“Bridging the Gap,” the 18th annual conference of the Organization of Women in International Trade (OWIT), took place yesterday in Nairobi, Kenya. Women from every part of the world gathered in this beautiful city to learn everything they need to know about taking their businesses beyond their borders, get to know one another, and find ways to do business together. As president of OWIT South Florida, I’m proud to belong to an organization that not only improves opportunities for cross-border trade and international business but also connects women across the globe in such a direct way. Thanks to OWIT, I’ve made many friends and business contacts in Kenya, Switzerland, Peru, Mexico, and Egypt, as well as throughout the United States. That’s a powerful network, indeed.

One key goal of the conference was to bring together, in one place, all the critical information needed for women to succeed on an international level. If you’re taking your enterprise to the global market, you need a solid knowledge of many aspects of international trade; these include how to get financing, how to leverage free trade agreements, how to build business networks and strategic alliances, and how to build a loyal client base in the countries in which you want to do business.

This last aspect involves talking to your potential customers in the language they prefer. And this is an aspect that many businesses overlook. Because English is the world’s lingua franca, it is widely assumed that everybody outside of the United States speaks English, and everybody will surf English-language websites that are clearly designed for U.S. audiences. But think about the fact that of the 3 billion Internet users in the world, 1.1 billion of them –almost half– are not fluent in English. And if they can’t read your website, they’re not going to buy from you. This is particularly relevant if you’re a small business –say, a jewelry designer or a small clothing boutique– and your product has a high chance of appealing to customers in areas of the world where English is not common, or not spoken at all.

And yes, there are lots of people who are fluent in English as a second language. But keep in mind these statistics from Common Sense Advisory (a global research group for the language services industry):

  • 90% of consumers choose a native language when available when looking at websites
  • 78% are more likely to buy if user instructions are in their language
  • 82% are more likely to buy if promotional materials are in their language
  • 81% are more likely to buy if technical documentation is in their language
  • And finally … 60% of the people in Japan and France will not buy from a website that is not in Japanese or French

But it’s not just about language; it’s about relating to a customer in his or her own world. This includes basic elements like the use of images, currency conversion, color, and the look and feel of your website. The fact that your site has a clean design with lots of white space may not do you much good in India, for example, where the color white is associated with mourning. A very clean, neat website with a “teaser” feel and links to additional information will absolutely flop in Japan, where customers want as much information as possible on the landing page. In China, Singles Day is the biggest shopping opportunity, online or offline. If you’re trying to sell your product in China and you don’t know about Singles Day, you’re missing out on the biggest retail opportunity in the country. Market-specific search engines like Baidu (China), Yandex (Russia), and Naver (South Korea) will help foreign customers find you, and local social media marketing services can work with you to help drive revenue.

TransForma Translation Services is a proud small business sponsor of the Organization in International Trade and wants to help women all over the world achieve economic success by selling their products and services globally. Contact us for a free consultation at request@transformaonline.com or at (305) 722-3827.