The Advantages of Going Multilanguage With Your Small Business

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How does it sound to grow your business in a multi-cultural environment? Of course, English is tagged as the universal language, as being used for the vast majority of business exchanges worldwide. However, there are many cases where the day to day operations of a local small business can demand being fluent in more than one language, regardless you are the person right behind the counter or the manager of a large franchise.

Multi-language web interfaces have a fair frequency among home based businesses and small B2C enterprises, while in the world of B2B the occurrence is even higher. Does your own business need to become multilingual?

Language is not just a mean of communication, but it has deep implications over people’s sense of belonging to a culture, which relates to their self-consciousness and pride. Globalization will probably never overcome the inner drive to express one’s thoughts and feelings in the mother tongue. People – customers, stakeholders – tend to feel more confident and well-treated when they can deal with businesses in their own native dialect. For companies, this involves having a multi-lingual web interface of some sort and business staff trained to bridge the gap between cultures. It may sound as a considerable effort on your side, but actually with the proper tools and a minimum time investment on your side, multilingualism can be achieved quite easily, in your own profit.

There are some professional fields where going multi-language is a must: tourism, HORECA, retail and crafts, to name only a few. Also, in which concerns home-based businesses, the domains most likely to develop multi-language necessities are the web-related ones (design, development, copywriting), MLM or consultancy. However, this list isn’t by any means exclusive. Talking about your own small business, how can it exactly benefit from such endeavor as going multi-language?

Build new business relations

Open events, trade shows or fairs bring great opportunities to feature your business in the eyes of a wide public, often an international one. You have the chance to do good networking with potential partners, to pitch investors or contract franchisers whom you otherwise wouldn’t have had the chance to meet in person.

Catalogues and brochures you carry for these events should definitely be at least bi-lingual. If you are living in an English-speaking country, consider making a version of your kit in the next most frequently used language in your target area. You never know who you are going to meet on such events, so being well prepared is a must for good business etiquette. Beyond the professional looks, you will have real advantages in communication with new acquaintances. If you want to go even further, consider creating multi-lingual business cards, press releases, investor pitches, sales kits etc. It will take maybe a day of copywriting work, but catching the big fish makes it worth the pains.

Provide value on your website and grow your reputation globally

You should definitely take advantage of the limitless outreach internet has. At this point, you probably ask yourself: “Ok, I will get my business found globally, but what if I don’t make deliveries abroad?” Well, even if you don’t run actual business operations in foreign territories, you will still benefit from the credibility you gain. People often do research on the internet to find information that will help them make the purchase decision. If you provide them valuable content (not necessarily related to selling purposes), you will gain good reputation and thus organic traffic from the search engines, which helps your rankings on the long term.

Your website doesn’t need to turn into an encyclopedia. Just provide a brief summary of your main activity and your business profile bilingually. The minimum language pack necessary on your website to make your products, services and information available all around the world is your own dialect and English.

Outsource effectively

Almost every company or professional has gone through the stage of outsourcing business tasks at some point, especially when starting up. It allows you to focus on core business tasks which need your immediate attention, while delegating non-essential time consumers. On the other hand, outsourcing brings a leap in service quality, as it gives access to logistics that the company wouldn’t afford, and also knowledge resources, skills and intellectual property that would otherwise be inaccessible for the standalone company.

As a part of outsourcing, offshoring involves contracting lower cost working force from other countries. More and more small businesses are embracing it out of necessity or to maximize profit, regardless the social debate over the topic. If you plan on delegating part of your tasks to partners abroad, you will certainly need to find a language bridge in order to supervise things as you do in-house. Workers’ training is an essential step to make a good foundation for your collaboration. To lay a common ground, it’s a good idea to translate the existing documentation in your partners’ own native language, so that you will minimize misunderstandings from the very start.

Open new business operations in other countries

Business extension to new markets abroad is a radical decision, and should only be put into practice after a session of thorough research. Once you’ve started new operations abroad, you will need to establish the levels of control you wish to maintain from the headquarters.

Generally speaking, you will surely need:
– multi-language customer support
– multilingual content on the website – it should be easy to switch to and from any language, with a dropdown list for example. Of course, you will need to perform search engine optimization for each language.
– multi-currency operations, adapted payment options and online merchants for each country
– shipping options for each target country

When you are a small business aiming to reach other countries, it’s recommendable that you find experienced localization partners in each territory that will not only sell your goods or services, but also implement the brand on the respective markets.

Shift the approach on present markets and grow your customer base

The need for multilingual business operations arises more often for SMEs that operate in European and Latin American markets, because the environment there is more diverse in terms of languages used. But it’s maybe no corner of the world where you can’t find a mix of dialects together. There is a fair chance that you are surrounded by a consistent foreign language speaking segment of public. To get a good reach on local language minorities, you should definitely find ways to bridge gaps between your staff and habitual customers that speak other languages than your own.

In my own hometown, people have visible retentions to do so, there are visible ethnic tensions. Considering the frequency of such phenomena, it has to be stated clearly: business is not the place to affirm your personal convictions. If your inner self isn’t that open to people who don’t speak your own native language, you shouldn’t let segregation show in your daily operations, or you will loose on potential business. Today’s world is either profit or militancy in this particular concern. Sounds cynical? Give it another thought.

Simply put, multilingualism helps you build better relations with time-crunched prospects that don’t have the will to carry a dictionary in their bag to decipher the product tag when they buy your bakery. People who do social media management in your business should be among the first ones to open their vocabulary to new languages. Ethnical minorities which are compelled to speak other language than their own in the day to day life return to their native dialect on Facebook, for instance.

To sum things up, the multi-language online kit your business needs mainly consists of:
Email multi-language communication. Although most times we conveniently use English, be ready to answer in customers’ own language. Also, make sure you adapt your signature to the languages used in the body text.
Multi-language support on your website. Any developer will explain you that there are mainly three methods with the similar result: site replication, selective replication and dynamic content generation. The selective replication is the most effective in terms of site performance although a bit harder to implement. If you have to choose, opt for this one. If you build site elements separately, choose a site builder that has multi-language support.
Multilanguage forms and surveys for catalyzing business interaction on your webpage – event registration, order forms (if you integrate e-commerce in your business), surveys, all types of subscriptions. As a bare minimum, in the absence of a website of your own, you can disseminate these forms by email, instant messaging or social media and receive submissions directly into your inbox.
Multi-language content on social media. Be ready to participate in conversations and give support if needed.
Google Places listing for your business, accompanied by Google Product Search listing for the countries you are delivering to.

As a final thought, it’s best to rely as little as possible on Google Translate and other services, although web language tools can prove really useful in certain situations (for example email copywriting). Complex tasks need human presence to fulfill them correctly. Have a language consultant for you and your staff, and get regular sessions of speaking to improve your conversational abilities. And be confident! Even if natives tend to recognize a non-natural speaker, people will surely appreciate your effort in getting accustomed to their language.

Good luck!

Laura Moisei
A dedicated blogger and small business consultant, Laura Moisei is Brand Manager for 123ContactForm web form builder that helps thousands of users create forms and surveys for their businesses. Laura has a BA in Journalism and Multimedia Technologies, which she joins with an interest in photography and film.

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