Businesses have been seeking a more competitive position in their markets by exploring overseas manufacturing for years. Since the 1980s, company executives have been seeking cost-savings, greater flexibility and other efficiencies by outsourcing manufacturing processes to overseas providers.
Although this offers many advantages when done effectively, working with overseas manufacturers can also throw up some major challenges, not least from a communication perspective.
Here, we take a look at some of the main challenges business owners will come across when outsourcing their manufacturing overseas, and how to overcome these obstacles to achieve the very best results.
Why manufacture overseas?
There are a number of reasons why businesses look to swap local manufacturing for overseas manufacturing in countries like China or India:
Lower skilled labour costs
It is the lower cost of skilled labour that attracts many UK and US companies to manufacture abroad. Although raw materials are rarely cheaper in China, the cost of employing people to do a great job of producing your goods with those raw materials is far less. And, after all, most business owners are looking for ways to produce their goods for less, without sacrificing quality.
Opportunities for mass production
As a result of the lower cost of production when outsourcing manufacturing overseas, businesses often find they can afford to mass-produce goods. This, in turn, allows them to meet growing market demand for their products.
When you opt to manufacture goods overseas, you also open opportunities to scale up your production at the drop of a hat. This is particularly clear in the Chinese economy where, due to the nature of manufacturing in the region, as well as the ease of availability of labour, there is a much greater level of flexibility afforded to those manufacturing their goods there.
If you need to ramp up production quickly in response to seasonal demand or even unexpected demand, you can do so almost immediately.
So, what are the downsides?
With these clear benefits in mind, it’s easy to see why outsourcing has become such as popular manufacturing model in the past 10-20 years. However, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t some serious challenges that need to be overcome in order for overseas outsourcing to work smoothly and effectively.
Plenty of practical challenges exist when working with overseas manufacturers. These include things like a lack of oversight over quality and difficulties controlling whether processes remain on schedule or not.
Language barriers are an obvious sticking point for many who are new to outsourcing. From missing vital information in orders for material, to misunderstanding schedules, to falling foul of cultural differences and offending someone unintentionally, language differences are a minefield when embarking on international business for the first time.
Here are some common communication problems our clients have encountered when working with overseas manufacturers:
- Differences in expected levels of formality – do you refer to colleagues as Mr/Mrs? By their surname? First name?
- Chinese business people may misinterpret a direct tone for rudeness.
- Differences in how deadlines are perceived and how closely schedules should be followed
- Differences in communication ‘norms’ such as when to reply to emails or return phone calls
- Local jargon and idioms can lead to confusion
However, there are a number of things you can do to overcome these barriers:
Use a native speaker to help translate
Much of the communication you will be having with your manufacturer will be from a distance, normally through email. Having a native speaker on hand to help guide you through these email communications will help to ensure there are no misunderstandings and that priorities are not lost in translation.
Working with a language translation service provider can help you to find native speakers with specific experience in manufacturing. These professionals can ensure your communications go smoothly, allowing you to work directly with an overseas manufacturer, rather than feeling the need to work through a partner who will look after the communication for you – thus saving you even more money.
Clarify what’s been agreed and next steps in follow-up emails
After phone calls, it’s always good practice to follow up with an email detailing any actions agreed upon in the call and clarifying tasks that either side should fulfil and when. Again, the help of an effective translator with knowledge of local linguistic nuance is invaluable here.
Speak slowly and clearly
Communication problems are just as commonly caused by foreign colleagues not understanding their English-speaking counterparts as the other way around. Therefore, you can do your bit to minimise any confusion by speaking slowly and clearly and without local idioms.
English is a popular business language and many overseas manufacturers will speak a level of English – you just need to help them out as much as possible by making your communications as clear as possible.
Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification
If you don’t quite catch something in conversation with a foreign counterpart, ask them to repeat what they said or to slow down. Accents and vocabulary problems can cause serious issues and people are often so eager to avoid embarrassment or offence that they will fail to ask for a point to be clarified or repeated, even if they aren’t sure what has been said. Again, working alongside a native speaker can remove these awkward moments entirely and ensure everything is clear on both sides from the very beginning of the business partnership.
In conclusion, it’s normal to feel some anxiety about working with overseas manufacturers for the fist time. If you’ve always done business in the UK, suddenly having to discuss vital processes with people that either don’t speak your language or speak it just a little, is a nerve-wracking prospect for many business owners.
However, with clear advantages to be enjoyed by those who get it right, working alongside a language translation service provider can help you to broaden your horizons through successful outsourcing.
Contact the team at Bubbles Translation today to find out how we can help you take your manufacturing processes overseas.