English is the international language. It is the second most spoken language in the world after Mandarin, and it dominates more than 55 percent of all online content, making it the de facto language of the World Wide Web.
So, in a globalized world, one that is getting smaller by the day, English has been helping us communicate with one another, and it has been giving us the cement needed to bridge cultural chasms.
However, if you truly want to see how prominent English has become in our modern world, you don’t have to venture beyond the world of business.
According to the Harvard Business Review, “English is the global language of business.”
As a result, companies have been racing to teach their employees the Germanic language in the hopes of keeping up with globalization and getting an edge over the competition.
Employees, on their part, have been having mixed feelings about learning English.
Whereas some have been dragging their feet, feeling that they are too old to learn a new language, other employees have been enthusiastic about learning something new and have been doing everything they can to better themselves and their company.
If you belong to that second category, then this article is for you. Throughout this article, we will look at different business words and expressions that you can use every day from 9 to 5.
On a side note, as I explain each term, I will inadvertently use other common business terms, plenty of which may not be covered in this guide.
Nevertheless, I have highlighted these terms for you, the reader, so that you can familiarize yourself with them.
Let’s start by looking at Basic Business English Vocabulary that you will come across a lot.
A strategy is a plan to achieve a certain objective. When a business is creating a strategy to go to market, it usually has to figure out its vision, its core values, its near-term and long-term objectives, its organizational structure, and so much more.
In fact, there are strategy consultants whose sole purpose is to help businesses put a successful plan together.
At the end of the year, your boss may approach you and tell you this:
“I’m going to need you to stay late tomorrow. We are having a meeting to come up with a strategy for the new quarter.”
2. Business plan
As we just saw, every business needs to develop a strategy to infiltrate the market and beat the competition.
However, it is also important that businesses are able to communicate this plan to other entities, and this is where a business plan comes in.
A business plan is a written document that lays out all the important elements of a business strategy.
It discusses the company’s goals and looks at how those goals will be achieved.
So, a business plan will contain a section talking about the market and why the plan is feasible.
It will also contain a section about how the entire endeavor will be funded, the finance section.
Business plans are critical. They are essential for businesses trying to get funding from investors or banks, and a good business plan can get the entire company on the same page, letting every stakeholder know where the ship is headed and how they can help get it there.
If you are building a start-up and you need funding from an investor, you might hear the following sentence from an interested party:
“That is a very interesting idea. Tell you what, send me your business plan, I’ll take a look at it, and we’ll take it from there.”
The market is where the business’s product or service will be sold. It includes the customers, both current and potential, the competitors, the suppliers, and any other relevant party that might have an effect on the business.
Obviously, the market can have a good deal to say on whether a business succeeds or fails.
For instance, if the market is overcrowded with competitors, a starting business might have a hard time gaining a foothold in the market.
As a result, businesses have to perform a thorough market research to know how attractive a certain opportunity is.
Moreover, once a business begins to sell its product or service, it needs to promote itself and its offerings, which is known as marketing.
If a company is considering launching a new product, it might reach out to its marketing team first in the hopes of finding how warm the water is.
Here is what an executive might say to an individual in marketing:
“The people at engineering have been raving about this new product, saying that it will revolutionize the sector. However, we don’t know how the market will react, so we will need you to help us test the waters.”
4. Financial statements
For a business to manage its operations, it needs to keep constant track of its assets, both monetary and physical.
To that end, businesses use financial statements, which are documents detailing all the assets and transactions of a business.
There are three main types of financial documents you should be aware of. The balance sheets lists both a company’s assets and its liabilities. The cash flow statement details all the money flowing in and out of the company.
Finally, the income statement looks at every transaction carried out by the business even if the money hasn’t transferred hands yet.
Financial statements are like the gauges in a car.
They tell you how a business is doing, and if something is going wrong, the first place to look at is the statements.
This is why financial analysts always look at a company’s financial statements when considering whether to invest or not.
If you are considering investing in a company, you could tell your broker the following:
“I think the market looks promising, but I want to see their track record over the past few years first. Send me their financial statements.”
5. Selling point
Also known as the Unique Selling Proposition, the selling point is the main reason customers buy from a certain company instead of from its competitors.
Its how a company differentiates its offerings from the rest.
Coming up with a unique selling point is an integral part of marketing as it helps build a brand and makes it easier to sell a product or service.
On a side note, the Unique Selling Proposition is shortened as USP. So, the next time you see the abbreviation USP in a business plan, you know what it means.
During a product launch, the head of the marketing team might tell their team the following:
“Alright, remember team. We want to stress our unique selling point in all of our ads. We are the only customizable option out there.”
When you buy a house using a mortgage, you are making use of a line of credit offered to you by the bank. In other words, the bank is loaning you money to buy the house.
Similarly, banks can loan businesses money. Actually, even everyday individuals can loan the business money should the business sell bonds.
And, just like any other loan, the money given will be subject to interest that the business has to pay regularly.
Better yet, businesses can loan other businesses money.
For instance, when a company makes a large purchase from another company, the seller might decide to extend the buyer a line of credit as an incentive to do business.
This is why a transaction may appear on an income statement but not on the cash flow statement: The customer might have made the purchase but the money still hasn’t exchanged hands.
This is also why the balance sheet will contain accounts receivable, which are considered short-term assets.
When making a large purchase from one of its suppliers, a company might say this in its email:
“We humbly ask that you extend us a line of credit for the six months following the purchase date.”
Companies are owned by people.
How much a certain individual owns in a given company is identified by their equity or stake in the company.
When it comes to public companies, those that are traded in the stock market, an individual’s equity is defined by how many shares of the company they own.
For a company, selling equity is one of the main ways of raising finances. It means getting investors on board, which infuses the business with capital but takes away a bit of the control had by the original owners.
However, equity can also be used in a larger sense to mean assets.
For example, some companies rely on their brand equity to sell their product.
If you have a start-up and you need capital, you could be having this conversation with a potential investor:
Investor: So, how are you planning to finance the entire venture?
You: We plan to start with a round of equity financing to get off the ground. Then, once our cash flow has stabilized, we might look to get a line of credit from a bank.
For many businesses, building a strong brand is essential to success.
A brand is everything that distinguishes a business from its competition.
We’re not talking about the selling point, which is concerned with a certain product or service. Instead, a brand relates to the entire company. It can be found in a company’s logo, its colors, its culture, and its vision.
In short, a brand is the emotional reaction evoked in the customer. It is the first thing the customer thinks about when they think of a company.
For example, when you think about Nike, the first thing that might come to mind might be the phrase “Just Do it.”
Or, when you think of Mercedes, you might think of the luxury that comes with that German brand regardless of the car in question.
This is all thanks to branding.
During a shareholder meeting, the CEO of a company might make the following statement:
“Thanks to the strength of our brand, we have been able to increase our revenues by nine percent from last year.”
This is a term you will hear a lot of the time if you work with start-ups or in the entrepreneurship field.
They will talk about scalability and the importance of having a scalable business model.
So, what does scalable mean?
Well, if something is scalable, then it can easily grow and work on a larger scale without requiring a sizeable investment.
For instance, starting a law firm isn’t a scalable business because the number of clients you can serve is limited by the number of attorneys you have.
Conversely, an application like Facebook or Twitter is scalable because you can bring on new users without having to hire new people.
In fact, when Whatsapp was sold for $19 billion to Facebook, Whatsapp only had 55 employees even though the company served more than 420 million users.
If you have a start-up and you are looking for an investor, you could hear the following from a VC:
“Well, we are interested in the idea, and the traction your business has shown over the past six months is impressive. But, we are concerned with how scalable the business model is.”
Originally, the word leverage meant to use a lever to apply force.
The idea is that a lever can amplify any exerted force, allowing people to pull off feats they wouldn’t normally be able to do, such as lifting massive objects.
However, the business world has taken the word leverage and given it a few more definitions. To start with, businessmen and stock traders use leverage to mean debt.
You see, when buying any assets, a company may choose to take on some debt to make the purchase.
This debt not only enables the company to buy the expensive asset but also amplifies any profits achieved as a result of the transaction.
Business people also use leverage to mean utilizing the current assets to the maximum possible advantage.
For example, when trying to reach the CEO of a certain company, they will speak of “leveraging” their contacts in that company to get in. You can think of it as making use of the contacts the same way you would make use of the lever.
When starting a company, you may start with an initial investment of $1 million.
However, if you want to increase your asset base, you may say this to your banker, “I’m thinking of levering my investment. How much is the bank offering as leverage?
Basic Business English Vocabulary: Abbreviations
The business world is filled with abbreviations that serve as shorthand that can be used in daily conversations. If you don’t know these abbreviations, you will get lost in most meetings.
And, pretty soon, you’ll be just looking around in a desperate attempt to play catch-up.
So, to avoid all this hassle, let’s take a look at some of the most common business abbreviations that are used in both writing and speech.
HR stands for human resources, the department in any company responsible for dealing with employees and their issues.
An individual working in HR works hard to make sure that the rest of the employees throughout the company are happy and being as productive as possible.
Hopefully, happy, actualized employees will not want to leave their company, reducing their overall turnover,
To achieve its goals, the human resources department takes in several responsibilities. HR trains employees and helps them with their personal development. HR also ensures that company regulation is followed and helps solve any internal conflicts that might arise.
Over and above, HR handles payroll.
If an employee just started at a company, they could hear this during their orientation:
“Hi, my name is Sarah, and I’m with the HR team. Today, we are going to get you settled in your new roles.”
Every business needs a public relations department, which is also known as the PR department. The PR team is responsible for communicating with the outside world, especially through the press or other forms of media.
They are also the ones who manage a company’s image and make sure that the brand remains untarnished.
As a result of all of this, the PR team is part of the marketing department.
During a meeting between company executives, the CEO may tell the marketing director the following:
“Let’s have the PR team whip up a statement for the media, something that puts a favorable spin on the whole thing.”
This one usually finds its way to the bottom of most emails. Basically, ASAP stands for “as soon as possible” and is used when you want someone to do whatever it is you are asking of them quickly.
That said, you should bear in mind that this abbreviation should be used in informal situations.
ASAP implies a certain sense of urgency that might not be appropriate when talking to someone you are unfamiliar with.
For instance, it would be quite strange if you told your boss that he should get back to you asap.
Interestingly, asap has made its way outside of the business world, and people use it in their daily lives.
So, you shouldn’t be surprised the next time your friend texts you, “We need to meet asap.”
Even though we said that you shouldn’t use asap in formal situations, there is an exception. The only time you can use asap in a formal situation is when you are talking about yourself. For example, when handling a complaint from a client, you can say, “I’ll get on this asap.” However, in extremely formal situations, one where you need to give off an aura of professionalism, you should still stay away from this abbreviation.
Every business project is an investment of sorts. People put in money and effort, and, in return, they expect to make a healthy profit that will not only allow them to recuperate their initial investment but will also help them make their money a few times over.
Well, one way to gauge the profitability of a certain project is to measure the return on investment, which is abbreviated as ROI. The higher the ROI is, the more profitable the endeavor or project is.
In fact, investors will sometimes use a projected ROI to decide whether an investment is worthy of their time.
If you decide to invest in stocks, your broker might try to sell you a particular stock by saying, “The average ROI for shareholders over the past five years has been 13 percent. You don’t want to miss out.”
Basic Business Legalese
A big part of going into business involves signing contracts and entering into legal agreements with other parties. Hence, you need to brush up on your legalese if you want to understand what you’re getting into once you sign on the dotted line.
In any contract, clauses are statements that define key parts of the contract and explain its terms.
Usually, clauses are numbered and split into different sections depending on what they refer to.
As the online business dictionary puts it, “clauses are the ‘ifs,’ ‘buts,’ and ‘ands’ of a contract.” I can’t have put it better myself.
During contract negotiations between two companies, one party may tell the other, “We can’t come to an agreement until you amend clause 12a.”
16. Null and void
If something is null and void, then it is no longer legally valid.
This could apply to contracts, agreements, or even clauses within a contract. In other words, if a contract is null and void, then it cannot be enforced by either party that signed it.
Let’s say that when two companies signed a contract together, they placed a specific clause in there that preserved each one’s intellectual property. If either party tried to steal the intellectual property of the other, then the following statement might be uttered:
“By breaching the intellectual property clause, you have rendered the entire contract null and void.”
Every company has its own trademark, which includes its registered name, logo, copy, and other proprietary property.
And, companies need to protect their trademark to preserve their brand.
After all, if every sporting brand used the Nike Swoosh, Nike wouldn’t stand out in people’s minds anymore.
In a sense, a trademark is not that far off from a patent or a copyright.
Therefore, infringing on another company’s trademark is a legal offense that is actionable.
What does it mean to infringe on a company’s trademark? Well, using their name or logo without their explicit permission would be considered a clear violation.
Interestingly, the word trademark can also be used as a verb, where trademarking something means to legally protect it and identify it as the property of the company.
If a new restaurant decided to use two golden arches as its logo, it might here the following statement from a representative from McDonald’s:
“We are suing you for copyright infringement.”
When a company breaches an agreement or contract, it usually has to face a penalty.
One possible penalty is the nullification of the contract as we have already seen. But, another possible punishment might come in the form of a fine, an injunction, or any other legal penalty that would harm the culpable company.
Looking back at the example of breaching another company’s intellectual rights, we can imagine that the above sentence would be followed by this:
“In addition to the contract being null and void, you will face a penalty of $500,000 paid to the aggrieved party as damages.”
Business terms used in meetings
Whether it is to come to an agreement with other parties or to set the strategy got the coming year, a big part of business involves having plenty of meetings.
And, these meetings may come with their own lingo, which is why you should familiarize yourself with some of the most common words used.
The word minutes can have several meanings. On the one hand, minutes are used to mark time where there are 60 minutes in an hour.
However, when it comes to meetings, the minutes are the notes taken that record everything said and agreed to.
Put another way, the minutes of a meeting are a concise summary of everything that took place in said meeting.
Before your team starts a meeting, the team leader might ask all of you, “so, who wants to record the minutes of the meeting today?
Before it starts, every meeting needs an agenda.
The agenda is a list of points and topics all of which need to be discussed during the meeting. And, once the agenda is done, the meeting is usually over.
At the beginning of a meeting between company executives, the CEO might ask out loud, “Alright, what do we have on the agenda today?”
Once a company has a list of prospective customers, it will usually prepare proposals for them in the hopes of getting their business.
Simply put, a proposal is an action plan that will help the potential customer solve their problem.
Obviously, this is something that is bound to come up during sales meetings and pitches.
Let’s say you and your business partner have an important sales meeting tomorrow, so you decide to strategize how you’ll tackle the meeting. During the strategy session, your partner might tell you, “I want to go over the proposal with you one more time. This thing needs to be ironclad.”
22. Proxy vote
More often than not, to resolve a disagreement, people will put things to a vote during a meeting.
They may do this when electing a new CEO or when deciding on a new course of action.
Regardless of what the vote is about, sometimes people can’t be there in person to vote.
In such a case, they might have made their wishes known to the other members, which means that even though they are absent from the meeting, their vote will still count.
At other times, these absentees might trust someone else to vote on their behalf through what is known as a proxy vote.
Simply put, proxy voting is giving someone else the right to vote on your behalf.
During a meeting, the team might decide to vote on whether they will take on a new client. One of the team members might say, “Even though Bill is absent today, he has given me the right to proxy vote in his stead.”
Basic Business English Expressions
The business world is filled with expressions and idioms. Some of these expressions are taken from everyday life, whereas others are more unique to the office space. In either case, these expressions will confuse you if you don’t know what they mean.
23. Thinking outside the box
You’ve probably heard this one before. Almost everyone and their mother have used it at some point in time.
Nevertheless, it still gets used in business settings.
Thinking outside the box means to try and find creative solutions.
The idea is that we sometimes trap ourselves with our preconceptions concerning a given problem, limiting our solutions and trapping us inside a proverbial box.
However, the thinking goes that should we be able to drop our preconceptions, we might be able to come up with innovative ideas, ones that even our competition couldn’t think of.
During a meeting, it is not unusual to hear someone say, “So far, most of our ideas have been unoriginal. We need to start thinking outside the box.”
24. Get the ball rolling
When a ball is stationary, it needs a little push to start moving. But, once it starts rolling, it picks up momentum and starts hurtling on its own.
With that image in mind, you should have no problem understanding this expression.
“Get the ball rolling” is an idiom that means to get things started. Another similar expression is ” Get down to business”, which also means to get started. Yet, there is a slight difference between the two.
“Get the ball rolling” is more apt when you are talking about a new project or endeavor that still hasn’t started yet. You use it when you want to get things off the ground.
Conversely, “getting down to business” can be used in everyday situations. It is just another way of saying “let’s forego all the pleasantries and get to work immediately.”
Let’s say that you and your team members are about to start a new project. So, as you are about to begin your meeting, one of you might say, “let’s get the ball rolling on this thing.”
25. Low-hanging fruit
This is another metaphor that is quite common in the business world, and it is a very visual one at that.
When you think of low-hanging fruit, you can probably imagine a tree with reachable branches, a tree that offers you fruit you can just pluck without having to exert any effort.
Similarly, the metaphoric meaning is used to refer to an easy, achievable task, one that requires very little to no effort to accomplish.
People in marketing and sales love using this term.
They’ll use it to refer to a market that is very easy to break into or a customer segment that is just dying to buy the product.
During a sales meeting, one of the sales executives might ask one of the teams, “Why hasn’t anyone closed this client? This is supposed to be low-hanging fruit.”
26. Helicopter view
This is a term that is prevalent in business. It means to have an overview of the state of affairs, a clear look at the bigger picture, without getting mired in the details.
This should seem rather intuitive as when you have a helicopter view, you can see everything underneath laid out. You can see the entire forest so to speak. However, you don’t get lost in any one minute detail such as a knot in a tree.
A similar expression to this is to have a bird’s eye view, which also means to be able to see things from “above.”
If you’re working on a certain project and your boss asks you to brief him on what’s been happening, he might tell you, “Alright, give me a quick helicopter view of what you’ve been up to so far.”
27. Close a deal
One of the most common expressions in business, “to close a deal” means to conclude negotiations and come to an agreement, one that is advantageous to both parties.
You’ll hear this expression used a lot among salespeople. They’ll talk about closing a client, which means concluding the sale and getting the client to buy. They’ll also talk about closers, specialists in closing a deal.
Another similar expression is to clinch a deal. It means the same exact thing as to close the deal.
During a sales meeting, a sales team leader could tell the rest of the group the following:
“To meet our quarterly quota, we need to close the Johnson deal.”
28. Corner the market
When a business corners the market, it is controlling the supply of that market in order to be able to define the price it wants. I know this definition might seem a bit too technical, so let’s break it down.
A lot of business and economics is about supply and demand.
The supply is the amount of commodity or assets being sold, whereas the demand is how many people want to buy that commodity or asset.
The basics you need to know is that when supply decreases or demand increases, prices go up. Conversely, an increase in supply or a decrease in demand lowers prices.
This is why people believe the free market is good. It increases the supply in the market, lowering prices and giving consumers options.
However, when a company corners a market, it controls most, if not all, the commodities or assets of that market.
As a result, the company has much more control as the market has nowhere else to turn to.
If you understand the concept of cornering the market, this will open the door for you to understand a wide range of other ideas such as price-fixing, monopolies, and anti-trust laws.
During a strategy meeting, someone might say, “With 87.53 percent of the total market share, Google has effectively cornered the market on search engines.”
29. Go down the drain
This is another very visual idiom, one whose meaning can be understood from the imagery.
When something goes down the drain, it gets lost and you might never be able to retrieve it ever again.
With that in mind, whenever this expression is used in the business world, it means that something has been totally wasted. A very similar expression, one that is crasser, is to flush something down the toilet.
During a team meeting, the team leader might say, “Listen guys, I know you’re tired, but we need to finish the project and deliver it to the client by Friday. Otherwise, all our effort over the past two months will have gone down the drain.”
30. Second a motion
To make the workplace more democratic, employees are encouraged to have their say and voice their opinion.
This is also why plenty of voting can take place during a meeting.
However, not every idea that is brought forth is worth spending time on through a lengthy discussion followed by a vote, especially when most people in the meeting find the idea pedantic.
So, some businesses have a simple system to filter ideas.
Whenever someone brings an idea or motion to the floor, this motion needs to be seconded by someone else, showing that at least one other person is interested in discussing it. But, if no one seconds the motion, the idea falls and isn’t even discussed.
At the end of a meeting, an employee may bring a motion to the floor. The team leader, wanting to see whether this motion will be discussed, may ask the room, “One of your team members has presented us with a motion. Does anyone second it?”
How to learn more even more Basic Business English Vocabulary
Throughout this guide, we’ve seen plenty of business English.
We started with basic English terms, moved on to abbreviations, looked at a little legalese, learned words for meetings, and finished on business expressions and idioms.
Nevertheless, many of you may still want to learn more.
If so, you should start with words that are unique to your field of work. Engineers use different terms than financial analysts, who, in turn, talk differently than marketers.
Try to learn as many words as you can that relate to your profession.
Additionally, you should learn about other general terms not listed here as these will not only improve your English but will also help you improve your business acumen.
Finally, the best teacher will always be experience.
Go out there, have conversations in English, and you will see your vocabulary grow at a breakneck pace.
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.