Going Global: Building an International Footprint as a SMB

Business.com / Starting a Business / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Put your small business on a bigger map with these simple tips.

It’s like a dream come true: your business is booming as products fly off the shelves and zip out of the warehouse.

Cash flow is steadily increasing as your domestic market expands.

With things going so well at home, you’re beginning to eye international markets as a potential source of new customers.

Moving your business beyond your home country is a big step that requires careful consideration.

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Before starting the process, make sure that your business is ready to go global and that you have all of your resources in place.

Timing: Are You Ready for Globalization

The first question to ask yourself is whether or not your business is ready to move into the international marketplace. Competition is heating up between businesses of all sizes, and you could find yourself contending with some of the biggest names in the industry. Analyze your domestic sales and growth to determine whether future projections are strong enough to sustain global expansion. Consider whether or not your current staff is sufficient to handle the added workload of a new market. Most importantly, you need to find out if enough demand for your products and services exists in other countries to make international growth worth the investment.

Research: Getting Your Facts Straight

For an international endeavor to be successful, you have to understand what you’re up against. Get to know everything you can about the countries where you want to expand, the atmosphere of the market there, the demographics of your target audience and the buying power you could potentially tap into. Gather detailed information about the logistics of every part of the selling and shipping process, including fees, customs and regulations. Your products and methods must be in line with all the rules of doing business in the countries you choose. Government organizations at home and abroad can help you understand and navigate the complexities of this process.

Cost: Drawing Up a Budget

As with any business decision, it’s essential to know how much it’s going to cost to move into the international arena. Price out everything at the start, dividing money between upfront costs, product development, advertising, transport expenses and any new software or materials you’ll need to make the expansion successful. User your current sales and marketing plans to project how much money will be necessary to support international growth in the future. Having a clear financial blueprint helps you manage the risks involved in taking such a big step and stay on track when faced with unexpected challenges.

Partnership: Working With the Right People

International markets can be unfamiliar territory for small business owners, which is why you need a partner who understands the ins and outs of global sales. International partners must be knowledgeable, trustworthy, highly qualified and willing to take the risks necessary for global expansion. Choose a team that shares the vision and values of your company to ensure a consistent approach across all markets.

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Team members should have experience with products and services similar to yours. Leverage this experience to break into the global market using the tools that already exist in your chosen area. Take advantage of what your partner knows about sales and marketing to appeal directly to the local audience.

You’ll also need a shipping partner that can help you handle the maze of customs for prompt product delivery. Strategic partnerships ensure that you understand and comply with local regulations so that your product hits the proper distribution channels without any setbacks.

Marketing: Understanding International Customers

The same comprehensive market research that you did when starting your business is necessary for a successful international campaign. Work with marketers in your target country who understand the best ways to present your products in the context of the local culture. Tap into their expertise to create a blueprint for product development or improvement. Starting with a modest production plan gives you the freedom to make changes according to consumer response and demand. Be mindful of which sectors are growing the fastest to determine how you can best take advantage of the market. 

Management: Using the Right Tools

Cloud-based software is the ideal solution for businesses looking to expand globally. Information in the cloud can be accessed by any member of your domestic or international team at any time. This simplifies communication and collaboration by allowing everyone to see how sales are tracking and make updates to projects in real time. It removes the barriers of time zones and gives everyone the freedom to work when it’s convenient for them. Find a software solution that lets you connect with your entire business network and share data between departments in the most efficient way possible to keep operations running smoothly at home and abroad. 

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Reflect: Don’t Abandon Your Domestic Business

As you’re considering each aspect of global expansion, one thing you never want to do is make a move that will diminish the success of your product on home soil. Domestic sales got you where you are today, and neglecting that foundational market to pursue the dream of international success can backfire. You must have a lot of additional bandwidth to take it on international markets, because if you’re operating too close to capacity at home and you try to move abroad, the current business is more likely to suffer. 

Aim for balance in all of your business endeavors to maintain a strong brand image at home as you begin to establish yourself globally.

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