Article Summary:What can you do now to prepare your company for future export plans?
I regularly meet small businesses, including those in the start-up phase, who recognize that exporting will be an important part of their long-term growth strategy. I'm pleased to see this level of awareness, even when they are still struggling with final product formulations, financing, staffing, etc. because eventually every company needs to consider outside markets. To make the transition into exporting easier when the time comes, there are some things companies can consider now to lay the groundwork for international expansion.
1. Design your marketing materials for growth.
Soon you may need to mail your brochure to another country or lug your pop-up display to an overseas trade show. Unusually shaped mail-outs cost more in postage and large displays often can't be included in checked luggage and must be shipped separately. Avoid the necessity of re-vamping your marketing collateral by taking future export needs into consideration now. Regarding the content of your marketing material, if you don't plan to localize it to each region, keep it simple. For example, don't overly promote the nationality of your product. Canadian companies commonly do this and that little maple leaf on the corner of your brochure, or on the product, can be a big turn-off in American states, especially when patriotism is at its peak. Instead, focus on your product or service and the benefits it will confer on potential buyers.
The same goes for your web site. It must be professional and compelling, and convey that you are a global company. In many cases you will be expanding first into English-speaking countries so your site doesn't need to be translated and it may not need to be localized. If this is the situation, just keep in mind the needs of foreign web surfers seeking more information about you, your company and your products/services. They want to know:
- Do you ship to my country?
- Can I buy your product in my country? If so, where?
- What is the price in my currency?
- How long will it take to ship?
- Can I access your service (i.e. consulting services) by phone or e-mail or do you need to visit my country in person?
- Are you available to provide your services in my country?
- Are you/your product well established in your domestic market?
- Can I trust your company?
2. Get into the habit of developing written policies.
Eventually you will be working with a foreign partner - a sales representative, distributor, licensee, - but will want to maintain as much control as possible over how your company is portrayed, how it is positioned in the market and how your partners conduct themselves. Clearly written company policies regarding discounts, promotions, control over intellectual property, hospitality expenses, etc. will be crucial to providing guidance. Once everything is collected into one place it makes it much easier to make the required modifications and develop a handbook for your overseas representatives. (This is also good practice if you plan to expand your staff to different geographic locations domestically.)
3. Implement a foreign exchange strategy.
Chances are you are already paying for stock or inputs in a foreign currency (likely U.S. dollars or Euros). Soon you will be receiving revenue in those currencies. Exchange rate fluctuations can significantly affect earnings yet most companies do not manage their foreign exchange exposure. A simple hedging strategy can protect against those cost and revenue impacts but you need to speak with an expert about it to develop a plan. Additionally, these same professionals can often offer much better exchange rates on wire transfers and drafts than traditional banks. With these systems in place, and a developed relationship with a trusted f/x advisor, it will be much easier to expand once you start exporting. It pays to think ahead. Even if exporting is a couple of years into the future, consider how the actions you take now will impact or influence your export plans.
Cheryl Lockhart is the owner of International Strategies Ltd. She specializes in assisting small and medium-sized companies enter foreign markets with their products and services. With her proven process, your company will avoid the common mistakes first time exporters make and realize export sales more quickly than going solo. Expand your business internationally with less risk, less uncertainty and less expense by working with Cheryl Lockhart. For more information about International Strategies, to set-up a free initial consultation, and to read more export-related articles, visit www.intl-strategies.com.
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