Translating your business into success when exporting overseas

Arek Estall – Guardian Professional  //

A new study from OC&C Strategy Consultants suggests UK retailers could potentially achieve overseas online revenues of £28bn by 2020. Growth in overseas sales is set to increase four times faster than domestic sales. Considering that current overseas ecommerce revenues are at around £4bn, that’s a lot of potential.

So what exactly can companies based in the UK do now to take advantage of that predicted demand? Well, translation and localisation are important aspects of how a company is perceived abroad, so translating your website is a good start.

Research from the Common Sense Advisory shows 72% of customers abroad would rather buy products that provide information in their own language. Language is more important than price, say 56%, so that means translating could improve your sales and margins.

Failure to localise can be embarrassing, even between English speaking countries. Bum bag/fanny pack, pants/trousers, cookie/biscuit, jelly/jam, rubber/condom: different words can mean different things to different people – even in the same language.

There are two main options to consider when translating your webpages, if you don’t have the talent in-house. However you do it, make sure you use someone with experience and genuine cultural knowledge. Here are your options:

Using a professional translation company: The benefit of this approach is that the company has all the relevant skills under one roof, and your staff are able to focus on their day job.

Hire a qualified linguist with the industry knowledge as a freelance: There are plenty out there, and this is a good cost-effective approach.

Some companies translate their entire website into multiple languages and make excellent returns abroad immediately. As attractive as that growth sounds though, not every company can take such a large hit to their cashflow.

Some companies, instead, take a staged approach. For example, you could translate your top pages into one language, and once you have made a return, invest in translating the rest of your pages into that language. Or move on to another language, reinvesting and filling the gaps over time.

Overseas web domains

The number of overseas customers searching for UK brand names has increased by about 46% per year recently, so increasing your chances of being found is important. One way is by getting an in-country website domain – for example a .fr domain if you are in France. This increases your chances of being picked up by the search engine of choice in that country, and gives the customer the reassurance that you have a genuine commitment to delivering services to that country.

There are even plug-ins for some content management systems where you can manage multiple domains in different languages. For example, in the WordPress content management system, there’s a plug-in called Multilingual Press which helps you manage multiple domains easily.

Once you’ve started getting orders from abroad, the hard work begins. You need to consider the logistics of that country in terms of delivering products to the customer as well as after-care services, such as how you will deal with returns. Plus you need to consider the tax implications of trading with that country.

Companies such as Trade 196 specialise in supporting SMEs that are developing global ecommerce. Hiring a professional company is worth considering when engaging with a new export market, particularly given how complex e-commerce can be logistically.

Then you might also need a translation company to help you service that demand. Customers in some countries might be happy to deal in English, but taking the extra step of translating your communications is a good way of having a competitive advantage.

Whichever option you choose, there’s no doubt the opportunity is big and shouldn’t be missed.

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