Ahhh, the internet. When it's not providing us with cute pictures of cats or provoking outcry by changing the layout of our favorite social networks, it's helping small start-ups go global. Taking that first step into foreign waters can be a scary, but lucrative one. With e-commerce steadily on the rise, particularly in emerging markets like Brazil, Russia and China, it's never been more important to take the plunge. But what can you do to make the jump easier? Here are a few tips…
Check out what's going on in your local market
There's no point in setting a single price for your goods across a number of international markets. You may find (and hopefully this is the case!) that your particular product or service is more in demand in certain markets, meaning you can hike up your prices. It's worth keeping an eye on local prices, those of your competitors and how the exchange rate is faring up. For example in Switzerland, the strength of the Swiss Franc is forcing locals to shop over the border in Germany where they get more product for their Euro. If you can spot an opportunity like this where your business will do well, then it's a one-way ticket to higher margins.
Know about local payment quirks
While whacking online purchases onto a credit card may be second nature to you, across the water, different countries shop online in different ways. According to Forrester research, in Germany, for example, they're big on bank transfers and invoices, and down the road in France, they love a check. Knowing how your customers want to pay is a huge part of getting them to pay in the first place. If you don't make it easy, they just won't buy from you.
Whether your customers splash out by card, cash or check, you'll need to know their legal rights after they've made a purchase, as different international laws will apply. While the Brits have 30 days to complain about a product and get a refund, the Germans have a whopping 90 days"which is a pretty long time in the grand scheme of things.
The key difference that stands between you and the rest of the world is the languages that your target markets speak. And with 85% of online shoppers needing information in their language before making a purchase (according to the Common Sense Advisory Panel), it's absolutely essential that you translate your sales patter, your descriptions and any other essential information relating to your product(s) or service(s). You might be tempted by free translation tools like Google Translate, but as anyone with any inkling of language skills can tell you, it just won't provide the accurate, professional translation that you're going to need to sell to native-speakers. It particularly has trouble with slang, idioms and turns of phrase, but if you absolutely must, keep your English-language marketing blurb simple.
Pick the right platform
If you've got a physical product to sell, places like eBay or Etsy are great platforms to use, and their foreign-language counterparts are right there, ready for you to start selling. But don't forget that bargain-hunting shoppers overseas may be heading for other places. In China, for example, while eBay is very much alive and well, Taobao.com is where their savvy online shoppers tend to hunt for goods.
And don't miss out on free opportunities: Google Product Search (formerly known as Froogle"a name we were rather fond of) will allow you to place a free listing for your product in a number of European and Asian countries. For the full list of countries, head here. A little bit of research before you wade in will really help you out.
Of course if you're ready for a challenge, there are loads of ready-made and customisable e-commerce platforms (and many translation companies can integrate their services right into your Content Management System).
You either love 'em or hate 'em, but heading to industry trade shows, expos and conferences is a must when you're taking your home business global. Don't expect to sell at these things, but getting the chance to liaise with similar entrepreneurs might throw up some interesting contacts, advice or new way of thinking that can benefit your business. Those shows dedicated to export will put you in a great position to pick the brains of successful MDs, most of whom will be happy to discuss their triumphs and disasters over a canapé or two.
Next stop: World domination!
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.