Taking your small business global sounds like a huge undertaking. But even small businesses can realize the benefits of selling in international markets, if you have the right tools and guidance.
Taking Your Small Business Global
Consider the Benefits
There are plenty of reasons to expand your business into global markets. It can get your product in front of new types of customers. It can lead to a sense of accomplishment. And it can force you to learn about new cultures and markets. But the biggest reason for most businesses is that global expansion can lead to a major increase in profitability. If those reasons don’t appeal to you, global expansion likely isn’t right for your business.
Only Expand if You’re Comfortable
Unfortunately, a desire to increase profits isn’t enough. Your business also needs to be poised to do so. That means that your business should be at least relatively successful in its current domestic market. Otherwise, further expansion will only stretch you too thin. Delaney explained in a phone interview with Small Business Trends:
“You have to be able to service your customers’ needs domestically. If you don’t have all your ducks in a row with your products or services when you go to export it is highly unlikely that you’ll be successful.”
Be Able to Fill Large Orders
When starting to export, it makes the most financial sense to ship large amounts of goods together, small ecommerce orders notwithstanding. So before deciding to expand, your business should be able to fill large orders fairly quickly and easily, either on your own or through outsourcing.
Taking your business global doesn’t mean you have to jump right into a fully global market. According to Delaney, it makes more sense for most small businesses to choose one international market to focus on first, and then eventually grow from there.
Find a Market for Your Product
To choose your first international market, do some research to find what countries have a strong interest in your product or offering. Look at other businesses in your niche and determine which markets have a strong interest without being oversaturated.
Utilize Trade Shows
Trade shows can be a great resource for both learning about global markets and meeting people who can help you expand. Marc Schulman used this technique to take his business, Eli’s Cheesecake Company, into global markets. He said in a phone interview with Small Business Trends, “If you’re in the early stages of running a business you can walk the trade show and just talk to people and learn. And then once you grow you can be an exhibitor and that gives you the opportunity to meet people like agents and importers who can help get your products into those markets.”
Do Your Homework Online
As with most types of research, looking online can be an easy first step in finding new international markets for your products. Even a simple Google search can lead you to information about exporting your particular product and point you in the right direction of industry resources.
Utilize Export Tools and Services
There are also several agencies and organizations that offer specific services aimed at helping small businesses get into exporting. Delaney suggests looking into the Small Business Administration’s resources and various city and state-based groups. But she also said that the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Gold Key Service can be a major help. The paid service helps connect business owners with overseas agents and distributors in their respective industries.
Meet the Right People
Getting in touch with your agents and distributors is an important step in the process. But Schulman cautions against just going with the first people you meet before actually finding out what they can offer your business. Specifically, since Eli’s products are perishable food items, he had to find out if each distributor had the proper freezers, trucks, and other equipment to keep his products at peak freshness.
Be Willing to Travel
Unsurprisingly, exporting goods to a new country often requires that you travel to that country. It may be necessary to travel there to meet with distributors or potential customers. But it can also be beneficial to travel there for trade shows and similar events.
Use Technology Whenever Possible
However, too much back and forth traveling can stretch your schedule and your budget. So while you should always be willing to travel if an agent or distributor requires it, try and schedule discussions via Skype or similar online tools whenever possible.
Focus on Relationships
Whether you deal with agents and distributors mainly in person or using technology, it’s imperative that you build strong relationships with them. If they’re going to represent your business in any way in your new market, they have to understand what you expect from them and vice versa.
Ensure You’ll Be Paid for Your Exports
As with any other business transaction, it’s essential for you to have a set contract and guidelines about how payments and order fulfillment will proceed. Make sure that you will be paid for any products that you export, especially since taking legal action in other countries can be complicated, if not impossible.
Get Ready for Paperwork
Every country that you might consider for expansion comes with its own set of rules and qualifications. That often means that you have a lot of paperwork to complete in order to do business in various other countries.
Achieve Success Before Moving On
Once you’ve officially started selling your goods in an international market, it can be tempting to try and expand again right away. But just as you should achieve relative success stateside before going international, you should also find some success in your new market before moving on. Delaney says:
“I always say it’s better to diversify later after you achieve some reasonable success. If you are stable in your current markets then your whole global strategy won’t fall apart when one thing goes wrong.”
Look to Congruent Markets
Once you’ve determined that it is time to expand further, looking to countries next to where you already do business can make the process easier. Your existing contacts may be able to put you in touch with people in nearby markets. And the processes are likely to be similar as well.
Learn About Your New Customers
When doing business in other countries, you have to consider the different customs and cultural aspects that might impact transactions. You can do your own research about the culture of your new market. But you can also rely on your agents or distributors to guide you in the right direction if you’ve built solid relationships with them.
Adjust Your Marketing Efforts
Expanding your customer base can also have an impact on your marketing efforts. You’ll likely need to dedicate significant resources to targeting some of your marketing materials specifically to your new customers and their interests.
Enjoy Your Success
One of the benefits of selling in international markets is seeing your products being sold all around the world. So once you’ve expanded to those markets, it’s important to enjoy that success. Schulman says:
“We take a lot of pride in our international business. When I see the Eli’s Cheesecake name and logo in leading restaurants in England I feel a real sense of accomplishment.”
Globe in Hand Photo via Shutterstock