As the business world expands, business opportunities become ubiquitous. The major challenge remains the ability to pursue and seize such opportunities to fruitful ends. Doing so, however, requires overlooking differences and building bridges. This paradigm is beautifully illustrated by the French-speaking and English-speaking worlds. Beyond their geographical and historical differences, France and the UK have over time, shaped distinct visions and models of business. Fortunately, the gap between these visions is not unbreachable. What are the distinctions between the English and French business realms? Which assets should one possess, towards fully tapping into these two markets? Beyond the language barrier, what other differences are there between these two worlds and how can they be overcome? These are the questions that businesses must crucially answer if they want to understand the intricacies of these two worlds.
Differences between the francophone and anglophone go way back in history, but it is during colonial times that the gap between the French and English powers became global. The two powers reshaped the world’s political, economic, and social models, trade standards, and even the orientation and perception of some countries across the globe.
In Africa for example, British settlers opted for indirect rule, a governance system that leverages pre-existing sociopolitical indigenous power structures. The impact of this system on trade was rapidly noticed afterwards, as British colonies quickly adopted a way of living based on trade, business, and exchanges.
Meanwhile, in the francophone world, arms of state Governance and administration, are preeminent. Generally, English-speaking countries are perceived to be business-friendly, as is reflected in the ease-of-business ranking. This perception, however, is changing over the years and now countries like Côte d’Ivoire are rapidly emerging as top reformers, relative to the quality of their business environment.
10 keys to bridging the anglophone-francophone gap
Whether you are from the francophone world and wish to do business in the anglophone world, or vice-versa, the gap between these worlds is an ever-present obstacle. However, here are some keys to tackle it:
1- Have a good product
Regardless of where you operate, be it an English-speaking or a French-speaking country, the first factor to being successful is the quality of the product or service you provide. The latter needs to be adapted to the target market. It must solve an actual and evident problem and be accessible at a competitive price. Bar meeting these prerequisites, all other efforts may be ineffective.
2- Build a network, Hone your background
The personal background is crucial, especially in the francophone world. Where you studied, the companies you worked for or with, your professional experience, are all factors that could make your life easier. And while it is true that English-speaking countries are more tolerant towards newcomers, in French-speaking countries experience is highly valued. Also, it is very important for one to take care of their address book. Great contacts can make your life easier, especially in the francophone business world which operates a lot on recommendations and favours.
3- Know your why
If one’s background and address book are greatly important, the same stands for their motivation. In the anglophone world especially, you might get opportunities depending on your “why”. Therefore, it is important to know and more importantly to make known what drives you, why you do the things you do, and what your goals are.
4- Master the political context
No matter how amazing your product or service might be, it would be catastrophic to launch it at the wrong time. Understanding the political dynamics of the market you are going to operate in, is vital. What are the ambitions of its leaders? How are they reflected in their economic policies? What measures are favourable to your business? How can you guard your activity against measures that could hurt it? In a region like Africa, mastering the political context is essential, especially if you are looking to make long-term investments there.
5- Know the differences related to employability
Generally, when it comes to employability, anglophone systems are more flexible than francophone systems. It is both easier to hire and lay off staff. In French-speaking countries, it is quite tedious to hire or suspend an employment contract and this could affect one’s business. Understanding the differences between these two worlds will help you know what types of contracts would be best to offer, if you should outsource or not, etc.
6- Understand the language
We must convene that trading is more difficult when parties involved don’t understand each other. A language is a major tool in trade. Understanding the language, or having someone who does, is the first step. In the anglophone world, all efforts to understand the language are lauded. Although, French speakers are a little more demanding when it comes to the level of fluency required to do business with them. Whatever the case, make efforts to understand both French and English. For French speakers, speaking English is an undeniable asset, given that it is the primary language in the business world. For English speakers, speaking French – fluently – is not only an asset but a tool to surprise French-speaking business partners. This also facilitates talks and sets the stage for a trustworthy and friendly collaboration.
7- Know the law
Laws in place in one world are completely different when moving to another. It is important to fully comprehend them or be close to people who do. Though it is true that major economic blocks (ECOWAS, CEMAC, SADC, COMESA) have shared regulations, at the country level, there are specific laws that can determine the success or failure of your business.
8- Understand the cultural context
Two neighbouring countries, despite their geographic proximity, can have completely different cultures. Here, understanding what works at the global level and adapt it at the local level is key to succeeding in your venture. Simply applying the same strategy one would use in a francophone environment in the anglophone environment wouldn’t necessarily work. Tweaking your strategy by taking into account cultural peculiarities is necessary but tricky. However, failing to do so could result in failure.
9- Master structural risks
One of the main challenges that businesses face is foreign currency risks. In Africa for example, anglophone countries have their own currencies and most francophone countries share the CFA franc. In the latter, the risk related to foreign exchange is lower. Therefore, a business operator who enters a country that is part of the Franc zone would mitigate this risk, especially if the value of currencies in the anglophone zone falls.
10- Be informed
Whether you are in a francophone or an anglophone zone, the worst thing you could do is to think that you understand the zone based on assumptions. It is vital to stay informed and to really apprehend how the information you get can affect your business. It is also, like anywhere else, important to have a well-packed address book and to establish robust partnerships.
Far from being an obstacle, differences between regions where different languages are spoken can be an advantage, provided that you understand some rules and how to play by them. This reality stands for the francophone and anglophone worlds. Besides, many countries are mustering efforts to bridge these differences and build stronger economic spaces. A project such as the African Continental Free-trade Area (AfCFTA), is a perfect example of such efforts, in Africa.
As my favourite saying goes, learning is sharing, so I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject in the comments section below.
Thank you, and/or, Merci 🙂