When you want to start doing business internationally, it can be hard to build a network of contacts, especially for someone whose business has been locally focused. If you can’t afford to fly all over the globe to make those connections what can you do to start selling to customers worldwide?
Why Go Global?
Expanding your business overseas seems like a lot of work, but it’s the unlimited market opportunity. If you find a lot of competition here in the States, there are hundreds of other locales around the world that might clamor for your products or services. While the US economy might be fairly stable right now, that won’t always be the case. When you expand internationally, you buffer what can happen to your business in an economic downturn here in the US.
Find the Right Connections
Realize that there are organizations in your community that cater to doing international business. It’s a matter of finding those groups and spending some time getting to know members of the groups.
Your local Chamber of Commerce may participate in international trade missions with countries your city is trying to build bonds with. For example, in Mobile, Alabama (a major trade port), the Chamber has trade missions with Spain, Morocco, and Mexico. And the California Chamber of Commerce has held trade missions with Tokyo, London, and Frankfurt.
These are just examples; look to your Chamber of Commerce to see what alliances it’s forging with cities and countries around the world. Typically there are workshops and networking opportunities for you to participate in, and getting even more involved through volunteering could help you get to know influential people or even give you the opportunity to travel to another country.
The US Commercial Service is another valuable resource to help you build your business internationally. Not only does this organization, with representation across the United States, offer trade missions, but it also provides webinars on useful topics like getting a letter of credit for international trade or working with a specific sector in another country. Additionally, its International Buyer program serves as a sort of business matchmaker, and you can find great business opportunities by participating in one of these events.
A Soup-to-Nuts Solution
Beyond networking, you’ll also need ample information about how to start exporting or building your customer base overseas. Export.gov, a site hosted by the US government, provides a wealth of information and tools to help you do just that. Their Discover Global Markets Business Forum Series is your opportunity to meet commercial diplomats, hear experts speak, and learn about US export programs. The Export.gov website offers a variety of training opportunities, from webinars to trade fairs and seminars.
Becoming a member of the site will get you access to more information, as well as trade leads and market research. And if you live near one of the offices, you can receive counseling services in-person.
Time to Travel
If you’re serious about growing your business in other countries, travel is essential. But be strategic: if you’re planning a visit to a potential customer, or manufacturing partner see what networking events there are in the area. You could also ask that potential customer or vendor to make recommendations; more than likely he will be happy to help you make connections in his country.
Add on a few days to get to know the city you’re visiting. Not only will this help you better understand your place there, but you may also find other opportunities to get to know people and grow your network. A casual dinner — even if business isn’t discussed at all — can be a fabulous launch pad for doing business in the future!
Know What You’re Trying to Achieve
Attending these networking events and workshops is one thing, but unless you have goals in mind, they may not actually help you. It’s imperative that you know what you want in terms of growing your business internationally.
- Are you looking for contacts in a particular industry or country to assist you?
- Would you like to find US-based broker who can open you up to new markets overseas?
- Are you looking for a foreign manufacturer to lower your production cost?
- Do you need to deepen your knowledge of doing business in a particular country?
Once you establish what you want to accomplish, you can set your sights on those goals. For example, if your focus is on a particular market in China, you could target your networking efforts on events that cater to doing business with China, as well as conferences on that market. You could search for professionals who fit into both categories on LinkedIn and build relationships with them that could, over time, prove fruitful.
Expanding your operations into other countries has serious potential to help you increase your bottom line, but it will take work to get there. Be patient about forging those relationships; they won’t happen overnight. And many countries require a great deal of red tape for you to start trading there, so allow time for bureaucracy as well. But once you overcome these hurdles, you’ll reap the many benefits of your new global business!