From the June 1999 issue of Startups

If your direct-mail audience includes a continental contingent, you might want to heed these global warnings:

1. Plan ahead. Don't do a European mailing in August when the entire continent is on holiday in southern Spain. And make sure your mailing doesn't coincide with any national holidays or religious observances. Of course, before you blanket the whole region, you might want to send out a smaller mailing first to gauge the potential response rate.

2. Be a polite American. When it comes to salutations, always take into account any appropriate cultural conventions.

3. Be postal perfect. Rules change constantly, so you should check with the international representative at your local post office to avoid any country-specific problems. Also, don't ever send anything without a ZIP code, known abroad as a "postal" code.

4. Learn the language. If your mailing calls for a translation, make sure you use a native speaker to avoid any embarrassing gaffes in your copy. If you can, also print the address label in the characters of the local language.

5. Legal issues. Be aware that privacy issues and data protection regulations are more strictly enforced in Europe.

6. Make response easy. Too often, U.S. entrepreneurs make it difficult for foreign customers to respond. Short of a multilingual staff, allowing customers to use credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, or American Express) resolves most language barrier and currency conversion issues.

Julia Miller is a Los Angeles business writer specializing in sales and marketing.