“The first rule of thumb is to start thinking globally early," says Allen Adamson, managing director of the marketing firm Landor and author of BrandSimple. The sooner you begin to do business abroad, the sooner you’ll be able to track metrics and gauge what is—and what is not—effective.
"Look at the marketplace you want to go into," says Adamson. "Who’s there? Who’s winning? Who’s losing?” The more you’re familiar with the country’s local demographics, the easier it will be to determine your market and promote your brand. You must also find out what the competition is like. The Department of Commerce website is a good place to start for helpful information including country fact sheets and press releases.
When doing business globally, you cannot always rely on your company name to do the heavy lifting for you. For example, “if you don’t understand English, you may not understand what Netflix is,” Adamson says. The same goes for a logo: A crown may have a different meaning in the U.S. than it does in China. No matter where you do business in the world, always ask yourself “What’s my brand’s story?” and "How do I best tell it in this particular country?"
Travel is a key aspect of doing business overseas, so plan on racking up the frequent flier miles. Make sure you’re using a travel rewards program that gives you the flexibility to reinvest your miles to defray the costs of your future business trips. Also, keep an eye on discount travel sites such as Kayak and Expedia Business Travel to learn about good deals.
When you visit a country for the first time, hire a local guide or translator—especially if you’re not fluent in the language. The U.S. Embassy should be able to put you in touch with a guide; ask for someone with connections in your industry. "The price for an interpreter depends on where you’re going and what level of expertise you want," says Marc David Miller, Managing Director of the business consulting firm Discovering Eurasia. Whether it's $20 per day or $80 per hour, make sure you know what you're getting. A good guide will open up doors for you.
“Building rapport with people and understanding their value system” are essential tools for doing business globally, says Mercedes Alfaro, founder and president of First Impression Management, a company that offers customized training to executives on reputation management. Study up on local customs of dress, salutation, and hospitality—and be prepared to eat anything that is served to you on a business call overseas.
This is both very important and very difficult. Finding the right people to help sell your product is often the difference between success and failure. If you have to choose between reps, pick a person who knows the market is preferable to someone who knows your product. Very often, says Adamson, you can teach a person about a product or a brand, but it’s very hard to teach someone about a market.
Overseas, your company will be subject to unfamiliar regulations and, depending on your agreement with distributors, you may have significant legal exposure, says Brad Peterson, a business lawyer and partner at the law firm Mayer Brown. Keeping that in mind, “get solid contracts with the companies you’re working with, preferably contracts that you can enforce in the United States,” he advises. And, when you’re doing business in a non-English speaking country, make sure you can communicate effectively with your local partners.
If you’re looking to expand globally, you’ll need to be in constant communication with distributors, sales reps, and other colleagues. Phone and e-mail can be impersonal; using online-video conferencing may be the best alternative. Products such as Cisco WebEx and Skype are cheap, easy to set up, and accessible by pretty much any Internet connection. And, if you’re looking for great picture quality, check out LifeSize's HD video conferencing service. —Eric Markowitz