In this new flat world we live in, there are people from ever country imaginable doing business online. You may be one of them. And while the ability for any man or woman just about anywhere in the world to reach out and do business with the masses is incredible, today I want to talk about the unique challenges non-native English-speaking businesspeople face online.
Quite often when reading online marketing forums, people post about frustration with a lack of success, and I often note they have a limited use of the English language, even if they don’t realize it. I’ve also employed and worked for remote businesspeople from all corners of the globe, so I have a lot of first-hand experience with non-native speakers in a virtual business environment.
These people tend to struggle with many of the same things, so let’s have a look at some tips you can use to make your online business experience more seamless.
1. Know Your Limitations
You likely worked very hard for your English-speaking abilities and are quite proud of that. I also enjoy learning new languages and respect anyone who becomes fluent enough to take a new tongue to the business arena.
But it’s also important to be realistic, so I’m going to be very blunt here. You are not a native English-speaker, and that’s all there is to it. You may be very good at it, but unless you’re in the top 5% of language learners out there, it’s probably very clear to others who read your site and other online communications that you are not a native speaker.
Think about this. If I were to go to your country and try to do business in your language, do you think it would be obvious to others that it was not my birth language? Don’t you think I’d come off as slightly awkward and hard to understand?
The same is true for you, and acknowledging this is key to moving forward. Don’t let it hold you down – just be aware that you need to find creative ways to work around it if you want to succeed online.
2. Realize That People Will Not Trust You
One of the problems this introduces is credibility; less-than-fluent English throws up a big red flag. Many people simply don’t trust online businesses run in other countries, as scams in such situations are quite common. Perhaps this is unfair, but it is so, and as an entrepreneur, you are better off dealing with how things really are than how we want them to be.
You need to work harder for trust online if you want to make it.
3. Subtle Cultural Limitations
Also important to realize is your cultural limitations. You can study English your entire life, but if you didn’t grow up in American culture, for example, you simply don’t carry a lot of the unconscious cultural turns of phrase and reference points that American citizens do. Which will obviously cause confusion when conducting trade with American customers.
These problems exist even in business interactions between citizens from two different English-speaking destinations, like the United Kingdom and the United States, for example. And business literature is overflowing with stories about huge multinational companies making embarrassing cultural blunders, even though they have huge teams of intelligent people to prevent these sort of mistakes.
If it’s an issue for them, it will be one for you, and often in ways you can’t detect. Expect it to permeate every aspect of your business.
4. Take On a Partner
One of the best ways to get past your limitations is to work closely with someone who does have the native English-speaking experience that you lack. Seek out someone who is a strong communicator and enjoys customer service – they can deal with customers and maintain the site’s content while you deal with other responsibilities.
While having a partner isn’t always ideal, if you choose someone who complements your skill-set well, it can be a good arrangement and open up new opportunities for you both.
5. Hire a Native-Speaker
Maybe you don’t want to give up any profits and would rather be the one and only boss. You can still hire a native-speaker to work with you – plenty of reasonably-priced providers can be found on Elance, Guru.com, and many other remote worker websites, even based in first-world countries.
If you are set on writing your own content, at the very least you should have an editor handy to go through and polish it up before you post it on your site. This works out good because you still get the pleasure involved with creating the content on your own, interjecting your personal experience if needed, but can avoid the usual blunders by having all work checked before it goes live.
Virtual assistants can also come in handy for fielding all your customer interactions for you and doing odd jobs that require a particularly capable handle of the English language.
6. Keep Communication to a Minimum
One of the easiest ways to limit the effect your English skills have on your business is to choose a business model that requires little to no interaction with the customers. Set your business up so that customer interaction is barely required at all – or at least create processes that give you plenty of time to run your emails by a third party to help smooth out your response.
7. Acres of Diamonds
Many online entrepreneurs from different countries are borderline obsessed with doing business in America or other well-off English-speaking markets. This is understandable given how pervasive Americans are online, but don’t miss the “acres of diamonds” sitting right beneath your nose, as they say.
Since you’re from another country and fluent in your own native tongue, you have access to markets most Americans will never be able to interact with. Many of these newer online markets are much less competitive, offering an easy in for someone who wants to take concepts used with English-speaking markets and apply them in a newer frontier.
Some savvy entrepreneurs are even buying up the foreign language rights to great content online and translating it for sites in foreign markets. There is a lot of opportunity out there just waiting to get grabbed up.
Maybe it’s time to go local…
8. Always Over-deliver
Remember, whether you like it or not, writing with less-than perfect English or speaking with an accent both present big obstacles when doing business online. Instead of fretting about this seemingly-unfair dynamic, stay one step ahead of it. You can start by always going the extra mile for your customers, breaking stereotypes and giving them all the reason they need to keep coming back for more.
Over-delivering is one of the greatest tools an online businessperson can have, and it quickly levels the playing field.
When you deliver the goods, no one cares where you’re from. So treat your customers so good they can’t deny your value.
Do you have experience doing business online as a non-native speaker? Share your frustrations and successes in the comments below.