Christian Arno, founder and Managing Director at Lingo24, Inc., contributed this article to BusinessNewsDaily's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
Exporting internationally is not the daunting task it once was, even for the smaller business or solo entrepreneur. Having contacts on the ground used to be pretty much essential. Business contacts of all sorts remain useful of course, but the advent of the World Wide Web has opened up a host of opportunities to anyone willing and able to make use of them.
You might have a product that has true global or niche foreign appeal. You might be dealing with a saturated home market or you might simply wish to expand your business and open up new sales channels. With the economy still largely flat and the economic future uncertain, it makes sense to grasp opportunities wherever they exist. There are a number of things to think about before you leap in but exporting internationally needn't involve a huge financial outlay. This can make it the perfect way to give your business a boost.
Research your target market
If you offer worldwide shipping on your main business website , you might already receive a smattering of interest from various far-flung places. Even if you do have a product with true global appeal, it often makes sense to let this low-level worldwide interest exist as a sort of 'background radiation' and concentrate your efforts on one or two new markets to begin with.
Exactly where you target will depend to a large extent on the nature of your business. You'll need to research the market to find out if demand exists and what sort of competition you'll face. You'll also need to know about practicalities such ascommon business practices, legal requirements, import regulations and shipping costs. Don't forget to check on any restrictions placed on your products — some things that are perfectly legal at home might not be everywhere else.
As far as international shipping goes, using an internationally recognized carrier such as UPS or Fedex can often be more straightforward and reliable than relying on your own and the target market's mail systems. This can be especially true when things go wrong and you have issues to resolve. As well as direct sales from your website you might also want to consider ready-made sales platforms like Amazon, Etsy and even eBay.
Customs declaration forms are essential in most cases and if you're leaving the customer to pay any customs or import duties at their end, make sure you state this clearly before the point of sale.
Localize your online assets
To a certain extent English remains the lingua franca or common language of the Internet. It's the most widely used languarge online but still only represents a fraction of total usage. You should also bear in mind that many foreign visitors to your website will use English as a second language, and that most people put more trust in sites written in their own language. A recent study found that, while more than half of users across the EU regularly visited foreign language sites, only 18 percent said they would make online purchases from a site that was not in their own native language.
Microsites in the appropriate languages are fine for testing the waters but make sure potential customers know how to access them — visual cues such as flags are generally better than written directions. A fully localized website is an even better option if resources allow. Utilizing a country code Top Level Domain (such as .fr for France or .br for Brazil) will help with your local SEO, placing you closer to the top of local search engine results when people look for relevant keywords online. It can also give your site a more 'local' feel, which can help engender trust.
Social media sites can also be a great help in spreading your name and reaching out across international borders. All the big players like Facebook, Twitter and the rapidly rising Pinterest have international audiences but, depending on your target market, local competitors can also be important. Platforms such as Tencent QQ and Sina Weibo are huge in China (where Facebook remains officially banned) while VK is a market leader in Russia and Orkut, while recently overtaken by Facebook, is still huge in Brazil and massively popular in India.
Whichever platforms and website options you choose, translating your content is an area you shouldn't skimp on. Automatic translation programs are great for a quick 'dictionary' translation but don't deal so well with context, colloquialisms and cultural issues. Working with native speaking translators can help you to retain nuance, avoid cultural faux pas and really speak your customers' language.
There are a lot of things to think about before starting to export abroad. The rewards can far outweigh the effort however and can really give any business a much-needed boost.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher.