Why it pays to think internationally from the start

Christian Arno, founder of Lingo24, explains the whys and hows of going global

Who says you’ve got to start small? Start at small costs, certainly, but even if you don’t think big, think wide from the very beginning.

Britain is no longer the centre of the universe so even if you judge that the core of your business will come from the UK, you should consider that other markets might welcome your goods or services. If you do your homework, you might even find that there is a greater demand for your products abroad than there is at home.

The easiest and least expensive way in to international marketing is via the internet. Research shows three main pointers for adopting an international marketing strategy at the beginning: 

  • English is decreasing as the language of the internet
  • Over half of all Google searches are in languages other than English
  • Consumers (both retail and business) are four times more likely to buy from a website in their own language

Your first step is to research the likely markets for your products. If you make nesting boxes for garden birds, there’s little point in targeting Iceland where trees are sparse, small and slow-growing, and where there is little insect-life anyway. And unless you are hoping to make evolutionary history, you’re not going to catch the eiderduck, skua or pink-footed goose giving up the habits of a lifetime of the species.

The existence of competitors for your product is good because it establishes demand; saturation of the market is bad because you’re unlikely to make any headway unless you can offer a USP that is seriously unique, as opposed to something like ‘10% off’.

Having established your key countries, you need to consider the language(s) for your websites. If your target is Switzerland, remember that Swiss German is different from ‘German’ German, and that also some parts of Switzerland speak French, and some Italian. Belgium, for example, has three languages: Flemish, Walloon and French. And if your target is Canada remember that Canadian French is different from the French in France. Tricky, eh?

This is the point at which you stop relying on your GCSE French (B grade) and “la plume de ma tante”. Nor do you call in someone from the back office who says they lived in the Dordogne ten years ago. Languages and cultures shift and there is nothing more guaranteed to make a potential customer or client suspicious of your business’ integrity than a website that doesn’t sound genuine.

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It’s time to call in a professional translations company. Reputable companies will only ever employ translators who live in-country and who are fluent in the language they translate from…but they will only ever translate into their mother-tongue. Only that way can you be sure your website will sound authentic. 

To complete the job, ensure also that your domain is in-country, that your site is laced with country and culture-specific references and that the names of your products, indeed your company, are checked for negative or inappropriate connotations. Colgate, for example, launched a toothpaste called Cue in France without having done their homework. Had they done so, they would have been informed that Cue was also the title of a hard-core porn magazine that had been around on France’s top shelves for years.

The outlay for getting started internationally is comparatively little and well worth it. When my company did just this, we grew our sales in Scandinavia by 500% and in Germany by 300% in less than three years. Think what you could do with the right lingo!

Christian Arno is the founder and managing director of global translation provider Lingo24 which works across four continents


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