While there are numerous compelling reasons for launching your business locally, many entrepreneurs are eventually drawn to the idea of making their operations global. Once a business owner takes this leap of faith, they can serve more customers and spread the word about their brand far and wide. If you are feeling the itch to expand your footprint overseas, know that careful forethought and planning are a must.
Remember when you were first contemplating opening your small business? You worked very hard to first find products you were passionate about selling. Then you made sure that there was a healthy market of consumers interested in spending money on what you had to offer. After all that, you thought long and hard about how to make your enterprise unique so that you would rise above your competitors.
The same diligence is required if you are interested in expanding abroad. In some respects, it is even more important since you may be less aware of the cultural, political, and business landscape in the new places you plan to promote your products and/or services. Your goal should be to intrigue potential customers with what you are selling, not to invade their space and foist unwanted or inappropriate goods onto them.
Speak in international customers’ languages.
You don’t need to be a linguist or a well-traveled diplomat to communicate successfully with your new market. The unfortunate truth is that only one-fifth of Americans are fluent in a language other than English. However, depending on where you want to open your business, your international customers may feel more comfortable expressing themselves in their own tongue.
How do you solve this tricky problem? One effective method is to contract with multilingual call centers. While you are working on your own skills, you can hire translators to assist. The important thing is that your customers will feel respected and cared about when you take the time to present your web content and product information in words they can understand. By the way, they will also be more likely to reward you for your thoughtfulness by purchasing products from you.
Stay in touch via technology.
Smartphones and video chat software are being used more than ever by companies all over the world. Instead of enduring the expense and wasted time that are unavoidable with long business trips, company owners are now using audio and video chat programs to communicate and collaborate with customers and employees across the globe in real time. Thanks to these innovations, language barriers and time delays are minimized, and problems can be solved quickly or even prevented from happening at all.
Understand the principles of international business.
While some aspects of having a foreign business presence mirror domestic practices, there are many regulations, cultural customs, legal restraints, and expectations that you should understand before taking the global plunge. One way to gain this knowledge is by obtaining an advanced degree in international business. If you would rather not go that route, you can also find mentors who can help you to navigate these unknown waters. One possible source of peer assistance is domestic trade shows, where many businesspeople from your particular industry tend to gather and network with each other.
Plan for contingencies.
Once you do decide to get your international presence off the ground, it is important to do all you can to plan for the unforeseen. As ridiculous as this may sound, you really can benefit by thinking about worst-case scenarios and devising solutions to crises before they arise. While it is important for the sake of your sanity that you don’t become paralyzed at the thought of the unknown bringing your operations to a stop, some causes of disruption and chaos are at least likely to occur sooner or later in the future. The effects of disasters such as storms, fires, supply chain interruptions, and even global pandemics can be minimized by a healthy dose of preemptive action.
Set up your ecommerce website to match customer preferences.
We talked before about the power of speaking your customers’ language both on your site and in person. In addition, you should set up your site to accept international payments in local currencies. When you take this step, you will help your potential buyers to feel more at home on your website. What’s more, they will be more likely to make purchases when they have a clear idea of exactly how much they will pay in their own currency of choice.
Expect extra paperwork.
This probably comes as no surprise, but expanding your global footprint means dealing with international bureaucracies and customs, resulting in a marked increase in bookkeeping and paperwork. Your best bet is to hire an attorney who is experienced in international business to help you to keep the contracts, correspondence, regulations, and laws straight. While retaining a lawyer represents an additional financial expense, having offshore expertise at your disposal might turn out to be quite helpful in the long run.
The prospect of taking your business abroad is both exhilarating and frightening. However, taking the time to understand your market, to communicate with your customers, and to lay the proper groundwork by accumulating knowledge and contacts can go a long way towards maximizing your chances of success. Exporting your brand to an international market might just turn out to be the best risk you ever took!