Exporting: a word that can strike fears of endless paperwork, non-tariff barriers, language misunderstandings and unpaid invoices. But as a business manager, wisdom and experience tell you that there are vast opportunities outside your domestic market, and your international competitors are not standing still. Growing your brand, sales and business internationally is smart, and many willing hands can help.
It used to take years to start international sales. You had to prepare your product, do market research, compare prices, and identify and negotiate with in-market partners and distributors. And even then, the process often resulted in an overreliance on an external partner, out-of-date and inflexible pricing, and poorly positioned products and services. Worse, you never really got a feel for your end client.
All that has changed because of the Internet. Today, there are just four essential tools you need: export-ready products or services, logistic and payment solutions, realistic goals and metrics, and an international online presence with localized websites and international marketing.
Making sure your product or service is export-ready is essential. Does the product meet local standards? What do local competitors look like? And what about pricing? Market research can stretch from a technical and standards perspective to more client-facing aspects: If you are targeting France, are your measurements in metric? What about euro pricing?
Market research with a look at local players and conditions can give a sound indication of where your company sits on the scale. The best source of that information is online. Check out competing websites, local associations and trade bodies, and mark your calendar for in-market events. A valid strategy is to set up your local website before you enter the market, as a means of testing demand and pricing. The earlier you can begin to develop brand awareness in your target markets, the better.
There is no shortage of choices for logistics and payment-solution providers. The trick is to find the right one for your business. These providers tend to be multinational companies: think UPS, Amazon, Alibaba, DHL, Kuehne + Nagel or Maersk. Shop around before committing. Many provide all-in-one service for delivery, paying local taxes and import duties, paperwork and collecting invoices. But there are costs in terms of your margin and your long-term business, as you lose sight of your end client and ability to grow brand awareness over time.
Establishing a localized website in each of your markets can help you scrape back some of those margins and get better visibility of your end clients. Think of your localized website as your international real estate. It’s the showroom where your international clients discover your products and solutions, and realize how easy it is to do business with you.
In many markets, adding e-commerce functionality is easy. Often, you can use the same payment gateways as you may already have for your U.S. website. That option has the advantage that you can recoup some margin from the logistics service providers as you take back control of payments and leave them to do shipping and transport.
All choices have a cost as well as a return. It’s essential to establish your goal, the cost of achieving that goal, how to measure whether you are achieving that goal, and what success means. Often, it’s easier to work with short-term, step-by-step goals, especially if you are new to the export game or trying out a new market. The key is to define the path and its cost. All websites and marketing should have long- and short-term goals to help drive business forward, especially in new markets.
International websites used to be reserved for huge multinationals, but they are now within reach of all companies. The key to a great international online presence is to put your client at the center. If you want to reach a prospective buyer in Brazil, you need a good Brazilian website, fully localized and optimized for the local search engine. Sticking an extra page in Portuguese on your home website won’t cut it.
Make finding your company as easy as possible for the client. Give him a localized website. Google has many different websites around the world that are unlike the U.S. version, so increasing local search-engine optimization results should also be a top priority.
There are also companies like ours, IBT.onl, that help U.S. businesses set up export programs, with services that range from website localization to online marketing. n
Susanna Hardy is chief content officer for IBT Online.
This article originally appeared in the February 2020 issue.