Immigrant and Non-Native English Speaker Clients

Last week we started several new projects, and nearly a third were projects for people who speak English as a second language. All grew up outside of the United States and were now running businesses on Hawaii Island.

This is not unusual: a large number of our clients fit the profile of immigrant, non-native speakers of English. Many of these new clients come to us from referrals and almost all visit or call at least once before starting a project, so I feel we’re doing something right.

When I started Kona Impact 12 years ago, I looked at the skills and ways of doing business that would attract a wide variety of clients. I had lived abroad for most of my adult life, so I knew this could be an asset: I was a good listener, and I could communicate clearly to those who didn’t speak English fluently. I was for many years what my many of my clients are: living in a new culture and speaking a new language, at times not very fluently.

I greatly enjoy talking to clients from different countries. In the past week, I’ve worked with people from China, the Marshall Islands, Korea, France, French-speaking Canada, Mexico, and Germany. I enjoy the focus and hard work these people put into their businesses. It’s not easy, I know, and if you add the challenges of language and unfamiliar laws, it can be even more difficult.

Here a list of things I keep in mind when dealing with non-native English speakers:

1. Many are highly-educated and accomplished, often holding advanced degrees. I always assume they are intelligent, hard-working people, even if their English might be limited or imperfect.

2. They are highly motivated to provide for their families and achieve their version of the American Dream. I seldom see anyone who works harder than an immigrant.

3. Listening (on my part) is the most important skill I can have when speaking with someone who is speaking in their second language. Take time. Don’t interrupt. Allow for a slower conversation speed.

4. Provide what they may be lacking. Many immigrants may not know some of the laws that they will need to follow. Insights into the Hawaii business culture are often appreciated. Give them the best information you have, even if it might contradict their understanding. Be honest and forthright 100% of the time.

5. Connect them to resources. If I see a person is about to start a business and they don’t have it registered, and they don’t have a tax license, I show them where to do that. Over the years, I have developed a large network of friends and clients. If I know of someone a new client might benefit from meeting, I’ll often share contact information. I believe that businesses need a network to succeed.

6. Understand that they may have different approaches to payment and negotiation. Some of my clients come from countries where it is customary to negotiate most prices. I understand that and try to work with them, which usually results in a nominal discount in the project cost.

7. Above all, treat them with dignity and respect and show appreciation for their business. These are universals in business, but perhaps a bit more critical for someone who might be apprehensive and a bit wary of people taking advantage of them

I hope that in the future Kona Impact will continue to be a place that attracts a wide variety of clients from around the world. We look at these clients as an important part of our business and do enjoy helping them achieve their business goals.