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Can You Build a Website in English as a Non Native Speaker?

Should you start a website in English if it isn’t your native language?

Today we have the only member of the six figure challenge group who doesn’t speak English as a first language share the reasons why he chose to.

When it comes to people who have targetted English when it isn’t their first language and had success the person that comes to mind is Tung Tran.

I’ve been planning to start some sites and earn money with them for a couple of years now. Last summer my nice work situation seemed just perfect to go beyond the thinking (which I am always really good at) and get started. I bought some domains and started to build the sites. I’ve had in mind e-mail lists. Some affiliate revenue. Content. I was so into it, I even quit my job when returning from the holiday.

Fast forward a couple of months and I was offered the chance (after I applied, of course) to join the Six Figure Website Challenge group.

I live in Hungary (a country in the middle of Europe of 10 million people), so it might sound a bit weird that I want to run a site targeting the US market.

If you are like me, having some strange native language that is used by only a handful of people, you might have thought of similar things to what I’ll share with you. Realizing them and reflecting on them though will help you decide if starting an English site is really for you or not. (Hint: it is.)

budapest-parliament

Photo Credit AZso

Why to consider when starting an English site as a non native speaker…

Challenge

Very simple: it’s just a good challenge to prove that you can do it. I consider myself a digital native, but still I regularly think of how awesome it is to have the opportunity do do something like this. It wouldn’t have been possible for my parents in their same age: starting a project practically in another country, but still staying home.

Target audience is bigger

No matter what your country of origin is, you’ll never have that wide audience in most cases that you can have with English speaking countries and markets. Everything you do can have a bigger return. Why put energy into something that reaches X people when doing almost the same will reach 10x people? Some niches are even non-existent in non-English markets, not to mention my country which is pretty small (with population of 10 million, roughly 7 million people online). The audience my site is relevant to is in itself way bigger than this.

More opportunities for creative ideas

For the same reason (audience size) there are a lot more options to generate ideas. This is mainly for two reasons: there are more players in every niche that you can look at, and there are more tools at your disposal. This is dependent on your actial native language / country, but to me at least there’s no way to use a number of tools in my native language because they either don’t index local sites or they just don’t have enough data. Even Google’s 1st party keyword tool is pretty much useless in some niches, not to mention other tools like SEM Rush, OSE, Buzzsumo or Pinterest. And while there’s a surprisingly big audience on Twitter, the part of it that is actually my audience is really small. There’s a chance you have the same problem, but even if you don’t it is very likely that new useful tools are made available sooner in English than in any other language.

Great for consulting

This is something I haven’t expected: I have found that people think I’m more credible. When I tell people who don’t have a clue about online businesses that I build a site in English I kinda have the impression they think I’m an idealist. Or stupid. Or that I have a bunch of money that I can throw into some big project (which I don’t). But when I talk to people about this that have some professional background in online or they want to have some advice from me, they just seem to trust my word more. This might be different in every country but it is definitely true in my country that if I give an example from “a project I do on the US market” people really just trust me more. So much so that I’m pretty certain that I have two of my numerous ongoing projects and consulting gigs mostly because of this. Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying I really think I am hyper knowledgable and experienced, but I am saying that it seems cool in the eyes of a bunch of people and it’s something I can build upon (if I wanted to have more consulting business, which I actually don’t, but that’s another story).

No need for translations

It’s obvious, but it’s still somewhat funny to realize. Any plugins I used in WordPress on Hungarian sites I managed, I always had to find a solution that either had a translation on the frontend out of the box (not for myself but for the visitors of the sites). Some plugins have it like Contact Form 7, but most of them don’t and they don’t even come with a .po file. Now this is not a problem and it’s quite refreshing, suddenly a bunch of new opportunities to experiment with plugins.

You can’t sound that native. Or can you?

You can’t, or you can but it might require so much effort that it probably wouldn’t worth it. I have never found my horrible Englihs limiting anyway. Or I’m just being arrogant, I don’t know (I don’t care, lol). But depending on the niche and the style you choose, you might be totally fine with not trying to pretend you are native. Think about it! You can even turn it to your advantage! I can totally imagine like a watch site ran by a Swiss guy, some car related site ran by a German guy, a fashion site ran by an Italian guy and a Hungarian could run a… no, they don’t excel at anything, too bad. These are exactly the kind of stereotypes that I try to avoid in my personal life. I mean really, why on earth someone from Switzerland would necessarily be good at making watches? For the same reason why some consumer products like cars or clothes are being advertised by celebrities and athletes: there’s no connection between the two at all but people tend to draw consequences with regards to thing B from thing A and it works fine. But your personal opinions don’t matter here, stereotypes work and you can use them.

Anyway, I use only native English writers to get the content written for my site and get the whole site reviewed every now and then by other native speakers just to make sure any edits I make don’t have broken English.

Get involved in the culture as much as you can

You are targeting a country you don’t live in. I watch movies, read books and articles, have worked in English speaking environment, etc. but still I’m not there. This limits a couple of things. E.g. I could have never come up with some ideas guys in the group had because we just don’t have it here or it’s not a big thing at all. So you need to do be on the lookout for business ideas and you shouldn’t rely on your own guts in a way you could if you lived there

Watch ads.

You are not in the country so you don’t get exposed to advertisement that could give you ideas even subconsciously. A good way to do this is read AdAge and other ad industry news because they talk about good and big campaigns. You can also try to fake your geolocation or use a proxy like HideMy ass but even with these you won’t see all the ads, at least I don’t.

  • Do everything in English – Use your operating system, mobile phone, car infotainment and everything you can in English. This is a surprisingly good way to always get you exposed to English even more. It’s also a good way to pick up a new language, so I actually have most of my gadgets switched to Finnish, just to pick up more words.

Taxation

Since this specific project is yet to generate me money, this one is low on my todo list, but here’s what I’m looking to do from the middle of this year: I’m going to start a company in Estonia, and I suggest you do the same. My country is most likely one of the hardest to deal with when it comes to taxation in the EU. But compared to Estonia this applies to most of the countries. What you can do there is that you can apply for an e-residency that allows you start a company and pay taxes there. Currently one has to fly there to get started with this, but after this program is out of beta, it will be enough to go to a local Estonian embassy and register (I’m waiting for this). And yes, they do all the bureaucratic work in English. The reason I’ll do this is because taxes and bureucracy is just too high in Hungary and I want to be truly independent of the country. Currently there’s a great option here in Hungary for entrepreneurs that allow me to pay pay $200 worth of local currency (Forint) per month as a flat tax that covers income tax, social security, state pension, and a bunch of other smaller things I don’t even have to know about. But this works only till the income of the business is under about $2000 / month, which I hope will be an issue very soon.

I’m interested in knowing if there readers of AWI like me, running an English site from a non-English country. What other considerations would you add to this list, what challenges do you have if any? You can also feel free to contact me on Twitter (@dsallai) to exchange ideas.

About the Author Jon

I am a 33 year old husband, father of 3, engineer and a huge fan of developing systems to build useful and profitable websites. The reason I build online businesses is to provide financial independence for my family and yours AND so I can spend time outside skiing and biking with my family.
Jon Gillham, Online Entrepreneur

Leave a Comment:

10 comments
PF says February 5, 2015

I am a non native English speaker and I outsource my content and being 3 years full time affiliate with months having 5 figures of income. It is possible, you just need to have some basic English knowledge.

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Alex P. says February 5, 2015

I’m in the same boat, although not being part of such a select team as the Six Figure Challenge Group. I’m from (and living in) Romania, and am growing my English website at this time. It’s targeting the US market.

I just wanted to say though that I know guys who can’t write English correctly but still make a killing on the US market using writers. Most of them started out back when SEO was a lot easier, and now they got the budgets to create sites using writers. It’s probably much more difficult now to start from zero on your own without good knowledge of English.

And thanks for the tip with Estonia, it looks like it’s worth checking into. Really really appreciated!
All the best and lots of IM success to you!

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Michael Bely says February 5, 2015

I believe the most importnant thing is not what language you speak, but the value you deliver (and of course on a personal level you will need a desire to work in a foreign language environment).
So, once again, the value is what matters most. Everything else is just details.

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Michal Vilimovsky says February 6, 2015

I agree with what Michael Bely said above – the most important thing is not what language you speak but the value you deliver.

In my opinion it is perfectly possible to build an English language site without being a native English speaker. You should, however, have the posts written by native English speakers and provide as much value as possible.

Some markets, like Hungary or Czech Republic (where I come from) are too small to generate enough readers (customers) so it is difficult (but not impossible) to build a viable business around a targeted niche. In such case, English (or even multi-language website) is a great choice.

However competition is much bigger on English speaking markets (USA, UK, Canada, Australia, etc.) than in local markets (Czech, Hungarian, Slovak, etc.) and therefore you need to provide much better value than your competitors (for instance your posts need to be larger and better researched, etc.) to succeed. Also you should not expect great results happen over night. It usually takes up to 6 months to start seeing any positive results in search engines (rankings).

But it is definitely worth it. I would go for it if I were you. English speaking audience is everywhere and you can easily get thousands of visitors a month for a very detailed article on a very special topic.

Good luck :).

Reply
Olayinka says February 6, 2015

Whoa thanks Jon for this great content. I own point is that whether your are native of English spoken country or not what you need to your readers is to create valve that will be make your with the English bloggers online.

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Felix Albutra says February 7, 2015

I first raise this question on a comment of Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income blog posts. And I believe that the most important thing is that, the indeed the value of the content and of course as long as your readers understand what you really want to express or share via your blog post (communication).

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Peter says February 8, 2015

7 months ago I dived into SEO area. I’m Peter from China. As you know, in our country it is not very convenient to access Google, Twitter, Facebook etc. So I have to use VPN to do SEO. While in the beginning of that, because of my poor English, outsourcing content is a must for me. Fortunately there are many SEO experts who would like to share experience with us. Of course authoritywebisteincome.com gave me so much effective information about SEO, especially the article “Read my Ultimate Guide To Expired Domains for SEO!”. Now I have made 2 websites until now, I’m eager to have a passive income:)

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Aske says February 8, 2015

Hi guys! I’m from Estonia, 🙂 so feel free to ask questions about making company in Estonia 🙂 can guide to some nice persons who can deal with that.

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Tess Johnson says February 8, 2015

I totally agree with Michael it is the value you provide rather than what language you speak. So many countries even though they have a native language English is a common language spoken among its citizens. So it is the value you provide rather than the language.

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Chakwo says August 7, 2015

I agree with you the value you provide for reader is the most important part.No need to care so much about native language.If you provide the good thing.It’s ok

Reply
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