Before you even think about taking your business global, examine your domestic operation. Are you doing the best you can do? If the answer is a resounding "Yes!" then you're ready for my top six tips for international business success.
1. Hold up a mirror to your successful domestic business. More than likely, your success at home stems from the fact that you have done a good job getting and keeping your domestic ducks in a row. People know where to find you, like your product or service, buy it repeatedly, tell others about it and find you a joy to do business with.
Now it’s time to take that same business model and tap into one new foreign market that broadens your customer base. Start small, approaching a foreign market that’s easy to enter (one where the natives speak your language). After you succeed there, take on more foreign business, one market at a time. Eventually, you'll achieve the same level of success as your local business.
2. Stretch your people. Most of us realize that people make a business successful, not the other way around. Yet not all employees know how to expand a business internationally. Maybe even you — the founder, president or CEO — don’t know anything about this new avenue of growth. If that's the case, make this your new mantra: “We will work together to stretch, learn and grow global!” Begin by adapting the skills, interests and resources you've already been using to build your local business. Soon, you'll develop an organizational culture of shared values and assumptions that will guide behavior in taking your business global.
To accelerate the learning curve and keep expenses in check, consider resources that evolve over time and help you stay on the cutting edge: read a few good e-books on how to go global, listen to podcasts, participate in webinars, take courses and watch videos. Use these resources with the intent of mastering the best way to conduct business overseas. In the process, you'll discover that your existing team of talented individuals — those you employ as well as independent contractors — all have the ability to stretch, provided you lead in a way that makes them feel engaged, excited, valued and capable.
In the hiring process at our company, we always look for someone who has a can-do spirit, great salesmanship qualities, persistence, an interest in international matters, bi- or multilingual language capabilities, cultural empathy, good writing and speaking abilities, and a habit of paying attention to detail. Everyone on board must learn to coordinate his or her activities to ensure the smooth flow of the overall international operation.
3. Get yourself and your business on every imaginable online platform. How else will cross-border customers find you? If you are still thinking about whether your business should launch a blog or be on Twitter, forget the notion of taking your business global. You are too myopic! You need to position yourself on relevant networks and beef up your communication efforts. So for all you aspiring global enthusiasts, pony up the nominal fee to set up a regular website, start a blog, and get on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Use effective marketing to get noticed. The more online platforms you use, the better your chances of being discovered. When a customer bites, test out your price, see what reaction you get and then negotiate from there.
If you offer products on an e-commerce platform, can customers buy them at every destination point? Make sure you focus on customer support, fulfillment and being user friendly. Accessibility is paramount considering all the different time zones we operate in. Make it easy for customers to get help should they need it. Your site should be attractive and functional. Speed is also important when considering users in remote parts of the world with dial-up connections. Do what you can to help them buy from you without a hassle.
4. Pick a product or service to take overseas. You can’t be all things to all people. Decide on something and stick with it. Nothing is more frustrating than giving your customers too many options because then they won’t buy a thing. Narrow it down, keep it simple and choose a product or service that sells (Revisit No. 1. You should know your top-sellers by now!).
5. Show me the money! The most important thing to negotiate before closing on an international sale — lucky for you if you’ve gotten this far — is how payment will be made. Your banker can guide you with several strategies for getting paid in full and on time while minimizing risks.
The National Export Initiative offers special international funding for small businesses through the Export-Import Bank of the United States. Prompt your banker to contact them. Meanwhile, check out their seminars.
If there is any pearl of wisdom here, it’s this: Agree on the terms of payment in advance, and never, ever sell on open account to a brand new customer. No ifs, ands or buts. Just don't.
6. Going global matters. Stop rationalizing that you don’t know how to go global and that it doesn’t matter because it is not relevant to your business. It does matter and it is relevant. The whole world has become virtual, bringing everything to our door instantly. We talked about the importance of going global and being fearless about it in an earlier article, “6 Ways to Be Innovatively Global.” Don't let fear of the unknown hold you back. Avoiding uncertainty can kill any idea, but if your people have strong leadership from you, the power to make decisions and the necessary information and resources to embrace the unknown, you will see your business go from local to global in record time.
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About the Author: Global business expert Laurel Delaney is the founder of GlobeTrade (a Global TradeSource, Ltd. company). 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. You can reach Laurel at ldelaney @ globetrade.com or follow her on Twitter @LaurelDelaney.