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Expanding into an international market may be a way to grow your business rapidly. But tempting as it is to think of acquiring a large number of instant customers, doing business in a foreign country can be challenging and expensive.
Make Your Business International
First, make sure the people you are thinking of as potential customers really would buy what you’re selling. Do enough market research to be sure before you make your business international. If your product is new to the area, you may need to factor in a consumer education campaign, but you will have the advantage of being the first.
Are there competitors? If so, should you buy one? Or do you want to set up your own office? You could also form a channel partnership with a company that’s already targeting your ideal customers.
You may want to hire a distributor. Will you need them to stock inventory of your product? Will they buy enough to do that? Will they provide a salesperson familiar with your product? Do they sell to your target consumers or companies? Do they speak English for purposes of communicating with you? Are they responsive? Be sure to check their references. Meeting them personally is a key step.
Language And Presence
You and/or some of your employees will need to spend some time in the new country while setting up the business. Can you function there as far as language and culture?
Visit the country you’re considering. Get to know the region. Show real interest. For instance, you could take a Mediterranean cruise to familiarize yourself with the company’s proposed new location in Barcelona or Venice and to give yourself a thorough acquaintance with the environment in which it functions.
If English is not the language spoken in your target country, it may be considered offensive if you expect business to be conducted in English. You should know the foreign language or have people on your team who do. Take an immersion language course designed to prepare you to function credibly in a short period of time. The Peace Corps offers intense, effective, free language training online.
Culture And Infrastructure
Research the country’s infrastructure. Will shipping be reliable? Can you count on the electricity staying on? How reliable is the supply chain?
Establish relationships with locals including partners and vendors. Get photographed with these people and with customers and staff, especially in roles showing you being respectful towards cultural practices. Be sure you know how to dress so that you show respect and also project authority.
Get familiar with the body language behaviors of the new country. A thumbs-up signal might be quite rude. What’s communicated by a handshake, head movements, and eye contact can vary tremendously.
Internationalize Your Product Or Service
The informational booklet that accompanies your product may have to be translated into a couple of dozen languages. It may need to include certain language mandated by the country’s regulations. The packaging may have to comply with environmental, safety, and other rules. Pricing will need to be adjusted to account for local currency.
Time zones present another potential problem. Someone will need to be answering the phone at your foreign branch’s main phone number, during local hours in the local language. Customer service will need to be available.
Ask The Experts
The U.S. Department of Commerce offers exporters extensive free help online. They explain how to do your initial research, find financing and partners, handle shipping, and comply with U.S. and foreign regulations.
You may want to consult a company specializing in helping businesses go international. These experts know all about the national and local regulations, labor laws, accounting practices, taxes, and privacy laws. They are also aware of corruption in the new location that might affect you.
Going global with your business is a bold and potentially very profitable move. Just make sure you go into it with your eyes open and hopefully speak at least a few words of the local language!