Taking your small business global sounds like a huge undertaking. However, even small businesses can realize the benefits of selling in international markets. This type of expansion can help you increase profits, build sustainable operations, and increase your brand recognition around the globe. To do this, you have to take into account what goes into international marketing.
Expanding internationally isn’t right for every business. It’s important to carefully consider the pros and cons before jumping in. And then you need to learn the steps involved before you dedicate all of your efforts toward managing trade relationships and foreign marketing. If you decide that going global is right for your small business, finding the right tools and guidance is a must. This can help you maximize your international marketing and multinational strategy.
If you’re ready to learn how to take your business global, here are some extra tips to help you make the leap into international markets.
Taking Your Small Business Global
1. 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. You can be forced to learn about new cultures and worldwide consumers. Still, the biggest reason for most businesses is that global expansion can lead to a major increase in profitability.
Before jumping in and creating an international trade strategy, consider your goals for this expansion. If the benefits above aren’t relevant to your business, global marketing may not be right for you. But if you are interested in growing internationally, having a clearly outlined goal can help you stay focused throughout the initiative.
2. Only Expand if You’re Comfortable
Unfortunately, a desire to increase profits isn’t enough to find success in an international market. Your business also needs to be poised to grow in this manner. If you’re successful in your current business and have a solid domestic marketing plan, you’ll be better equipped to expand. If you’re already stressed about delivering your products and services to customers stateside, then you should work on improving those processes before thinking about taking them to a foreign market.
Laurel Delaney, founder of GlobeTrade explains in an 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.”
3. Be Able to Fill Large Orders
When it comes to international trade, it makes the most financial sense to ship large amounts of goods together. Fulfilling small ecommerce orders internationally may be fine for small retailers. However, if you want to break into a new foreign market in a big way, you should have the bandwidth to fill large orders. If you can’t do this when selling to your domestic market, work on that first before expanding.
Basically, before deciding to expand, your business should be able to produce large volumes of items fairly quickly and easily. You also need to be able to manage order fulfillment efficiently, either on your own or through outsourcing.
4. Start Slow
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 country or international market to focus on first. Then you can eventually grow from there.
This allows you to really shore up your processes and make sure you can handle the extra workload before expanding further. Additionally, international marketing can vary dramatically from country to country. As a result, expanding intentionally one country at a time allows you to make marketing decisions that are targeted to customers in a specific country.
5. 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.
For example, you might find a country that generally has an interest in American products but doesn’t have much of your specific offering. Then you can create a marketing strategy centered around their interest in U.S. goods. And you can position your items against others in their market to make them really stand out.
6. Utilize Trade Shows
Trade shows can be a great resource for both learning about global markets and meeting people who can help you expand. They allow you to confer with your target market, network with international marketers, and even consider joint ventures with other small businesses.
Marc Schulman used this technique to take his business, Eli’s Cheesecake Company, into global markets. He says in an 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.”
7. 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.
Start by looking into international trade rules for the foreign country or market you’re interested in expanding to. You can also look into specific international marketing strategies and do some market research into the customers in the countries you’re looking to expand to.
8. 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 says 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.
These resources can help you access expertise and set up meetings with stakeholders in the international markets you’re looking to enter. Instead of wondering where to start, you can work with people who understand the market right away. This also gives you a better chance of finding the right marketers international customers will appreciate.
9. Meet the Right People
Getting in touch with your agents and distributors is an important step in the process. However, 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.
Before moving forward with your international expansion, understand exactly what you need to deliver your goods and services. Make a list of the features and services your partners need to have to work efficiently. If you need to set up multiple meetings with distributors and international marketing agencies, do so. It’s better to take your time expanding than to go with partners that aren’t a proper fit.
10. Be Willing to Travel
Unsurprisingly, exporting goods and services to a new international market often requires that you travel to that country. It may be necessary to travel there to meet with distributors or potential customers. However, it can also be beneficial to travel there for trade shows and similar events. Find events and set up meetings in your new market of choice.
You might even set up multiple trips to really get a feel for your new customer base. This can ultimately benefit your international marketing strategy. You may even work with an international marketer to create a tailored message that’s perfect for promoting your goods and services to a new market.
11. Use Technology Whenever Possible
However, too much back and forth traveling can stretch your schedule and your budget. 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.
Ideally, you might travel early in the process to meet with stakeholders or international marketing agencies. However, once you choose the partners that are right for your business and make those initial connections, take your interactions online.
12. 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.
For example, your global marketing agency should have a solid handle on the marketing principles necessary to promote your goods and services in a foreign market. From building or editing your company website to creating targeted ads, take note of how they engage in various marketing activities. Keep the lines of communication open. If they aren’t responsive or open to communicating new ideas, they may not be the best fit for your company.
13. 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 a foreign market can be complicated, if not impossible.
In fact, you may benefit from working with a legal expert who focuses on contracts in whatever foreign country you plan on entering. Since each market has different rules and regulations, finding someone to handle the fine print can save you time and help you avoid problems down the road.
14. 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. From entering joint ventures with other companies to finding the right international marketing partners, you’ll need tons of contracts and agreements.
When planning for your expansion and international marketing strategy, make sure you factor this in. Set aside enough time or bring in experts who can help you sort through the specifics.
15. Achieve Success Before Moving On
Once you’ve officially started selling your goods and services in an international market, it can be tempting to try and expand again right away. However, just as you should achieve relative success in a domestic market before going international, you should also find some success in your new market before moving on. Wait until your processes are solid, your international marketing activities are running smoothly, and you have a significant market share in your current markets. Then you can dedicate enough time and effort to entering a new international market.
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.”
16. 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 for joint ventures or international marketing partnerships. The processes for exporting goods and services are likely to be similar as well.
Start by researching nearby countries and then ask your existing contacts for references. They may be able to put you in contact with other distributors, partners, or international marketing agencies. Some of them may even provide goods or services to those additional markets as well. You can use your existing relationships to expand into another foreign country.
17. 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. However, you can also rely on your agents or distributors to guide you in the right direction if you’ve built solid relationships with them.
The cultural differences between your domestic market and a new international market may seem small. But they can impact all of your marketing decisions, from tweaks to your company website to building international ad campaigns.
18. Adjust Your Marketing Efforts
Expanding your customer base can also have an impact on your marketing activities. Specifically, marketing internationally often means creating new messages for each individual market. You might create a new website and social media accounts for your customers in a new foreign country. You could also simply include messages that are relevant to them in your current marketing channels.
When you’re only focusing on domestic marketing, all of your messages are tailored to customers in your home country. So as you expand, your marketing mix needs to get more diverse. This may require hiring an international marketing department or management team in your new market. Or you could work with a business consultant who specializes in your new market to guide your existing marketing team.
19. 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. This isn’t just important on a personal level. It can also help you reflect on the international marketing principles and strategies you used to build a successful global operation.
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.”
What is International Marketing?
International marketing means creating marketing messages that are applicable in more than one country. This generally means diversifying the content in your domestic marketing materials to make it more relevant to people across cultures and markets.
When you think of international marketing, your brain might go right to large firms like Coca-Cola or General Motors. But small businesses can succeed at international marketing as well. For example, a small textile company can start by researching markets where their goods are in demand. They might decide to work with distributors in South America first. So their international marketing efforts would focus on distributors in those countries. They might even create a new website or page to share relevant information and facilitate discussions with relevant stakeholders. Then they can provide those distributors with materials that are targeted to consumers in their area.
What are the Challenges of International Marketing?
International marketing can be incredibly worthwhile. However, it also comes with its fair share of challenges, especially for small businesses with limited budgets and market share. Here are some of the challenges you must overcome if you want your international marketing efforts to be successful:
- Lack of understanding of new markets
- Cultural differences that could impact buying decisions
- Language barriers
- Lack of brand recognition internationally
- Decreased need for specific goods and services in certain markets
- Varying compliance issues
- Decreased purchasing power with international vendors
- Ability to find reliable partners
- Communication issues with vendors and distributors
- Increased competition from international firms
- Diluted marketing messages due to generic campaigns
- Lack of resources in new markets
- Different performance data and metrics to consider
- Varied marketing channels in new markets
Overcoming these barriers requires a lot of research and expertise. You can do some preliminary exploration on your own. But you may eventually need to make a direct investment into international marketing managers or experts in your specific market.
Is International Marketing Right for My Business?
International marketing is right for businesses that are already solid in their domestic market and who want to grow on a global scale. However, it may not be a good idea for those that are struggling to manage their domestic operations. It can also be tough for those who have products that are only relevant to a very specific customer base. Here are some things to consider before jumping into international marketing.
Pros of international marketing:
- Increased revenue opportunities
- Ability to reach a wider target audience
- Some markets may have increased need for your goods or services
- Competitive advantage over others in your industry
- Increased brand visibility
- Ability to create new relationships around the globe
- Greater stability in case there are economic issues or disasters in one country
Cons of international marketing:
- Difficulty tailoring messages to specific consumers
- More expensive order fulfillment
- Different regulations in different markets
- There can be barriers to entry
- Decreased need for your product in some markets
- Requires a lot of research
- New competition from companies in your new foreign market
How Do I Build an International Marketing Strategy?
Creating an international marketing plan starts with research about your new market. Consider customer needs and buying habits in your country of choice. This should include market trends in your industry to give you an idea of how and why consumers purchase similar goods.
From there, you need to craft international marketing messages that position your offerings favorably against the competition. This is similar to how you’d position your brand when marketing to domestic customers. However, the preferences of those in your new market may vary. For example, if you usually use low prices as a differentiating factor in the U.S., it may not be as relevant to consumers in another country. Depending on your market, you may want to promote the quality and craftsmanship of your made-in-the-U.S. goods or how the style of your items stands out from what’s currently available in another country.
Finally, you need to find channels that are relevant to your target customers in each country you enter. Marketing online tends to be popular in most countries. However, some countries may not be as reliant on the social media sites and search engines that are used widely in the U.S. Consumers in some countries may also be more likely to pay attention to traditional ads or media. See where your target customers spend time before investing your international marketing budget in the same old platforms.
What Are My Options for Breaking Into New Markets?
There are tons of different ways you can structure your expansion into foreign markets. Some small companies may simply offer their goods online. Product businesses can find international distributors and ship their goods overseas to online shoppers. Service companies can offer a virtual service using formats like video consultations or online courses.
Alternatively, you can partner with other companies or stakeholders in your new territory to deliver your offerings without taking on tons of extra work. For example, you could offer franchising opportunities to overseas business owners. You could license your goods or services. You could also sell to distributors who then sell your items on a wider scale.
How Do I Choose the Right Market for My Expansion?
This answer is different for every small business. Start by researching multiple markets that seem to have a need for your goods or services and talking to stakeholders in those markets. Consider the following questions when making your decision:
- What laws or regulations could impact my business? Each country has different restrictions on things like imports and business partnerships. Make sure the market you’re considering doesn’t include significant barriers to entry that could prevent your operation from moving forward.
- Is there a need for my product or service? Do customers in the foreign country you’re considering actually use what you have to sell? For example, if you’re offering tech consulting for startups, it’s probably beneficial to look for markets with a significant number of those types of businesses.
- What is the level of competition? On the other hand, some markets may already be saturated with the product or service you’re offering. For example, a company selling cell phones may not be able to compete with the giants in many developed countries. However, other locations still need those goods and may not have as much access to them from other suppliers.
- How is this market similar to my existing markets? It’s often easier to start your international pursuits by expanding to markets you’re somewhat familiar with. If you mainly sell to customers in the U.S., this may mean starting with Canada or countries in Western Europe. There are still differences to consider. However, trade tends to be fairly straightforward and language and customs aren’t as different as they may be elsewhere?
- How is this market different than my existing markets? Even opting for countries that seem similar to your home market or the other countries you sell to can come with challenges. Don’t make assumptions before you’ve done thorough research. Even selling to Canada in addition to the U.S. may require new processes and international marketing messages. In some cases, you may want to opt for markets that are very different if there’s increased demand for your product or service there.
- What extra costs are involved? Delivering goods or services to a new area often comes with extra expenses. Consider the extra shipping costs along with whatever fees and labor may be required to facilitate your expansion. Don’t forget about the additional international marketing efforts you’ll need to put forth to attract new customers. Make sure all those expenses fit within your budget before getting started. If you’re not able to take on the expense, wait to expand or look for a market that comes with fewer expenses.
- What international marketing strategies are necessary for getting my message out? Once you have a product or service to sell and a market to sell it to, it’s time to craft your international marketing messages. When you’re speaking to customers from other countries, you may need to use different terms or strategies. There may also be different platforms that are popular with your target customers in other countries. Your global marketing plan is likely to vary with each foreign country you add to your mix. So never get too attached to doing things in one certain way.
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