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05th Nov 2014

Irish Women In Business – Natasha Lynch, Essential French

"I feel blessed that after 18 years I still get a serious buzz from my job."


Natasha Lynch set up Essential French eighteen years ago and has been recognised as one of the leading innovators in the language education sector due to her dynamic approach to using social media and online tools.

In the latest in our Irish Women In Business series, Natasha took a few minutes to chat to about her path to success, balancing a career and family life and her top tips for those setting up their own business.

How did you originally get into the language education business?

I completed my BCL law degree when I was 22 years old and then went on to complete my MBS Masters in Entrepreneurship back in 1996. As part of my thesis, I established Essential French to test the theories I had studied and here we are, 18 years later! I chose French as we holidayed as a family every year to the South of France and I have an enormous love for the language.

Why did you decide to set up your own company?

While all of my college friends were busy sending out CVs to find solicitor apprenticeships, I was busy working on lesson plans for the young children I was teaching French to in the neighbourhood. I have always loved teaching but what truly inspires me is creating innovative ways of teaching the language to make it informative yet fun and dynamic. I knew there was a market in Cork for this type of tuition.

I also despise being told what to do, I actually break out in a rash! So working for myself was really the only option open to me. I knew it would give me the freedom to do what I wanted to do in a way that I felt challenged yet invigorated. I must say – I was right!

What were your goals when you set up your business?

I was only 23 years of age when I established Essential French. I wanted to create a grinds business that really pushed the boundaries in teaching methodology. I wanted to create something fresh, completely different to the typical ‘grinds mentality’ out there. To achieve my goal, I simply listened to what the students told me they wanted to help them in their struggles in study and then Essential French provided it in a fun and fresh way.

I firmly believe that our success is due to the huge involvement of our students in advising us on what works for them and on how best to deliver it to ensure it is memorable and fresh. Once we were in business a few years, my new goal was for EF students to obtain the highest French grades in the Leaving Cert nationally, which we have succeeded in doing and continue to do for the past 11 years.

What sets your company apart from its competitors?

We run extremely innovative social media campaigns via Twitter, Snapchat and Vine that the students love and really connect with. We teach French via these platforms using images and vocab that our students respond so positively to. By placing ourselves firmly in this creative space, it allows us to really engage with our audience, which is invaluable in terms of promoting our brand and building a fun community online.

What are the biggest challenges that you have faced?

Being in business for 18 years, our biggest challenge has been how to remain current and fresh in the teenage market. Over the 18 years, obviously trends in this market have changed dramatically. If you think back in 1996, teenagers didn’t have mobile phones and social media didn’t exist. It is so easy to become ‘old news’ among this generation. By listening to our students over the years, we have transformed the business as the teenage landscape has changed. To be honest – even though this is a challenge, it is so much fun and I genuinely get a buzz out of trying out new ways of engaging with our kids.

What has been the most memorable moment of your career so far?

Winning Irish Business Woman of the Year back in 1996 is definitely up there! Then, in June this year, our innovative use of social media was recognised when we won the Bord Gais Award for Creative Use of Social Media on a national level.

Do you think that women face additional challenges in business or has this ever been an issue for you?

Most definitely, yes. I have two young sons and this has been a huge challenge for me as a business woman, a mother and a wife. I always remember every time one of my sons asked me to put away my laptop, but I can never remember what email was so urgent that I was unable to put it away. There is a hidden guilt there that never goes away. Having an amazing support structure at home has made this so much easier and I consider myself blessed to have that.

What is your favourite/least favourite part of your job?

My favourite part of my job is definitely the day of the Leaving Cert results and seeing the kids tearing up the stairs dying to share their good news. Hugs all around from everyone, even the rugby die-hards! We are very fortunate to have such fantastic students and parents who value what we do.

To be honest, there is no part of my job I detest. If there is something that I don’t like doing, I usually find one of the team that I feel would relish the challenge and I delegate it over to them.

What do you hope to achieve with Essential French in the future?

Our parents and students keep asking us to set up other divisions of the business due to the success of Essential French. We set up Essential Irish a few years ago and we are now launching Essential Science next month. We also are working on a study hub for students, as well as a French app, so really exciting times ahead.

What piece of advice would you give to someone hoping to follow in a similar career path?

Only set up a business that really inspires you and gives you a buzz. You will live, breath, eat and drink it so it is vital that you thoroughly enjoy the space you are working in. I feel blessed that after 18 years I still get a serious buzz from my job. It is hard work but what an adventure!

You can find out more about Essential French by logging on to, tweeting @PetitTweetCork, checking out EFerVines or emailing [email protected].