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Local Color

Hoping to go global? Make sure your business plan suits your destination.

Planning is vital for any business. It helps you manage the effects of uncontrollable external factors on your business' strengths, weaknesses and goals. Strategic planning is complex for any company, but for a global company, it can be mind-boggling.

Maribeth Vander Weele's company has been serving the investigative and security needs of manufacturers and other clients for four years. "From Day One, our company's intent was to go global," says Vander Weele, 47. "Our clients' needs for our services don't stop at the border. In fact, they increase--all the more reason for planning the desired outcome of going global now." After creating one plan that offered the Vander Weele Group's services overseas, Vander Weele started expanding into China and Mexico in 2003.

First, decide what you want to do and where, then establish a timeline to get it done--and be sure to allow for flexibility. For instance, translation time must be built into each project plan when dealing with countries where English is a second language. "There are also distinct differences in work cultures," says Vander Weele. "In Europe, it is perfectly acceptable to wait three or four days to answer an e-mail, and this affects project delivery times."

The biggest difference in planning for global markets is the degree of localization required to market a product or service. In a given country, you might be able to sell one product for one price nationwide; in another, however, you may have to adapt everything to local markets, creating more than one version of the product, different pricing structures, etc.

"The more localization [that's] needed, the more difficult it becomes to plan for global markets and develop a global business plan," says professor Stefan Michel of the Thunderbird School of Global Management. "If customers, distribution partners, media and laws, for example, are significantly different--which is usually the case--each market requires a separate marketing plan." In addition, if you're marketing more than one type of product or service, you might need separate plans for these, too. "The challenge then is to integrate all those marketing plans into one cohesive business plan," says Michel. If you get stuck, the SBA's U.S. Export Assistance Centers can help, and business schools often need real-life cases for student projects.

Despite the challenges, the risk of remaining a domestic or small local business is greater than the risk of going global, says Vander Weele. So the goal is to create a flexible plan for a constantly changing global business landscape, identify a strategic global intent and move progressively toward a desired outcome.

Laurel Delaney runs GlobeTrade.com and LaurelDelaney.com, Chicago firms that specialize in international entrepreneurship. She can be reached at ldelaney@globetrade.com.

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This article was originally published in the December 2007 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Local Color.

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