Taking your business to the international market

Grow Your Business May 02, 2017

Learn strategies on how to grow an international business.

When you hear the words "international business" what comes to mind? For many people it's images of high-rise buildings, teams of lawyers and accountants, a network of managers and in-depth write-ups in Forbes.

Many small business owners never think about expanding into the international market. The process seems so large and daunting and requires specialized knowledge and high-level contacts only the big players have access to.

This is just not the case. Apple started in a garage and Starbucks began as one of many small coffee shops in Seattle. There is no reason your small businesses can’t expand into the international arena.

Take the brother-and-sister team of Sabrina Finlay and Ryan Shaffer, co-founders of Otabo, a business that specializes in manufacturing shoes for established brands and startups. Both began working in their father’s factory, doing everything from mopping the floors to cleaning the workstation. Today their Minneapolis-based company has an international reach, with 50 factories around the globe and clients from Botswana to Lebanon.

There are hundreds of other successful examples that will make you believe you too can expand your business. To get your entrepreneurial spirit thinking, here are five things you should know about going global.

  1. Why do you want to expand? This is the question that will be on every page of your international business plan. Being clear on why you want to extend your business overseas will be a big part in determining your strategy. Is the U.S. market too small for your company? Are you looking for a less competitive market in which to get a foothold?
  2. Cultural knowledge. Going overseas may require some intense research into the countries you want to move into. In addition to determining whether your product or service will appeal to a different culture, you may have to invest in a marketing campaign to educate potential consumers.
  3. It can come down to brass tacks. No matter where your business takes you, infrastructure will be a major factor. You will have to uncover information and data on roads, the distribution network, manufacturing facilities, even the local work ethic. Doing business overseas requires a close knowledge of local peculiarities, a detailed plan, and the flexibility to adapt.
  4. Make sure you get paid. Managing your cash flow, monitoring exchange rates and other matters pertaining to financing will be a big part of doing business overseas. This can be complicated, but there are agencies and governmental services, such as the Export-Import Bank (EXIM), that can help.
  5. Consolidate services into one business model. As you grow and develop new markets, you’ll have to make many adjustments. While flexibility is key, you do need to retain a consistent way of doing business that applies to all your services; otherwise it won’t just be the case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, but the right thumb not knowing what all the fingers are doing.

It takes daring and charisma to run your own business. If you’re already a successful small business owner, and the entrepreneurial spirit still gets you fired up, you may be ready to make the leap into the international market!

There’s a lot to learn out there. For more resources and information on how to successfully manage your small business, visit usbank.com/smallbusiness.