Expanding can be one of the most exciting things for a business. With many businesses turning to ecommerce, it's now easier than ever to grow quickly and relatively inexpensively, particularly in markets overseas.
But when you've got the world at your cyber-feet, growing globally can be a scary prospect. How do you know where to expand? Is your product or service in a high enough demand? And what things will you have to do differently?
It can be difficult to know where to begin, but with the right tools and knowledge at your fingertips, discovering where you'll branch out to next can be easier than you think.
Use what you know
There's a lot of talk about the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) emerging markets, as well as the CIVETS (Columbia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa) countries. Indeed, these are all burgeoning markets with growing economies, but basing your decision on this alone is akin to closing your eyes and throwing a dart at a map of the world.
What you can do, is to use this knowledge on top of your existing cultural know-how to decide whether your business might have a chance in any of these countries. Sales of whisky, for example, have rocketed in Brazil and Taiwan. You'll no doubt be up-to-date with the latest exporting trends in your own niche, so make the most of them!
Which countries already have an interest in you? Perhaps you've been shipping to certain destinations far more often than others. Getting to grips with Google Analytics will also tell you from where in the world you're receiving natural traffic, which is (mostly) indicative of an interested market.
Tools of the trade
SEO is at the heart of any good online business, and you can use this to work out which countries and which languages you want to target next. Check out Google Global Market Finder. It's a handy and under-used tool that can give you a very good insight as to which markets may be interested in your product or service. You simply put in your English keywords, where it'll translate them and let you know the traffic of those translated keywords in different countries (don't forget that as people in different countries speak a different language it stands to reason they'll search in that language too!).
It's not perfect"its results are based solely upon pay-per-click (PPC) campaign data, and it uses often-inaccurate machine translation"but it can be a great place to start exploring.
Taking 'whisky' as an example, Google Global Market Finder will tell us that there's a great search volume in Russia, there's low competition, and a suggested PPC bid in the Russian language would be just $0.24 compared to the same term in the USA costing $0.45!
Know the customs and culture
It's all well and good picking a new market to target, but you need to spend a lot of time reading up on their way of life. Anything from the legalities, ways of doing business, cultural quirks and even payment methods will most likely be different to the ones that you're used to. You quickly need to decide whether your business will localize easily in your chosen market, and more crucially, whether this will pay off.
You might find, for example, that despite there being a huge demand for your product in a particular market, once you take off the extra cash needed for import taxes or shipping, and weighing up the extra time needed to manoeuvre your way around their tricky trading laws, you might be better off elsewhere.
Whatever you decide to do, you need to know your market inside-out. Preparing yourself for things to come will mean fewer nasty surprises"usually the kind that will leave you out of pocket! So do your research, speak to locals of your chosen target country… go and visit if you have to (any excuse!).
If you choose wisely, it won't be long before you're taking the ecommerce world by storm.
Christian Arno is the MD of global translations agency Lingo24, which was started from his parents' bedroom when he was 22. Read more about Christian here.