While no one will say it's a breeze, today it is possible to give your newly launched company genuine global reach right from Day One. In fact, it's wise to build global considerations into your earliest business plan, rather than assume you'll need to achieve a certain domestic scale before you can consider entering overseas markets.
No doubt the prospect of finding and wooing customers in other countries, and dealing with a host of legal and regulatory issues, can seem daunting. But, at the same time, the ability to sell your product or service to the entire world is becoming more viable by the day. Here, we look at what you need to consider if you think there is no time like the present to go global.
1. Decide how global you want to go
"As soon as you set up a website, people all over the world can and will find you," says Laurel Delaney, founder of international consulting firm GlobeTrade. The question is, will you proactively seek out customers in multiple overseas markets, or will you focus on a single market and see what happens elsewhere?
For ClickMedix, a healthcare technology firm that aims to let doctors diagnose patients in developing countries remotely over smartphones, the answer was to go broad. Working with partners such as universities and local health agencies, the company was able to deploy projects in 16 countries within three years of its 2011 launch. To get there, founder Ting Shih and her team pursued a general marketing strategy that included attending and speaking at a number of relevant conferences, and providing online demos to anyone who knocked on their virtual door.
"Since most markets and countries have a need for better, faster, more affordable healthcare services, we've found the inbound approach more cost-effective," says Shih. The startup now has presence in countries as far-flung as Peru, Uganda and Egypt, with additional expansion planned for this year.
A more common approach, however, is to test the waters by expanding into a single country, typically one that is English-speaking, so that marketing materials and web sites don't need translation, and so that your company can begin to learn how to deal with the regulatory requirements of a foreign market.
2. Seize new digital branding with global appeal
If you have global ambitions, think twice before using your home city or state in your official company name. Once you do that, it could confine you and make any future international branding difficult.
Also, given the importance of the Internet in achieving global reach, the URL is just as important as the business name. Avoid using a'dot-com' (.com) domain name, as that can be interpreted as a U.S.-centric brand, or a country-specific domain name such as co.uk or .ca, as that immediately brands your business with that specific country.
A better way to go is to research the many new "not-com" domain options that are available, which can underscore your global reach (.international and .world, for example) or take geography out of the equation altogether, by instead drawing attention to your line of business (.photography, .vacations, .properties, .clothing and many more.)
International digital marketing Duffy Agency is one company that recently rebranded in this direction, moving from TheDuffyAgency.com to Duffy.agency. With offices in the U.S. and Sweden, "we only work on international accounts, typically in at least a dozen countries" at any given time, says founder and CEO Sean Duffy. He believes that migrating to a new "not-com" domain name has been very helpful, because it "doesn't tie us down to any one country." In fact, the combination of its rebranding initiative and its switch to a new "not-com" domain name have combined to increase the company's web traffic five-fold, according to the company's social media specialist.
3. Know how you'll respond to global inquiries
As Delaney notes, the reach of the web means that many companies have instant global reach, whether they want it or not. "That reach becomes a byproduct of technology, not strategy," she says. Often a company founder is surprised to discover streams of interest coming from halfway around the world. Some companies respond by taking any customer, and figuring out how to deliver as they go along. Others limit service to those customers they feel confident they can serve.
While it can be difficult for any company, and particularly a new one, to turn down any business, there several things to consider before you say yes.
One is logistics: Can you really get your home-baked cookies or other perishable products to Timbuktu without destroying them? The exploding field of third-party logistics (3PL) providers can consult with you on your options, and help you understand what the full costs would be to get an item from door to door.
Another is legal: Once your sales exceed a certain threshold in a single country (and that threshold can be highly subjective, which means you should probably consult with an attorney), your company may be subject to certain taxes or potential employment obligations, says Delaney. The U.S. Commercial Service, part of the Department of Commerce, can be a great source of free information.
4. Think global, but own your local market
Even as you explore your global potential, however, be sure to maximize your domestic impact--after all, odds are good it will provide the solid foundation your company needs in order to methodically build out a global capability.
You might even consider a two-pronged strategy in which you balance global possibilities against what's know as a "hyper-local" marketing strategy, says Julie Cottineau, formerly a branding executive for Richard Branson's Virgin Group and now founder of a consultancy called Brandtwist.
It's not as oxymoronic as it may sound: even the most multinational of companies are embracing hyper-local tactics. Budweiser, for example, is re-naming its signature beer "America" (for the U.S. market) between now and Election Day, while Heineken is running a "Cities" campaign that involves funding improvement projects in five cities across the U.S. If those kinds of companies can appear to be more "local" than they are, you might consider a "local and global" branding and sales effort.
Smaller companies that succeed globally don't think in terms of a one-size-fits-all solution, but rather in terms of a solution that strikes at a universal demand. In her own company, Cottineau created an online brand school several years ago to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses. The interactive small-group program soon drew people not only from all over the U.S., where Cottineau is based, but also from Israel, Canada, Australia, Serbia, and other countries. "I wasn't planning to be global, but the business became global because people have the same branding needs in different geographies," she says.
5. Get some (free) help
Before you make any commitments, make sure to check out the free resources and networking available through government sources.
Export.gov is stocked with country-specific information as well as calendars of upcoming trade shows and other networking events. For in-person help, check out one of the 100+ U.S. Export Assistance Centers in major metropolitan areas. Many are staffed by Small Business Administration professionals, along with US Department of Commerce staff, who have a particular focus on growth companies.
A little due diligence up front may show you that "going global" is something you can bake into your business plan right from the start.
To explore the expanding world of domains, visit Name.kitchen for a menu of new "not-com" options and a search bar to help design your perfect website name.