Running a Business Internationally

When you run a business internationally, in addition to the normal business challenges that you have to deal with, there is the language issue.

As organizations grow, they tend to become slow. There are many decision makers and there are rigid processes in place that keep the organization from falling apart. Now, if you can’t speak directly to the buyers of your products and/or services, language becomes part of the problem.

This is normally true for small or medium enterprises that cannot afford in-house marketing and ad production teams or that do not have enough cash to pay local ad agencies to do the job.

I run a translation business (and a few other national and international ventures), so I know firsthand what it’s like out there.

There are two ways to solve the problem, depending on whether you’re rich or poor.

If you’re rich, you’d normally hire a professional, have them work in-house or right by your side and you’d have bought yourself some serious comfort. Hiring a full service ad agency might be the next best deal – they would be working directly with your marketing department or with you.

If you’re poor, you have to do a lot of bootstrapping. Let me give you an idea of how bootstrapping works for me. You guessed it. I’m not rich.

I am an entrepreneur who is extremely aware of the communications aspect of business. I live and work in a country that’s not my native country, and I speak the language that’s not my mother tongue on a daily basis (and that language is not English). I work with that language and I have a company to run in that language (an ecommerce venture I just started). And it’s driving me crazy.

First reason is the awareness that to promote and sell to someone, you must speak their own language perfectly. More so if you’re selling prestige, elegance, social status, passion. And when I say “speak their language”, I don’t mean just literally saying things in another language. You have to get under the skin of your consumer.

Although I live the culture, I must steer clear from any urge to publish any marketing related materials that I write without having it first revised by a native speaker. Sometimes I can get away with “just a native speaker”, but normally I must hire a professional and pay by project.

It may cost me less than it would cost you, because I am in the language business and know what linguistic aspects to pay attention to. I may be better positioned to understand the peculiarities of translating or adapting content into another language and may be much more of a help to a linguist than you, but still – I have to pay and pay professional rates. Oh, and while we’re at it, choosing the right professional is another thing that may work to my advantage. And still – it’s damn tough!

There is the second problem: time. Oh, how I hate it when I want to update my social media and I have to wait! How I deal with it? Unless I forget, I write things in advance, have them checked and approved, and then publish them over the course of several days. In most other cases, I recycle the old ones, write very short, Laconic phrases and post pictures with hashtags. Posting regularly seems to be more important than posting just pure quality, but let’s just not get into that – I suggest that you should post quality content. It pays in the long run.

So, what is the solution? I would argue that based on how much marketing budget you have, you should earmark quite a good chunk of it for translation, adapting, and marketing in general. If you don’t have a proper budget, write little, write well and pay massively well for the small but beautiful rendering of your promo texts in another language.

Before I forget, there is also the whole reporting and tax situation to take into consideration when working internationally. You’ll have to translate whether you want it or not, so have a professional do it (I’m just looking around and there seems to be only me in this room). Joking aside, communication is serious business.

Let me know how you deal with your international audience.