There’s an international travel blogger I know who makes his living by paid presentations to tourism boards around the world and reviewing cruise ships, resorts and other travel services. Not a bad life for an ex-tech entrepreneur!
But one thing I always find interesting is that middle-aged Midwestern “Fred” never learned to speak another language beyond a couple of words of high school German. That means that all of his presentations, business transactions and… well, travel is done in English only.
I’m sure there have been times when Fred wished that he understood key languages like Arabic, Spanish or Chinese. Then again maybe the non-English-speaking Yemeni taxi driver taking him to God-knows-where was just part of the adventure. But his is also a business that needs to be sustainable. Could he reach a wider audience with his services and articles? Would it help to be able to negotiate a better price or get the local inside scoop on a hidden travel treasures?
For the rest of us: Is there a greater value from expanding your business beyond your native language?
As almost always in international business, the answer is… it depends.
Now fast-forward to all of the rapidly expanding American technology companies that are all trying to find the magic incantation to yield predictable, sustainable revenue growth. There’s pressure from investors to show increased market share and progress towards greater profits. Global market potential can be an escape valve from the pressure cooker of stakeholder expectations. After all, the U.S. may be a large country but it only accounts for 5% of world population and an ever-shrinking percentage of world technology consumers.
But really… in today’s global business environment, isn’t English the language of business? Companies get incoming inquiries all the time from international leads. And couldn’t interested readers just hit the Google Translate button to read blog post in their native language? Do we really need to change our product’s language, along with every other function to be able to reach non-English speakers?
Many American tech companies side step this whole issue by focusing on expansion English-speaking Canada, The United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. If these are truly the most profitable time investments for the company, then why not use English as the expansion criteria?
But the truth is – most companies don’t do the research to find out. Ignorance isn’t quite bliss when your expansion is financed by investors or retained earnings. Honestly, Canada is normally a safe bet because of market similarities and NAFTA. But sometimes there are surprising markets that are more profitable and less competitive than native English markets. Take for example Tadley, Inc., which develops management software for private secondary schools. With over 3,000 education clients, their strong markets (no surprise) are in Asia and centered around China. Or take a less tech example – ladies’ handbags. A Japanese women is used to paying sometimes twice as much for the same designer handbag as in the U.S. It wouldn’t make sense for either Tadley or a handbag designer to stick with English-speaking markets.
Based on the Smartling[i] survey, we can estimate that for every international lead we get there are 9 others who only searched for our product or service in their native language. That’s a quick finger in the air to know which way the wind is blowing for your international market demand.
Only through market research can you know the projected Return on Investment based on market potential and the associated costs (including translation and localization) for your company’s products and services. Armed with this information, you can go forth with more confidence in your expansion planning.
Next week’s article will be about the nuts and bolts of gathering the right types of actionable information to make smarter decisions for international expansion. Until then, best of success in all of your business efforts!