“Language is a barrier for 62% of potential exporters.” So what? (#2)

Language is a barrier for 62% of potential exporters

How many languages do you speak?
What would you do if you could access more languages?

In their latest report (4th Quarter 2013) the British Chamber of Commerce looks at barriers and influential factors that potential exporters face when deciding if and where to export.

The BCC says: “French language remains the most commonly spoken (…) and the most commonly understood, but only 5% of potential British exporters are able to converse fluently.”

So what’s the problem? Why so many missed opportunities when solutions are available?

There is no point in constantly talking about failure and fear of languages: language is a key and you can get it.

What do you do when you are missing some expertise in your company?
When you need new skills on board?
There are only 2 ways to solve the problem:

  • Get your team or your collaborator into training
  • Outsource or hire a specialist

Are you a strategic exporter who plans to expand in France?
An opportunistic exporter who wants to make the most of a demand from France?

Would you like to be found by the French?
And promoted on French blogs and in the French media?

Are you in the 5% of potential British exporters able to converse fluently in French?

Let’s try to understand the obstacles you face when deciding whether it’s worth investing in French resources.

There are 3 obstacles.

Money (lack of it)

—  You decide to learn French / you decide that somebody in your team is going to learn French.
It’s demanding, costly and a long-term solution: few businesses can afford it.
Unless you have a collaborator with a good background in French and you agree to pay for boosting their language skills, it’s not realistic.
Do you have some (sort of) French? Great. Don’t try to grab more: brush up the existing and use it every time you meet with French people, when you email or when you call them.
They will appreciate your efforts.

— You choose to hire or to outsource to make sure your French project will go ahead.
Have you a French marketing budget? Define it (including translation work) and stick to it whether it’s small or large.
>  Do you need French translation?
From independent French translators specialised in an industry sector to translation agencies that offer semi-automated translation, the range of services and prices is wide.
The Alliance Française has 11 organisations in the UK: they can help you find the right translator for your project.
International trade organisations (such as BCC, UKTI, EEN and FCO) can do translations internally or via subcontractors.
Be aware that they are better prepared to deal with business matters and legal issues. Online marketing, marketing copywriting and e-commerce are not their speciality.
>  Do you prefer to start afresh?
For marketing purposes, copywriting in French is more powerful than translation. Work with a multilingual advertising agency or an independent French marketing copywriter in the UK (or in France if you are used to work online and via Skype.)

Whatever your choice adapt your project to your budget.

When money is a concern translate less and translate better.

Create fewer but better French messages.

Do you find global marketplace websites such as Alibaba, eBay or Etsy efficient?
They are built for cross-border commerce and suit many products because they put the emphasis on visuals. They are getting popular in France.
But it doesn’t mean you can get away with French language: be prepared to answer a French email.

Did you know that in the top 1,000 eBay sellers nearly a third are in the UK?
New marketplace platforms are developed all the time in Europe: watch the Internet.

You don’t want to have anything to do with the French language? Ever?
That’s OK.
Choose a French agent or a distributor who handles everything for you.

Awareness (lack of it)

English is the most widely learned second language in non-English-speaking countries.
But learned doesn’t mean spoken and for many French, me included, learning English has been a boring school experience.
Don’t expect every French person to be able to read, buy or telephone in English.

I see trade organizations recommending the use of free online translation platforms.
That’s not helpful.
These tools are far from ready and create misunderstanding and mistranslation.
Have you ever bought something on a website in broken English? Would you risk it? Probably not.

Make your communication visually explicit. Show your products: colour, material, details, shape and texture, size, accessories.
Think bilingual for your packs and flyers.
Think international for your online tutorials and how-to-use videos: make them work without any voiceover.
It’s possible to explain things visually in many cases.

Do you prefer to do marketing locally? Find a French advertising agency with a bilingual team.

Trust (lack of it)

Trust comes from meeting and beating expectations. It’s rational and intuitive, emotional, verbal and non-verbal. And personal.

The strategy is yours but to implement your French marketing plan you have to find the best specialists you need and can afford to pay.
Marketing is a team job. Some people have skills you don’t have and will never have.

When you don’t speak a language, you have to rely on somebody and give away some of your power.

When you work with professionals there is no threat. You can be confident and you get something of high value from it: access to a new group of people.

Selling to the French is not for every company.
France has plenty and the best (and a lot of crap too).

Per capita spending power, living standards and expectations are similar in France and in the UK and there is no culture gap. When you have the best available product, French customers will buy from you and not from your French competitors.

Do you want to reach the French?
Do you want to get found online by the French?
Do you want to be there when they are looking for your product and ready to buy?

Tailor your approach to France:

  • Pinpoint as many of the potential costs as you can
  • Spend time working out what’s essential, what can be reduced and what can be removed in your French marketing plan

It’s tough enough to compete in your own language: don’t make it mission impossible with broken French. The quality of your message in French matters.



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