With Superfast Broadband becoming increasingly accessible, growing your business overseas is becoming a lot easier for small business. More consumers than ever are researching and buying products and services online, and international purchases can be made with just the click of a button.
Selling overseas sounds challenging, but it can be easier than you think.
This guide will not give you an instant list of who to sell to and where to sell it because every industry and business is different. However, it will breakdown the key considerations of selling overseas, with some top tips on how to expand your business successfully.
- Global networking: Expanding your business provides an opportunity to connect with more customers and business partners
- Business growth: Potential customer reach significantly increases when you trade overseas, and online technology helps facilitate this
- Business confidence: SMEs are adopting the cloud to support operational infrastructure in readiness for unknown market changes
- Mitigated risk: As the economic landscape unfolds, technology will support business agility to meet demand with minimal impact on cost
- Better business: Global competition drives innovation, increases performance, and spreads the risk of operating in one market
- Brand reputation: Customers generally associate international brands as more credible, which may boost your customer base
3. Real life example
A precision engineering firm from North Wales is celebrating its expansion across lucrative markets and a 20% increase in revenue over the last 12 months.
“In our industry, it’s imperative that we are one step ahead so we felt we should align our business operations with our reputation for delivering high quality components”, says Josh Harris, IT Manager for Flintshire-based Tarvin Precision.
As a large number of Tarvin Precisions’ clients are global, upgrading to a Superfast Broadband connection to increase download speeds to more than 80Mbps has made their communications far more reliable. This translated into a 50% cost saving for their annual telecommunication budget, which will increase to 75% once the cost of financing the investment has been met in around 12 months’ time.
These capabilities have driven efficiencies in other areas of the business, including inbound call handling, marketing and the day-to-day management of client data, which can now be sent and received easily regardless of how large the data files are. This has been particularly important to several key client accounts, who have also been reassured by the secure connections for staff to access its server remotely.
4. The opportunity
With more businesses and home users having access to Superfast Broadband, increasing numbers of people are researching, selecting and buying online. In fact, about two thirds of internet users in the EU shopped online in 2016 (Eurostat). So it is worth considering whether you want to run your website on an ecommerce platform that supports multilingual content and multi-currency payments.
Or you don’t have a website, you could see if it is viable to sell through the marketplace websites that operate internationally such as eBay or Amazon. There is a trade-off; you have to present your offers to consumers within the framework they have devised. But these services will already have some major issues such as language and payments sorted out, and many quite large ecommerce retailers do operate partly or entirely within them.
5. Choose your market
For most businesses, the potential for selling overseas is a real opportunity. If your business is ready to expand, the reasons for considering overseas sales are clear and many of the basic principles are just the same as for local business. You need a product or service that is desired by customers which you can provide at a price that is both attractive to them and profitable to you.
The challenge is in the details. Many of them arise because there is not just one overseas market, there are dozens of countries large enough to provide fruitful opportunities, yet each with their own requirements. For this reason, it is essential that you choose your markets wisely. Even the largest international businesses rarely start out trying to serve the whole world.
6. Do your research
Selecting where to promote and sell overseas is dependent on many factors and every business should be looked at individually. As a guide, you should identify countries where:
- There is a clear demand for your product or service and you have something to offer that existing local suppliers don’t, for example unique features, or competitive pricing.
- You can manage product adaptations, operations and customer support cost-effectively and whether you will you need to fit new power supplies.
- The potential market share you can realistically achieve justifies the cost of setting up an operation in that country, and the continuing costs of managing it.
And you should consider:
- How customers will obtain consumables and parts and whether you require a local partner for customer support.
- Would it be economically viable, or even possible, to provide it from the UK and can you offer pre- or post-sales support in the local language?
- Are you able to company with the country’s legal requirements (e.g. consumer safety laws)
- Are there any import or export restrictions and taxes/duties? Lawyers both local and abroad who specialise in international commerce, trade associations and the government body UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) can all be useful sources of information.
7. Questions to answer
It is important to be aware that not all consumers are equally willing to buy from overseas. Whereas in the UK we tend to be happy shopping cross-border, this isn’t the case for all and it’s worth noting that a country that is large and affluent does not necessarily mean it is a good market. So do your research, and do it again.
Once you have chosen the countries or region you are targeting, it’s worth asking these questions:
- Can you compete against local suppliers, both on price, delivery, and customer service? Is there scope for pricing flexibility?
- Will selling abroad make you successful? Large numbers of very small orders might, from a distant country, simply be a fulfilment headache rather than welcome new business.
- Can you offer a personal service online? In the online world, post-sales support, and providing some level of personalisation, is important.
- Are you going to ship product directly from the UK, or hold or even manufacture products locally in key markets around the world?
- Do you have the ability to manufacture products locally so you cut shipping costs and speed up customer service?
- Have you considered the legal aspects as well as practical ones? For example, packaging may require a specific labelling for customs purposes.
8. Localise your offer
Once you’ve decided what to sell, where to sell it and how to sell it, you will need to develop a detailed strategy to achieve your goal.
Here are some key points to remember:
Cultures vary across countries and this will need to be reflected in your offering. Simply translating your UK website is not enough. For example, certain colours have different positive or negative associations around the world. The US (alone among major nations) still uses imperial rather than metric measurements. And so on…
You may consider changing product names to suit different markets. Will a country’s consumers be more impressed by a technical-sounding string of letters and digits, or a catchy, memorable name? Will the English language set your product apart, or put customers off? If a product name is not in their local language, is it easy for them to pronounce?
Be easy to find
Find out of over-arching international domains are used (e.g. www.mycompany.com/fr for France), or distinct national domains (e.g. www.mycompany.fr). International preferences in search engines also vary, as do search terms used. For B2B sales, a presence in local trade publications, and on the websites of industry associations and specialist media, may be as important as search.
Some experts suggest that consumers like the local feeling of country-specific domains, but that a single site may be better for SEO. As an alternative, you could register the local domains and use them in your marketing, but automatically redirect visitors to a single international domain. It is a good idea to register the domains relating to your business name and principal brands in major territories anyway, even if you don’t intend using them, to prevent others from taking advantage.
Become a local
Make sure you have a local touch. Not only on your website but also throughout your mobile messaging, social media presence, and user-generated content too. And remember to suit the technology profile of each country. There is little point sending out links to mobile video if few people have smartphones for example, or different social media services are popular in different territories.
Make life easy
If you’re not localising and expect international customers to come to your UK website, you can still make life easier for them. For example:
- Providing a currency-conversion tool
- Avoiding obscure pop-culture references that only a Brit will understand
- Writing in plain English make it easier for people to understand your proposition and also makes automated translation easier.
9. Recommended action points and tips
- Know your competition: Remember, your main competitors are probably local businesses, not other British firms selling into the foreign market.
- Understand specific requirements: Some jurisdictions will require you to have a local business partner.
- Understand technology preferences: The relative popularity of desktop and laptop PCs, tablets, and smartphones varies widely. Some countries are much more phone-oriented while others still depend largely on PCs.
- Language preferences: Remember that in some countries more than one language is very widely spoken. Canadians expect to see copy in French as well as English, for example.
- Take care: Be careful with humour and ‘edgy’ content such as semi-nudity or political references. They often don’t travel well, and may offend.
- Pricing: Set and display prices in a way that is competitive, attractive and comprehensible to your international customers, rather than just converting them from your British price points.
- Currency: If your site covers several countries with different currencies, prices in US dollars or euro will be more widely understood than sterling.
- Lastly: Beware of inadvertent faux pas. Check that your product names, for example, don’t sound like something unintended in a foreign language or is already the name or make of a local product.
10. Additional information
- Use the Superfast Business Wales Software Directory to explore the software that could help you run your business.