How to use Language & Culture to Excel at Export

Do you export? Using knowledge of foreign languages and cultures can really give you a competitive advantage. Find out how.

As the internet grows so does international trade but while the big companies handle this with ease it’s not always the case with smaller companies, especially smaller export focused businesses.

It’s important that if you want your business to expand overseas you look at the opportunities you can create by speaking to people in their language and in their culture.

If you really want to get hold of all that international custom then take a look at your publicity material right now.  Looked at it?  Well I bet they were all in English weren’t they and that’s not going to help that company in Belarus who you want to do business with. Ensure your publicity material is in their language and the chances of you making that sale have just improved vastly.

It’s not just the website, brochures and leaflets that need to be translated; it’s the same for business cards too. If you’re in Spain and happen to have a business card that’s been translated into Spanish then that’s going to be a great asset. It shows you’ve put some effort into your quest to become an international business not just sitting back and expecting everyone to learn English.

Respect for other languages and cultures are always going to be an asset and help build a relationship.

:: Use Translations

For the initial point of contact it’s your website that really needs attention. Someone from Peru might have found out about your product and are interested in doing business with you. They decide to take a look at your website to find out more about what you can offer them and it’s in English. No translations, and unless the photos tell them what they need to know, then they’re in big trouble.  If they can’t read it in there language they’ll probably just go onto the next business on their list and see if they have a translated website. They were on your doorstep and you lost them, how much will that disaster cost you in the future?

Sit down and work out which countries you want to target for business and then get your website translated into those languages. You’ve just taken a major step in attracting foreign businesses.

I used to edit magazines and often dealt with countries such as Mexico, Japan and Germany. When I went to a company website and was able to have the latest news and results translated into English that meant a great deal to me. What did it mean to them?  Well it meant I was more willing to do business with them and write articles about their company. SO if they can do it then so can you.

However if you are going to have your website translated into another language make sure you employ someone who can do the job and has worked with exporters. I’ve dealt with plenty of websites whose translation into English can be pretty comical or as it’s also known, unhelpful.

:: Speak a Foreign Language

Being able to speak a foreign language is also a great asset. The more difficult communication is the more unlikely business will be. Multilingual staff is an important factor, just imagine how impressed that Japanese client will be when the Englishman contacting him can speak Japanese fluently. If you are going after a country or region, and you don’t fancy a foreign language crash course, then invest in staff who speak the language or even interns. You will be amazed at how much this complements your business and helps your exports grow in that location. Make a commitment to bringing language skills in-house and watch those goods fly.

:: Be Culturally Aware

Cultural differences are another barrier that you simply cannot afford to be ignorant about. Learning about different cultures can be a real feather in your cap, don’t bother and you’re facing potential embarrassment and loss of custom.

Learn how to meet and greet people, the use of names, body language, building relationships, giving presentations, negotiating and entertaining. All lead to increased effectiveness.

For example, if you’re dealing with a Chinese company and want to give them a gift, avoid something white, blue or black because of their association with death. In Iran don’t give anyone the thumbs up because in that country it’s a huge insult and if you’re in Austria wait to be introduced don’t do it yourself.

It’s a bit of a minefield isn’t it but just so easy to upset someone, there are plenty of websites out there with helpful advice to avoid disaster especially deciding not to offer your Indian customers a roast beef dinner!  Learn the culture and receive the respect of your client.

Communicating with people from different countries and cultures isn’t easy but the problems can be overcome. Learn all you can, make sure you put the effort in that shows your client that you respect their culture and you’re on the way to export success.

Topics: Business Development, Export Planning, Getting Started, Localisation, Market Research, and Operations
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