Owning your own business is exciting and also hard work, especially when you are just starting out. Many businesses start off small and expand as they attract more customers. With a local business, you can get customers by word of mouth, but if you want your business to expand, then you need a way of attracting customers from across the country, and you may also want to expand into global markets.
If you live in a country in which the majority language is English, you might think that you have an instant advantage. However, you might be surprised to learn that, according to JPMorgan, only 27 percent of those who shop online are English speakers. It therefore pays to think about cultural issues when selling into foreign markets. Even big brands can make mistakes if they do not understand the market that they are trying to sell into, or do not take the time to check that their names and slogans will work. For the Chinese market, Coca-Cola named their product with something that sounded like Coca-Cola. Unfortunately, in Chinese, the characters used meant “bite the wax tadpole.” You also need to consider what you are selling. If, for example, you are selling books, then it pays to know that the developing countries such as China, India, and Vietnam are some of the largest markets for online book sales.
If you are going to sell into a foreign market, try to learn as much about the culture as you can. If possible, you should visit the country and soak up the culture. Try to learn what is offensive in the culture you are targeting. An advertising slogan that works in the US or Europe may not go down so well in South Korea or China. If you are good at languages, then try to pick up some key phrases. Even a few simple phrases in the language of the country will not only enable you to check that your website makes sense, but it will also break the ice in business meetings.
Finding local people you can work with and trust will make your task much easier. If you are trying to break into a market, try to find a niche. You can start off small and then expand as your business sales pick up. Starting off small will enable you to learn from your mistakes without damaging your image too much.
Learning from competitors or others who have succeeded internationally can be useful. For example, check out Shahram Shirkhani's linkedin.
In addition to understanding the culture of the country, you will need to understand the rules and regulations of doing business. Choose the right search engine – while Google is commonly used in English-speaking countries, in countries such as China, it is not the one most people use. You should also customize your website for different countries. Colors and symbols can have different meanings in different cultures. Social media can be a good way of reaching out to your customers, but you will need to make your social media content suitable for the country whose market you are trying to break into.
Doing business globally is challenging, but with the growing economies of the developing world, it can be lucrative.