Ninety-six percent of the world’s consumers live outside the US, and they account for nearly two-thirds of the world’s purchasing power according to the US Small Business Administration. (Forbes)

So, you’ve heard that you can grow your business by taking it global – but you’re not quite sure where to begin. It is a big world out there, and no country, culture, or community is the same. But even small businesses can realize the benefits of selling in international markets if you have the right tools and guidance.

My guest today is Diana Ballard, Diana is a Consultant Strategist advising on (going) global strategies.

I first became interested in this topic when I heard small business expert, Rieva Lesonsky say several times that small businesses have an extraordinary opportunity to grow their business beyond their local borders.

In 2013 Small Business Game Plan, a survey conducted in December by AlibabaVendio and Auctiva, polled small businesses about their outlook and plans here is what they’ve found:

59 percent of companies in the survey say they have no plans to conduct business globally this year. What’s holding them back?

  • 39 percent of businesses say they don’t know the overseas suppliers to use.
  • 39 percent don’t trust overseas suppliers.
  • 37 percent say they lack the expertise to do business globally.

Many of the companies also believe they are too small to do business overseas. In reality, however, there are one-person companies that managed to successfully leverage overseas sales — so size is no excuse.

This piqued my curiosity and made me wonder why more small businesses weren’t really considering expanding their businesses internationally.


Think Global First

You may have heard the phrase “mobile first” when it comes to putting together your website because an increasing number of your customers will see your website first via a mobile device.  The same philosophy holds true for your small business.  Diana Ballard recommends that you think “Global First” because no matter how local your business, it’s actually visible globally and you need to prepare for that.

What does it mean to think “Global First”?

The first step is to recognize that your business is visible globally.  Ballard says to  “Recognize that the associations and resources that you have in your local area can also help you position yourself globally.” Take the time to have those conversations.

Here’s the really exciting part, and one you may NOT have realized right away: You are NOT on your own with going global.  Use your local country resources for information and support.  Often organizations in your local country have connections to similar organizations in other countries as well.

Do Your Research

As you might expect, 80% of the effort is in doing your research.  Ballard suggests good old fashioned business and marketing planning research that includes:

  • Understanding who your customers are
  • Understanding the competition
  • Finding opportunities to distinguish yourself from the competition
  • Translating your content (and not just relying on Google Translate).

Translation is more important than you might think.  While you can use Google Translate for the purposes of competitive and market research, for those countries that are critical to the success of your business, it pays to invest in a good translation service.

More good news — while there are more 195 countries in the world, you won’t have to translate your content into a hundred languages. (Whew!) . Most global brands focus on the most spoken languages such as Chinese, Spanish, English, Hindi, Arabic, Portuguese, Bengali, Russian, Japanese, Punjabi — (hmmm — you’ll notice that traditional languages like French or German aren’t on this list although I’d definitely include them.) . Once again, this proves Diana’s point that research is critical!

Focus on What Matters Most

To get started in setting your business up to sell globally do the following:

    1. Research and understand the opportunity for your business in the market.
    2. Find a trusted partner.  Start with your home country and collect connections in other countries that are feasible for your business.
    3. Find out if there are legal or regulatory barriers.  This is another research element.  Take your time and work through a plan to overcome those barriers.
    4. Understand the competitors out there and they present their services.  Use Google Translate which will give you an idea and a flavor where they are focusing
    5. Clarify the unique selling point of your business. Start to look at how that translates into the target market. Evaluate translation companies and test your content in the local language to make sure that your message connects and resonates.
    6. Be prepared to adapt your content and engage and change strategy to engage the audience. There may be a particular niche where your products are attractive you might have to alter the message. 
    7. Deliver on promises.  It’s one thing to anticipate a market opportunity, but customers will be ready for you to deliver.  Is your website ready for various currencies and transactions – do the due diligence. Make sure you can serve their needs.

Going global isn’t a decision anymore.  Your business is global.  The question is, do you want to take advantage of selling in a bigger market?