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Expanding Wisely: Things to Consider for a Sustainable Startup Localization

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In September 2022, when the world is beset by a number of military, economic, and environmental crises, most analysts forecast a global strategic shift in startup economy. To stay profitable, startups should now focus on long-term, sustainable growth, rather than achieving unicorn status[1], as the obsession with becoming the next unicorn had played a cruel joke on too many founders over the past decade.

Applied to startups, the term “sustainable growth” usually refers to the maximum rate of growth a company can maintain without increasing its financial leverage[2]. This approach is crucial for founders to sustain their capital without the issuance of new funds from VCs, which is getting more and more difficult during a crisis. Even though it might sound like a problem for scaling, sustainability doesn’t mean refusing your plans to enter foreign markets. In context of international expansion scaling sustainably means getting maximum localization quality on a minimal budget. But how is that possible? Let’s have a look at some building blocks of a sustainable localization strategy that can be applied to assets such as website localization, software localization or app localization.

Consider starting with low-risk markets

While your ultimate goal might be launching in dozens of markets, it is preferable to start with a few low-risk regions. Before spending more money and resources, you may test out your global expansion strategy and make necessary adjustments. There are a bunch of factors you need to analyze to find the right market for your first expansion, like macroeconomic situation in the region, estimated market volume, tax and legal requirements, local talent market, etc [3]. Once you have analyzed the challenges and opportunities of the region, you may have some idea of what translations will be business-critical for this market. This refers to both the product itself and marketing materials.

Define content that needs to be translated perfectly

Think of the way users in the target market will interact with your product: what content will be crucial for them? Quite often there’s no point in translating complete product documentation or technical whitepapers, as most of the users will never interact with these types of files. To optimize localization costs, you could either leave some technical documentation in English – after all, the majority of IT experts are familiar with the English terminology – or opt for machine translation which is up to 70% more cost-efficient than human expert translation[4]. The same goes for marketing materials: define which website and blog content needs to be stylistically perfect, and make sure you use expert proofreading for that.

Don’t underestimate cultural differences

Even a greatly translated marketing campaign can fail if it doesn’t consider cultural differences. History knows many cases when even multinational companies lost their revenues because of poor localization: take the example of Ford’s damaged sales in Brazil or Electrolux’s reputation losses in the US – both happened as a result of improper brand message localization[5]. The best way to ensure your messaging or product interface is perceived correctly in the new region is to run an expert check by qualified linguists from your target market: an opportunity language service companies like Milengo provide to their customers regardless of the company size and budget.

Run test translations before you select a vendor

Before entrusting all your translation tasks to an external vendor, make sure that you’re happy with the quality they deliver. Trusting your gut feeling is not enough when it comes to investing in something strategically critical such as translation and localization services. Use test translation to define whether you are satisfied with not just the quality the vendor delivers, but also how it works: Are translations delivered on time? Are different text file formats being supported? Does the vendor send queries regarding complex passages of the text? Are errors in the original reproduced in the translation, or are they corrected and improved upon? And finally, does the vendor go the extra mile to advise you on translation approach, terminological choices, and translation management? It also makes sense to ask the translation agency for reference translations it has produced for other clients in your industry. Examining websites, company magazines, and brochures that have already been localized will give you valuable insight into how well the vendor performs under real working conditions.

In times when the cost of venture capital is getting higher, and well-thought sustainable growth is the best way to go, you should carefully examine the target markets before starting the expansion. Product localization – as an integral part of this process – requires as well a “measure twice cut once” approach. It’s only when you familiarize yourself with the behavior of your international customers and target groups – and back up your business decisions with a reliable localization vendor with broad intercultural expertise – that you will truly be successful.

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