For many businesses, the only way to grow is to go global. Reaching new markets in places with new languages, and cultures. The idea is simple, right? Just have all your marketing and legal materials translated, start promoting and watch the money come in.
Well, no. It is not that simple.
That marketing strategy that worked in the US may not work anywhere else. That killer headline you used for your billboards, may not make sense in any other language. No matter how good your translator is. It might be irrelevant, or worse, offensive.
So before you go full sail into the unknown waters of a new market, here are some tips to avoid crashing with the culture. You should read this. If nothing else, this might save you from spending unnecessary money.
Take your Time to Build Relationships First
If you are not sure of what kind of culture you are going into, take your time. Focus on building strong relationships with the local people. From vendors, suppliers, and business connections, your best bet is to take your time with them.
Resist the temptation to come in and put all the cards on the table. You do not know how your audience or partners might react to an aggressive approach. So it is better to take your time. Follow your gut, be quick to listen, and make informed decisions.
For example, in the US, we expect a response to our emails in a day or two at the most. However, things in Japan move at a different pace. Things like important emails, closing deals, or just following up on a decision can take weeks. So all your documents might be translated perfectly, but if you push, you might blow the deal.
Learn the Language (at least the basics)
Outsourcing the translation of your documents is easy. That part is simple. However, it would really help to know at least some basics of the language you are planning to expand. Not only is it fun to learn, it makes you look better.
On the business side, your eye for details is important too. Yes, you can trust certified translators like Clear Accent, but nothing can replace your business instinct. However, without knowing the language, your instinct can’t do much. Listening to conversations, some quick sidebar chat, noticing something in a contract.
It is ok if your language is not perfect. People do not expect you to be a polyglot. So don’t worry if you have to apologize. Just make sure people know you are learning.
However, Learn the Rules of Communication
Knowing the language means you know how to speak words in that language. However, it is another thing to know how people communicate in that language.
It could be things as subtle as the volume of your voice, or the speed. Some cultures are ok with minor interruptions; others consider it very rude. Hand and facial expressions. As always, when in doubt, ask.
Another thing is to understand the rules of hierarchy. In the US, it is ok to talk with anyone from staff. There’s a process that is followed, regardless. However, in other cultures, you must acknowledge the owner and top execs.
Cultures might be different, but in the end, we are all human. So always look for the human moments. There will be funny situations and moments of agreement. We are all hard at work, and we deal with serious business. However, beyond language and culture, we can all connect.