From the October 2000 issue of Startups

Relocating to a foreign country can be a daunting move, especially when you're transplanting yourself to a big city-and the nation's capital. When Sachiyo Ikeda, the founder of Link International NYC, arrived in Washington D.C. in 1984 from Japan, she no idea she would eventually start her own business using a skill she already possessed-being fluent in both Japanese and English. She worked for several American companies in D.C., but it was her last stint at the D.C. office of a Japanese company that finally got her entrepreneurial juices flowing. Because she had become used to relatively relaxed American work structure, Ikeda no longer felt comfortable being micromanaged and wanted to follow her own business instinct.

Ikeda, 38, had developed a wide network of business associates from her corporate career, and she began talking to them to find out what services they needed. In May 1993, she began offering Japanese/English translation and broadcasting industry research services. In 1995, she moved to New York City, and she now works out of her converted living room in a midtown Manhattan apartment, with her Maltese, Taro, by her side. Her business has continued to grow, and she's adjusted her service offerings to stay current with business trends and emerging technologies. With annual sales of more than $100,000 and several significant ongoing projects, Ikeda has proven that language skills can go a long way toward business success.

HomeOfficeMag: What services do you offer now?

Sachiyo Ikeda: [I provide services in] two areas. I issue newsletters monitoring U.S. telecommunication and broadcasting industry trends, and I offer simultaneous Japanese interpretation at business conventions. I've done the National Association of Broadcasters convention for the past seven years, for example.

HomeOfficeMag: How do you market your translation services?

Ikeda: I contact Japanese travel agencies. Since they provide the tickets and arrangements for [Japanese businesspeople], I will, for example, tell them there's an Internet conference to be held in New York. I'll ask the travel agency if they would be interested in organizing a tour [of the conference]. Then I offer simultaneous interpretation at the conference for the tour [participants.]

HomeOfficeMag: Do you have a steady client base?

Ikeda: I have clients that I maintain close relationships with, mostly Japanese broadcasting companies and automobile companies like Honda. This year, I became a board member of the Japanese Automobile Engineering Association multimedia committee. That's held in Tokyo, so I traveled there and did a presentation on the status and trends in the U.S. broadcasting industry. Automobile companies are very interested in the current [state of the] broadcasting industry.

HomeOfficeMag: Have you encountered any obstacles while growing your company?

Ikeda: Well, at first it's a challenge to build your client list. But after you establish a certain number of clients, you become very comfortable with the size of your business. [With that mindset,] you can never grow. After [I had been in] New York awhile, I reached that level. [While] I was financially comfortable, I was very uncomfortable emotionally. You have to keep striving in order to make your company grow. I tried new things, took risks. I took a huge loss trying to offer simultaneous translation at a computer graphics conference because no one needed my service. That was interesting because I thought there would be a great demand. I did a lot of homework before I organized that. I talked to experts, but sometimes even experts don't know what the general people think. But it was a learning experience, and I won't make the same mistake twice.

HomeOfficeMag: What do your corporate clients think of your homebased status?

Ikeda: [When I first began] seven years ago, it was a problem for some people who didn't understand the idea of people working out of their home. Now the idea of working at home is very acceptable, even in the Japanese culture. There are a lot of SOHOs in Japan, so it's not a problem.

HomeOfficeMag: What are the benefits of owning a homebased business?

Ikeda: You can schedule your own hours. It can be positive because you can just take a day off and go to Central Park or go to the gym, but on the other hand, it can be negative because you might end up working really long hours. I try to set up a routine-otherwise I might [wake up late] and not start working until 2 in the afternoon. I went through that phase, so I'm trying to set normal work hours. But I do give myself Saturdays off, something I didn't do [when I first started out].

HomeOfficeMag: Are there any disadvantages?

Ikeda: I miss [having co-workers.] Coming from a different culture, I learned by watching people work and solve problems the American way. My former boss spoke very effectively and seemed to get what he wanted. He taught me to be assertive when necessary and that people wouldn't be offended just because you've expressed your desire.

HomeOfficeMag: What are your future plans?

Ikeda: I see a strong interest from other Asian countries, such as Korea and Singapore, to obtain up-to-date information on the U.S. telecommunications and broadcasting industries. That's the area I'm trying to tap into. Right now I publish newsletters in Japanese, but in the near future, I'd like to translate it in other Asian languages. I also have contacts with Korean broadcasters who are trying to produce a TV program in the United States about cutting-edge technology. The Japanese government is in the process of issuing broadcasting licenses for the next generation of communications satellite broadcasting. The license will be given to a company offering interactive services in Japan. I'm trying to put together companies and investors to apply for the license. This is the biggest challenge for me because I have to raise between $800,000 and $1 million.