Translating your products

Why You Don’t Need to Translate Your Products

If you’re selling information products, like ebooks, courses, or memberships, should you have them translated into other languages?

I recently saw someone on Facebook insisting that if you don’t, you’re leaving money on the table. This post is my extended reply to that.

I’ve been selling info products since 2002, so this is something I’ve thought about a few times over the years and always rejected.

Now I’m going to assume you’re only fluent in one language, English. If you’re also fluent in Spanish or Mandarin or French or another major language, then my answer would be different. In that case you should seriously consider translating your products yourself. Or if your spouse or partner is bilingual, I’d consider having them do it.

The vast majority of us, especially in the US, are only fluent in English. Let’s consider what we would have to do to translate our products.

First we’d need to hire a translator. That’s not difficult, though you have to trust them to do the job properly since you can’t check their work yourself.

Next you’d have the person translate the product. If it’s text like an ebook, this is a straightforward task any good translator can handle.

At this point I’m already a bit nervous despite what I just said. The idea of releasing a product I can’t read and understand myself bothers me. Sure hope the translator did their job well. Let’s assume they did.

Next you need to have the marketing materials translated- sales page, optin page, emails, etc. If you have any videos, those will have to be remade. You could just slap foreign subtitles on them, but I doubt customers would appreciate that.

Depending on the type of video, it may work to have it overdubbed in the new language. In many cases though it will need to be reshot, especially if someone is speaking on camera. What if that person is you? Oops, now you have to hire an on-camera presenter who also speaks the other language.

You could, of course, scrap the video and replace it with text copy. But then you can’t really compare the results of the foreign version to the English version.

Besides the technical issues, what really concerns me about this step is having the copy translated.

Most translators are not copywriters. They can turn English into correct Spanish or French or whatever language, but sales copy is more complicated that that.

Copy I write in English that reflects my speaking style and has slang or cultural references is difficult to translate in a way that resonates with the new audience in their language. It’s more likely to sound like it was written by Spock from Star Trek.

The worst part of this step is that I wouldn’t be able to read the copy before I used it, at least not read it in a way that I could understand, so I could be releasing copy that just doesn’t work or misrepresents the product.

How am I going to get traffic to the sales page? With other copy- emails or ads.

I can’t use email to start since I don’t yet have a list that speaks the other language. So I need to run ads in the other language, which I can’t write myself.

If I plan on doing this seriously, I need to have someone keep coming up with new ads. I usually do that myself.

So already what at first may seem like a one-time project of translating a product is really starting a new business in a language you don’t speak.

What if I run ads and they bomb? Is the problem the ads or the copy they are sending the reader to? Hard to say when I can’t read any of them.

Would poor sales mean the person did a poor job of translating the sales page?

Maybe. It could also mean the message just doesn’t resonate in another culture or those people aren’t as interested in what I’m selling as my English-speaking audience is.

When do I pull the plug? By this point I’ve already spent thousands of dollars on translating and reworking stuff, not to mention weeks or months. I wouldn’t want to throw all that away. I’d want to keep trying to get the new version to convert.

How long should I keep at it? At some point it becomes throwing good money after bad.

This is what happens to gamblers when they lose money. The temptation is to keep playing to try to win back the money and at least break even. Sometimes that works. Often they just dig the whole deeper.

I’m not assuming the new product will bomb. Maybe everything will go well and you’ll start seeing sales come in.

By now I hope you’ve found someone to do customer support in the other language, because you’re going to need that. If your sales copy is in French, customers are going to expect you to offer support in French, too, and they should expect it.

You won’t just get support requests from customers. You’ll also get questions from potential customers.

Who’s going to answer those?

If you’re making a flood of sales in the language, this may not be a problem. Hire a part-time or full-time bilingual support rep.

And hope they provide the quality of support you want them to, since you won’t be able to personally review exactly what they’re doing.

What happens if you have just a few messages a week that have to be answered? You’re not making enough sales to cover even a part-timer, yet you need to fill that role.

Let’s say you do enough volume that it takes two hours a week to do support. Good luck finding someone who wants to work for you long-term for just two hours a week.

You could hire someone for 10-20 hours a week but do you want to pay them to sit around doing nothing most of their hours, like a cashier in an empty store?

Maybe you’ll get lucky and find a bilingual support rep who can also translate new copy for you during the slow hours.

Let’s see- a translator who understands copywriting and is willing to do customer support, too? Not that easy to find, I’m guessing, though I will admit I haven’t looked.

Another issue here is what are the potential sales for the foreign language version of your product, compared to the original?

Even if everything goes well, the foreign version is almost certain to sell less.

Why? Because the English-speaking market is already the most lucrative one.

You’re probably already selling to the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. And you speak their language.

Depending on what the second language is, there’s a good chance of at least one of these being true:

  • the countries you’ll need to target will be poorer and less able to afford your product. You’ll get fewer sales or will have to cut your price
  • there will be fewer people who speak the other language

Also realize that many people who speak English as a second language will buy English-language products if there is no version in their native tongue.

That means some of your second-language sales will be to people who would have otherwise bought the English product. This is called cannibalization.

So your product’s new version will very likely bring in less revenue. How much less? 20% less? 50% less? Your guess is as good as mine, but unless you put a ton of money and effort into the translation and marketing, I’m going to guess less than half.

That means if your product does $10,000 a year in sales in English, and you do a really good job, the foreign version might bring in $5000 a year.

I can see it easily taking more than a year just to recover the costs of creating the new product.

Here’s another exception to my thinking- if your product already does really well, it may be worth translating. If your 7-figure a year seller does even 20% as well in the other language, that’s probably worth it.

So how much money are you really leaving on the table?

Let’s say it costs you $5000 to create your product in the other language. (That’s just a random number I chose.)

What if instead, you put that $5000 into improving the marketing of your current product(s)? If you’re selling $10,000 a year it shouldn’t be hard to double or triple sales. Certainly easier than making that much from creating a foreign-language version.

What could you do with $5000 for marketing? You could have a pro copywriter beef up your sales letter, emails, and other copy. You could have a pro media buyer take over your advertising and get you better results.

Or you could put that $5000 into creating more products for your existing audience. It’s easier to sell to people who have already bought from you than to find new customers.

You’re not leaving any money on the table! That’s like saying McDonald’s is leaving money on the table by not serving sushi. Their customers don’t want that. Even the ones who love sushi don’t want it from a burger place.

What do you think? Drop a comment below.

Have you ever considered translating your products? Why or why not? If you’ve done it, how well did it go? (Maybe I’m totally wrong here.)

And if you need a pro copywriter or media buyer to improve your marketing, get in touch with me since I happen to be both of those.

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