Whether you sell digital downloads or designer diapers, there’s a big wide world out there full of opportunities. It has never been easier for small and medium sized businesses to reach a global marketplace and attain global success. It’s not just theory, it’s actually happening. In 2011, export sales from from businesses with under 500 employees were estimated to be worth $1.7 trillion.
In June, the US Small Business Administration published an excellent article here on Small Business Trends that outlined six steps to check if your business is prepared for exporting. It’s full of useful information and links to invaluable resources.
But there’s one thing I’d like to add that’s a key ingredient, vital to the success of all overseas ventures: Focus.
They say it’s a small world — but it’s not that small. Unless you have a product or service that can be delivered anywhere at all with equal efficiency, it’s important to target specific territories and develop success in those locales before moving on to the next. That way, any obstacles (and there are bound to be some) should remain a manageable size. You won’t get overextended.
This is not just about language. The UK and Australia both speak English, but there are considerable cultural differences. A marketing approach that works in one might fall completely flat in the other.
Specialists in exporting often cite local knowledge as a key factor in business success. Fortunately, both government-sponsored agencies and private contractors are readily accessible today. It may be impractical for you to travel across the globe, but there’s no reason you can’t learn all you need to know before you commit.
Focused Supply Chain
Whatever you sell, you need to get it delivered or you won’t get paid. In the digital product or service arenas, that might seem easier than for companies working with physical products. But there are still pitfalls.
What if there’s a sudden explosion of interest? Can your IT infrastructure cope? A system that’s down for hours is just as bad for business as a box that doesn’t arrive.
If you manufacture something, you’ll probably already have thoughts about how to cope with increased demand. But what about getting it there? Global logistics companies are one solution, but depending on the territory, other warehousing and delivery methods might prove more efficient.
Amazon, for example, offers you the opportunity to sell into any of their markets and they’ll stock and distribute the products for you. There are similar networks in countries where Amazon isn’t represented.
Would it be better to establish a local presence through a strategic partner? Or through franchising? These can be complex solutions, but the drive to assist exports is one of the main reasons the SBA was set up, so there’s a wealth of information available to help you.
It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that email or online support is the answer to everything. Yes, it offers an extremely cost-effective way of dealing with inquiries, but is it entirely appropriate to the market you’re dealing with?
A lot of people still want to talk to someone on the phone. In some markets where Internet connectivity is poor to nonexistent, email is not even an option. Fortunately, providing such a service is less expensive than you might think.
Use a 1-800 number service and your prospective customer won’t be put off by some long (and expensive-looking) string of international digits. As far as they’re concerned, they’re just making a local call. Modern telephone technology routes it wherever you want it to go – either to you, a designated employee, or an outsourced call center.
Going Global by Being Local
Many of the world’s most successful global brands are actually seen as “local” by the majority of their customers. Even when we buy online, our decision is affected by where we perceive the goods are coming from.
Doing business internationally may have become easier in terms of the sales and delivery processes, but in the end it’s still about people. Only people buy things.
Focus on how to satisfy their demands and your small business can be as effective in foreign markets as the global giants.