99designs may be the largest graphic design marketplace in the world, but when it started in 2008, it was still in search of a customer base. In 2010, president and CEO Patrick Llewellyn moved to America with the goal of conquering the U.S. This was the Australian company's first international effort, but there would be many more to follow.

Today, 99designs offers a broad platform for graphic designers to find work. The site's most popular feature is its contests, which allow businesses to choose designs from a selection of entries. In addition to contests, 99designs also hosts a gallery of logo templates, as well as offering businesses the opportunity to choose a designer from its members. Both businesses and designers across the world have been able to use the platform to connect with people around the globe.

Judging Your Appeal

Some business concepts are designed to remain local. For businesses like 99designs, however, it's natural to eventually expand to a more global audience. Founders should begin thinking about this globalization as early as possible in order to best position their companies to grow when the time is right.

"If you have a service that has broad market appeal, going global can be a great driver," Llewellyn says. "If you're not thinking about tackling other markets, then you'll be very limited in the size in which you can operate. It's easier now than ever before to go global."

The Benefits of Localization

When a business expands, it's tempting to simply launch in the international market without making a concerted effort to localize that launch. 99designs found that localization made a big difference in its success. When the company launched in Germany, it was underperforming in the U.S. market but as soon as 99designs began localizing, there was a massive uplift in growth. It has continued to outperform every other market in growth.

"If you're in natural language, then you have a better opportunity to be found in search, which is a significant factor," Llewellyn says. "Conversion rates improve significantly once you're in local language. It starts to open up new communication channels because you can communicate socially, blog, everything in the language."

Budgeting for Localization

Localizing on a budget means setting priorities. In addition to spending on language, 99designs focuses on local domains, currency, payment options, and local customer support. That local presence helps build trust with the customer, and trust means customers are more likely to do business with them.

"We serviced our U.S. customer base from Australia for a couple of years," Llewellyn says. "When we moved here and opened up our customer support desk, one of the first things we did was test putting a phone number on our site, and immediately conversion rates improved. What was interesting was how many phone calls we got where people were calling us just to make sure that we were real."

A Local Presence

Choosing a market can be difficult, however. 99designs considers factors like population, Internet penetration, and general online commerce adoption when expanding. Disposable income is also important to 99designs, since the company's product can be pricey.

Businesses that can move into a market where payment methods are fairly universal will likely find an easier process. Rather than having to deal with currency conversions, a business can focus on other things.

Once 99designs moves into a new market, it sets up a country manager who takes an active role in managing the business in that area. In the early days, the country manager handles everything from marketing and PR to attending events. They even provide customer support, which gives them the opportunity to hear about any issues happening in the local market firsthand.

Positioning your business to take on a global market requires planning, persistence, and the ability to hire the right person for the job on a local level. Has your business gone global, or are you making plans to go global? What strategies have you used to help you smooth the process?

Published on: Mar 30, 2015