5 “Odd” Features of Swedish Business Culture that Actually Make Sense


City Hall in Stockholm – photo from freedigitalpictures.com

If you’re not familiar with Swedish business culture, some of the behaviors and attitudes of your Swedish co-workers or business partners might seem just plain odd.

Why do these people value productivity so much, yet take so many breaks and days off? Why is there a long parade of meetings in what otherwise seems to you like an exceptionally efficient office? And why did a young subordinate you’ve barely spoken with just greet you by your nickname?!

Keep reading to learn about 5 seemingly weird Swedish behaviors that actually make sense once you dig deeper into the underlying culture.

1. Horizontality

Sweden has been described as a “low power distance” society by Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede, meaning that people neither accept nor expect a significantly unequal distribution of power.

This manifests in Swedish business culture through a short chain of command, with the director of a company being more available to employees than is seen in most other countries. The non-hierarchical mindset is also reflected in the relaxed atmosphere seen at Swedish offices, where bosses and employees are on a first-name basis with one another.

2. Consensus

Since Swedish people reject the idea of tall hierarchies, it stands to reason that they prefer making decisions through consensus.

The high importance of achieving consensus accounts for the surprisingly frequent meetings that frustrate some international businesspeople. Swedes often feel uncomfortable making decisions unless and until everyone has spoken their mind.

3. Optimal Balance

Swedish business culture, like Swedish life in general, is marked by a preference for the optimum rather than the excessive. You can hear this in the Swedish proverb “Lagom är bäst,” which literally means “The right amount is best,” but has been more poetically translated in the Lexin Swedish-English dictionary as “Enough is as good as a feast.”

Thus, many Swedish workers focus on taking just the right amount of time to complete necessary tasks well instead of taking on extra work.

4. Moderate Work Schedules

It’s no surprise that people who value moderation also value work–life balance.

Swedes enjoy many public holidays in addition to long summer vacations (or five weeks’ holiday to be taken at will). Each work day is also interspersed with two or three “fika” breaks, taken to enjoy coffee and chatter, and many short “leg-stretcher” breaks.

In addition to frequent holidays and breaks, Swedes also often enjoy flex-time at the office, allowing employees to ensure that their work schedules are compatible with personal and family responsibilities.

5. Efficiency

After hearing so much about vacations, breaks, and flex-time, are you surprised to hear that efficiency is a defining feature of Swedish business culture?

Just remember that Swedes value taking optimal action. This is reflected in the careful punctuality and high productivity that characterises Swedish employees, who want to handle each task with just the right amount of time and attention.

I hope that this article has given you a more cohesive picture of modern Swedish business culture. Don’t worry if you still think your Swedish team members are a little weird—they probably think you are a little weird, too.

By the way, if you would like help crafting a Swedish-language message that reflects Swedish business culture, please take a look at my website localization services.

Business Opportunities in Sweden: 4 Opportunities for Tech-Savvy U.S. Companies

Science and Technology Center

Science and Technology Center

Sweden is an advanced nation known for its high-tech market, so it should come as no surprise that business opportunities in Sweden are geared toward tech-savvy companies.

If your team has the knowledge and skills to stand proud alongside Swedish engineers and techies, keep reading to learn about 4 big opportunities for U.S. companies in Sweden.

1. Information Technology (IT)
Sweden is an IT superstar, consistently ranked among the top countries in the world in terms of networked readiness, global connectedness, and ability to use the Internet to improve people’s lives.

However, this doesn’t mean there’s no room left for U.S. companies. Providing IT solutions to growing industries like education, healthcare, and business infrastructure and services presents a huge opportunity for techies interested in the Swedish market.

2. Healthcare and the Life Sciences
The healthcare industry is one of the biggest and fastest-growing on the planet. Healthcare is an especially profitable field in highly-developed countries like Sweden, where advances in technology and an aging population present new opportunities to improve the human condition.

Better yet, Sweden enjoys the highest per capita expenditures on life science research in Europe, creating an enviable environment for pharmaceutical companies and other players in the healthcare field.

3. Renewable Energy
As illustrated by viral international news reports that that Sweden has run out of garbage, Sweden’s commitment to renewable energy and sustainable living is difficult to rival.

As the country continues to move toward an even “greener” future, business opportunities in Sweden are plentiful for companies interested in the following areas:

Solar power
Wind power
Geothermal heating
Waste-to-energy systems
Sustainable wastewater treatment
Electric vehicles

4. Manufacturing and Materials Technology
With plentiful natural resources, highly-skilled engineers, and a network of R&D centers focused on materials, Sweden is an attractive location for many players in the industrial and engineering arenas, especially those who wish to develop and test new materials.

This is particularly true for companies interested in cutting-edge areas like nanomaterials, bionanotechnology, and nanoelectronics. American companies looking to enter the nanotech field may wish to begin by reviewing a listing of nanotechnology companies in Sweden.

As you can see, many of the leading business opportunities in Sweden for U.S. companies are in fields that are becoming increasingly important all over the world. That should also come as no surprise, since Sweden tends to be on the cutting edge of research and innovation.

One last thing before you go: I have a professional background in IT myself, so if you are interested in pursuing the first of the business opportunities in Sweden listed here, please stop by my software and website localization page to find out how I can become a valuable member of your team.

Doing Business in Sweden: 9 Helpful Resources

Although Sweden offers an open business environment relatively free of bureaucratic red tape, doing business in Sweden can still be confusing if you don’t know where to turn for assistance.

This article will help by introducing you to 9 great resources that can get you started on the right path.

1. Sweden.se
Sweden’s official promotional website, Sweden.se provides a reliable resource for facts about Sweden. The information on this website is broken down into 6 main categories: society, culture, traditions, nature, business, and quick facts.

2. Europages.co.uk/companies/Sweden/Sweden.html:
Europages is a portal for and directory of European companies intended to encourage business-to-business interactions. The link above provides a list of Swedish businesses; looking through it could be your first step to finding a local partner.

3. Startupoverseas.co.uk
Startup Overseas is a resource intended to help you launch or expand a business outside of the United Kingdom. There, you can find information about starting a business in or expanding a business to Sweden, buying a business or franchise in Sweden, and importing or exporting to Sweden, along with a list of experts ready to answer your questions about doing business in Sweden.

4. Business-Sweden.se
Jointly owned by the government of Sweden and Swedish private industry, respectively represented by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Swedish Foreign Trade Association, Business Sweden facilitates foreign investment in Swedish organizations and international growth for Swedish companies. Business Sweden can provide strategic investment advice, matchmaking and introductions to public and private Swedish companies and organizations, meeting arrangements in Sweden, and much more.

5. Swedish Chamber of Commerce for the United Kingdom
The Swedish Chamber of Commerce for the United Kingdom is a non-profit organization that promotes the exchange of ideas and experiences, along with networking and trade, between Sweden and the U.K. This organization can help you with various aspects of doing business in Sweden, including setting up introductions, references, company visits, and study visits, along with providing event management services.

6. Swedish-American Chambers of Commerce
SACC-USA is grassroots nonprofit organization that facilitates and supports trade, commerce, and investment between the U.S. and Sweden. This organization’s offerings include the Business Accelerator Program, the Swedish-American Membership Directory, the Entrepreneurial Days trade and networking event, and a Trainee Program designed to provide U.S. companies with qualified trainees from Sweden.

7. Stockholm International Fairs and Congress Centre
The Stockholm International Fairs and Congress Centre, known in Sweden as Stockholmsmässan, but colloquially called Älvsjömässan, arranges trade fairs in Sweden’s capital city, Stockholm. Stockholmsmässan’s website is a great place to find information about upcoming exhibitions and events, as well as learn how to run your own.

8. Fairlink
A subsidiary of Scandinavian Survey Group, Fairlink strives to be a center of excellence serving the conference and exhibition industry. This organization provides extensive information about and training for Swedish trade fair organizers and presenters.

9. Svensk Handel
Svensk Handel, the Swedish Trade Federation, is an organization for Swedish employers that serves the entire commerce and trade sector. Svensk Handel offers commercial development and establishment advisory services within the retail trade sector.

Of course, I also hope that I can be a helpful resource to you as you begin the process of doing business in Sweden, both through the information provided on this blog and through my professional English to Swedish translation and localization services.

I wish you the best of luck.

Languages mean business

There are small and mid-sized companies think that the need for translation and localization of their business communication is something that only big companies can afford or need to do. My question is; can you afford not to use translation and localization in today’s global markets? During my conference in Sweden I found out about an initiative from the European Commission called “Languages mean business” that I would like to share with you.

Many companies still lose a lot of business due to linguistic and cultural obstacles. A European study shows that small to mid-sized companies who apply a linguistic strategy can increase their sales with up to 25%.

The goal of the initiative is to increase small and mid-sized companies’ use of foreign languages and show them how this can increase their possibilities for increased revenue and trade across country borders. A successful language strategy can start with small steps and the initiative gives tips on how to turn foreign languages into success, such as adapting the website to different languages and cultures, recruiting native speakers and professional translators and many more. It is a valuable resource for all companies doing business or wanting to do business internationally.

More information, results from surveys, stories from successful companies can be found at http://ec.europa.eu/languages/languages-mean-business.

Great tips for freelance translators from FreelanceSwitch

I follow the blog from FreelanceSwitch and have over time found many useful tips for freelancers and thus also for freelance translators. Recently they shared a post called “30 Inherently Useful Tools for Freelancers” and I wanted to share 4 tools I found most useful here.

1. How to Be a Rockstar Freelancer – FreelanceSwitch own book for freelancers, written by the founders of FreelanceSwitch – Collins & Cyan Ta’eed. I truly enjoyed another book for freelancers called “The Wealthy Freelancers” and look forward to reading this one too.

2. FreelanceSwitch Hourly Rate Calculator – Here you can calculate what your hourly rate should be based on your costs and the amount of time you spend earning money.

3. XE: For working with overseas clients in different foreign currencies. XE’s currency converter is a useful tool for accurate currency calculations that features up-to-the-minute currency rates.

4. Dropbox – I use a stationary computer and a laptop and can synchronize the files on both computers effortlessly by using dropbox.

Other great tools mentioned are Paypal, Google Calendar (which I use to synchronize my calendars between my two computers and my iPhone, plus MakeSomeTime.

Do you have any favorite tools not listed that you love as a freelance translator?

Translating for the State Language Department

If you are an American Citizen and you are interested in translating for the US Department of State, you can apply as a freelance translator for the State Language Department. Applications are reviewed according to the language needs of the Department of State. If your application is approved you will have the opportunity to go take their language test. I did this last week, partly because I was interested in working for them, and partly because I, as a grader for the ATA English into Swedish certification, was interested in experiencing their testing. For more information on working as a freelance translator for the State Language Department you can go to http://languageservices.state.gov and click on Employment Opportunities.


Interesting facts on doing business in Sweden from SACC (or keeping up on business news)

As a Swedish translator I follow business news in Sweden, but particularly news from the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce (SACC). US and Sweden have a long history of thriving business relations with each other. Here are some interesting statistics about the Swedish business climate from SACC:

>> Sweden’s business sector is unique for its large number of multinational corporations in relation to the relative size of the national economy.

>> Sweden places third in economic competitiveness within the EU, after Switzerland and Denmark (Source: World Economic Forum, 2008-2009).

>> Sweden is ranked as number four in economic competitiveness (Source: World Economic Forum, 2009-2010).

>> Sweden is ranked number one when it comes to technological readiness (Source: World Economic Forum, 2009-2010)

>> In 2008, there were more than 12,800 foreign-owned companies employing a total of 620,000 Swedes. USA was the country with the most IT companies, 241 and almost 12,000 employees. (Source: Only in Swedish; Tillväxtanaly)

>> Sweden is foremost in innovation capability (Source: Global Summary Innovation Index; Trendchart, 2007).

>> The highest internet penetration in Europe; 80% (Source: Invest in Sweden Agency)

>> Sweden was in 2008 ranked number 18 as one of the leading exporters and importers in world trade in commercial services. (Source: WTO)


Incorporating your small freelance translation business

I have discussed with many colleagues about incorporating a small freelance translation business, and most of them recommend doing so due to tax benefits. I have also discussed this with business lawyer friends and last year there was a bill proposal for removing these tax benefits for small incorporated businesses. Luckily, this bill did not pass and I have now finally incorporated.

The most common entity option for freelance translators seems to be an S-corporation. This can vary by state, depending on the state laws. After contacting SCORE, a great no-cost resource for small businesses in the US, I was referred to a great financial service business, called Main Street Tax and Financial Services (“Main Street”) to incorporate. That is when I also heard about another entity, an S-elected Limited Liability Corporation. This is what they say about an S-elected LLC: “While taxed as an S-Corp, an S-LLC is not required to have the same meetings & document maintenance requirements of an S-Corp.  For all liability issues, the entity is treated as an LLC.  For all tax issues, the entity is treated as an S-Corp.”

I chose this option and opted to have “Main Street” to do all the work for me for a reasonable fee. If you consider incorporating, I recommend booking an appointment with SCORE first and then choosing a financial service company to do the incorporating for you. SCORE can recommend these companies also help you with other questions you have for your small freelance business.

Corinne McKay also gives great advice on incorporating in her blog: “Webinar question: Should I incorporate?” and “Some thoughts on incorporating”.

Do you have any other thoughts on incorporating? Are you incorporated? Please share!


Mayday, mayday – Should the next computer be a Mac or PC?

My umpteenth PC is starting to give up and slow down, and it is time to buy a new one. This time I am hoping that you, my dear readers, can contribute. I am the only PC-person in our family, mostly because I run Trados Studio, Passolo, Catalyst, LocStudio and Helium on my computer. I am considering buying a Mac, but can these five programs run well on a Mac? I suppose I need to install Windows in order to run them?

What experiences do you have using Mac versus PC when it comes to CAT-tools? Advantages? Disadvantages? While I am at it, for those who translate into another language than English, do you buy computers in your native country to get the native language setup and keyboard, or do you just install language packs and change language for the keyboard? I have bought my computers here and just installed a Swedish language pack and changed to the Swedish keyboard, but I am going to Sweden in a few months and could buy a computer there too. Thank you in advance for your input!

New Year’s Resolutions for Freelancers

I am trying to plan for the next year this week and inevitably start thinking of New Year’s Resolutions. Do you have any for your business? Here are some suggestions:

1. Set three SMART-goals for 2011 (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant (to your business) and Timed)

2. Raise your rates

3. Increase your productivity by eliminating distractions, creating daily to do lists and setting time frames

4. Expand your brand. Use your networks and do everything you can so that others recognize the name of your freelance business

5. Trim your workload. Outsource work that you are not good at and only take on as much as you COMFORTABLY can handle.

6. Improve your client communication. Take time to communicate with your clients by timely replies to e-mails, phone calls and giving them updates.

7. Improve customer service – treat everyone nicely and go the extra mile

8. Improve your skills by taking classes, reading, practicing, learning a new skill etc.

9. Enlarge your network. Connect with others in the same field; create partnerships, give and take referrals.

10. Get back to your passion. You became a freelancer because of your passion. Don’t let other things get in the way for that.

11. Develop a specialty – a new translation specialization or nurture an existing one

12. Set and meet a financial goal

13. Balance work and life – Ha, ha, it is always worth a try.

14. Kick a bad habit – what are you avoiding to do or what are you doing too much?

15. Streamline a process. Identify a problem area that eats your time and try to make it easier, faster, simpler, or outsource.

16. Set specific work hours.

17. Not work on weekends

18. Get new, better, clients.

19. Go to conferences

20. Create a one page marketing plan

These are a few examples. What are your goals for the next year? Dream big! New Year’s Resolutions are only resolutions, usually broken. Perhaps you can set up a few resolutions in front of your computer and look at them each morning, picking one thing to work on that day. Happy New Year!                 

New Year 2011 - Greetings
Creative Commons License photo credit: valcanno