While English once dominated the internet, it's now the preferred language of barely a quarter of the online population. As of December 2017, just 25.4 percent of internet users spoke English as their primary language; 19.3 percent spoke Chinese, 8.1 percent spoke Spanish, and 5.3 percent preferred Arabic.
All that is to say that if you're selling online and catering only to English speakers, you might be missing out on a lot of potential sales. But a Babel fish isn't a real thing, professional translation services are expensive, and multilingual employees are a rare find...so what's a small business to do?
Fortunately, with a little technology and a few general communication skills, you can expand into non-English markets without breaking the bank. Here are a few ways to get started.
Use automated translation tools
Automated translation has come a long way in recent years. While you might not want to use it for a deep heart-to-heart conversation, a tool like Google Translate can be a fantastic resource when you're answering straightforward product questions over chat or email. If you frequently field non-English chats on Olark, consider adding the Live Chat Translation PowerUp to your plan to get instant, automatic translation right in your chat console.
Train your staff in cross-cultural communication
Language is only one part of a complex cultural picture. Make sure your sales and service teams understand the importance of avoiding cultural references and idioms (which don't translate well!) and of communicating in a way that respects different traditions and values. Simple tips — ask lots of open-ended questions, be patient and kind, and take time to get to know your visitors and prospects as individual humans.
Be clear about the level of multilingual support you can provide
Your non-English communication might not be perfect, and that's okay — just be sure to set expectations. If you're using an automatic translation tool over chat or email, let your visitor or prospect know, so they'll understand the source of any minor linguistic errors. If you do have staff fluent in languages other than English, share that information on your website, and let customers and prospects know when they're available and how to reach them.
Advertise in multilingual markets
Once you're ready to service non-English speakers, it's time to let them know you're there! Try running an ad campaign in a regions where English is not the primary language; Facebook ads, for example, allow you to target according to specific geography and interest in a particular product. Keep your ad copy short and simple, and if possible, run translated copy by a native speaker to be sure you're getting the right message across.
If you're selling to a multilingual audience, share your tips in the comments — we'd love to hear from you!