Sure, international business was once the territory of large corporations. If you were a budding entrepreneur, it was common sense to start out on your home turf.
It’s a different world now. Global communications have opened up some of the world’s most lucrative markets. This has made doing business on an international scale not only a realistic option but a sensible one too. Unless you are selling a service or product with a strictly local scope, why limit yourself?
Starting a business in tough economic times involves making the most of every opportunity. And this can be on a small – or almost non-existent – budget. The good news is that the internet can be a powerful ally.
Here are 5 ways in which you can use online technologies to get your international business off the ground.
Avoid the Need for Office Space
Office space doesn’t come cheap and commuting takes time and money. Besides, if you are working with clients worldwide, having premises with your name above the door is an expense you don’t need.
You can make huge savings if instead you set up a home office – you might even find a laptop and a quiet corner will do. Digital record-keeping cuts the need for shelf space and file cabinets.
There’s another benefit to this. Armed with a laptop and a smartphone, you can take your business wherever you go. Need to attend a trade fair in Brazil or visit a supplier in Taiwan? No problem. Now the information you need can be at your fingertips.
Keep Staff Costs Low
Full-time staff is often a luxury for new businesses. Instead, hire freelance “virtual” staff by the day or even hour. This will give you the help you need at peak times without draining your budget year round.
For example, a freelance “virtual assistant” can take care of time-consuming administration, leaving you free to focus on your core business needs. Similarly, everything from accounting to overseas marketing can be outsourced to online workers.
By employing remote workers, you can hire the people who best meet your needs, not those who are closest. And, when it comes to going global, it’s hard to beat having native speakers with that all-important knowledge of local culture located where your customers are.
Take Advantage of Online Communications
Digital communication technologies range from email to instant messaging (IM) and voice-over IP (e.g. Skype). One thing these have in common is they’re free or low cost. Another is their ability to connect you instantly with overseas clients and contacts throughout the world.
Gone are the days when you needed a huge telecoms budget to fund international calls. Neither do you need to be limited by ‘office hours’. Instead, get a reputation for being accessible by keeping IM open and responding to emails promptly.
Increase Your Visibility
Being visible is one of the secrets of success that international businessman Richard Branson shared with Entrepreneur magazine. Although your own strategies for increasing your global visibility will be different from Branson’s, the concept is worth taking on board. Connecting with others and getting known is a key step in building your international business.
Here too the internet is on your side. A website will introduce your business to people around the world, but this is just the beginning. A social media presence is fast becoming essential for global businesses. As well as Twitter and Facebook accounts, don’t forget their foreign-language rivals in your overseas markets, such as Mixi in Japan or Orkut in Brazil and India. Participate on blogs and forums related to your field to further build your reputation.
If your target markets include non-native English speakers (and, considering they represent around 75% of Internet users, they probably should), you will also need foreign-language web content. It’s worth making this as professional as possible. Translation and localisation won’t take a large bite out of your budget and the rewards are well worth it.
Monitor and Adapt to Your Markets
Finally, the web gives you access to valuable data about your international markets. Free and easy-to-use software can reveal everything from what your website users are typing into search engines (e.g. StatCounter) to notifying you when your business gets a mention (e.g. Google Alerts).
Armed with this data you can evolve your international business, doing more of what works and abandoning or adapting things that don’t.
What Are You Waiting For?
The opportunities for building an international business online are immense. And, did I mention, very affordable. My own dream of creating a respected global business became a reality thanks to digital technologies. Commit to launching your international business online and yours can too.