Q: It seems to me that with the economy the way it is, it might be a smart idea to start to sell my product abroad. The only problem is, I don’t know how to do it. Can you help?
A: My pleasure, and let me say up front that I think that is a great idea. It used to be that only the largest of large companies could be global players – the East India Trading Companies and Nikes of the world – but no longer.
Today, between affordable, quick, and comfortable international flights, as well as technology like computers, the Internet, and smart phones, any small business can be a global business.
And yet even so, only about 10% of American companies are actively involved in international business. This means that there is ample opportunity out there for both exporting your own products, importing those of others, or something in between.
1. Plan ahead to get ahead: The most important thing when considering international expansion of your business is figuring out which country / market will best serve your needs.
Of course English-speaking countries like Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand will be the easiest with whom to work, but that is only one consideration. If exporting for example, you really want a market that will be open and hospitable to what you plan to sell. Or, if looking for a factory to develop a product, consider laws, language, fees, and cost of shipping.
My colleague and friend Laurel Delaney is one of the top global business experts in the country. Laurel suggests checking out these sites when getting started:
And let me recommend one more – her great site, GlobeTrade.com.
2. Make it personal: We all know that business is about relationships, and that is even truer when it comes to going global with your business. Those personal contacts can make all the difference.
That is one reason I am happy to be part of a great program now underway designed to help entrepreneurs take their business global: British Air’s Face of Opportunity Contest will enable hundreds of small business owners to travel for free anywhere in the world British Air flies in order to have a face-to-face meeting with that all-important foreign contact.
When I asked Simon Talling-Smith, E.V.P. of North Americas, why British Air was engaging in this program for a second year in a row, he explained that, aside from helping to create much needed jobs, British Air is in a unique position to help entrepreneurs go global and they know how vital face to face meetings can be.
Indeed. E-mails can only take you so far. Websites can be deceiving. That factory in China may not be quite as nice as their pictures indicate. You must meet in person.
3. Get your site ready: Laurel Delaney says that it is usually better to concentrate on one market and one language when getting started. Create a dynamite site for that one market, master it, and then start thinking about conquering the rest of the planet.
That makes sense, doesn’t it? If you are going to be exporting to Thailand, you better have a website in Thai. If you are going to be conducting e-commerce, again you will need it to be in the language of your target market. People usually avoid shopping on sites that are not in their native tongue.
And by the same token, be sure too that your translations are accurate. GM once was selling a car in Belgium and had a promotion that touted “Body by Fisher,” except that in Flemish, the ad read “Corpse by Fisher.”
4. Market your business, and then market it some more. It is probably safe to say that globally, few people know of your business. That is why you have to market the heck out of it. And this is where your e-marketing skills will pay big dividends: Log onto forums and post, blog with SEO-rich keywords, Tweet up a storm, send out emails, join appropriate LinkedIn groups.
Online, you can reach the world, and that is what you will have to do.
5. Fulfill your obligations: Before ever making a sale, you better know how you will be shipping your goods and what it will cost as that will be critical to the price you charge. If you are moving large orders – container ship sorts of orders – then you may need to hire a freight broker to help you. How will you handle returns? All of this must be figured out ahead of time.
Bottom line: Going global opens up a world of opportunities. Maybe it’s time you took advantage.
Today’s Tip: To enter the British Airways contest, simply make a short video, or draft a short essay, stating where you want to go, how it will help your business, and offer a tip for other small business owners. Simon Talling-Smith says the secret to a great pitch is to “have a creative and compelling story that explains how your business can grow by meeting people face to face.” Steve says check it out.