Talk about the cost of free help!  It’s like when I asked my neighbour to adjust my screen door, and it never worked again!

Have you ever tried to do something like that in your business: it seemed really easy to do at first and would have saved you money, only to discover that you missed something crucial when you did it yourself?

We’ve all done that, right?

Well, let me tell you a story about Bill, who used his sales staff’s bilingualism when he first began to export to Quebec.

Bill owns a company that makes treats for dogs.

He started in Ontario but decided to expand his business across Canada and eventually into America.

Being busy with the launching of his dog biscuits, he delegated the advertising and marketing to his staff, which was fluently bilingual. His staff wrote and translated the packaging from English to French for the Québec market saving Bill the expense to hire a translator.

When the translated labels and packages were finalized, he thought everything was good to go.

And, that’s where the problem started.

Let me explain …

Bill thought sales seemed to be slow in the next several weeks after his staff had labelled and shipped his products, but he wasn’t deterred. He reasoned that moving into a new market would take time to build a customer base, so he continued to hire sales people and build his distribution channels.

Then, one day, he received a registered letter (I really hate those things:  they’re always bad news!) from OQLF (Québec French Language Office) ordering him to cease distribution immediately, or he would be fined and/or be charged with more serious legal and financial consequences.

Bill was stunned.

And, this was why:

Bill had made common mistake by having translation performed by non-translators in-house when he really needed to use a professional translator’s service. He did not know these crucial facts:

  • No language can have prominence over French, and
  • French must be same font and size as English.

Bill learned that he had these options:

  1. Redesign the packaging to meet those rules.
  2. Change the packaging as soon as possible in production.
  3. Recall the product from Québec and replace it with new packaging,
  4. Produce large compliant stickers to be applied to existing product in the field, or
  5. Do not export to Québec.

And, if Bill did not comply?

Well,if he wanted to export to Québec, Canada’s 2nd largest market with a GDP of $400 billion, (Source: Montreal Gazette risked this:

  • a fine by the OQLF,
  • his infraction would be published on the OQLF website and
  • he risked a backlash, loss of reputation and financial loss from lost sales.

Since he was forced to recall his products to be redesigned, translated, relabelled and then reshipped, Bill lost time, money, and goodwill with the retailers and distributors in his industry. In the end, everyone lost money!

Bill learned that he needed to talk to a translation expert whenever he planned to export to a new culture, even in his own country.

Bill’s lesson is the same as my lesson with the screen door — hire an expert to do the work.