Owning a global company. Selling worldwide. International clients from every corner of the world. Isn’t that the dream? Back in the day, this was only achievable by large enterprises with enough resources to heavily invest in supply chains and on-the-ground sales teams. Nowadays, the entire world is only a few clicks away and digital marketing has been integral to making it all possible for small businesses and start-ups.
In fact, it might be your strategy from the get-go. Perhaps your local market is too small for your business to be profitable but when you expand the horizons of your online sales, your bottom line might start to look very different. McKinsey estimates that in 2025 global flows of goods, services and finance could reach $54 trillion to $85 trillion. With broader internet availability, countless digital marketplaces and easy-to-implement payment and shipping solutions, there is no reason why you couldn’t get a piece of that growing pie.
The barriers of entry have never been lower, but what hasn’t changed is the fact that you need a clear strategy to make that move across borders swift and impactful.
Research your target markets
Although it’s simpler now to offer your products across numerous countries, that doesn’t mean you should. Often it’s better to test one or a handful of markets and grow from there, than to try and sell to everyone, everywhere. The question is: where to start?
Performing market research is easier than ever before. Government agencies are a great source of information. Many of them provide data on export, research tools and country-specific advice, such as relevant agreements or barriers. You can also use tools such as Google Trends to find how popular search terms for your product have been in certain countries to understand the level of interest in what you have on offer.
Once you’ve identified potential markets, dig a bit deeper. Do they have a certain attitude towards your country? If it’s positive, use it. ‘Made in Italy’ is often associated with beautiful design, while ‘Made in Germany’ is usually perceived as being of reliable quality. On the other hand, if associations with your country are not as beneficial in your target market, draw focus to other aspects such as product features or consider starting out in another market until your brand is well-known on an international level.
Other points to research include locally-preferred payment methods (not everyone is a fan of credit cards) and attitude towards discounts. Where part of the world sees a price reduction as a big win, others associate it with a failing product (“Why is this product always on special?’).
Furthermore, there are certain holidays that can’t go unmentioned, others that aren’t celebrated overseas and taboos you should definitely stay away from. Cultural differences can play a larger role than you imagine.
Establish your supply chain
Performing market research is a big step in your journey towards becoming a global company. Establishing your supply chain is the next big chunk of work. Some questions to consider:
- Will you store your products and ship every order out yourself, or will you outsource this to a distribution centre?
- Does it make sense to have some stock in your target market for faster delivery times, or is the type of product and customer less sensitive to this?
- How much flexibility do you need in shipping options, and which shipping company caters best to your needs?
Where to sell your product
Once all of this is in place, it’s time to decide where to sell online. Will you be selling from your website or from an existing marketplace or eCommerce platform? The benefit of platforms are that they generate traffic without any effort from you for a price. The key downside is that there are likely to be competitors already there and it might be challenging to stand out when there are no possibilities to truly differentiate yourself.
When you have a dedicated website, you are in control and therefore you can localise the experience for your customers, such as having the website available in their language and/or using different imagery. In addition, with control over your website, you can boost your SEO and gather data; something that can be limiting on platforms.
International sales and marketing
Getting your product in front of the global market has never been easier. Depending on your product, target audience and social media savvy-ness, you could grow international sales organically. To speed up the process, advertising campaigns can be setup quickly once you know your audience and have the right strategy for them in place. With PPC campaigns, social media advertising and influencer programmes you can quickly expand your audience.
Even though opening up to the rest of the world is relatively simple, there are some aspects that make it more complex:
- Depending on your product, check specific regulations. What could be considered a beauty product in one country may be considered a medical product in others. Safety regulations for electronics vary a lot between countries.
- In addition to understanding preferred payment methods per country, also take into consideration different tax agreements between countries and decide how to deal with different currencies. Some international payment solutions will provide you with various options; make sure you understand them.
- Fraud becomes a bigger risk when selling overseas, simply because it’s easier to get away with it. Be aware of the signs of suspicious orders and don’t hesitate to investigate if you don’t trust it. See if it makes sense to get some type of insurance or help from the payment platform, or whether it’s better to make a provision for a percentage of lost money within your yearly budget.
Online shopping is growing and growing. Be ready for it, so you can reap the benefits and call yourself the owner of a global company, for customers the world over.