Sofia Pariente- Spanish (Catalan)- 36 years old- English and Spanish Philologist.
What is your business?
I run BCNLIP, a language school and bookshop in the centre of Barcelona. We mainly teach Spanish and Catalan but we are now opening more languages like English, French, German, Italian, Hebrew, Portuguese and Chinese. The school is a growing business with a different and personal atmosphere. Our students and clients are mainly people that are already working and living in Barcelona and really want to learn the language and culture of Barcelona. That's why, besides language classes, we do walking routes, cooking classes, movie projections...
Where did the original idea come from?
I have always liked languages and travelling. The first time I went to England to study English I was thirteen. Then, I started to think: why don't people do the same with Spanish? Some years, I had the chance to start this business and I felt very lucky to do what I always wanted to do.
How long did it take your business off the ground?
From the moment we acquired the place to the moment we opened it, around a year. to get a business off the ground is divided into four parts: the installations, the licences, the organisation of the business (stock, publicity, formation and preparation of the courses) and staff (looking for the right people and making contracts)
What do you wish you'd known when you started?
I wish I'd known my target. I really didn't know which type of students were going to be interested in me. At the beginning, you try to like everybody: the name, the website, the first publicity... With time, you realise your target and the people that are going to enjoy your business (which, luckily, is not everybody)
Did you the paperwork difficult?
Paperwork is always difficult. But, with a good agency there shouldn't be any problem. According to me, the hardest thing is to get City hall licenses. Barcelona has a particular obsession of installing wood on the floor. It was hell. I thought I was never going to make but, finally, we did it. The schools amazing: wooden floor, stone walls and air conditioning. In Spanish there is a saying; "Para ser bella hay que sufrir"
How easy was it get the financing for your business?
I run another family business that has nothing to do with the school (my dream). This means, that I didn't go to any bank for initial financing. I have grown with the school in an organic way. We started with one student. In two years, we have had probably more than a thousand. I invested the money I was earning from the business.
Did you get help from any particular official organisations or associations?
I don't belong to any organization but now we are on the process of becoming part of the Cervantes association, the official Spanish teaching association. A language school needs two years of work to have certain credibility. We finally made it successfully and now we will belong to an international network that will put us in an international ground.
What is your business experience/ background/qualifications?
I am licensed in English and Spanish Philology and I have a masters in teaching Spanish for foreigners. I have also worked as a Spanish teacher in different schools and have tried to learn about their business. But the most important thing is that, although my vocation is teaching, I had to run the family business (dental clinics) when I was 23. I had to learn all the aspects of running a business: countability, administration, publicity, hiring and firing people, directing the staff, negotiating stock and any aspect of running a business. We also created a new dental clinic in Sant Feliu, so I learned how to get a business off the ground.
What are the positive aspects about having a business here?
We are Mediterranean, dynamic, flexible and spontaneous. We have a free spirit and Barcelona is, of course, a city of business people since the Roman Empire. Catalans have always been great traders and our city is probably the most dynamic in the Mediterranean.
And the negative aspects?
Banks, papers, the mañana, mañana philosophy and making wrong decisions when chosing people in your staff.
Are there any other useful contacts, tips or information you think....?
Our school is a great point to help people: you'll learn Spanish and Catalan!