Since the economic collapse of 2008 businesses are realizing the need to explore international opportunities. They may become extinct without adapting.
For example, a local manufacturing company with a revolutionary product and virtually no competition for the past 20 years now has a competitor in the Netherlands with a similar product. Slowly this competitor is taking a large portion of their business from China by translating their operator manuals – their differentiating factor. The local company did not want to spend money to translate it and felt the Chinese would understand the English. English is actually third to Chinese and Spanish of the languages spoken throughout the world.
A local consultant to businesses expanding into China was hired after a company made a costly mistake sending an engineer to China to give training on the production of a product without an interpreter. The engineer gave his presentation and everyone smiled, nodded and said yes when he asked if they understood. Unfortunately, he did not realize until the product prototype was done incorrectly and he engaged the consultant, that the Chinese were only being polite and spoke very little English.
Cultural misunderstandings happen frequently because international preparation is always an afterthought. Why aren’t people better prepared? The reasons range from wrongly assuming everyone speaks English, fear of the unknown, it is complicated, there’s no time, or it costs too much money.
There are many companies, not just the fortune 500, who successfully compete globally because they are prepared. They take advantage of local seminars and support or add internal staff to keep abreast of international markets. They may hire cultural trainers to coach employees before international meetings and engage a professional translation company for translation and interpreting services.
Companies getting started should reach out to their local resources such as small business development centers or attend international certification courses. A good place to start is the SBA’s website: http://www.sba.gov/category/navigation-structure/starting-managing-business/managing-business/exporting-importing. Many international programs are now being offered because American products are sought after globally with a huge potential for financial success. Check for federal grant money and other initiatives for trade missions which are a great way to explore international opportunities economically. For example in Pennsylvania, there is a state initiative called the TechExport program where companies can apply for up to $5,000 in federal grant money for translation and trade show missions.
You still need to be prepared when going on a trade mission or looking to expand business internationally. It is important to know local business laws, tax structures, export regulations and product required localization. To communicate effectively, have your business card and a one-page company profile translated into the country specific foreign language in which you want to do business, i.e. Simplified Chinese for mainland China. This shows respect and that you are serious about a business relationship, which will gain trust.
The next step would be to start with the translation of some of your product literature, marketing collateral or a portion of your website for additional sales support. A misconception is that everything must be done at once. Start small and do a little at a time. Once you get a sale you may be able to add in the cost of translation to the actual production cost for any support documentation.
In conclusion, plan ahead, utilize resources, seek grant funding and do research to develop an international strategy manageable for your business size and budget. After all, it's your reputation on the line. What international business is out there for your company?