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Double-check that spam, you could delete a sale

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WASHINGTON -- English might be the international language of business but small and medium-sized entrepreneurs need to get multilingual with their websites if they want to maximize their exports.

A company's website is its first point of contact with potential buyers around the world but if it hasn't been translated into the language of that market, many customers will simply look elsewhere, said Shadetra Robinson, grant program specialist at the Washington-based U.S. Small Business Administration's Office of International Trade.

"They're more likely to deal with you if your website and marketing materials have been translated. They'll be more receptive to looking at your products. They'll say, 'they've taken the time to put it in our language so we can understand it,' " Robinson said.

Richard Ginsburg, chief of trade and international affairs with the Office of International Trade, said another problem is too many entrepreneurs dismiss email inquiries from legitimate companies as spam.

"What do you do with an email that you get in broken English from a country like Ghana? (Most people) delete them but they've probably deleted the biggest sale in their company's history," he said.

In that case, it's not because entrepreneurs don't have the right language on their website but because of the culture differences and "terror" they have of communicating with that person, he said.

Ginsburg said there are government agencies that can verify whether a certain business is legitimate. Some may not be but others could be the largest distributor of goods in their country, he said.

"The No. 1 barrier to trade for small and medium-sized enterprises is the psychological barrier. If we can figure out the (proper) mindset, a lot of people who get it will start doing more exporting. I'm so tired of hearing 'We had a recession in 2008, we're still feeling it.' Well, you shouldn't be," he said.

"There's no magic to it. If you don't go global, bad things will probably happen to you," he said. "People have to understand competition is everywhere. You're either going to meet it and beat it or you're going to be out of business."

Roxana Giraldez, regional export coordinator for Carrefour Quebec International, agrees. She was on a trade mission last week to Bogota, Colombia, and said website translation into Spanish is a must for such countries.

"The people in Colombia can speak English and understand it but they can't understand English (in the same way) with Canadian business people in English," she said.

"It's very important for a company that decides to go to another country to translate all of their documents," she said.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 26, 2014 B7

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