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Small Business

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7 ways to grow your business by reaching out across cultures

Knowing your customer is a bedrock principle of business, and it's doubly important if you want to make sure you appeal to today's increasingly diverse market.

The buying power of Asian-American, African-American and Hispanic consumers is growing at twice the rate of total U.S. purchasing clout, according to market research. Paying attention to the consumption habits and values of diverse people can help your business grow.

Here are seven ways to start:

1. Connect with community business leaders: Build relationships with businesspeople of diverse backgrounds. Networking at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, for example, can alert you to community events that your business can support.

2. Review your messaging: Consider how you might adapt your website, marketing and sales materials to appeal to other cultures, suggests Vicki Flier Hudson, chief collaboration officer at Atlanta-based Highroad Global Services, which helps businesses expand into new markets. When you've built strong relationships with businesspeople from different cultures, you can ask them for feedback. Ask these peers to identify messaging that might elicit a negative reaction from your intended audience, and invite them to suggest improvements.

3. Check your assumptions: Self-awareness is an important step toward gaining broader cultural awareness, says Hudson. For example, you might prize the very "American" value of getting a task accomplished quickly, but your multicultural counterparts may put a priority on developing relationships. Consider how those values are communicated in your outreach to customers.

4. Hire for diversity and foreign language skills: "Your workforce is very important," says Michael Soon Lee, author of “Cross-Cultural Selling for Dummies." “When you have a diverse staff, it signals to people that the business is sensitive to culture." If you serve customers who aren't confident English speakers, having multi-lingual employees could encourage consumers to buy from you, rather than a competitor.

5. Be active in the community: Supporting events such as a street festival that celebrates a particular cultural heritage will help raise your profile with target customers. "It's better than running ads—it's all about word of mouth in the community," says Lee.

6. Talk about culture: "We're so afraid to ask anyone about their culture because we're afraid of offending them," says Lee. "So, instead, we make assumptions that are often in error." While it's poor form to directly ask someone what their ethnic background is, showing an interest in their cultural traditions in the right context demonstrates that you're eager to learn. "And if business owners are interested in culture, they're going to make more money," Lee adds.

7. Note important holidays: Acknowledging and celebrating other cultures' holidays generates goodwill, says Hudson. You can send greeting cards once you've determined whether your clients celebrate occasions such as Diwali, Eid al-Fitr or the Lunar New Year. For festive holidays, restaurants and retail stores can add decorations. Do your homework, though: Before you decorate or send cards or gifts, Hudson advises that you learn about colors, numbers and symbols that may carry negative connotations.

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