Selling internationally can feel like the final frontier for your small business. You’ve mastered the market at home, you’ve got a great product, and you’re ready to expand!
But even if you decide overnight that you’d like to take your business overseas, you won’t be able to start this stage of expansion on a whim. Doing business internationally takes research, planning, and the perfection of your company’s processes.
Before you go global, consider the following questions.
Who’s your target international market?
It can be tempting to open your business up to all international markets at once, but it might not be the right move for you. Navigating the landscape of taxes, duties, and shipping regulations is a task best taken on one country at a time.
To determine your best options for expansion, consider both your past experiences and future goals. Do you frequently receive emails asking if you ship to a particular place? You may have a growing fan base in that country. Do you see a need that your product can fill? Starting with a nation that would love your product will help boost initial sales and spur greater long-term growth.
If you’re not comfortable in a second language, you’ll probably want to start by considering English-speaking countries. Otherwise, you’ll need to prepare a translated website, marketing collateral, and even packing slips!
How will you find and reach your new customers?
It’s not enough to add a few lines to your website and wait for international customers to come rolling in. Your business may require considerable outreach efforts to educate potential customers about your new international offerings.
If you’re a B2B company, you may be able to forge connections on LinkedIn. If you’re a B2C business, you’ll probably want to announce your new shipping options in your email newsletter.
If you want to deliver wholesale product to shops around the world, you’ll want to be up front about international ordering policies. But approach new wholesale accounts gently -- your potential stockists may be just as new as you are to doing business internationally.
How will you manage payments and shipping?
This is perhaps the most complex part of doing business overseas is determining how to handle customer payments and shipping.
As Emma Johnson explains in SCORE’s online workshop International Shipping 101: How to Take Your Business Global, international shipping involves more than just paying for a label and dropping a package in the mailbox.
You’ll need to determine if you want to collect the full “landed cost” of your product, to include insurance, taxes and duties, and other fees due upon arrival, or leave those delivery costs to the consumer. A potential buyer is more likely to complete a purchase if they know their total cost from the start, rather than getting sacked with a bill when they pick up their package from the local post office.
If you’re using a third-party sales platform, such as Amazon, Etsy, or eBay, many of the hassles of shipping and handling payments are taken care of by your shop host. If you’re operating your own ecommerce solution, you may need to invest in shipping software.
Johnson advises small businesses to pay special attention as you evaluate shipping solutions. Can the program choose the right customs forms, pre-fill information based on the order information, and print all the information you need to submit or include in the package? A good shipping solution will also alert you to shipping bans -- country-specific limitations on what can be mailed into the country.
Choosing the right shipping method not only saves you time. It also avoids delivery delays that can irritate customers and prevent them from coming back again and again.
Still struggling to evaluate international opportunities for your small business? Call on a SCORE mentor. Many of our volunteers have done business around the world and can provide experienced insight for your unique situation.