If your business is healthy enough for you to be thinking about international expansion, kudos! The prospect of doing business beyond U.S. borders is an exciting one for any entrepreneur--how often do you get to enter a whole new market with a huge, untapped pool of customers and revenue?
But it's not just about changing the language on your website and accepting payments in a foreign currency. It's about a whole different mindset for the way you do business. You need to go through every aspect of your company with a fine-tooth comb (ideally with an attorney and financial adviser on hand) to make sure everything is set up to successfully handle doing business in a foreign country.
Here are five things you need to cover from the get-go:
1. Are your country-specific domain names available?
This is especially important if you do most of your business online. For example, if you're checking out France, make sure you have the .fr version of your URL.
2. If your business offers customer service, are you able to handle customers in their language?
And when I say "their," I don't just mean a foreign language. English-speaking countries could be a challenge, too; they each have their own slang and different definitions for certain words. You want to make sure your customer service people are aware of cultural differences.
3. What are the foreign exchange, currency and tax regulations?
This can get super complicated, both at the point of purchase for your foreign customers and at the end of the year when you need to report your earnings. You'll need an accountant that specializes in foreign business, transactions and tax laws.
4. What are the country's privacy laws?
Laws differ from country to country. Some countries have national regulations while others leave it up to the industries to regulate themselves. There also could be restrictions on what types of data can be collected and/or processed, and when. Whatever the case, you need to be prepared for them and follow the rules. Just know that foreign data privacy and security laws are often tougher than U.S. requirements.
5. Have you filed a trademark request in the country you're eyeing?
It might not be necessary, but it's a good protective measure for your brand. When my email marketing software company, VerticalResponse, was exploring opportunities for expansion in Spain, we found that a company already existed that claimed to do something close to what we do--and they even had a similar logo with a check mark!
When it comes to international expansion, knowledge and preparation are the keys to success. My best advice is to reach out to experts, attorneys and financial advisers who specialize in this sort of thing to guide you through the process.
Have you expanded your company overseas? What are some tips you'd give someone who's thinking of doing the same thing? (I'm sure I've missed many!) Share in the comments!