Massive business opportunities are being missed because of a reluctance by Midlands firms to communicate with potential customers in any language except English.
As the economy begins to strengthen, businesses are better placed to seek new business abroad, especially in new, emerging markets. But many are failing to do so, seemingly put off by the language barrier.
So what if that barrier was removed? Wouldn’t the ability to converse with foreign customers in their own language hugely improve the chances of winning business with them?
Midlands Technical Translations Managing Director Sue Clark said: “As a traditionally insular nation with a historical reluctance to speak other languages it is probably inevitable that the language barrier gets in the way of so many opportunities.
“So, although there are potential opportunities in markets such as Russia for certain engineering components - not to mention a thirst for UK skills and know-how - the language barrier is the first thing to put people off.”
Sue said: “It's not only the different language that puts people off but also the unfamiliar cultures that exist in prime emerging markets like Chile, Brazil or Malaysia. It’s even the case with countries closer to the West such as Turkey or Poland, where we should perhaps have a better understanding.”
Talking to business leaders across a variety of networking events Sue says she has met many people from firms who are ready to expand but fail to consider foreign contracts because of language difficulties.
Add to this, the lack of knowledge many business leaders have concerning emerging markets, then perhaps the reluctance to put a toe in the water is understandable.
However, plenty of help is available through agencies such as UK Trade & Investment (UKTI – www.ukti.gov.uk) or the Midlands World Trade Forum (www.mwtf.org.uk). Each have experienced advisors, cost effective market reports and real people to talk to with extensive experience of a wide range of manufacturing and service industries.
Similarly, programmes such as Leonardo (www.leonardo.org.uk) and Graduate Advantage (www.graduateadvantage.co.uk) give easy access to finding young, qualified people who have native level language skills and cultural experience to help work on initial projects for a reasonable level of investment.
An easy first step is to consider a simple web page in the target language - easy and cost effective to create and makes your company website accessible to overseas visitors. Language support is easy to arrange and competitively priced – it shouldn’t be a stumbling block but a way of bridging the gap to a new export market.
Sue says: “The economic world is expanding, and companies that don’t at least look at whether it would be appropriate to consider these high-growth potential markets are turning away an amazing potential success story.
The help is out there and the language barrier is easy to cross with the right support. UK companies should be up front and taking their share of the growth that we see happening in these markets.”