As a small business, international expansion may seem an impossible task; full of risk, uncertainty, and confusion. Despite these very reasonable fears, international expansion to attract customers from outside your own country is a smart business move in many cases and there are ways to manage the risks and increase rewards.
Still, It’s not easy trying to compete in this digital age, and it’s even harder when your competition has more money to spend than you. The good news is there are still ways for small businesses to compete and make their mark on the world stage if they know the right strategies and tactics that increase their chances of success. For instance, you should ensure your website is translated into languages spoken by folks comprising your international target market. Don’t assume everyone speaks English, although many digital natives are fluent in that language. Even so, approaching someone in their native language builds a bond that often translates into increased sales. So, you might want to check how much professional translation costs as it makes it easier for people from all over the world to find what they need in their preferred language.
However, language is only one of the elements, maybe not even the most critical element, in a successful international expansion. Read on to discover 8 ideas on how to start attracting international attention to your services without spending a fortune.
International expansion tips
First, a little background on nomenclature to understand international expansion. A home country is the country where you operate your main business. A host country is where you plan to expand your business or have already expanded your footprint.
The expansion of digital access in many countries removes borders from our traditional notions of business operations since your e-commerce site reaches people through the power of electrons rather than requiring physical locations around the globe. But, don’t let that make you complacent about the adaptations required for international expansion. You’re still subject to a myriad of different laws and regulations, face uncertainties from currency exchange rates, local customs and culture, and economic conditions. For instance, I have a client who pays me in pounds sterling. It’s an adventure every time I convert that currency into US dollars. Sometimes I make out with a higher price than charged my clients paying in dollars but sometimes I make significantly less, especially during the pandemic when Covid cases cause currencies to fluctuate widely. If a significant portion of your revenue comes from such international transactions, you might find yourself with a cash flow problem without careful pricing policies to ensure profits in other currencies.
Start a blog in English, and then translate it into a few other languages
If you have the expertise or simply want to share your knowledge with the world, blogging is an excellent way to add fresh, valuable content to your website. Creating such content not only sets you up as an expert and builds trust, but it also helps new visitors discover your products as it improves your performance in search. More about this later.
Since you’re in charge of what you write, you can write about topics that interest you and your target market. For instance, if you sell flour, posting recipes and baking tips works to improve your digital presence and increase sales, as happened with a tiny flour company (King Arthur Flour) to drive massive profits.
Create content based on ideas popular outside of your country
If you look at what is popular around the world, you’ll likely find some important differences based on culture, local customs, and external pressures faced in those countries. Carefully track popular keywords in the countries represented by your target market and create content accordingly so that people in these countries will find you more easily. For example, when an international user enters a query into a search engine, your content displays near the top when you craft valuable content around the keywords that reflect user intent from the query. The higher up your content link in search results, the more likely a user clicks your link and, ultimately, buys your product, as you can see below.
Of course, this process, termed SEO or search engine optimization, isn’t unique to international markets. The difference comes in the way intent is expressed in different international areas. So, you must match your keywords to user intent in the countries you target for international expansion.
Hang out on social media platforms that reach people in target countries
A strong digital presence is critical for any business, including ones trying to expand their business internationally. However, putting up a page on social media isn’t enough. You should spend time on platforms that reach people from your target countries to build engaged audiences that translate into revenue potential.
Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are all good options, but they aren’t the only ones out there and other social platforms popular with your target marketing might work better. Make sure you search out platforms that speak to people outside of your home country and industry – for instance, Renren in China, Hi5 in India, Bebo in the UK, and VK in Russia. You never know how many customers you could reach if you start hanging out where they do. As a start, get to know your target audience a bit better.
If you’re not fluent in other languages, hire someone who is to translate your website
Translating your website allows people who don’t speak your native language to find what they’re looking for more easily. If you sell a product or service used by people from all over the world, this is especially true. What’s more, it’s crucial to ensure that everything is adequately translated; that’s you should work with professional translators who know the language, cultural differences, and intricacies that might influence communication.
A classic example of a communication failure occurred in South America where baby food labels used pictures of babies, just like in the US. Unfortunately, shoppers were used to seeing pictures of products contained in the can displayed on the label, since many were illiterate. Shoppers were horrified as they thought the product contained pureed babies.
Learn about local laws and customs in the host countries you want to target
When you begin doing business with people in other countries, you must understand their laws and customs. You don’t want to offend anyone or break any rules without even knowing it. Some damages might be difficult or even impossible to undo.
For instance, in some countries, shoppers prefer loose products to pre-packaged quantities for products like flour and sugar. Knowing this preference should guide your packaging decisions.
Hold a contest or giveaway in other countries to get attention
You can draw attention worldwide by organizing promotional activities in targeted host countries. For example, if you’re trying to sell products in South Korea, then hold a giveaway for customers from that country with a prize appropriately valued in that culture. This gives people a chance to win something they want while also getting your name out there in a positive way. However, ensure you’re aware of cultural differences to avoid making a faux pas.
For instance, in Mexico, people prefer a sure thing to a contest. So, providing everyone with a small discount coupon offers a better chance of success than holding a raffle.
Translate your business cards into other languages
When you’re networking with people from other countries, it’s helpful to have business cards ready for them in their native language. This lets them know that you respect their culture and want to reach out without offending them in any way. It’s also a great way to show off your knowledge of other languages and impress potential clients at the same time.
Many folks who work in different cultures offer their business card in multiple languages, one on the front and another on the back.
Join organizations that focus on international expansion
While you travel throughout the world, make sure to check out organizations that focus on expanding internationally. This is a great way for you to network with others interested in making a mark in the international arena. Not only are these folks a great source of support but they offer insights you might use to make the transition successfully. There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel each time.
International expansion for your business is a smart move, and there are many ways for you to do so without spending too much money. For example, if you want to sell products in other countries, you should ensure your website and business cards are translated into those languages. You can also get attention from customers around the world by hosting contests or giveaways that only people in certain countries can enter, create relevant and helpful content for other countries, and more.
It is possible to expand your business globally without losing a fortune. By following the tips above, you’ll be on your way to international success, attracting customers outside of your home country.
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