Going Global: 4 Ways To Expand Into International Markets

Do you want to expand globally, but aren't sure where to start? It's a common roadblock for small-business owners who want to reach international markets. These 4 tips can help.
November 19, 2013

The U.S. market may be the largest, but it isn't the only market. When getting a business started, it’s easy to focus on your U.S. audience. You're familiar with them, you know what they want, and you know how to sell it to them. But if you're only focusing on the U.S., you aren’t giving the rest of the world the opportunity to benefit from your amazing idea, product or service.

Globalization has made expanding into foreign markets significantly easier for not only huge corporations but small businesses and startups as well. There are still some roadblocks with laws and paperwork, cultures and languages, but technology has made it easier for people to connect, establish relationships and communicate frequently from all over the world. This means that once your business is up and running globally, it can be easy to maintain.

Taking your business global requires some investment. This investment is primarily in terms of building relationships, cultivating opportunities and making the effort to travel. The advantages can be significant because you're not only expanding your market, but developing contacts, exchanging ideas and imagining new opportunities for both you and your partners.

Many small businesses think going global is a pipe dream, but it's just as attainable for you as it is for a big corporation. Getting started in foreign markets can be done in four basic steps.

1. Connect with large, established companies that can provide local references. Use local business resources, like the Pittsburgh Technology Council, to find companies in other countries that are working in related fields. Reach out to companies with offices in the U.S. and ask them for contacts in their overseas offices. A lot of foreign businesses maintain offices in America. Getting in touch with them here allows you to get familiar with each other while you explore the possibility of working together internationally.

2. Create joint ventures. Once you have uncovered established international companies in your field, work together to build new ones. Joint ventures grow out of relationships, so take advantage of your contacts. Talk with them. Listen to their ideas and desires. Propose areas of mutual growth and benefit. Combining with established companies means you don’t have to invest in your own infrastructure. The buildings, offices and employees are already in place; they already have boots on the ground.

3. Develop local leadership. All international markets work a little differently. Each country has its own rules and regulations, cultural expectations and language. These factors are challenging to navigate and can be difficult to overcome. You need strong local leaders who understand the language, the culture and the ways business works there. Find people you can trust to communicate your vision effectively and clearly to your growing foreign office.

4. Go there. Developing your business internationally can't be done entirely from the U.S. Once you have businesses to connect with, a plan for future development and contacts on the ground, get on a plane and go meet your future partners. It’s hard to create meaningful relationships solely through email and telecommuting. You have to get to know your partners. You have to see your business in action, and you have to show them that you're invested in the opportunity.

Moving into foreign markets does have its own challenges. You have to be prepared to relinquish a little bit of control. Their world is not your world, and you have to trust the contacts you make and the partnerships you form to represent you. But if you can find those companies who are invested in mutual growth, and connect with the people who you trust with your business, you'll uncover a whole world of possibilities.

Ty Morse is the CEO of Songwhale, an interactive technology company focusing on enterprise SMS solutions and Direct Response campaigns, both domestic and international. Since the company's 2007 launch, Ty has grown Songwhale from two people to over 100. A two time Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist, Ty has been featured in The New York Times, Wired Magazine, NPR, PBS, Discovery Channel, and several other leading media outlets.

He is also a member of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs.

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