Expand Your Business by Reaching Out to Immigrants
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
By Pattie Baker
While driving to the City of Decatur, GA, I noticed a number of business signs in more than one language and it got me thinking about the explosion of immigrants in our country, including refugees from more than 50 war-torn countries. For instance, Clarkston High School, not far from Decatur, has students from all of those countries, and many other cities in our country have large refugee populations as well. These folks need dentists, haircuts, pediatricians, and eye doctors just like everyone else. Over time, they need car repairs, washing machine repairs, real estate agents, funeral directors, tax advisors, lawyers, and every other service provider you can imagine. If your service area includes a significant immigrant population, you may be leaving new business dollars on the table by not reaching out to this segment of the consumer population.
Don’t know the language? Perhaps you can hire a high school student to translate some of your marketing materials into another language. Not sure of the customs? Again, those teens can help “build a bridge” for you across cultures, just as they do with their parents and American society in general. Ask about words or colors that are considered offensive. Ask how business is typically conducted in their country—do customers try to bargain with business owners or accept a set price? Do people “get down to business” right away or do they engage in small talk first? Do business owners offer food and tea before conducting business? Do workers take their shoes off when they enter a home? I’ve noticed here in Atlanta that almost everyone takes their shoes off when entering a home, sometimes asking first, other times just flapping the big, hairy toes. I actually find this jarring every time it happens, even though I’ve been here 20 years, since where I grew up, the rule was, “Company is coming. Have some respect and put on your shoes.” (And, no, I did not grow up in another country, unless that’s what you consider New York to be!)
Take a look at census data for your service area and see what percentage of the population is made up of people from other countries, then consider that you may be leaving that percentage of your business potential on the table. Also consider that many immigrant communities thrive due to small business entrepreneurialism–you may find kindred spirits happy to support a hard-working small, local businesses like yours when you align with these communities.
All eight of my children’s grandparents came through Ellis Island, from five different countries. At some point in your family’s history, you were new to this country, too. The bridge to the immigrant community is easier to build than you may think, with more shared hopes for a better life than we realize. Tap into this positive connection across humanity and perhaps you’ll build an even more robust business that you would have ever expected.
I like how this website for Advancing Emergency Preparedness for Culturally Diverse Communities makes its brochures available in a variety of languages. What can you do to reach more people?