Doing business internationally isn't just for the big enterprises anymore. Once-emerging markets such as India, China and Singapore now demand services that only smaller firms can provide. And globe-flattening technologies including Facebook, freelance marketplace Elance and PayPal mean even the smallest firms can seize a global opportunity.
But those are far from the only technologies that can help a small company do big business overseas. From shipping to electronic payments to navigating confusing regulations, the following tools can help make doing business internationally easier.
Shipping overseas? There's an app for that.
One of the biggest hurdles to doing business overseas is getting your products where they needs to go. Luckily, major shippers including UPS, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service offer Web apps that track global shipments, estimate costs and check for compliance with country-specific rules, laws and tariffs.
For instance, UPS offers a free international shipping tool called TradeAbility that shippers can use to estimate costs, look up duty fees and view international trade restrictions and other regulations. FedEx, meanwhile, arranges its services by the user's experience in international shipping -- from novice to expert -- and includes a set of shipping tutorials. The USPS offers downloadable global shipping software for processing global shipments.
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Making payments overseas, easily.
Online financial transfer services can make and receive payments to vendors and most other parties overseas. For the casual, one-time vendor, consider starting with services from PayPal and American Express.
Most vendors overseas accept PayPal, and it offers a full range of services in about 20 large countries, plus the ability to send and receive payments via PayPal essentially anywhere. PayPal charges a 3.9 percent transaction fee for international sales, plus another fixed fee based on the currency received.
For more sophisticated exchanges, FX International Payments by American Express offers a convenient online portal for making payments, as well as the ability to manage and track favorable exchange rates. Enrollment in the program is free, but limited to customers with a U.S. business bank account.
When transferring money overseas remember that currency rates can change dramatically and require more complicated accounting.
Pay your employees no matter where they are.
While you might consider hiring that rockstar software engineer who lives in another country, paying that person isn't always so easy. Though services such as PayPal can be used for payroll, chances are they don't meet regulations in some countries.
Managing international payroll right requires juggling multiple currencies and compliance with diverse employment laws and regulations. Most firms that directly hire employees in other countries might find it necessary to outsource payroll management to a company specializing in the nuances of global payroll.
Many of these services cater to bigger business, but companies such as Deerfield, Ill.-based Celergo and U.K.-based NorthgateArinso, a global HR firm, have payroll services in more than 100 nations and cater to smaller multinational firms. Pricing varies depending on the country and the number of employees being paid.
Know how to do business in a complex world.
In order to do business internationally, you'll need to abide by the laws of your own country as well as those of other countries. One online resource is the U.S. Commercial Service, which offers country-specific trade statistics and market research. Also, the comprehensive primers at Export.gov cover several important topics, such as when a business needs an export license.
It can also be wise to keep abreast of evolving international situations such as travel warnings and alerts, country-by-country, through the U.S. State Department's travel website.
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Take the hassle out of business travel.
Expedited clearance for certain "low-risk" travelers can be available through the U.S. federal government's Trusted Traveler programs.
Global Entry, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program, is meant for frequent international travelers. There is no minimum number of trips necessary to apply. The signup process usually involves a trip to your local airport for a photo, identification and background check. There are separate programs for crossing the Canadian and Mexican borders, known respectively as NEXUS and SENTRI.
International calling doesn't have to cost a fortune.
It's not a secret that calling overseas can lead to massive phone bills. But look beyond services such as Skype and Google Voice in order to cut costs. Paid Web-based calling services can connect your business phone to an affordable international calling plan.
Several options offer unlimited international calling, including McLean, Va.-based Lingo, which has flat-rate unlimited international calling plans to 45 countries starting at $23.95 a month. Similarly, the World plan by Holmdel, N.J.-based Vonage, starts at $9.99 per month for unlimited calling to all phones in 10 countries and landlines in 60 countries.
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