Exporting used to be seen as something that was only for big companies with a wealth of resources or entrepreneurs with specialized knowledge. But globalization and the growth of the Internet have made international markets more accessible than ever before.
Whether you’re trading on a small scale through established sales platforms like Amazon and eBay or running a business-to-business operation, the export market has never been more accessible.
Research is key to any new export program and you should use your resources and contacts to develop your business plan, locate potential markets and customers, and secure finances if needed. You should also research your target markets thoroughly so you have an idea of demand, competition, shipping options, and local rules and regulations.
Localize Your Website
Whether you are trading domestically or internationally, your website acts as a virtual shop window and will often be your customers’ first port of call. Even contacts you make in person will often want to get a better idea of your operation via the contents of your website.
When trading internationally, it’s important to reach out to customers in their own language. English is the most commonly used language online but it still represents only around a quarter of total usage. China, for example is the second most widely used language on the Internet, according to Internet World Stats. Additionally, many visitors to English-language websites are using English as a second language. A 2011 Eurobarometer survey of Internet users in the European Union found that 48 percent visited English-language websites at least occasionally. Only 18 percent said they would frequently buy online in another language however, and 42 percent said they would never buy online in a language that was not their own.
Simple steps to localize your website include:
- Choosing the right content management system and flexible design tools – cascading style sheets (CSS), for example, will allow you to keep site content separate from design and this in turn gives you the flexibility to adapt your content as you expand into new markets
- Working with native-speaking translators to ensure you get your content right and avoid any cultural faux pas
- Investing in country-code top-level domains (such as .fr for France) to enhance your SEO and achieve a more “local” feel. Alternatively, use subfolders or subdomains of your main website, and geo-target each one for the right country
- Localizing important details such as currencies and prices, shipping information, and any customs or import duties that will have to be paid at the receiving end
You can read more about how to localize your website by checking out my blog here.
As well as your main website, social media can be an ideal platform for reaching out to new markets. All the big sites like Facebook, Twitter, and the business-oriented LinkedIn have international audiences, but local competitors can also be hugely important within specific markets. In China, for example, a reported 91 percent of Internet users have a social media account, but Facebook, Twitter, and now Instagram, remain officially blocked.
However, China has many of its own local versions of well-known Western social media platforms, including Tencent’s Qzone, which reported a massive 645 million monthly active users (MAU) and its WeChat application, 438 million for 2014 Q2, according to China Internet Watch. Sina Weibo’s Twitter like app has 144 million MAUs.
In other countries, VK is a market leader in Russia and Orkut is a major player in Brazil and India.
So consider other marketing options, such as traditional media campaigns (although these can be costly and relatively narrow in their reach) or international pay-per-click campaigns.
There’s a lot to consider before you venture into exporting. It’s not an activity that requires massive resources, however, and it can really breathe new life into an existing business or prove a rewarding venture in its own right.
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