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Top tips for businesses expanding abroad

In a globalised economy, the same considerations you make for a local customer often apply in a number of markets; Ireland or the Netherlands for example, often have similar requirements for UK customers. As such there is an immediate opportunity for businesses of all sizes to tap into any number of lucrative markets.

However, it is not as simple as setting up an international website and waiting for the orders to flood in. What happens when a potential contact in California wants to make an enquiry Do you have someone staffing the phone line at 09:00 Pacific Standard Time (17:00 London time), or will the customer have to wait in an international call queue, thereby racking up a hefty phone bill, for the privilege of talking to your Customer Service agent  

Expanding into new markets is a big challenge but with the potentially huge rewards on offer, make sure you source expert advice on getting your business ready for the next stage of its evolution. 

1. Know your onions 

We all know there are differences between doing business in China and Japan compared to the US and UK, but how many would-be global firms know what date Russia celebrates Christmas (7th January) and that ten European countries dont work at all on Ascension Day (40th day after Easter)” Local customs, significant holidays and other dates of note are as vital as knowing how to do business in each region. 

Small points, such as how to exchange business cards in Japan can make the difference; between a company looking like a professional outfit, capable of transitioning an already successful business to other markets, and looking like just another fledgling company, trying to make a big splash abroad, without bothering to do its homework first. 

2. Home is where the heart is 

Unless your business has the resources to employ expert international staff to fill offices in every major capital city, dont open offices there. With the birth of the Internet, the need to be physically present in all markets you operate in ceases to be business critical. Phone calls can now be routed all over the world using freephone and local phone numbers giving the illusion of a completely international even if large office facilities are only available in a limited number of regions. 

If your business also needs a postal address in a particular locality, there are plenty of service providers that offer a post-office box and then direct any post onto a forwarding address. Although it is important to remember customers postal correspondence will be delayed and may not arrive for some time.

3. Watch the clock 

Although you dont need to be physically present in each market it is important to offer support during working hours in every region you want to be significantly present in. With high-levels of international competition, customers simply arent willing to wait a day for query responses and may take their business elsewhere. If you want to look like a big player in Sydney someone needs to be available during the night in London or during working hours in a time zone closer to East Australia Time Zone in order to maximise the business opportunity in this market.

4. Pick up the tab 

Establish freephone contact numbers so customers dont have to pay to call you. According to statistics from business cloud service provider j2 Global, in the UK alone businesses have seen on average call volume increase of 167 per cent when they switched to a freephone number. Imagine the difference this can make to international businesses where the overseas call costs could be prohibitive to building a lasting business relationship. Freephone numbers allow personal contact with customers not available using email or IM and establish stronger relationships than other methods of communication. But the relationship can quickly deteriorate if a huge bill arrives at the end of the month.

5. Lost in translation

Even if your customer speaks fluent English, if that isnt their first language they shouldnt have to. If at all possible have a fluent speaker in their own language. This will enable smoother communication, put the customer at ease and illustrate your commitment to that market. 

6. Be smart with your marketing 

When it comes to marketing, appearance is everything. Ensure any stock imagery is locally sourced and messages are specifically designed for the audience. Nobody in Johannesburg is concerned by how satisfied customers in France are with your services. Money spent on individual, targeted, marketing campaigns is usually money well spent. And when it is backed up by commitment to each region through local phone numbers and native speakers in call centres, companies can look truly local even if facilities are actually in another country entirely.

7. Dont neglect the home front 

One of the biggest mistakes would-be global firms make is trying to stretch too far and losing their existing market share in primary markets for small gains elsewhere. Taking your eye off the ball on the home front when looking to increase a companys global footprint, is counter intuitive and counterproductive. Keep the home fires burning to maintain steady cashflow while building relationships across the world. 

8. Cut the red tape 

Each country has completely different rules and regulations for companies setting up a local office or doing business within its borders, and thats before you start dealing with local employment law. These can be difficult to navigate and without employing a fleet of local experts it is easy to fall foul of legislation you werent even aware of. One way to stay the right side of the law and avoiding any hidden business charges is by going virtual. Setting up local phone numbers, websites and postal facilities can enable you to appear local without getting caught up in red tape.

Craig Busst is Managing Director of City Numbers.

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