It's said so often that we live in a 'global village' or that technology has resulted in boundaries between countries becoming less capable than ever, but anyone who starts up a business with the intent of serving a multi-national audience needs to give the matter plenty of careful thought.
However, there are plenty of examples around companies which have found that their products are in demand in many other territories than their own, and each of these has had to follow a learning curve to get those products to where that demand exists.
The keys to success in any overseas market are basically similar to those for achieving a viable business in your home market. That encompasses the following essential steps:
- Consider how different trading in another country will be – but do not assume that things will be drastically different. Customs and procedures in trade are surprisingly similar around the world, but what's most important is how you relate to your potential clients on a person-to-person level. So you will need to gain their confidence, and of course, that is likely to mean learning the rudiments of your business – its core products and processes – in another language, so that you can communicate effectively with your clients and suppliers.
- Contact the UK Department for Trade and Industry, or, in America, the Department of Commerce. This is a good starting point, even if you're not looking to extend the reach of your business overseas. Importantly, all your advice is free, and they can give guidance on such topics as the tax consequences of trading overseas, and any customs regulations which you're likely to have to comply with.
- Seek advice from the local community. You may well find a local legal expert and banker especially useful. They're likely to have helped many of their country people in your position get established, so they can do the same for you.
- What is the true level of demand for your product / service? Just as you would, or did, at home, be sure to research your market thoroughly. In these fast-moving times, it's highly unlikely that you're going to come up with a product which is completely ground-breaking and original. So find out what sets your offering out from the rest, and what your potential customers are looking for – and what their thoughts are about what's currently available, and how it can be improved – and you could be on the way to overseas success.
- Consider the names of your company, its products and their branding very carefully. There have been many humorous instances where a brand has been completely unsuitable for sale in other countries, because of language differences. An unfortunate Italian advertising agency once translated a well-known brand's tonic water as 'toilet water' which, needless to say, did not do its sales much good!
- If you're importing your products to a new country, you must consider whether international shipping will be straightforward. Getting the logistics right is absolutely critical if any expansion into an overseas market is to run smoothly.
But above all, in general it's important not to be frightened off by the challenge of conquering overseas markets. The rewards are there to be had, provided you are prepared to learn as you go along, be humble, and treat every challenge as an opportunity, rather than an obstacle.