Elon Musk. Jeff Bezos. Jack Ma. Each of them started small, but shared an outsized goal of making the world a different place. Eventually they all accomplished this, becoming some of the most influential entrepreneurs in the world and scaling their businesses around the globe (and beyond!).
Almost every business owner I've met has similar-sized ambitions. Few are content with staying small. They want to build something that can make a massive impact and become a household name.
But the gulf between aspirations and reality is often wide. In fact, you may be standing in your own way by not doing something important from the beginning: thinking globally.
In today's business environment, a global footprint is no longer the exclusive domain of industry titans. Thanks to the internet, many types of businesses can now find customers, manpower and supply chains in countries on the other side of the world with ease -- no physical presence required. In fact, one industry survey last year found that 58 percent of small businesses already had international customers.
When you're still working out of your garage in Cleveland, it might be difficult to imagine how your company would be received in the Chinese market -- even unnecessary. But not considering the global implications of each major business decision you make virtually guarantees that you'll never get there. If you plan wisely, you may thank yourself years down the road for thinking ahead.
No matter the size of your business, there are three aspects that should be global-ready from the beginning:
When Jeff Bezos launched Amazon out of his garage, he only sold books. Yet he chose a company name that didn't include the word "book" at all. Instead he used the name of the world's biggest river, indicating the size of his aspirations for his brand, which would become the world's largest online retailer.
Your brand encompasses your company's identity -- its name, its logo, its slogan and more. It's what differentiates you from competitors and tells your customers what to expect from you.
Defining your brand is hard work, and it's one of the most difficult aspects of your business to alter once it's established. Since you're doing it anyway, take the extra step to evaluate it from the perspective of an international customer. Something as simple as a product name or logo could inadvertently send the wrong message in another part of the world. When in doubt, keep it simple.
2. Business Model
As you focus in on your vision and develop your business plan, you'll need to identify your company's core value proposition and its roadmap for long-term growth. It's in your best interest to approach this process with a global mindset, if only to avoid the need to make fundamental changes as you globalize.
Some of the biggest American companies have tried -- and failed -- to replicate their success in the US market by simply exporting their business model overseas (just try to find a Home Depot in China). To avoid making a similar mistake, ensure your strategy is flexible and universal enough from the outset to support your global ambitions.
3. Company Culture
Creating a product that can be a global success is one thing. Creating a company that can scale globally is another thing altogether. As you build your business, it's important to ensure that you're creating a corporate culture that can foster the type of growth you envision.
The foundation for this type of culture is a clearly defined mission and set of values. Take the time to identify what your company aims to do in the world and what you stand for. This will serve as your guidepost as you scale rapidly, giving you a framework through which to make all kinds of decisions as you grow.
Once you have developed your mission and values, take every opportunity to communicate and reinforce them. At the same time, stamp out "bad culture" as you see it. This will help you to create a team of people who share your aspirations and are willing to do the hard work to support them.
Every business starts small. Some stay there, while others grow to reach great heights. How you think about the future could determine the camp into which yours falls.