Exporting offers businesses the opportunity to build upon domestic success. Simply put, it is one of the best ways to grow your business.
With the volume of trade growing and barriers to trade falling, competition in a company’s domestic market is intensifying particularly from foreign competitors.
Essentially, exporting may become a necessity to protect and grow your market share.
This post will outline how to get started with exporting, cultural and linguistic considerations when working within foreign countries, and provide resources to further develop your international expansion plan.
- Companies that export grow faster than companies that don’t. According to the US Department of Commerce, exporting companies are 17% more profitable than those that don’t
- Exporting firms offer better opportunities for career advancement, expand annual total sales, and are less likely to go out of business
- Use production capabilities fully
- Defend your domestic market
- Increase your competitiveness
- Increase profits as foreign orders are typically larger than those placed by local buyers
- Enhance potential for corporate expansion
Before you shrug off exporting as something only large corporations participate in, consider the following…
Small firms account for 97% of all exporters. If you haven’t considered exporting and are looking for the next avenue for growth, this is it!
Another common misconception is that exporting is just for products. On the contrary, service exports are a fast growing and profitable endeavor.
Since 1980, US service exporters have grown more than 289% faster than the exports of goods!
Technology-based commerce options continue to blur the borders between domestic and international markets.
As global demand for service exports increases, companies within the service sector are facing enormous opportunities abroad.
Need Further Convincing? Here's the Data.
McKinsey consulting firm predicts that 2 billion NEW customers will appear in emerging markets by 2025 increasing the consumption from those markets from US $12 trillion to US $30 trillion by 2025.
According to a World Bank report, Global Economic Prospects, the number of “middle class” will triple to 1.2 billion, enabling them to afford international travel, better education, and imported goods from the United States.
Exports from the United States are expected to grow by nearly 10% per year for the next several years. Your business could be one of them. Beat the competition to it!
Ready to take the plunge and get started with exporting?
While it’s a decision that has many benefits, it should not be taken lightly and requires extensive planning. Developing an export business plan and an international marketing plan are essential.
There are many methods and approaches to exporting. You may choose to sell directly to customers in foreign markets through your own website or an e-commerce website like Amazon.
Some companies choose to work through an export intermediary who assumes all risk.
The amount of risk you are willing to take and the time and capacity you have to dedicate to this new endeavor will help to dictate the direction you should take in your approach.
The two major methods for exporting are indirect and direct selling.
In indirect selling, an export intermediary assumes responsibility for finding overseas buyers, shipping products, and getting paid.
Online marketplaces such as Amazon, eBay, and Alibaba are methods of indirect selling.
Other methods include hiring an export management company who then assumes all responsibility.
While this lessens the responsibility on the business, it can also lessen the profits and rewards as the management company takes legal possession of goods and may receive a better profit margin.
In direct selling, the US producer deals directly with a foreign buyer. While more complex, this method is more profitable and rewarding.
Beyond financial reward, doing business in foreign markets can have a transformational effect on its practitioners. Forming new relationships, learning up close and personal about a new culture, and addressing new business challenges is personally rewarding.
It may also lead to innovative improvements in products or services therefore making the company stronger in whatever market they choose to compete.
Determine Your Approach
There is no one best fit for an approach to exporting as it is entirely dependent on the individual business. Methods and approaches can be blended together to create your ideal export model.
A few factors to take into consideration:
- The size of your company
- Your tolerance for risk
- Resources available to develop the market
- Opportunity costs
- The nature of your products or services
- Previous export experience and expertise
- Business conditions in the selected overseas markets
You don’t have to go at it alone
Between government resources and various online communities, there are a multitude of resources for businesses interested in exporting.
The Small Business Administration and US Department of Commerce are continually publishing content, offering workshops/events, and personal consulting services for businesses looking to go global. We will feature a list of resources we have compiled at the end of this article.
The amount of risk you are willing to take and amount of control you wish to maintain will determine your export approach.
A direct export approach requires significant commitment and is also one of the best ways to achieve maximum profits and long-term growth.
The absolute first step when creating an export strategy, no matter what it may look like, is market research.
Just as you create a business plan for your domestic business, your export business is no different.
Foreign markets differ from domestic markets, competition is different, target audiences have different challenges and desires that need to be met.
All of this must be assessed and documented to determine the best export strategy.
Begin internally, expand externally
First assess the current state of your business. This assessment will enable you to evaluate potential and identify gaps to gain a clear understanding of what is necessary for growing your business into the international marketplace.
Identify your markets
With close to 200 countries in the world to export to, you want to make sure that you’re targeting the right ones. This research phase will help you to determine which countries hold potential for your product or service, who your competitors are, and market trends for your product or service.
- Research export statistics –
- Search where current US exports are going & consumer trends in foreign potential markets
- Identify potential markets –
- Which countries hold the most potential? Are you receiving leads from a particular country already? Do you have contacts in another country?
- Target the most promising markets
- Narrow your list to 3-5 countries to research further
- Examine product trends –
- Look for information on products or services like yours in your chosen markets. Seek out research reports on the country you are targeting and/or your product or service to evaluate current trends.
- Research the competition –
- Get on Google and assess your competition both domestically and abroad.
- Analyze your target markets –
- Research any factors that may affect the marketing and use of your product/service. For example, does your product name have a different meaning in the local language? Do you need to adapt numerical values to match the style in your target market?
- Identify barriers –
- What are the export barriers you are facing? How significant are they? Research your target country’s customs agency to determine what rules and regulations are in place.
- Choose your market accordingly –
- Once you have conducted thorough research on the steps below, you will hopefully be able to choose 1-2 new markets that you wish to enter.
Don’t forget about language and communication!
Depending on your business and capabilities, you may prefer to target an English-speaking country first.
However, while language should be taken into consideration, it should only be a small factor in your decision process as there are ample resources available to overcome language barriers.
Be aware of the country, culture, and language you are researching and how that may affect your strategy but don’t let it be a deterrent in entering a new market (especially when that market may have HUGE potential for you!)
Find Qualified Partners & Buyers
Industry Trade Shows & Associations
Once you have narrowed down potential markets and done the up-front research, it’s time to get feet on the ground. A popular penetration tactic to learn more about the market needs is to attend an industry trade show in that market.
No matter which export strategy you develop, you will need to establish relationships in your new market. You may wish to identify a partner or contractors to support you in some way; whether that be sales and marketing efforts or a distribution center. Joining an industry association or at leads getting involved in some capacity can help to build these relationships.
While it may be tempting to try to find partners that speak fluent English or assume that most people will speak English since it is generally considered a universal language of business, we implore you to open your minds to viewing the situation in reverse.
If you are entering a non-English speaking market, it makes the most business sense, to address partners, suppliers, vendors, and customers in their language.
75% of consumers prefer to buy a product or service that offers information in their native language. Beyond appealing to consumers, it’s culturally respectful to make an effort to understand and embrace other cultures when doing business.
Beyond general market research, it’s imperative that you do research on the culture, history, customs, and business practices of the country you are going to travel to.
Understanding local culture and etiquette can be the difference between making and breaking a sale and will go a long way in helping you stand out among the competition.
Flexibility and cultural adaptation should be the guiding principle for business travel abroad. Read and research as much as you can to get a feel for what the cultural norms are in the country you are going to visit.
Hiring a local interpreter ahead of time can help tremendously with both the language barrier and education around local business cultures. They can also help to facilitate valuable connections based on what your goals are for the trip.
- Use the appropriate greetings
- Traditional greetings include shaking hands, hugging, kissing, and placing the hands in a praying position. The wrong greeting can lead to an awkward encounter.
- Know proper use of names and titles – In the United States, we typically address people by their first name. In other countries, it’s polite and common to include a title such as “Herr Direktor” in Germany or “Monsieur” or “Madame” in France.
- Speak a few words in your buyer’s/partner’s native tongue
- A little effort goes a long way! Practice a few common phrases in the native language of the country you are visiting even if it’s just “hello, how are you”. If you are working with an interpreter or consultant, they can advise on which welcoming and farewell phrases are common in the area.
- Business card protocol
- Card giving is a key part of business customs. In the US, we give out business cards and think nothing when someone jots down some notes on it. On the other hand, in Japan, it is considered rude to write on another’s business card. Furthermore, it’s rude to put it away in your pocket right away. The proper approach is to accept the card, carefully review it and acknowledge the person who gave it to you, and perhaps ask a question or make a comment before putting it away.
- Gift-giving customs
- In some cultures such as Japan, gifts are expected, while in other countries they are considered an insult.
- Be patient
- We have an extremely fast business pace in the US. Many countries operate more slowly and as such, we should respect their concept of time when doing business together.
- Develop personal relationships
- This is especially true with relationships with distributors, suppliers, and large-volume buyers. Some cultures consider it rude to immediately speak about business and only do so after sharing a meal or chatting casually for a while.
This is a short list of some things to take into consideration when travelling abroad for business. We can’ stress enough the importance of research ahead of time!
However, research and theory will only take you so far. Identify at least one contact that can help you adjust to a new business culture and as time goes on, you’ll adapt to their style of business.
The key is to have an open mind, open heart, and be flexible.
A new and unique marketing strategy is a necessity since the market you are targeting may have some similarities to your domestic market but will more than likely have many more differences.
This new demographic is from a different culture and they have their own goals and challenges so your messaging must be adjusted to reflect this.
An essential piece of international marketing strategy which is often overlooked or left as an afterthought is translation.
Beyond the translation of words, consider how your brand will be portrayed in the country you are targeting.
Translating and localizing your website is a logical place to start since a professional website is essential to establish authority.
Beyond the digital realm, it’s wise to be prepared and translate brochures, sales sheets, contracts, service agreements, spec sheets, etc.
While it may be tempting to dump translation on a bilingual employee or ask a partner, contact, or distributor in the new market to take care of translation, that is not a wise move.
Just as you use specialized contractors for other tasks, translation should be left to the professionals.
Why run the risk of negating all the hard work put into your new endeavor by skimping out of translation – the piece of the communication puzzle that will connect you with your new customers?!
Mistranslation can cost millions
HSBC, a banking and financial services giant, had their popular Assume Nothing campaign mistranslated as “Do Nothing” in several countries. This mistake tarnished their reputation and resulted in a $10 million rebranding initiative.
Another example of how a mistranslation can damage a brand comes from Ford. They launched a car in Europe name Kuga, while means “plague” in Croatian and Serbian. As you can imagine, their sales in those countries were not favorable!
Translation is not just a necessity, it is just good business. Use language to your advantage and it can become a key differentiator in helping you stand out among the competition.
Professional translation agencies will work closely with you to ensure that your message is accurately conveyed in any language you need. Find a reputable and well-respected translation agency to work with as your partner. They will be able to support you in creating a plan that speaks directly to your client exactly as you desire.
Once you have established your presence in the new market and begin making sales, it’s important to be aware of local laws and regulations around shipping products and product labels/packaging.
Contact local customs agencies to learn about import and export regulations.
One example of how packaging may need to be altered is a Los Angeles shaving cream start-up that began selling to Canada. To sell in Canada, they needed to put their tubes in a box so that he could include the required French documentation.
Another example is a US based paint company who researched the potential of foreign markets and found that in Australia, they buy larger sizes of paints.
The company started creating larger sizes of paints, began selling in Australia, and rose their international revenues by 10% in a year.
Whether there are legal requirements around packaging and instructions or the new target market has a different buyer preference, this step may require you to adapt your current branding/labeling and packaging.
Consider the following:
- Are the colors used on the labels and packages offensive or attractive to a foreign buyer?
- Can labels and instructions be produced in official or customary languages if required by law?
- Does information on product content and country of origin have to be provided?
- Are weights and measures stated in the local unit?
- Does each item have to be labeled individually? What is the language of the labeling? Some countries will require labelling in multiple languages. There may be special labeling requirements for food, pharmaceuticals, and other products.
- Consider local tastes and knowledge. Featuring local influencers, celebrities, and athletes will be more appealing than American counterparts. This goes back to cultural customs and appealing to customers on a local level.
Customer service is critical to the success of any export sales effort. As any successful business knows, the relationship doesn’t end with a sale.
Depending on what type of product or service you are selling, post-sale support will increase your customer retention rate and encourage word-of-mouth promotion.
The type of post-sale support you provide will depend on your business but one thing is certain – you must provide support to customers in their own language. This may include opening an office or hiring local bilingual employees.
Another option is to partner with a language service provider who can be you back-end support for all communication needs. Language services tailored for customer service include:
- Over the phone interpreting for all service and support calls. An over the phone interpreting account provides you with near instant access to interpreters in over 200 languages. This solution is designed for high-volume call centers and can connect you with customers from all over the world.
- Document translation – Translation is paramount to your success in non-English speaking countries. Translate product labels, instructions, website content, emails, etc.
Professional translators and interpreters are highly skilled in the art of conveying messages between languages. They are a great supplement to your growing bilingual and international team.
Utilize your partners language skills when possible, such as phone calls and in person meetings, but we strongly urge you to consider professional translation services for all written documentation.
In an increasingly competitive global market which is designed to favor and encourage trade between countries, incorporating an export strategy into your business is a viable and profitable growth plan.
Build upon your domestic success and increase your market share by expanding your reach into new foreign markets.
There are many methods and approaches to exporting so be sure to do your due diligence in market research and taking advantage of the numerous resources available to support you in your export journey.
Include a language communication strategy early on in your business and marketing plan. Working with a language service provider in the beginning will help execution run smoothly and successfully.
Professional translation and interpreting services will not only ensure that your brands image and offers are conveyed appropriately to the new market but it will also create a competitive advantage against all other foreign competition.
Lastly, and importantly, working internationally among unfamiliar cultures can have a profound impact not only on your bottom line, but also on you and your team as human beings.
As one small exporter interviewed for the Department of Commerce’s Basic Guide to Exporting put it, “Exporting is easier than we imagined. Exporting opens your horizons to what’s going on in the world economy. We need to take that step outside ourselves and develop relationships and open doors. It may start out small. It did for us. But it’s growing. We are a better company and better managers. Maybe even better persons. And to me that’s what success is all about.”
References & Resources