It is, indeed, a small world.
In fact, it’s so small now that a person could sneeze somewhere out in, let’s say, the Far East, and all the way back over on the sidewalks of Wall Street in New York City, they’d be catching a cold… Literally.
Communication with anyone, anywhere, now takes only the time required to bounce a signal off of a space satellite up in the ether, and, for those in the business of establishing an impactful and powerful brand, simply bouncing thousands of signals across thousands of miles really is the way to go.
There is little doubt that the U.S. marketplace is easily one of the biggest in the world. For many businesses attempting to break through on a national level, this single marketplace is enough. More than enough, in many cases. Getting your brand known from coast to coast, meeting your monthly sales targets, and your business becomes a reasonably guaranteed success. Going global would be a step way too far.
However, the more entrepreneurial and proactive businesses wishing to truly establish their brand as a market leader realize that their business doesn’t need to stop at the U.S. shoreline. At any shoreline, for that matter. The bouncing communication signals that now seemingly govern our lives have absolutely zero concerns about getting their little binary feet wet.
Taking a brand out on a global level, beyond your home country’s shores, holds several distinct advantages – they are sound business practices, to look at them another way. For example, a business can extend the sales lives of its products by marketing and selling these in a range of countries, and in a wide range of different marketplaces.
By taking their brand global, businesses can also relax their reliance on the home market, as they would be less affected by political decisions, government and state tax policy, and any seasonal fluctuations. Imagine, for example, a summer-orientated product. Just like our friend with his marguerita at 5 o’clock, across the world, it’s summertime somewhere.
As wonderful, as opportunistic and as motivating as this all sounds, to successfully take your business’s brand out on a global scale (and continue to sell, meet those targets, and open up new markets in doing so), there are a number of very big and important steps to be taken. These steps, mirrored in both the self-assessment questions and the essential insights that are described below, and, just as importantly, how they are taken, could be the difference between your brand becoming an established and recognized brand name across the world, or just a mere 5-second wonder that all too quickly crashed and burned.
How to Decide If You’re Ready to Export Your Product
As part of any forthcoming and planned business strategy, detailed research is key – the business version of due diligence. That research begins by asking yourself a number of direct questions – all of which need to be answered, and all of those answers need to be validated. It all begins with how your business originally began.
Starting a business requires several elements that will create a strong foundation for growth – a decent product (that is wanted and needed), a proven marketplace (where that want and need exists), and your own motivation and will to ensure your business succeeds. It is this foundation, already proven to be strong enough to keep your business upright, that is required in driving a business to a global scale. But that’s not all that is required.
The additional element that your business will need to rely on comes directly from your due diligence – your research. It is essential that you have a sound and precise understanding of how your product will fit into these new marketplaces – many of which will have a whole different set of business and other rules, and not forgetting cultural norms, than what your business is used to in the domestic U.S. market.
Free “New-to-Export” (NTE) Resources:
If you are feeling a little underprepared and a little “new-to-export,” there are a number of excellent free resources available to businesses who are considering entering foreign marketplaces, such as:
- The U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Export Business Planner: includes important information and worksheets to assess your company’s readiness to begin exporting
- Michigan State University’s GlobalEdge platform: includes a free self-diagnostic tool, and
- Your local Small Business Development Center office: free advice from international trade specialists
“New-to-Export” Business Self-Assessment
So, before you even start planning to “go global,” and especially if you are completely new to the whole concept of exporting your product abroad, consider the following 5 questions as part of a comprehensive business self-assessment.
1. What is your level of commitment to exporting?
The decision to take your brand global is not a simple one, and it has many, many strings attached – one of these being that once you start, you can’t really stop. Therefore, your business’s commitment needs to be 100%, and you need to be able to constantly monitor, evaluate and fine-tune your export strategy, creating new goals and new milestones as you go..
If you can’t be proactive, and you are not even reactive, your business is going to suffer considerably – and possibly suffer enough to bring it all to an untimely and early end.
2. What is your product’s export potential?
Offered by both the SBA and the GlobalEdge platform, your next step is to assess your business’s readiness to export. As the definitive rough guide to “potential,” if you ain’t selling at home, you ain’t going to sell anywhere else. Mind you, the idea of exporting should be the last thing on your business brain if you were experiencing difficulty selling domestically.
It is vital that you understand completely why your product does sell in the home marketplace, as you are then in a position to tailor a strategy to replicate this business abroad. By defining this strategy, you are actually creating a blueprint for future success.
Furthermore, as you will need to make the full preparations to operate abroad, such as putting in place your infrastructure and your supply chain management (all done prior to selling/shipping), for this new business direction, you need to be certain – 100% sure – that this is the direction you wish your business to go in.
With all the additional preparation – international banking, shipping and logistics, building relationships with distributors, freight forwarders and customs brokers, and packaging and labeling that complies with your new marketplace’s laws and regulations – one thing is certain. You are definitely going to need sound legal advice to ensure everything is as it should be.
3. What is the most effective starting point for taking your brand global?
This requires the selection of an overseas proving ground (the first new marketplace) for your new export strategy. So, it’s kind of time to get your wallet or purse out… Attending business trade shows in the countries you have short-listed is the perfect way to check out new marketplaces, and to make valuable “early doors” connections with overseas buyers and distributors.
Having identified possible business partners, we return to the research element – your due diligence. due diligence. The U.S. Commerce Department’s overseas trade specialists are an excellent starting point in helping to assess the credibility of potential partners.
4. How will you market and sell your product overseas?
Here comes your all-important business plan for exporting – this will be invaluable in deciding how you will market and sell your product overseas in the future. One of your first key decisions will be whether you intend to sell directly to customers or to go through a proven distributor.
There is also the potential language barrier issue – how are you going to effectively communicate with these distributors and with these customers? Clarity is paramount, and that applies to your online presence too. It is important your website – your portal to your product – is easily comprehensible and navigable.
5. How will you assess your results from exporting?
When it comes to a product-orientated business, the only real measure of success is sales volume. However, starting an export branch to your business will initially take considerable investment – of capital, time and energy. If you are unable to make these investments right now, you are not ready to take your brand to the global stage.
Once you have assessed your business’s current viability, position and commitment to entering new foreign markets, and competently exporting to these markets, let’s look at our “5 Essential Insights into Taking Your Brand Global”:
5 Essential Insights into Taking Your Brand Global
Once your primary market has been determined, you’ll be presented with many challenges to get the crucial breakthrough you need, and these challenges will be diverse, and often difficult. At this stage, it is prudent to remember that many U.S. businesses have gone down this path and failed. Hard work (and keeping these insights in mind to the letter) will give you a far better better chance than most of succeeding:
Insight #1: Research, Add Research, & Research Again
Due diligence, like it was due yesterday. As part of your business’s NTE self-assessment, your research will already have begun in earnest. It’s now time to take that research to the next level. You can find valuable information on global market opportunities, and available resources, on websites such as USA Trade Online. You can then use the data you collate from here to identify marketplaces that have a demand for your products.
Always make sure that you check local business and safety regulations to see what you may need to do to modify your product, product name or packaging to comply with these (if applicable). To assist you in this, the U.S. Commercial Service (which is the export-promotion arm of the Commerce Department), and their online experts, is a valuable source of both general and country-specific information.
Insight #2: Licensing Your Brand
Brand licensing does not exactly guarantee business success and profitability in foreign marketplaces, but it does go a long way in helping your product to establish itself as soon as it hits those markets. But how, and what exactly is it?
Brand licensing, a well-established business practice, in its broadest terms, is the renting or leasing of an intangible asset, such as a patent, copyright, or trademark, to be used under license by another business. Think of that great American stalwart and all-round good guy – Mickey Mouse. When Mickey became extremely popular across the U.S. back in the 1930s-40s, the toy stores were inundated with new toys, books and other products all featuring the Mickey character. However, absolutely none of these were ever manufactured by the Walt Disney Company.
Brand licensing is the creation and management of legal business contracts between a brand owner, and another business wishing to use that brand on a completely different product for a certain period of time, and within an agreed marketplace, such as a foreign country.
Using the services of a professional brand licensing agency enables businesses new to a geographical area to increase a product’s exposure to that marketplace, and so gives a new export strategy more of a chance of being successful.
Insight #3: One Cultural Change at a Time
Culture differences are always big differences. Successfully bridging cultural differences can take time, but it will be time well spent. Never assume for one second that a good-selling U.S. brand will make it in a different market – you need to work to ensure it will, and it does.
The obvious difference will be that of language. Never assume that the world speaks English – it rarely does. When you consider that, regardless of where you are in the world, around 93% of online consumers are looking for real-time assistance throughout the purchasing and service process, the importance of successful communication is no less than paramount.
Learn and embrace the cultural change.
Insight #4: Financing Your International Expansion
The ways of the world dictate that business expansion requires financing. It is far, far better for your business to be able to self-finance this new endeavor abroad, but if that’s not possible, there are, as you know, other avenues open to you for raising the necessary finance.
With regard in particular to foreign markets, the Federal Government is always looking to promote overseas sales, and their finance agency – the Export-Import Bank of the United States – has a long history of doing just that. The only requirement of guaranteeing loans is that your product has at least 50% U.S. content. Their website also has some great tools and resources for businesses just like yours.
Insight #5: Master the Madness of Social Media
For those who use social media, let alone actually work in it, social media is mad – utterly mad. However, with more connected mobile devices on our planet than enough people to use each of them, global marketing has never, ever been easier.
If you wish to conquer another market overseas, a well-coordinated and responsive mobile marketing strategy for your business is as vital as having an email address…If expanding abroad is your next business goal, this mobile marketing strategy has to be numero uno on your list of What To Do Next… It’s more cost-effective and more efficient than any other marketing tool.
Your mobile marketing strategy must contain, as the bare minimum:
- E-commerce Site / Website
- Website Translation (if required)
- Continuous SEO
- Multimedia Content & Blog
If your business does not have inhouse staff capable of delivering the various elements of this strategy, either employ these new people now, or find a proven, experienced outside agency that is capable of delivering what you need.