So You Want to Expand Overseas!

The idea of expanding overseas is an attractive one and you may gain new customers. 95% of the worlds’ consumers reside outside the U.S. (according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative) – those are all potential new customers!  Expansion is especially easy with the advance of the Internet.  Anyone with a computer and access to the Internet can see your website.  With an Internet company all you need to have is the ability to fulfill orders and ship them to their overseas destination and the profits will come.  But boosting bottom lines overseas is a dynamic challenge requiring thorough knowledge of international law and a cultural smorgasbord of tastes and aesthetic hurdles.  Let’s examine some of the issues involved in this expansion.

Cultural Norms

The most important knowledge that you will need is a thorough understanding of the target culture.  You will have to learn how each culture operates before you do business there.  Every country has its own way of doing business and its own type of people who have likes and dislikes.  Understanding the cultural niceties and changeable legal statutes and having a shipper who has this kind of knowledge and understands global trade will greatly enhance your success. It is also beneficial to learn the language of the target country so that you will have a better understanding of the culture and the nuances of the language.

Certainly there are other factors that may appear insignificant but will have substantial cultural ramifications on your success. Certain colors are inappropriate to use in certain Asian countries.  Pink and purple are sometimes unwelcome, and red signifies different things in different places.  White is a color indicating death in Japan. So, if you are designing something internationally, you have to keep these things in mind.

Time Zones and Currency Exchanges

Doing business in a different time zone, like in Australia or Japan, can be a strategic nightmare.  Running a business here and there requires strategic planning. So you must plan accordingly for the country you want to do business in and make some sacrifices with your family and sleeping routine.

Make sure that you collect as much payment in advance so that you can attack obstacles around currency conversion and have as many communications around setting expectations as possible, which will help ensure a successful engagement.

Technological Infrastructure and Usage

Understanding the technological abilities and infrastructure of different countries are also helpful.  What mobile devices, for example, does your target market use?  While  I-Phones and Blackberries are popular in the United States, Nokia is the device of choice in Brazil.  When contemplating a new market you have to make sure that your mobile website is coded for these devices and built with a compatible interface.

Business Model and Product Demand

While going international is a glamorous and exciting endeavor, there is one critical feature that we cannot overlook.  In order to be successful overseas you have to have a successful business model with a product that sells very well here.  You have to have adequate cash flow to support your present business as well as afford the costs and expenses of expansion. You also need thorough market research to understand where your product will be in demand internationally.

We must also get back to the basics of international marketing and expansion by first establishing partners in target countries, who can open doors for you.  Organizations like international chambers of commerce and industry-specific organizations can assist you in setting up business in countries.  These organizations can advise you on selecting reputable agents in the country to help you introduce your product to certain retail organizations that can sell your product and generate demand.

For more information on expansion internationally, see https://www.sba.gov/blogs/small-businesses-should-consider-international-expansion, and http://www.internationalexpansion.org/

 

 

Are Some of Your Customers Late Payers?

Having some of your customers pay late can cause you a lot of “hand-wringing”.  You can’t pay your own bills on time.  You ask yourself should you ask for a line of credit from a bank in order to pay your own bills.  It is a constant struggle for small businesses to get paid on time.  In fact, 64% of small businesses are paid late.

What are you going to do to alleviate this problem?  Charging a late fee could help late payers get up to date.  Are you reluctant to do that for fear of creating ill will with your customers?

But not charging a late fee would be a mistake, especially for chronic late payers.  Businesses have to realize that they need good paying customers if they want to make money.  Remember my earlier post, on January 13, 2016, about Sam Walton saying “if you want to make money collect on every invoice”.  Also, you could be financing your customer’s business to the tune of 36% a year.  Why do this, you’re not his partner!

If you decide to charge a late fee you should have a policy in place or even a contract with the client which would include your late-fee policy.Sample_bill  You can’t decide to charge a late-fee after the fact if it wasn’t in your initial agreement.  Your invoice should include a statement at the bottom of the page which indicates that late payments will incur a charge of 1.5% per month, for example.

Even if you don’t charge it, it can work well as an incentive to get people to pay.  Upon receiving an invoice which includes a late fee your customer may give you a call to settle the bill, or even negotiate the rate of late-fee charged downward in a new contract in lieu of other charges that may arise during the project.

Small businesses must be clear on their policies up front and implement a communication strategy to collect so they’re in contact with customers promptly if they are late on payment.  Even is they are late one day, you should be on the phone with them to tell them that you haven’t received payment as yet and when can you expect to receive it.  You can then gauge the customer’s response for sincerity when you do reach out.