Why customer-centricity is key to global expansion

Marc Rees discusses how small businesses can go global effectively and what considerations need to be accounted for before the globalisation process begins.

As a small business, it’s vital to seek out all opportunities for growth. If your business is booming on a local scale, why not look to expand? The term ‘global small business’ might seem like a bit of an oxymoron but, with the internet, just about any business can be a global one. New markets can bring unprecedented opportunities for your business, but only if you approach globalisation the right way – by putting yourself in your customers’ shoes.

Speak your customers’ languages

This first point may seem obvious, but can so easily be overlooked. When approaching new markets, businesses need to ensure they can speak the language. If a company has only ever served the UK market, they will need to get their website, product and service descriptions, terms of use and everything else translated into the language of this new target audience. If customers in new markets can’t understand your website, you will never make a meaningful impact in that region. In fact, research has shown that consumers are more likely to purchase from a company if information is in their preferred language.

When it comes to translation, it’s important to have a plan. Simply plugging customer-facing content into a free translation engine won’t get you the results you need. When we first expanded Fuze to the Japanese market with Amazon Japan, we tried using free translation services for our customer communications. The results were disappointing and ultimately Fuze was kicked off Amazon Japan and ratings dropped because we couldn’t communicate effectively with our new customers. It was the customer interactions that were the most problematic: customers would ask questions about our products and our responses weren’t fully coherent because they were not carefully translated.

We learned that we needed to find a translation service that could do this for us the right way, which is why we turned to SDL. In the months it took us to find an alternative solution, we lost an estimated £25,000 in revenue, which is far more than the £150 cost of the translation service.

You can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?

Once customers can understand you and your materials are properly translated for their convenience, you need to take it one step further, to show that you understand them as well. We live in a vastly diverse world where cultural norms in one country may be taboo in another. For this reason, all content needs to be localised to fit cultural norms. For businesses that fail to take this into account, messaging may not resonate with customers the way it did in other target markets where you’ve already seen success.

According to a recent survey by PwC, 65 per cent of Chinese shoppers shop online via their mobile phones at least once a month. However, in the United States only 22 per cent of shoppers do. So if your business plans to expand to China, it is important to make sure your website is mobile-optimised and Chinese customers can easily purchase right from their mobile phones. It’s all about showing customers that you understand what they want and are willing to give it to them to make sure they have the best possible experience.

It’s difficult to learn and understand a new culture overnight and, as anyone who runs a small business knows, there is never enough time in the day. Using a third-party service to localise content is an important aspect of going global the right way and it can make all the difference. Back to the Amazon Japan example I mentioned earlier. When having our content translated through SDL’s services, SDL provided Japanese translators who were actually from Japan. Beyond managing translations for us, they also handled localising the content to ensure it was appropriate for the Japanese audience.

One person can do it all…but should they?

Becoming a global small business is no small undertaking. Often, small business owners are keen to do everything on their own. In 2016, 76 per cent of UK businesses did not employ anyone aside from the owner. While this can certainly work for some, it is not always the best approach. Expanding to new markets requires business owners to step outside of their comfort zones and explore new opportunities, cultures and strategies. To do this the right way, sometimes you’re going to need help.

Finding the services and partners that can truly get you and your business where you want it to go is as important as anything. Small business owners are often strapped for time as they manage finances, customers, products and more. When we were struggling in the Japanese market, SDL was a true partner to Fuze. We could call them at any time with any question and they were available to help, no matter what. They took the time to educate us on translation and localisation and worked closely with us to get our ratings back up. Through having a partner that was at our price point and able to help us reach our goals, we now have the chance to look forward and expand to more regions. And this time, we’ll get it right the first time around.

Owning and running a small business requires a lot of learning along the way. The most important thing to keep in mind at all times is your customers. Success in one market doesn’t always translate directly to success in another. However, with the right tools and a proper understanding of each unique audience, it is possible to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Any online business can be a global one nowadays, but to be successful in global business it’s important to make sure it’s done right.

Marc Rees, is manager of Fuze.

Further reading on global small business practices

Ben Lobel

Delphine Hintz

Ben Lobel was the editor of SmallBusiness.co.uk from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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