While in the past it may have been acceptable practice for a small or medium-sized business to cater only to its native language market, it is no longer the case. From the onset, small businesses are already at a disadvantage. Whether the company relies on boot-strapping or bank loans to cover expenses, resources are extremely limited, and profits may not even be seen for years. Add on top of that a bad economy, an over-crowded marketplace, difficulty in finding local clients, rising interest and tax rates, etc., and it seems like there is no way a small business can succeed.
Since big businesses have seemingly unlimited funds, many of the problems affecting small businesses are not a huge concern for them. Besides the already established name recognition, they have the money to spend on advertising campaigns, enticing employment opportunities to hire the best workers, established business connections, investors, lawyers…the list can go on.
As the business-stage continues to expand globally, small and medium-sized businesses can easily be left out of the spotlight since bigger companies with an already established identity tend to have more experience dealing with foreign audiences. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Thanks to the rise of technology and ecommerce, a small business can have the ability to compete, even on the global scale, with their big business counterparts.
The first step to going global, however, is research. Due to the economic downturn, it’s important for businesses to choose which markets to cater to that will benefit them the most. All of the necessary data regarding a country’s Foreign Direct Investment, Gross Domestic Product, and Ease of Doing Business Ranking are available online from the World Bank (http://data.worldbank.org/).
Some countries are safer investments than others.
According to the latest ranking of top countries for overseas investment, China tops the list. As China continues to grow both economically and industrially, foreign investors are eagerly lining up to invest in its internal market. The United States ranks second, up one spot from last year, followed closely by India. India is widely known for its great nonfinancial, financial, and industrial service opportunities, but navigation of the business environment may be a bit tricky to those unfamiliar with their practices. Brazil, Germany, Poland, Australia, Mexico, Canada, and the United Kingdom round out the top ten, respectively.
But success isn’t guaranteed simply because a country is ranked high on the list. Before any company dives headfirst into any new foreign market, they must be certain they are familiar with the business environment. Without proper research, the attempt can be disastrous, as each market has its own share of localized intricacies that must be taken into account.
In China it is customary to be familiar with the country’s five-year plan which helps to understand the current and future business climate. In India, businesspeople do not usually offer their advice or even disagree if they are given instructions. For their input on how a task could be done more effectively, it is advisable to actively ask what their opinions or suggestions may be. In Japan, it is considered impolite to say ‘no’ outright. Refusals are either implied, avoided or someone might simply not reply at all.
Without prior knowledge to these different business practices, misunderstandings could ensue, which could lead to some very serious problems. Therefore, as an outsider it is even more important to show respect for a foreign market’s customs for the sake of both parties involved. Information on foreign business etiquette and culture can be found on the World Business Culture website: www.worldbusinessculture.com.
As the business paradigm shifts globally, smaller businesses can utilize new technological resources to help ease them into new markets.
For the majority of foreign business transactions, all documents, business cards, presentations, etc., should be translated into the foreign business associate’s native language, as well as English, even if they can speak it fluently. It is the standard custom, and failure to do so could be interpreted as disrespectful.
While foreign business etiquette rules can be researched and adopted fairly easily with the proper resources, translating necessary documents still require more outside assistance.
In the past, translating was done exclusively by professional translation agencies and freelance translators. In today’s tech-oriented business world, however, there are more options available to help small businesses conquer the language barrier.
In the past few years, significant attention and development has gone into machine translation tools in an effort to make them more accurate and grammatically correct.
As a result, two different systems have evolved:
- · Rule-based systems, where rules of grammar and syntax along with individual language vocabulary are manually coded into a computer.
- · Statistical machine translation (SMT), where computers analyze millions of existing translated documents from the web to learn vocabulary and look for patterns in language.
Yahoo Babelfish and Bing Translator both employ rule-based systems, which statistically perform better than the SMT system for short texts and Asian languages. However, Google Translate, which is based on the SMT system, outperforms rule-based systems for longer texts and has the ability to easily improve accuracy as more translated documents become available on the web.
As highly developed as machine translations have become since their inception, they still are not foolproof, and therefore are unreliable as a legitimate translation tool when professionalism is a necessity. In business, everything that is put out to the public or to associates reflects on the company as a whole. Grammatically incorrect or mis-translated texts give the impression that a company either does not care about its foreign business associates, or worse, is amateur and lacks the proper skill set to run a business.
Small businesses are seeking alternatives to machine translations and costly professional translators.
A few new companies have developed solutions to help small businesses receive quality translations without breaking the bank.
One method, known as post-editing or hybrid translation, combines machine translation and human translators. Once text initially passes through machine translation, a human translator or a group of translators review the translation, making any necessary changes. This process allows for a faster turn around time as well as lower costs.
Translation Cloud, www.translationcloud.net, is one example of a program that makes use of this method. Translation Cloud utilizes its database of over 10,000 translators who connect to the system via their Facebook accounts. Users of Translation Cloud receive more accurate translations at a much cheaper rate. This method of post-editing also takes advantage of crowdsourcing, another relatively new concept that is gaining popularity.
Websites such as Facebook and Twitter have both relied on crowdsourcing translation and localization of their websites in order to reach a broader foreign market. Crowdsourcing is specifically effective when those who are supplying the crowdsourced translation are familiar with the product or company.
Smartling, www.smartling.com, is an example of a company that relies solely on crowdsourcing for delivering fast and accurate website translations. Their software allows a group of translators who were invited to work on a specific project to easily visit the customer’s website and translate whatever text they wish, directly on the site.
While these programs are more effective than machine translators at supplying accurate translations, they still cost money. A relatively new website called Ackuna, www.ackuna.com, addresses that problem by providing a completely free and open community-based platform, specifically focused on sharing translations.
Those who are in need of translation services, as well as those who wish to volunteer their language aptitude, can create a free account to either post requests or translate other people’s requests. Translations are voted up or down by other users in the community, and translators who provide accurate translations receive badges as rewards. The concept is similar to Quora, www.quora.com, where users post questions or answers on any topic to other users.
As technology advances, solutions will continue to grow. Right now, Duolingo, www.duolingo.com, is working on developing a program where its users can learn a new language for free, while simultaneously helping to translate the web through the language lessons.
For small businesses on a strict budget, any of these solutions could certainly be of great value for tackling the language barrier issue.
In the end, it is up to the business owner to determine what he or she wishes to accomplish, research the methods needed to make it happen, and utilize the appropriate resources. While the business landscape has changed in recent years, as technology continues to grow, opportunities for small businesses to succeed will continue to grow as well. It is just a matter of learning to take advantage of them.