Scaling your startup internationally: how could it ever go wrong? (Sponsored)

The startup space is fuelled by success stories. The reality, though, is that unicorns truly are exceptions – it’s reported that nine in ten startups fail, and that’s in their home country. Add international expansion to the mix, and the odds become even slimmer.

But, where there’s a will there’s a way. If you have an innovative idea backed by a talented team, there’s no reason not to invest your time and resources into bringing that idea to as many people as possible – locally, nationally and internationally. The jump to global expansion is inevitable for any startup hoping to make it big. The key to unlocking larger-scale success abroad is steering clear of common pitfalls, mistakes, and missteps. 

Let’s explore three in detail.

Mistake 1: Insufficient market knowledge

Just because something works in one location doesn’t mean it’ll resonate in another. What encourages one audience to click the ‘Buy Now’ button may push another to leave your site entirely. Market knowledge is vital if you are to capture the hearts, minds, and dollars of people outside your own country.

Market research should extend beyond product development and positioning. Consider the unique pain points of your new audience and how you can best communicate the value of your solution. How does your product fit into their daily lives? It’s likely to be different to yours, so consider that. How do cultural norms and expectations play into your marketing strategy?

Mistake 2: Failure to earn local trust

If your website, social platforms, and other collateral are in a foreign language, priced in a foreign currency, and contain information and imagery that doesn’t align with local customs and culture, your startup will struggle to win over a new audience. It screams red flag. Running your site through Google Translate won’t cut it, either. What about the jokes that fall flat? The holidays that aren’t celebrated? The images that show an entirely different audience than the one you’re targeting?

Mistake 3: No local support

Customer experience is king – as a startup ready to expand, you know that all too well. Chances are, your approach to CX has supported your success so far. Now, it’s imperative you use what you’ve learned to achieve your global expansion goals.

Excellent customer support is vital in every successful business, so do not discount the value of offering customer care in the region’s native language. Consider providing a live chat service, phone support, help and how-to articles, email support, or a combination of the above. You could hire a team in the new region or opt for remote employees comfortable with the local language and cultural expectations.

Avoid taking a one-size-fits-all approach to your communication channels, too. Instead, create a new, region-specific email address, set up a new phone number (ideally, offer a local or toll-free phone number – you don’t want your customer to be hit with a costly phone bill), and launch new social media pages.

By not making any efforts on the local support front, you are signaling to your international audience that you aren’t 100% committed to their experience.

Localization and translation: What’s the difference and how can it help me?

Translation means converting the text on your website, emails, packaging, and elsewhere from one language – such as US English – to another – such as Spanish. As each sentence, phrase, and word is translated, the literal meaning of the content is upheld.

In contrast, localization means adapting and customizing your content to meet the expectations and preferences of an audience. If translation is a stock-standard suit that looks a little awkward, localization is an expertly crafted, tailor-made garment that fits like a glove.

Translation applies to text only. However, in the context of localization, content also refers to the following features:

  • Images, graphics, photos, and avatars
  • Fonts
  • Figurative language and idioms (e.g., bite the bullet, feeling under the weather)
  • Tone
  • Symbols, currencies, and units of measurement (e.g., miles and kilometers)
  • Addresses, dates, and time
  • Acronyms
  • Storylines

The goal of localization is to communicate and deliver the value of your product or service in a way that conforms to your audience’s ideas, beliefs, and social behaviors. 

In short, translation converts language, and localization converts culture.

Here’s a quick example to highlight the important role of startup localization. Let’s say your software solution runs a Black Friday special, which is promoted across your website, social media channels, and email. Black Friday may not resonate with your audience in China. So instead, you target Singles Day.

And here’s another. Imagine your US-based startup has created a collection of wearable tech. Now, you’re ready to expand into the Japanese market. The localization process will involve converting prices from the US dollar to yen, reworking the sizing chart, and capturing new images featuring local models.

Getting the timing right for global expansion and localization

Time is of the essence and global expansion and localization should be on your mind from day one. At the very least, global expansion should be on your radar during the early stages of your startup. This will encourage you to make strategic decisions in the present that will empower your growth in the future.

It’s also essential to acknowledge the time resources required to execute high-quality localization. Proper localization that sets your startup up for success doesn’t happen overnight. There are ways to cut corners, but shortcuts will likely cost you more in the long run. So, don’t leave it to the last minute. Find and secure an experienced localization service provider sooner rather than later. That way, you can rest easy knowing your product or service will be ready for its new audience come launch day.

Entering a new market and need help with your localization strategy? Contact the friendly team at Commit Global today!

The team will also be joining us at this year’s EU-Startups Summit taking place on May 12-13 in Barcelona and will be more than happy to chat more about how Commit Global can boost your global expansion plans to success – make sure you don’t miss the chance. In the meantime, download Commit Global’s new ebook “Localization 101 for Startups: How to Create a Global Business” for free.