Whether you are exporting a product or service, it is a given that you will confront numerous market barriers -- governmental, practical, cultural and economic. These barriers can be quite challenging, not to mention extremely frustrating, to a new-to-export service company. To overcome them and beat out the competition, you will need to plan on being aggressive and persistent, and on taking longer to establish a business presence than you may have expected. Let's get acquainted with the barriers:
1. Government -- Red tape; bureaucracy; bribes; infringements of copyrights, trademarks or patents; and special rules that only the natives seem to know about -- these are just a few of the government-generated barriers you'll encounter.
For example, you might discover that your target market has a labor regulation stating that, whenever there is a locally funded project, local experts must be hired for any required specialized services. Or there might be restrictions aimed at a specific industry, like accounting, which rule out foreign participation. Sometimes you will make dozens of solicitations, which will go unanswered -- and you'll never know why.
The most notorious barrier is the governmental regulation that the locals ignore without ever getting caught. Yes, the regulation is valid, and it's enforced just rigorously enough to leave would-be exporters out of the trade loop. These slippery, elusive protectionist practices are very real, and they may well end up compelling you to take your business elsewhere.
What to do? Contact an American Embassy in the country you wish to do business to do the legwork up front to avoid wasting time, energy and money in a market you can't crack.
2. Local practice and custom -- Before you export your service, you must conform to global industry standards. If your service depends on scientific accuracy, for example, perform any calculations using metric measurements and notation. If you don't, your proposal might end up in the trash because of your lack of compliance with local practices.
Presenting your proposal in the local language is an obvious necessity if you want it read and understood. If you don't know the language, hire someone who does and get a high-quality translation. The U.S. Department of Commerce's BuyUSA offers help on these issues.
3. Culture -- Look closely at the photographs and print copy for an advertising campaign you are about to launch abroad; examine the materials you are about to use for a construction project; think through the pictures you have selected for your client's web site -- are any of these items offensive or illegal in any way?
If they are, then edit accordingly. If you don't know, then find out from someone who does before you implement the service package. BBC News offers country profiles. Wikipedia provides country analysis if you type in the name of the country at the end of the url. For example, Chile has the word "Chile" at the end of the URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chile. Zimbabwe has the word "Zimbabwe" at the end:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zimbabwe.
4. Economy -- One sure-fire giveaway that your target country is economically unstable is when you are locked solidly into a deal, and then find out that your customer is slow to pay or doesn't pay at all! Also, watch out for infrastructure factors, such as astronomical prices for land, making it impossible to start a building project; undrinkable water, making it impossible to open up a tourist bar; electrical service so scant and unreliable that additional power generators are needed to keep things running smoothly.
Where to turn? The World Bank Group offers ease of doing business rankings for many of the world's nations.
All these factors present very serious barriers for your service business but none so great that you cannot overcome them if you do your homework.
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About the Author: Global business expert Laurel Delaney is the founder of GlobeTrade.com. She also is the creator of "Borderbuster," an e-newsletter, and The Global Small Business Blog, all highly regarded for their global small business coverage.
Laurel is a member of the Small Business Trends Expert Network.