If you think that doing business internationally is out of the realm of possibility for your small business, think again. Today, it’s not only large corporations that understand we have a global economy. Small businesses too are reaping the financial rewards of providing foreign markets with products and services that are not available locally.
Furthermore, where overseas expansion once meant logging lots of air miles, it’s possible to conduct business internationally without needing to be on a plane all the time. Mobile devices enable you to communicate anywhere at any time to accommodate different time zones. Also web and video conferencing technology make it possible to hold a meeting with customers and business partners wherever they are — even on the fly — over a smartphone or tablet with a headset to aid audio clarity
All that said, taking your business into international markets still involves considerable planning and making choices. For starters you need to conduct research to determine what countries make the most sense for you to do business. Steve Strauss, lawyer, author and speaker, points out in “5 steps to taking your business global,” that while English speaking countries might be the easiest to work with, there are other considerations. If you need a factory to produce your products, you’ll have to consider local laws, shipping costs and fees. You also want to be sure that the overseas markets of interest are open to the types of products and services you offer. Local cultures and customs might not be appropriate for your offerings. Hiring a local sales rep who knows the market can be invaluable to introducing your product to the overseas market you target.
Among the other things you’ll need to consider, as suggested by Mike Michalowicz, CEO, Provendus Group on the American Express Open Forum, is the need want to find a reliable and secure way to process international transactions, since you’ll be dealing with foreign currencies. Also Michalowicz recommends at some point consider establishing to a local presence to strengthen your connection to your overseas market. In addition to personal visits, setting up a local bank account or establishing a local virtual office shows you are serious about your investment in the overseas community where you do business.
To support the overseas marketing of your small business, you’ll also need to:
Optimize your website: Make sure your website look and feel is global friendly. Learn how colors, symbols and taglines are perceived in the countries where you plan to do business. Make any necessary changes to your site to make sure that it won’t be misconstrued or offensive when viewed by foreign customers. Also localize content in terms of messaging to support your product and services in addition to translating it into the local language.
Customize social media: Consider creating a regional page localized for the country where you are planning to conduct business. If you plan to Tweet in more than one language, create a separate Twitter account.
Adapt marketing materials: You’ll also need to revise your marketing materials to speak to the promotional differences, competitive considerations and needs of the local market.
These aren’t the only considerations for expanding overseas, but they are a start. Federal agencies including the U.S Department of Commerce and the Small Business Administration (SBA) provide information and assistance for small businesses wanting to expand overseas. The SBA also provides loans to small businesses who want to export their products.
Are you doing business in any overseas markets? What lessons have you learned?