Whether you’re selling office stationery, car accessories, or whatever it might be, it’s a good bet that your primary business concern is attracting customers and selling more goods.
The good news is that there is a whole world of potential customers out there – quite literally. You may or may not have thought about going global, but as long as your product lends itself to it, there’s no reason why your small business can’t expand into global markets.
If you doubt international selling will benefit you, consider statistics formulated by Kinsta, which highlight that 57% of consumers make purchases from overseas retailers – which is a considerable market to tap into.
What to Be Aware Of
Doing business overseas has its fair share of advantages, but it can be intimidating for small businesses. That said, whatever area of business you’re in, small and large companies alike can succeed internationally.
It’s vitally important, before you take such a big leap, to do as much research as possible – this includes weighing up the pros and cons. Of course, there are risks to expanding overseas, but so long as you’ve covered all of your bases, foreign sales can be a huge feather in your cap.
As with any aspect of business, success won’t come overnight; it requires a patient, diligent approach, and in-depth research in the following areas:
- Target Markets
- Payment Methods
- Local Regulation
- Shipping & Returns
- Entry to Market
In this piece, we’re going to look at these areas, so you can customise your business plan to reach consumers abroad, before flinging your doors open to the world.
#1: Discover Your Target Markets
As with anything in life, it pays dividends if you understand what you’re getting yourself into. Your first step is to understand who your target customers are in each country, what they like to buy, and how they go about doing it.
- Collect Market Information – Firstly, delve into your own data to see if there are currently any customers from foreign countries that are already buying your products. Try to expand your presence in these areas first, even if it’s just to test the waters.
- Investigate Demand for Your Product – To help you fathom your target market, it’s crucial to investigate which countries have a significant demand for products or services in your niche.
- Local Buying Trends – Is there a big gap in the market or a strong demand for your product or service? Are their seasonal trends to consider?
- Authenticity –When it comes to widening your borders, you might see a competitor doing particularly well on the international front. However, it’s absolutely vital that you stay true to yourself and your business. Customers abroad are naturally warier when buying from an international seller, and most modern consumers are far savvier when it comes to spotting something out of place, so it pays to stay true to your roots.
#2: How Are Customers Paying?
Next, consider how you’ll be paid. As you begin to research payment providers, you’ll need to take into account how customers in different parts of the world prefer to pay, and how well regarded the payment handling company is.
- Research Preferred Payment Methods – This will vary considerably depending on what country you’re looking at. It’s obvious that consumers would prefer to pay in their native currency, and some payment handlers will allow your products to be listed in various currencies. If this is something you can’t offer, ensure you include an obvious currency convertor on your website.
- Select a Provider with a Strong Security Background – Be sure to select a payment handler with strong worldwide repute. PayPal, for example, consistently ranks among the best payment handlers’ users choose to handle international payments.
#3: Study Local Regulation
Once you know where you’re going to sell, ensure that you sit down and inspect the specific local laws and regulations for that territory.
You’ll need to consider:
- Duty & Taxation – Find out if duty and tax will impact your unit price. Also, be sure to look closely at any rules that apply to your product or niche, so you can make customers aware of any expenses they will need to pay for from the outset.
- Customs – All international shipments will have to be passed through customs (the agency that monitors shipments entering a country). Each shipment will need a customs form; which some shipping services will offer help with – but ensure that this is the case first.
- Free-Trade Agreements – Free-trade agreements are great for international merchants as they help to reduce and eliminate tariffs on certain products, so it’s vital that you do your research.
#4: Shipping & Returns
A reliable shipping and returns network is even more crucial when you’re selling products internationally. You’ll need to:
- Be Clear with Delivery Times – Shipping products abroad, in most cases, will take longer and cost your customers more, which is why it’s so important to set clear delivery expectations and provide shipping costs on your website.
- Create a Return Policy – When putting this together, consider:
- Local consumer law
- Cash refunds or credit
- Returns time limit
#5: Entry to Market
When offering goods online, there are a few different avenues in which you can travel,which include:
- Start Small – Highly reputable sites like eBay can be an excellent way to reach a larger audience for a lower cost. It also gives the opportunity to explore what demand there is for your product without costly investment.
- Make Changes to Your Website – Optimising your current website for international buyers, can be done in a few different ways. Firstly, you could keep things simple and just highlight the fact that you accept international orders and how much shipping costs are. Once you’ve had more experience, you can then begin to think about more complex solutions, such as listing items in local currency for a particular IP address, and later, you may wish to translate your website into various languages, while considering local terminology and customs, for example.
- Creating a Custom Website for Different Markets – The most advanced option is to create a website which is configured to appeal specifically to customers in different markets. This means you could purchase a local domain name and translate your content, both of which givesyou a better chance of optimising for search terms in that particular country.
- Invest in Social Media –Any business without a social media presence these days is missing out. If you hope to reach customers at home or abroad, you need to harness the power of social. The internet has meant that we can ascend borders and connect with just about anyone in the world, and social media has played a considerable part in furthering this achievement. If you’re still not convinced, consider that, at the time of writing, Facebook is the most popular social platform, with 45 billion users active every month. Can your business afford to miss out on even the tiniest fraction of this audience?
What About Language Barriers?
Different languages can certainly become a barrier between yourself and potential foreign markets, which it’s why your initial acid test should include EU countries and the US at first. This means language won’t present such a substantial barrier.
We’ve already mentioned translating your website into different languages, but to do this, you need to ensure that your customer service team is capable of working with a particular language. Otherwise, the level of communication between yourself and the customer won’t be at the level you need it to be.
It’s also essential to think about the cultural nuance in the English language. For example, let’s say your company sells baby clothing and accessories, and among the products you sell, are dummies, as they’re known in the UK. Yet in the U.S, they call them pacifiers. Although these are only seemingly small differences, they could make all the difference to your conversion rates.
To gain any customer, the experience you offer needs to be a pleasant one. In order to gain traction in a foreign market, your customer service levels need to go up another notch. Customers buying from international companies will be more wary, which means you need to show them you’re an authentic, established professional and build a foundation of trust.
Your staff need to be highly trained, particularly if you’re dealing with customers that speak different languages, as you need to be able to communicate and deal with any queries or problems that might arise.
However, so long as you’re fully prepared to do the research as we’ve highlighted in this article, there’s no reason that your adventure overseas can’t be a long-term success story.