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Languages are the key to unlocking potential in European markets for many Irish exporters

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Andrew Tobin is CEO of cloud solutions firm Stryve

Andrew Tobin is CEO of cloud solutions firm Stryve

Andrew Tobin is CEO of cloud solutions firm Stryve

“Why face the complexity of doing business in a foreign language when there are ample opportunities in English-speaking markets?” This is a question that is too often heard in Irish business circles.

However, at Enterprise Ireland we find that this mindset can potentially leave businesses missing out on significant opportunities and they risk becoming overly dependent on traditional markets. Our mission is to support the development of world-class Irish companies to achieve leading positions in global markets.

The EU Single Market is the largest free trade area in the world and acts as an extension to our domestic market in terms of ease of trading. With a population of 450 million, regulatory alignment and a single currency, there are very real and significant opportunities for Irish businesses.

This was clear in the 10pc rise of exports from Enterprise Ireland-supported companies to EU countries in 2021 to €8.4bn, and we expect this to continue to grow. We also believe that to unlock further potential and revenue from European markets, diversification is important and multilingual capabilities are key. To this end, language capability should be viewed as an opportunity rather than a barrier to trade.

During the recent Europe is our Future webinar – entitled the ‘The Language of Business’ – Enterprise Ireland client companies highlighted how they overcame language challenges to take advantage of the plethora of opportunities in Europe. The webinar – the third event in a series ran in conjunction with the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA) – heard from Irish companies Stryve, Eviview and Softworks, who shared their experiences about addressing language as part of their export strategies.

Research, Localisation and Communication

When expanding into a non-English-speaking market there are three key areas which businesses should always seek to address: market research, proper translation and localisation, and communication with stakeholders in-market.

At the outset, while you are trying to determine the market-fit for your product or service, it is crucial to conduct market research in the local language. For example, reading articles and journals in the language of the market ensures you gather more detailed and accurate market knowledge, and that critical information is not missed.

Karol Dabrowski, CEO of Cork-based process manufacturing firm Eviview, shared his experience of the Enterprise Ireland GradStart grant whereby the salary of a graduate with a foreign language is partially supported. This allowed Eviview to conduct extensive market research in Polish and German to support their market-entry into Poland and the DACH – Germany, Austria, Switzerland – region.

Businesses also need to ‘look local’. Proper translation and localisation to accurately reflect the market is vital. This includes ensuring that packaging, marketing collateral and manuals are accurately translated, but also digital interfaces such as websites or mobile applications. In addition to the accurate translation of webpages, websites should be properly localised with local web domains and the correct industry keywords and technical language for SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). This means that your website has a better chance of organically appearing towards the top searches – an Italian farmer, for instance, probably won’t be searching for machinery in English!

Mairead Walsh, CMO of Softworks, spoke about the measurable impact localisation made to their success in the German and Italian markets: “Softworks now generate 95pc of their Italian market leads and 50pc of their German market leads through their localised website.” This has allowed their German and Italian sales teams to focus on higher-value sales.

The number one rule of business is to recognise the importance of the language of your customer, and indeed, all the other relevant stakeholders. Companies often believe that when communicating with senior staff, English is sufficient. However, when interacting with the broader team, local language capability becomes increasingly important.

Many clients tackle this through local partners, which is effective, but we strongly encourage building a certain level of language expertise within the company. Andrew Tobin, CEO of cloud security company Stryve, explained at our recent webinar how they are speaking the language of the customer via strategic acquisitions – giving them an immediate local presence, language skills and market knowledge – and through hiring personnel on the ground.

Across Enterprise Ireland’s network of 40 international offices, our teams have multilingual staff that are on-hand to advise Irish businesses on in-market language needs and to help them to understand the relevant supports available to ensure successful market entry.

The webinar Europe is our Future: The Language of Business is available on the IIEA YouTube channel.

Patrick Torrekens is head of Enterprise Ireland, France and is based in Paris


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