So, you’re considering expanding your business internationally? Global expansion can open the door to a host of benefits. You could gain a competitive advantage, create opportunities for growth and diversification, and access new talent and new points of view.
But then there are the risks — success in one market doesn’t guarantee success in another, after all. Taking your business global can seem like a foreboding task, and it’s difficult to know where to start.
Whether you’re still considering ‘going global’ or you’re already raring to go, here are a few tips to help you get your foot in the door of the global marketplace.
Do your Research – differences, challenges, risks
Global expansion comes with more than its share of challenges and risks. An international market will be affected by cultural differences, such as values and business etiquette. For example, the polite way to shake hands differs around the world, so you’ll need to know how to behave in the new culture.
You’ll also need to look at the different laws that’ll affect you in your new marketplace. If you’re expanding into the EU, one major consideration is GDPR compliance.
Finally, consider the locational challenges you’re going to face. Time zone differences might mean that your team could be asleep while your customers are awake. If everyone speaks their native language, there could also be a language barrier you’ll need to overcome. Currency exchange rate fluctuations could hurt your profits. And so on.
Consider your customer base
Before you try to set foot in a new marketplace, you should consider where to expand to next, and whether you already have a potential customer base, or if you’ll need to build one there. Will people in new markets know about your brand and products already? If the answer is no, you need to work on building your brand and getting noticed in your new marketplace.
When choosing which international market to expand to first, look for those that are like your own. This way, you’re more likely to settle in quickly — and less likely to fall foul of cultural differences.
It can also help to look for any local businesses that will be competing with you. This helps you determine whether there’s a market need for your product or service in the new location, as well as give you an idea of your competition.
Have a global customer service plan
Global expansion poses several customer service difficulties. From time differences, to language barriers, to an (at least initial) lack of physical presence, a lot can get in the way of providing your great customer service to international customers.
So, before stepping through the threshold and into the global market, you need to have a scalable customer service plan in place. The best way to do this is to optimize your online support and offer as many international-friendly contact channels as possible. A ‘contact us’ page alone is not enough.
You might consider creating either a regional website — specific sites tailored to each region — or making your sole website multi-lingual. This opens the opportunity to offer self-service options for your international customers. This solves the issue of time zone differences, and with 90% of consumers asking for it, is an integral option in good customer service.
Sometimes though, a human touch is needed, and when customers can’t use their native language, they might feel shut off from support. Live chat software is a useful tool for managing language barriers when self-service isn’t enough, as some live chat solutions come with a real-time translation option. This means that your team can still support global customers in real-time, with both parties using their native language.
Live chat software also provides an interface for chatbots to use. Chatbots can help support your international customers with simple queries and website navigation, for instant support round the clock.
Don’t jump the gun
Global expansion is exciting and opens the door to a mass of potential for your business. But, it can also be risky and difficult. Without preparation, a strong brand and a scalable customer service plan, taking your business global will be a steep uphill climb.
So, don’t rush into it. Be aware of the complications, be sure there’s potential for growth in your new market, and be ready to meet your new customers. The more prepared you are going in, the better chance you have of success.
The SmallBizRising Blog is designed to be an educational content hub pulling information, best practices and practical advice for the small business owner and features topics including accounting, marketing, technology and more. Be sure to subscribe to stay up to date with new content as it is posted. The blog was created by The Neat Company and receives contributed content from a group of contributing companies that provide technology, services and solutions to small businesses.