As a small-business owner, you are probably chiefly focused on growing here at home. However, the majority of the world’s consumers live outside of the U.S., meaning that entrepreneurs who don’t at least consider expanding internationally could be missing out on major growth opportunities.
If you are thinking about growing your business overseas, there are some important things you need to think about before you take the plunge.
1. Do Your Homework
Before you take your business overseas, do some research into the market to determine whether there is interest in your product or service, and what the competition looks like in that market. Are there other businesses within your niche that are already operating? If so, what can you do differently?
When you are expanding internationally, it’s important that you avoid moving into a market that is already saturated, or where there are already businesses offering similar services.
2. Learn the Language
It seems almost too obvious, but language barriers are often one of the biggest challenges of taking your business overseas. Even though fewer than 20 percent of Americans speak a second language, English is not the primary language of doing business — and in the majority of international markets, customers say that they are more likely to do business when the products and materials are presented in their own language.
While studying language yourself is an important approach, you can also create a multilingual business by using call centers with native speakers and hiring translators.
3. Develop the Right Technological Resources
Technology is an important part of your international business plan. Use technological tools to communicate and collaborate with your overseas partners. Not only can you remain in more regular contact, you can also save time and money on travel expenses. Technology can also help you keep track of shipments, manage paperwork and stay on top of other important tasks.
4. Learn International Business Principles
Managing a business outside of the U.S. is significantly different than running a domestic operation. Not only are there language barriers, but different legal and cultural customs, rules, and expectations can create barriers and lead to mistakes that are catastrophic to your business.
Taking the time to earn a business degree with a focus in international business before you begin your expansion can go a long way toward helping you navigate the complex process of growing internationally. Other ways you can avoid potential pitfalls include getting a mentor and working with government programs specifically designed for multinational entrepreneurs.
5. Build Relationships
Networking is a key aspect of international business, both in terms of connecting with people here in the U.S. who have gone before you and can offer advice and insight, and with people in your target market who can be a resource for information and help when overseas. T
his usually means that you will need to travel, but you can begin your networking activities online or by attending domestic trade shows that attract foreign contacts.
6. Be Focused
As a small business, you aren’t going to be able to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way when it comes to global expansion.
You are better served to focus your limited resources on markets that can provide a substantial customer base, cost efficiencies via less expensive labor and materials, or a business-friendly environment. If an opportunity offers one or more of those advantages, it is worth pursuing. Above all, remain focused on your goal and do not go chasing after every opportunity that seems great, but has limitations.
7. Have Resources in Place From the Start
One common problem that international entrepreneurs encounter is that they don’t have all of the resources that they need in place from the very beginning.
When they run into trouble — say a shipping supplier is unreliable — they don’t have an alternative in place to prevent delays. Taking a business international requires planning for all possible contingencies and having solutions in place before you encounter an issue.
8. Be Prepared for Paperwork
Because every country has its own regulations, taking your business international will undoubtedly require a substantial amount of paperwork.
You need to be prepared to handle this paperwork and set up an organizational system that allows you to keep track of all contracts, forms, and correspondence and access it when you need it. Consider hiring an attorney with experience in international business and the country you’re expanding to avoid potential legal snags.
Expanding your business internationally can mean major growth and increased profits. Explore all of your options and do your homework before making a decision, and it could be the best decision you ever make.
Written by a BusinessTown.com contributor