. “I was so naive,” she laughs. “I didn’t know how to write a press release and googled it, wrote one and sent it off.” The next day she was surprised when an actual reporter and a photographer from the local newspaper showed up to make a full-page spread about her business. That story was then picked up by BBC Radio 5 who subsequently showed up at her first ever session in 2010. “It just went mad,” she says. Needless to say, Lingotot proved to be an instant hit.