There are plenty of great reasons to expand your business to other countries, and the internet has made marketing to foreign clients easier than ever. You can reach untapped markets and create a new customer base, and you may be expanding to a country where the economy is in better shape than the United States. Sponsors of the Export Coordination Act in the House of Representatives claim that 95 percent of the world’s market is outside the U.S., and yet only 1 percent of small businesses actually export their goods. Why is it so difficult? The bill aims to increase free trade agreements and help businesses get financed. But whether every business owner truly understands what goes into marketing to an overseas audience remains to be seen. You have to know the basics and often start from scratch in an environment you’re not used to.
Do Your Research
Small businesses can fail overseas for the simple reason that they haven’t put enough time into really understanding the market they’re walking into. This can mean everything from understanding the business climate to understand your potential customers. Every country has different customs and cultural priorities, and sometimes your product will appeal more or less depending on how your industry is thought of there. You should look for foreign markets that value what you do. How are American businesses received? How in-demand are American brands? There’s also the even simpler issue of a language barrier. Your marketing team needs someone with a strong grasp of translation who can not only speak the language but can convey the message of your business. Tag lines, promotional materials, and advertising spots need to work seamlessly in a foreign tongue. You will also probably end up offering versions of your website in different languages, especially if you expand to a big market like France or Japan.
Understand Laws and Government
For as many legal barriers and government restrictions you discovered when you started your U.S. business, there are at least a dozen more in a foreign market. On a purely administrative level, you need to learn about tax laws and restrictions on imports. If you’re employing staff overseas, you need to know about labor laws and immigration, and anything else you can fund out at a local level about producer and distributor liabilities. On a marketing level, you have to understand how to protect your trademarks and intellectual property and what you can do if you discover your rights have been violated. Protecting your brand name is one of the most vital steps towards successfully marketing to people who have never heard of you before. It can be costly and complicated to resolve disputes overseas, but you face many of the same legal worries.
In India, McDonald’s doesn’t serve hamburgers. And yet, amazingly, they were able to successfully expand in that country by offering veggie burgers instead. In Iceland, the first McDonald’s offered a heated underground parking lot. Their willingness to adapt to the needs and restrictions of the market is what makes them one of the most successful brand names in the world. Every country offers challenges in the form of diet, lifestyle, religion, and political climate. This can mean adjusting your products as well as adjusting your message. A good place to begin is to exhibit at an international trade show where you can meet new clients and get a feel for what business is like in a foreign market. You can meet colleagues who will share stories and make potential contacts with overseas liaisons who will be able to tell you if they think you have a real niche opportunity. It can be hard to understand what the average consumer is interested in without help.
Hiring a private consultant to help you expand overseas may seem a little out of reach, but most of them report that small businesses looking to export for the first time make up 25 percent of their clients. Whatever your strategy ends up being, you need to talk to the experts before you commit to a serious foreign marketing campaign. It’s easy to get in over your head, but it’s also easy to open doors you never knew existed.