A few years ago the Council on Competitiveness identified the trend toward micro-multinationals. A multinational small business operates across geographic borders in their operations, marketing, sales and/or distribution — and they don’t wait to “grow up.”
You needn’t be a large business in order to go global or cross over borders. You can go from startup to global in one step. Today, inexpensive technology and services that are readily available make it possible to leapfrog over regional and national expansion.
That said, here are the top 5 steps that a startup or small business like yours can become a micro-multinational in 5 steps:
(1) Invest in your online presence — the World Wide Web is the gateway to doing international business. It opens up international business channels. With a good website you can have can near boundary-less marketing. You have a place to connect with and communicate with customers.
Don’t overlook social media in the online mix. One of the distinguishing trends that we’ve identified at Small Business Trends as coming out of the explosive growth of Twitter is how much communication takes place in one spot online, emanating from different countries. It is evidenced by the different languages you see. For instance, some of my Twitter followers write in two languages, and mixed in amongst the English tweets I regularly see Twitter messages in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Dutch, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, Polish — you name it, I’ve seen it on Twitter — and I see it daily. What an amazing online venue making the world smaller.
Some things you can today to expand your online presence globally:
- Make sure your website is ready for international business .
- Set up an account on Twitter and start participating there, or if you’re already there, accelerate your participation. And connect with those from other countries to develop business relationships.
- Also consider other social networks, especially those with an international audience. LinkedIn, Facebook and BizSugar  (a site owned by Small Business Trends) are 3 venues attracting international business people.
(2) Develop a stable of globally-scalable services — As a small business or startup, your company will necessarily be a lean one, without a lot of overhead. But you’re going to need support in the form of outsourced services for operations, sales, marketing and distribution. The services you choose can make or break your business. This encompasses everything from Web design to telecommunications to package delivery to public relations services to legal support. Look for:
- Reliability – when you operate lean business, you can’t be spending a lot of time troubleshooting issues and managing service provider issues. Time is money, and your management time
- Reasonable cost – Notice I didn’t say low cost. Like all things, in business you often get what you pay for. While you don’t want to spend more than you have to, look for value. Compare how much you get for what you pay. Penny-pinching is admirable when you’re a startup, but too much is counterproductive and will hold you back . You want a tradeoff of money versus leverage to achieve your goals.
- Scalability — When you have aspirations to be global from the very beginning, your service providers must be able to support you in international endeavors. They’ve got to be able to keep up with your fast pace and wide scope — not hold you back.
(3) Staff globally — You’ll need to staff for a global business. There is a host of issues to address:
- Do you need feet on the street and an office locally in other countries? If so, there could be unforeseen issues and you’ll have more
- Or can you manage by operating with a home base in the United States or another country, and making business trips as needed? While this has less
- Do you or your team speak the language of the local country? Or are you planning to communicate solely in English? In some parts of the world, English-only is very doable, but in others it may be next to impossible to operate that way.
- Do you or your team understand the local cultural, business and social customs? There’s nothing like making a faux pas to spark a business disaster.
(4) Invest in technology — Technology helps you scale your business and grow, without investing heavily in other resources. Technology, particularly software, is the great productivity-enhancer of the 20th and 21st centuries. Consider these types of technologies as must-haves for the micro-multinational business:
- Collaboration software or platforms — these enable team members to work together regardless of where they may be located. They’re also important for working externally with service providers and customers. When you’re geographically distant, you need technologies that help you bridge those distances.
- Strong technology-enabled communications – voice, text and Web are three crucial technologies today.
- Efficiency technologies – you want technologies that drive out cost in your operations. Technology is much less expensive than human labor. Technology helps you increase sales without necessarily increasing you staffing costs.
- Data collection and reporting technologies — Access to data, and the ability to slice and dice it, is critical to running your business intelligently. The more widespread and dispersed your business interests, the more reliant you will become on reports, dashboards and databases to give you visibility to run the business.
Finally, consider whether your service providers and partners can bring technology to the table. Do they have software that helps you streamline the way you work with them? Do you get real-time access into reports or information from them? How easy is it for their technology to integrate with or communicate with your technology systems?
As a business owner, one of the best uses of your time is to develop some level of understanding of technology and how to deploy it for business improvement. While you needn’t become a technologist, the more comfortable you are with technology the bigger a competitive advantage you will have because of the efficiency and leverage it gives your business.
(5) Understand the tax, legal and business environment — As I wrote a few weeks ago, not every business is prepared to operate globally or even in 2 or 3 countries. You must investigate the economic and business climate; conduct market research; do your homework when it comes to the legal and tax requirements, and otherwise get your business ready for global  business. Failure to do so could cost you all your profit and then some, or ensure your early demise. But good planning can help you make the right moves.
My business, in its own way, is a global business. All 5 of these considerations are ones I deal with daily. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Please check out our series on micro-multinationals  for examples of how others are going global even while the business is young and small.