As a businessman with more than 30 years of experience with companies located in over 45 countries, I’d like to reassure you that it’s never been easier to take your start-up or small business to an international level. Technology, finance, and communications have evolved exponentially since I began my career in international trade in the ‘70s. Your business can expand globally into more markets by paying attention to the items I list below as starting points to increasing your profits.
You might think you should have personal knowledge of another country’s markets, deep pockets, and a low risk aversion to embark on the road to international success. But the world is getting smaller every day. Here are a few of the tools that can smooth your access to international customers, markets, and profits.
Breaking Language Barriers
While it’s a great help if you’re fluent in the language of your target market, online services and tools such as Gengo and Unbabel can help with translation and localization of your business content. Personally, I speak 3 languages, but I do business in more than 30 countries where I do not speak the language. Making my business offerings available in a target market’s language is relatively easy today, given the accessibility to these services.
Across the internet, the primary language for most websites is English. Although more than half of web content is written in English, fewer than 20% of web users speak English. You know what I mean by translation – having the content converted into the target market’s language. But localization of content and imagery is where a business can succeed or fail. Localization means making sure your website content reflects local currency, date formats, and avoids slang or humorous writing. It goes farther than that with your choice of colors, whether your website features pictures of people, hand gestures, certain animals, and layout conventions such as direction of reading. Assuming that common practice in America is acceptable worldwide can confuse or even offend your customers. For example, white in North America means clean and fresh; it’s the color of death in China. Middle Easterners are offended by images of people displaying immodest attire, and the North American “peace” sign – the first 2 fingers held up in a V – has a significantly different meaning in other countries.
Accepting Payments Across Borders
Would you know how to accept payments from customers in other countries? Many small businesses and start-ups won’t venture into global markets because they fear high costs, complicated programs, or long wait times to receive funds. You may have heard that payment processors such as PayPal have blacklisted certain countries, and think that this would affect with whom you can do business. When you’ve reached a certain level of success, you’ll find that international banks with their system of wire transfers and bank drafts work just fine. Until then, PayPal and alternatives such as Payoneer work well. When researching which service to use, look for certification that the company is safe, charges reasonable fees and rates, offers top-notch customer service, and has a variety of ways to send and receive funds.
Outsourcing Team Members
As an entrepreneur, you know how difficult it is to find trustworthy people to work with…how much more complex might it be to do so in a foreign country?
When propelling a start-up to success, a significant challenge can be finding and retaining talented team members. Locating good talent on a global scale is easier today thanks to the rise of the gig economy and the evolution of resources such as LinkedIn and Xing and community forums offered by Bing or Google.
Communication with a business’s team across borders is made easy with the help of Zoom, Slack, and Skype, to mention just a few. There are even time-tracking and project management tools such as Toggl and Monday.com to ensure everyone within the business is on the same page even when they’re thousands of miles apart.
My own experience is that referrals from trusted advisers are the way to go. Listening to personal recommendations from my network of business connections is still the way I find reliable people to do one-off jobs (gigs) or to hire for the long-term. It is indeed true that highly-accomplished professionals know other highly-accomplished professionals who can assist you.
Once found, of course, it’s important to recognize and reward contractors, employees, and co-workers for their efforts toward your success.