Goodbye to bawlers

Goodbye to bawlers

Companies hesitating to benefit from a new incentive to win foreign markets because of communication issues have the advice here of Aidan Stradling, who can speak in 24 languages. Brian Nicholls talks with him in English.

Bawling at Johnny Foreigners in English, John Cleese style, to make them understand is passé now in the selling game, expert linguist Aidan Stradling suggests. Having instead someone who speaks Johnny Foreigner’s own language like a native can score remarkably by contrast, as the young firm Valued Accountancy finds.

This North East financial service, set up in 2011, decided two years ago to hire a Chinese-speaking accountant and introduce marketing literature in Chinese. In 12 months its client base has grown 60%, largely through an influx of Chinese clients.

“That’s a perfect example,” says Aidan Stradling who himself, astoundingly, speaks four foreign languages fluently and another 20 to greater or lesser extent. “If a Chinese company only produces its literature in Chinese it’s not going to win business here.”

“But if it uses services of a competent English speaker, preferably a native speaker, the tone of its literature will be just right in English to attract business here. It’s not only a matter of speaking a language; it’s also important to understand the culture and context wherein that language is spoken.”

Stephen Paul, owner of Valued Accountancy, explains: “There’s a big Chinese population in the North East now, and with the number of Chinese business owners growing and requiring our accountancy and business support, we have adapted.”

Accountant Gavin Ng, Valued’s sino-catalyst, advises the Chinese clients not only on year-end accounts and personal returns but also payslips, P60s and VAT returns. Valued, operating from Consett, Newcastle and London, also trains and implements for Xero – Cloud-based accounting software for SMEs.

Stephen says: “We spread the idea among some existing Chinese clients of a bespoke accountancy package, priced competitively. It revealed a gap in the market.”

Chi Kwong Yeung and Koon Lam, to name two, are thankful clients. Mr Chi at his Consett takeaway says: “I found it hard to keep up with all the paperwork. I’ve been relieved of a major worry.” Mr Koon at Blaydon concurs: “Gavin and the team have my best interests at heart.”

On opportunity abroad, Aidan says speaking a language helps you to travel around a country better and learn a lot more about it. “Many of us in Britain are scared of languages - unnecessarily. If we have to take a four year university course to be qualified to speak a foreign language many of us, understandably, will be put off. But when I’m bound for a new country and need to learn some business language I can normally learn all I need to know for that purpose within about half a day.”

Aidan Stradling 02Aidan is so skilled at learning other tongues that he has built a business from it, as founder and director of the Anglo-Russian Centre in the North East, operated from Whitley Bay. It’s picking your foreign words carefully that enables you to do business in someone else’s language in a short time, he explains.

“If you’re an accountant you need to be quite good at maths. But for business accountancy you needn’t know everything about every branch of mathematics. And when learning a language you needn’t be able to say everything. I only learn what I need to use.

“I may only speak a few words of Hungarian but they’re key words I need to meet and greet and say thanks, and to respond to pleasantries and set the tone and wind up at the end of a business meeting. You then stand out from the crowd. A lot of my business contacts abroad appreciate one has gone to the trouble of learning even a few words of their language.”

Previously he worked in several departments of central government that had departments and sections dealing with international activities. “I spent a lot of time shuttling back and fore to Brussels,” he says. “Working with colleagues in the EU, you have opportunity straight away to speak 20 different languages. Like companies, they appreciate it if you communicate in their own language. Like an onion ring, it gets you into the next level.”

His primary languages are Russian, Dutch, German and French, and among the other score he can even include Manx, related to Scots and Irish Gaelic, because Isle of Man is where he grew up. Is it advantageous? “If you can say hello to someone in the Isle of Man, why not?”

This language consideration is all part of good business preparation. But often, Aidan recounts, it’s forgotten about until right at the end, then there’s panic in seeking a solution.

“Building it into preparation from the start can work to your benefit, and if you’re uncertain it’s best to have an interpreter who’s trusted by both sides, a professional, to undertake any serious negotiations.”

He set up the Anglo-Russian Centre on noting how many companies and organisations selling in many other countries felt reticent about entering the Russian market. “It was perceived as a difficult market. Having worked across Eastern Europe and Russia, I decided it wasn’t that hard if you knew where to go and what to do. That knowledge, skill and information I share with businesses here now.

“I do seminars and workshops here. I can have a phone chat or face to face with a company to explain about the context. I can accompany firms to trade fairs and use my networks and contacts to link people up.”

Countries of the former Soviet Union are all different, he cautions; you shouldn’t assume you can just go anywhere there and speak Russian. “It’s that sort of preparation that’s vital to business success,” he adds.

Similarly there’s often confusion about political sanctions currently applied to Russia. “They’re individually targeted at people in the close circle around President Putin and companies they’re involved in,” he advises.

“For me sanctions have improved business. More British companies are coming for advice about whether the sanctions will affect them, and whether it’s still worth their while to enter the market. I did a seminar recently for the Northern Offshore Federation in Durham. Offshore energy is an area targeted by some sanctions, but not all companies are involved and not all types of goods and services involved.”

The Anglo-Russian Centre has been cultivating in particular the Kaliningrad area of Russia, the part nearest the UK. “If you head east from our region at 55o you cross a bit of Scandinavia then hit Kaliningrad region. Like the North East, it has a maritime history and remains Russia’s only year-round ice-free port on the Baltic.

“It’s somewhere everyone flies over between London and Moscow. I wanted to cut out the London and Moscow sectors. All big firms operate in London and Moscow and for smaller companies in the regions it’s difficult to get a foothold. But Kaliningrad is well off the tourist track, and while there’s a nice beach holiday resort there, being in the Baltic it’s only well utilised at certain times of year, and it can take some time to get a visa.”

However, it produces 90% of the world’s amber, valued as a gemstone, and has a huge opencast amber mine. Most of Aidan’s contacts, though, are with small companies and organisations that offer services. “I tend to shy away from anything that goes in a box,” he says. “I mainly work with knowledge transfer, ideas, processes and procedures. People are receptive to this. There are fewer opportunities there than in St Petersburg or Moscow. But if you’re almost the only person accessing those opportunities you’re likely to do better than in the melee of big cities.”

Wherever your sales target, using the right form of communication as well as the right words is important. Face to face, wherever you negotiate, becomes important in Aidan’s view. Sales teams trying, for example, to break into Arab markets, where personal acquaintance and confidence in relationships is a priority, are likely to find they don’t get very far simply sending emails.

Daniel Chamier, whose successful selling abroad of Carlisle-manufactured bags you can read about on other pages in this BQ, suggests you must visit places where you want to sell. “Markets there will be different from your local markets,” he points out.  

And consider Aidan’s calculation: “There might be 100m people living in a particular country but you’ll want to connect with those who can see a direct link with you. If you get to know one relevant person, they probably have 30 or 40 connections themselves. Then they have another 30 or 40 they could also introduce you to. Soon you’re linked with hundreds of people - far more useful, that, than cold door knocking. And I always ask my connections the questions that businesses here ask me.”

Aidan Stradling 03

There’s talent to cope with a cosmopolitan trend

Having access to linguists is increasingly important now. For example, at Quorum Business Park on Tyneside 32 languages are being spoken. Fergus Trim, the park’s development director, says: “There’s been a feeling for some time that Newcastle in particular is becoming more cosmopolitan – not just in student, leisure and creative terms, but also in business.”

Quorum’s a case in point. A survey there has confirmed considerable diversity in the workforce. “It’s been a significant factor as a growing number of international firms have created new jobs in the region,” Fergus tells. Many of the 16 businesses there work in international markets and have needs in a variety of languages. Ebiquity and the US firm Convergys are two.

Ebiquity monitor publications and brands worldwide for international clients. In 2010 it “North shored” a function to Quorum, where it now has 250 staff. Convergys works on big international contracts from Quorum. The availability of graduate linguists for employment in the North East is considerable and comprises not only UK students who have learned a language or two. Newcastle University, for example, has more than 4,000 international students who’d obviously have needed good English to go with the proficiencies in their native tongue, and Newcastle’s two universities are among the most successful at retaining foreign graduates for entry to the local workforce. At Quorum there are staff from more than 65 countries employed. Lisa Scott at Equity says: “Quality of life and affordable living standards persuade many foreign students to apply for jobs here.”

Fergus Trim expects demand for good linguists to continue. He points out: “The North East is raising its profile as an inward investment destination. Many companies likely to come in will work internationally.”

Focus on selling overseas comes as Lloyds banking group proposes to help 5,000 firms to
export for the first time – 25,000 in total by 2020, thousands of which are expected to be small and medium size, and in the North East. It’s part of government efforts to help 100,000 businesses export in total for the first time. Leigh Taylor, the group’s head of SME banking in the North East, says: “We want to support a new legion of North East exporters, and help the UK economy to prosper. For the past year we’ve been working with UKTI, looking at ways to boost UK exports.”

To that end, the group will invest £450m in digital technology and training over three years. Businesses will be able to monitor opportunities through a new international trade Portal, and there will be a new internet banking portal for businesses. Lloyds reckons a third of North East SMEs now sell goods or services abroad. Eurozone remains a key target for North East firms, with 52% increasing exports to the territory. Sales to the USA, Canada, Asia and the Pacific are expected to increase by 18 to 27% by the end of this year.